Lizzie Andrew BORDEN
Characteristics: The case was a cause célèbre throughout the United States
Number of victims: 2 ?
Date of murders: August 4, 1892
Date of arrest: 7 days after
Date of birth: July 19, 1860
Victims profile: Her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, 70, and her stepmother Abby Durfee Gray Borden, 64
Method of murder: Beating with a hatchet
Location: Fall River, Massachusetts, USA
Status: Acquitted by a jury on June 20, 1893. Died on June 1, 1927
Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was an American woman who was tried and acquitted in the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother (Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Gray Borden, Andrew's second wife) in Fall River, Massachusetts. The case was a cause célèbre throughout the United States.
Following her release from the prison in which she had been held during the trial, Borden chose to remain a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts for the rest of her life, despite facing significant ostracism. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected to charge no one else with the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden; speculation about the crimes continues into the 21st century.
Lizzie Borden's father Andrew Jackson Borden, despite being the descendent of wealthy and influential residents of the area, grew up in very modest surroundings and struggled financially as a young man. As he grew older he prospered through the manufacture and sales of furniture and caskets. He later became a successful property developer and directed several textile mills including the Globe Yarn Mill Company, Troy Cotton, and Woolen Manufacturing Company.
By the time of the murders he owned considerable commercial property and was both president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co. Despite his wealth, Andrew was known for his frugality. The Borden home, for instance, lacked indoor plumbing on its ground and first floor, and was located near Andrew's businesses; the wealthiest residents of Fall River, Massachusetts generally lived in a more fashionable neighborhood ("The Hill") that was further away from the industrial areas of the city and much more homogenous racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically.
Lizzie and her older sister Emma had a relatively religious upbringing, attending Central Congregational Church. As a young woman Lizzie was very involved in activities related to her church, including teaching Sunday school to children of recent immigrants to America. She also was involved in Christian organizations such as the Christian Endeavor Society, where she served as its secretary-treasurer; and contemporary social movements such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was a member of the Ladies Fruit and Flower Mission.
During the inquest family live-in maid Bridget Sullivan testified that Lizzie and her sister rarely ate meals with their parents. Further during questioning by police and during the inquest Lizzie indicated that she did not call her stepmother "Mother" but rather "Mrs. Borden" and demurred on the subject of whether or not they were cordial with each other. In May 1892, there was an incident in which Andrew, believing that pigeons Lizzie kept in the barn were attracting intruders, killed the pigeons with a hatchet. A family argument in July 1892 prompted both sisters to take extended "vacations".
Tension had been growing in the family in the months before the murders, especially over Andrew's gifts to various branches of the family. After Abby's relatives received a house, the sisters demanded and received a rental property—which they later sold back to their father for cash—and just before the murders a brother of Andrew's first wife had visited regarding transfer of another property. The night before the murders John Vinnicum Morse, the brother of Lizzie's and Emma's deceased mother, visited the home to speak about business matters with Andrew. Some writers have speculated that their conversation—particularly as it related to property transfer—may have aggravated an already tense situation.
For several days before the murders the entire household had been violently ill. The family doctor blamed food left on the stove for use in meals over several days, but Abby had feared poisoning—Andrew Borden had not been a popular man.
On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden had breakfast with his wife and made his usual rounds of the bank and post office, returning home about 10:45 am. The Bordens' maid, Bridget Sullivan, testified that she was in her third-floor room, resting from cleaning windows, when just before 11:10 am she heard Lizzie call out, "Maggie, come quick! Father's dead. Somebody came in and killed him." (Sullivan was sometimes called "Maggie", the name of an earlier maid).
Andrew was slumped on a couch in the downstairs sitting room, struck 10 or 11 times with a hatchet-like weapon. One of his eyeballs had been split cleanly in two, suggesting he had been asleep when attacked. Soon after, as neighbors and doctors tended Lizzie, Sullivan discovered Abby Borden in the upstairs guest bedroom, her skull crushed by 19 blows.
Police found a hatchet in the basement which, though free of blood, was missing most of its handle. Lizzie was arrested on August 11; a grand jury began hearing evidence on November 7 and indicted on December 2.
Lizzie's trial took place in New Bedford the following June. Prosecuting attorneys included future Supreme Court Justice William H. Moody; defending were Andrew V. Jennings, Melvin O. Adams, and former Massachusetts governor George D. Robinson.
Prominent points in the trial (or press coverage of it) included:
The hatchet head found in the basement was not convincingly shown to be the murder weapon. Prosecutors argued that the killer had removed the handle because it was bloody, but while one officer testified that a hatchet handle was found near the hatchet head, another officer contradicted this.
Though no bloody clothing was found, a few days after the murder Lizzie burned a dress in the stove, saying it had been ruined when she brushed against fresh paint.
There was a similar axe murder nearby shortly before the trial, though its perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country when the Bordens were killed.
Evidence was excluded that Lizzie had sought to purchase prussic acid (for cleaning a sealskin cloak, she said) from a local druggist on the day before the murders.
Because of the mysterious illness that had struck the household before the murders, the family's milk and Andrew and Abby's stomachs (removed during autopsies performed in the Borden dining room), were tested for poison; no poison was found.
The victims' heads were removed during autopsy. After the skulls were used as evidence during the trial – Borden fainted upon seeing them – the heads were later buried at the foot of each grave.
On June 20, after deliberating an hour and a half, the jury acquitted.
The trial has been compared to the later trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and O.J. Simpson as a landmark in publicity and public interest in the history of American legal proceedings.
No one else was charged in the murders, and they continue to be the subject of research and speculation. Among those suggested to be the killers by various authors are:
Lizzie herself, despite her acquittal—one writer proposing that she killed while in a fugue state.
Bridget Sullivan, perhaps in anger at being ordered to clean windows on a hot day—the day of the murders was unusually hot—and while still recovering from the mystery illness that had struck the household.
A "William Borden" (who according to this theory was Andrew Borden's illegitimate son) after failing to extort money from his father.
Emma Borden, having established an alibi at Fairhaven, Massachusetts (about 15 miles away from Fall River, Massachusetts) comes secretly to Fall River to commit the murders and returns to Fairhaven to receive the telegram informing her of the murders.
After the trial the sisters moved to a large, modern house in the fashionable "Hill" neighborhood of Fall River. Around this time Lizzie began using the name Lizbeth A. Borden. At their new house, which Lizbeth named "Maplecroft," the sisters had a staff that included live-in maids, a housekeeper and a coachman. Because Abby was ruled to have died before Andrew, her estate went first to Andrew and then, at his death, passed to his daughters as part of his estate; a considerable settlement, however, was paid to settle claims by Abby's family (especially Abby's two sisters).
Despite the acquittal, Lizbeth was ostracized by Fall River society. Lizbeth Borden's name was again brought into the public eye when she was accused of shoplifting in 1897 in Providence, Rhode Island.
In 1905, shortly after an argument over a party Lizbeth had given for actress Nance O'Neil, Emma moved out of the house.
Lizbeth was ill in her last year following the removal of her gallbladder; she died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927 in Fall River. Funeral details were not published and few attended. Nine days later, Emma died from chronic nephritis at the age of 76 in a nursing home in Newmarket, New Hampshire, having moved to this location in 1923 both for health reasons, and to get away from the public eye, which had renewed interest in the sisters at the publication of another book about the murders. The sisters, who never married, were buried side by side in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery.
Lizbeth left $30,000 to the Fall River Animal Rescue League and $500 in trust for perpetual care of her father's grave; her closest friend and a cousin each received $6,000—substantial sums at the estate's distribution in 1933, during the Great Depression. Books from Maplecroft's library, stamped and signed by the sisters, are valuable collectors' items.
The case was memorialized in a popular skipping-rope rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
Folklore says the rhyme was made up by an anonymous writer as a tune to sell newspapers. Others attribute it to the ubiquitous, but anonymous "Mother Goose". In reality, Lizzie's stepmother suffered 18 or 19 blows; her father, 11 blows.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
By Doug Linder (2004)
Actually, the Bordens received only 29 whacks, not the 81 suggested by the famous ditty, but the popularity of the above poem is a testament to the public's fascination with the 1893 murder trial of Lizzie Borden. The source of that fascination might lie in the almost unimaginably brutal nature of the crime--given the sex, background, and age of the defendant--or in the jury's acquittal of Lizzie in the face of prosecution evidence that most historians today find compelling.
On a hot August 4, 1892 at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts, Bridget ("Maggie") Sullivan, the maid in the Borden family residence rested in her bed after having washed the outside windows. She heard the bell at City Hall ring and looked at her clock: it was eleven o'clock. A cry from Lizzie Borden, the younger of two Borden daughters broke the silence: "Maggie, come down! Come down quick; Father's dead; somebody came in and killed him." A half hour or so later, after the body--"hacked almost beyond recognition"--of Andrew Borden had been covered and the downstairs searched by police for evidence of an intruder, a neighbor who had come to comfort Lizzie, Adelaide Churchill, made a grisly discovery on the second floor of the Borden home: the body of Abby Borden, Lizzie's step-mother. Investigators found Abby's body cold, while Andrew's had been discovered warm, indicating that Abby was killed earlier--probably at least ninety minutes earlier--than her husband.
Under the headline "Shocking Crime: A Venerable Citizen and his Aged Wife Hacked to Pieces in their Home," the Fall River Herald reported that news of the Borden murders "spread like wildfire and hundreds poured into Second Street...where for years Andrew J. Borden and his wife had lived in happiness." The Herald reporter who visited the crime scene described the face of the dead man as "sickening": "Over the left temple a wound six by four had been made as if it had been pounded with the dull edge of an axe. The left eye had been dug out and a cut extended the length of the nose. The face was hacked to pieced and the blood had covered the man's shirt." Despite the gore, "the room was in order and there were no signs of a scuffle of any kind." Initial speculation as to the identity of the murderer, the Fall River Herald reported, centered on a "Portuguese laborer" who had visited the Borden home earlier in the morning and "asked for the wages due him," only to be told by Andrew Borden that he had no money and "to call later." The story added that medical evidence suggested that Abby Borden was killed "by a tall man, who struck the woman from behind."
Two days after the murder, papers began reporting evidence that thirty-three-year-old Lizzie Borden might have had something to do with her parents' murders. Most significantly, Eli Bence, a clerk at S. R. Smith's drug store in Fall River, told police that Lizzie visited the store the day before the murder and attempted to purchase prussic acid, a deadly poison. A story in the Boston Daily Globe reported rumors that "Lizzie and her stepmother never got along together peacefully, and that for a considerable time back they have not spoken," but noted also that family members insisted relations between the two women were quite normal. The Boston Herald, meanwhile, viewed Lizzie as above suspicion: "From the consensus of opinion it can be said: In Lizzie Borden's life there is not one unmaidenly nor a single deliberately unkind act."
Police came to the conclusion that the murders must have been committed by someone within the Borden home, but were puzzled by the lack of blood anywhere except on the bodies of the victims and their inability to uncover any obvious murder weapon. Increasingly, suspicion turned toward Lizzie, since her older sister, Emma, was out of the home at the time of the murders. Investigators found it odd that Lizzie knew so little of her mother's whereabouts after 9 A.M. when, according to Lizzie, she had gone "upstairs to put shams on the pillows." They also found unconvincing her story that, during the fifteen minutes in which Andrew Borden was murdered in the living room, Lizzie was out in the backyard barn "looking for irons" (lead sinkers) for an upcoming fishing excursion. The barn loft where she said she looked revealed no footprints on the dusty floor and the stifling heat in the loft seemed likely to discourage anyone from spending more than a few minutes searching for equipment that would not be used for days. Theories about a tall male intruder were reconsidered, and one "leading physician" explained that "hacking is almost a positive sign of a deed by a woman who is unconscious of what she is doing."
On August 9, an inquest into the Borden murders was held in the court room over police headquarters. Before criminal magistrate Josiah Blaisdell, District Attorney Hosea Knowlton questioned Lizzie Borden, Bridget Sullivan, household guest John Morse, and others. During her four hours examination, Lizzie gave confused and contradictory answers. Two days later, the inquest adjourned and Police Chief Hilliard arrested Lizzie Borden. The next day , Lizzie entered a plea of "Not Guilty" to the charges of murder and was transported by rail car to the jail in Taunton, eight miles to the north of Fall River. On August 22, Lizzie returned to a Fall River courtroom for her preliminary hearing, at the end of which Judge Josiah Blaisdell pronounced her "probably guilty" and ordered her to face a grand jury and possible charges for the murder of her parents. In November, the grand jury met. After first refusing to issue an indictment, the jury reconvened and heard new evidence from Alice Russell, a family friend who stayed with the two Borden sisters in the days following the murders. Russell told grand jurors that she had witnessed Lizzie Borden burning a blue dress in a kitchen fire allegedly because, as Lizzie explained her action, it was covered with "old paint." Coupled with the earlier testimony from Bridget Sullivan that Lizzie was wearing a blue dress on the morning of the murders, the evidence was enough to convince grand jurors to indict Lizzie for the murders of her parents. (Russell's testimony was also enough to convince the Borden sisters to sever all ties with their old friend forever."
The trial of Lizzie Borden opened on June 5, 1893 in the New Bedford Courthouse before a panel of three judges. A high-powered defense team, including Andrew Jennings and George Robinson (the former governor of Massachusetts), represented the defendant, while District Attorney Knowlton and Thomas Moody argued the case for the prosecution.
Before a jury of twelve men, Moody opened the state's case. When Moody carelessly threw Lizzie's blue frock on the prosecution table during his speech, it revealed the skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden. The sight of her parents' skulls, according to a newspaper account, caused Lizzie to fall "into a feint that lasted for several minutes, sending a thrill of excitement through awe-struck spectators and causing unfeigned embarrassment and discomfiture to penetrate the ranks of counsel." For most of the two hours of Moody's speech, Lizzie watched from behind a fan as the prosecutor described Lizzie has the only person having both the motive and opportunity to commit the double murders, and then pulled from a bag the head of the axe that he claimed Lizzie used to kill her parents.
The first several witnesses for the state testified concerning events in and around the Borden home on the morning of August 4, 1892. The most important of these witnesses, twenty-six-year-old Bridget Sullivan, testified that Lizzie was the only person she saw in the home at the time her parents were murdered, though she provided some consolation to the defense when she said that she had not witnessed, during her over two years of service to the family, signs of the rumored ugly relationship between Lizzie and her stepmother. "Everything was pleasant," she said. "Lizzie and her mother always spoke to each other." (Other prosecution witnesses disputed Sullivan's assertion that all was fine between Lizzie and her stepmother. For example, Hannah H. Gifford, who made a garment for Lizzie a few months before the murders, described a conversation in which Lizzie called her stepmother "a mean good-for nothing thing" and said "I don't have much to do with her; I stay in my room most of the time.") Sullivan also testified that Andrew and Abby Borden experienced stomach pains on the day before the murder and told jurors that at the presumed time of Abby's Borden she was washing outside windows. She testified that she opened the door for Andrew Borden after he returned home from his walk about town, and then described hearing Lizzie's cry for help a few minutes after eleven o'clock. Several witnesses described seeing Andrew Borden at various points in town in the two hours before he returned home to his death. Household guest John Morse, age sixty, described having breakfast in the Borden home on the morning of the murders and then leaving the house to perform chores.
The next set of witnesses described events and conversations after discovery of the murders. Dr. Seabury Bowen, the Borden family physician summoned to the home by Lizzie in the late morning of August 4, recounted Lizzie's story about looking for lead sinkers in the barn and her contention that her father's troubles with his tenants probably had something to do with the murders. On cross-examination, Seabury agreed with the defense's suggestion that the morphine he prescribed for Lizzie might account for some of the confused and contradictory testimony she gave at the inquest following the murders. Adelaide Churchill, a Borden neighbor and another important witness, remembered Lizzie wearing a light blue dress with a diamond figure on it, but did not recall seeing any blood spots it. John Fleet, the Assistant Marshal of Fall River, recalled his interview with Lizzie shortly after the murders. Lizzie corrected him, he testified, when he called Abby Borden her "mother." "She was not my mother, sir," Lizzie replied, "She was my stepmother: my mother died when I was a child."
The most compelling testimony came again from Alice Russell. Russell described a visit from Lizzie the night before the murders in which she announced that she would soon be going on a vacation and felt "that something is hanging over me--I cannot tell what it is." Then, according to Russell, after describing her parents' severe stomach sickness (which she attributed to bad "baker's bread"), Lizzie revealed, "I feel afraid something is going to happen." Explaining her feeling, Lizzie told Russell that "she wanted to go to sleep with one eye open half the time for fear somebody might burn the house down or hurt her father because he was so discourteous to people." Turning his questioning to the Sunday after the murders, District Attorney Moody asked Russell about the dress burning incident. Russell recounted that when she asked Lizzie what she was doing with the blue dress, she replied, "I am going to burn this old thing up; it is covered with paint." On cross-examination, defense attorney George Robinson attempted through his questions to suggest that a guilty person seeking to destroy incriminating evidence would be unlikely to do it in so open a fashion as Lizzie allegedly did. Russell also recounted a conversation with Lizzie about a note, which according to Lizzie's account, she received from a messenger on the morning of the murders summoning her to visit a sick friend. (Lizzie used the note to explain why she thought her mother had left the home and therefore didn't think to look for her body after discovering her father's. Despite a thorough search of the Borden home, the alleged note never was found.) Russell said she sarcastically suggested to Lizzie that her mother might have burned the note. Lizzie, according to Russell, replied, "Yes, she must have."
A newspaper account of the prosecution case likened it to "a pigeon shooting match in which District Attorney Moody kept flinging up the birds and defying his antagonist to hit them, while the ex-Governor (defense attorney Robinson) constantly fired and often, but by no mean always, wounded or brought them down. Robinson's performance impressed reporters, with one writing that the ex-Governor "is certainly without equal in New York City as a cross-examiner." Robinson seemed any to "turn more or less to his own account" nearly every government witness, according to one trial account.
The defense made its case using, for the most part, the state's own witnesses. "There has never been a trial so full of surprises," wrote one reporter covering the trial, "with such marvelous contradictions given by witnesses called for a common purpose." The defense kept hammering at the contradictory testimony of key prosecution witnesses. The defense also explored holes in the prosecution case: Where, the defense asked, is the handle that supposedly broke off from the axe head that the state hauled into court and claimed was part of the murder weapon? The state had no answer. The defense also exploited the government's own timeline, which allowed from eight to thirteen minutes between Andrew Borden's murder and Lizzie's call to Bridget Sullivan, Robinson tried to suggest the difficulty of washing blood off one's person, clothes, and murder weapon of blood, and then hiding the murder weapon, all within that short span of time.
The decisive moment in the trial might have come when the three-judge panel ruled that Lizzie Borden's inquest testimony, full of contradictions and implausible claims, could not be submitted into evidence by the prosecution. The judges concluded that Lizzie, at the time of the coroner's inquest, was for all practical purposes a prisoner charged with two murders, and that her testimony at the inquest, made in the absence of her attorney, was not voluntary. Lizzie should have been warned, the judges said, that she had a right under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution to remain silent. The judges rejected the state's argument that Lizzie was only a suspect, not a prisoner, at the time of the inquest, and that anyway her statement should be admitted because it was in the nature of a denial rather than a confession.
The prosecution rested its case on June 14 after one final defeat. The state wanted to have druggist Eli Bence recount for the jury his story of Lizzie Borden visiting a Fall River drug store on the day before the murders and asking for ten cents worth of prussic acid, a poison. With the jurors excused, each leaving the courtroom with a palm leaf fan and ice water, the state tried to establish through medical experts, druggists, furriers, and chemists, the qualities, properties, and uses of prussic acid. The judges, after listening to the state's foundational case, concluded that the evidence should be excluded.
The defense presented only a handful of witnesses. Charles Gifford and Uriah Kirby reported seeing a strange man near the Borden house around eleven o'clock on the night before the murders. Dr. Benjamin Handfy testified that he saw a pale-faced young man on the sidewalk near 92 Second Street around 10:30 on August 4. A plumber and a gas fitter testified that in the day or two before the murders they had been in the Borden's barn loft, casting doubt on police assertions that Lizzie's alibi was suspect because dust in the loft appeared undisturbed.
Emma Borden, the older sister of Lizzie, was the defense's most anticipated witness. Emma testified that Lizzie and her father enjoyed a good relationship. She told jurors that the gold ring found on the little finger of Andrew Borden's body was given to him ten or fifteen years ago by Lizzie and he prized it highly. Emma also insisted that relations between Lizzie and her stepmother were cordial, even as she admitted to lingering resentment herself over the transfer by her father of a Fall River home (which Emma called "grandfather's house") to Abby and her sister. The defense had also hoped that Emma might testify that the Borden's had a custom of disposing of remnants and pieces of dresses by burning, but the court ruled the evidence inadmissible.
Summing up for the defense, A. V. Jennings argued "there is not one particle of direct evidence in this case from beginning to end against Lizzie A. Borden. There is not a spot of blood, there is not a weapon that they have connected with her in any way, shape or fashion." Following Jennings, Governor Robinson, in his closing speech for the defense, insisted that the crime must have been committed by a maniac or a devil--not by someone with the respectable background of his client. He said the state had failed to meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that it was physically impossible for Lizzie, without the help of a confederate, to have committed the crime within the timeline suggested by the prosecution. Robinson ridiculed the theory that Lizzie might have avoided getting blood spots on her clothes by killing her parents while "stark naked," and argued that the murders might well have been committed by an intruder who passed out of the house undetected.
After Hosiah Knowlton's able summing up of the prosecution's evidence, Justice Dewey charged the jury. According to one newspaper report, had the judge "been the senior counsel for the defense, making the closing plea in behalf of the defendant, he could not have more absolutely pointed out the folly of depending upon circumstantial evidence alone." It was, the newspaper said, a "remarkable" charge--"a plea for the innocent." Justice Dewey told jurors they should take into account Lizzie's exceptional Christian character, which entitled her to every inference in her favor.
The jury deliberated an hour and a half before returning with its verdict. The clerk asked the foreman of the jury, "What is your verdict?" "Not guilty," the foreman replied simply. Lizzie let out a yell, sank into her chair, rested her hands on a courtroom rail, put her face in her hands, and then let out a second cry of joy. Soon, Emma, her counsel, and courtroom spectators were rushing to congratulate Lizzie. She hid her face in her sister's arms and announced, "Now take me home. I want to go to the old place and go at once tonight."
Papers generally praised the jury's verdict. The New York Times, for example, editorialized: "It will be a certain relief to every right-minded man or woman who has followed the case to learn that the jury at New Bedford has not only acquitted Miss Lizzie Borden of the atrocious crime with which she was charged, but has done so with a promptness that was very significant. The Times added that it considered the verdict "a condemnation of the police authorities of Fall River who secured the indictment and have conducted the trial." Not stopping there, the Times editorialist blasted the "vanity of ignorant and untrained men charged with the detection of crime" in smaller cities--the police in Fall River, the editorial concluded, are "the usual inept and stupid and muddle-headed sort that such towns manage to get for themselves."
It is probably fair to say that, however likely it might be that Lizzie did murder her parents, the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The state's case rested largely on the argument that it was impossible for anyone else to have committed the crime. For the Borden jury that, and a few other suspicious actions on Lizzie's part (such as burning a dress), turned out not to be enough for a conviction. Had the defendant been a male, some speculate, the jury might have been more inclined to convict. One of the defense's great advantages was that most persons in 1893 found it hard to believe that a woman of Lizzie's background could have pulled off such brutal killings.
After the trial, Lizzie Borden returned to Fall River where she and her sister Emma purchased an impressive home on "the Hill" which they called "Maplecroft." Lizzie took an interest in theatre, frequently attending plays and often associating with actors, artists, and "bohemian types." Emma moved out of Maplecroft in 1905. Lizzie continued to live in Maplecroft until her death at age 67 in 1927. She was buried by the graves of her parents in Fall River's Oak Grove Cemetery.
Fourteen Reasons to Believe Lizzie Murdered Her Parents
1. If not Lizzie, then who? Only Lizzie had a good opportunity to commit the murders. At the time of her mother's murder (around 9:30 A.M.), household guest John Morse was visiting relatives, sister Emma was out of town, Andrew Borden was running errands around town, and maid Bridget Sullivan was outside washing windows. Only Lizzie was known to be in the house at the time of Abby Borden's murder. To commit both murders (Andrew Borden was murdered around 11 A.M.), an outside intruder would have either have had to hide in the house for 90 minutes or departed and then returned without being seen.
2. It looks like an inside job. Police found no signs of forced entry into the Borden home (despite the fact that the Borden's habitually locked their doors) and nothing appeared to have been stolen. No stranger was seen entering or leaving the Borden house on the morning of the murders.
3. Although Lizzie claimed to have been downstairs at the very time her mother was violently murdered upstairs, she said she heard no alarming noises--this despite her mother having been struck multiple times with an axe and falling to the floor.
4. On August 3, the day before the murders, witnesses identified Lizzie Borden as having visited Smith's drug store in Fall River, where she attempted to purchase a poison, prussic acid. She explained that she needed the acid to clean a sealskin cape. The druggist refused to sell the prussic acid.
5. On the night before the murders, Lizzie visited a neighbor, Alice Russell, and told her that she feared that some unidentified enemy of her father's might soon try to kill him.
6. Lizzie told police that while she was alone in the house with her mother on the morning of the murder, a messenger came to the door with a note summoning her mother to visit a sick friend. Lizzie told people that she assumed her mother had left. Despite a thorough search of the Borden home, no such alleged note ever was found.
7. When Bridget Sullivan came back inside after having finished washing outside windows, around 10:30 A.M., she reported hearing a muffled laugh coming from upstairs. She assumed that it was Lizzie making the noise. (Lizzie, of course, denied being upstairs during this time period between her mother's murder and her father's murder.)
8. At the time of the murder of Andrew Borden, Lizzie claimed to have been in the loft of the backyard barn for 15 to 20 minutes looking for lead sinkers for a fishing excursion. Police found the loft so stiflingly hot that it was difficult to believe anyone would voluntarily remain in such a place for as much as 20 minutes. They also found no footprints in the loft that could substantiate Lizzie's story.
9. Lizzie had a strained relationship with her step-mother. They usually ate their meals separately. Some theorize that Lizzie resented the fact that her father transferred a Falls River property to Abby's sister, rather than to her. Police noted that during her interview, Lizzie insisted that Abby be described as her "step-mother," not her mother.
10. Although Lizzie appeared to have a somewhat better relationship with her distant and forbidding father, there were problems there as well. Lizzie was outraged, for example, when her father beheaded pigeons in the barn loft for which she had built a roost. (Her father thought the pigeons attracted neighborhood boys, who broke into the barn to hunt the pigeons.)
11. In the week before the murders, following an apparent family argument, Lizzie and her sister Emma left Fall River by coach for New Bedford. When Lizzie returned, she chose to stay in a rooming house for four days, rather than in her own room in the family residence.
12. In 1891, cash and jewelry were stolen from the master bedroom in the Borden home. It was an open secret that Lizzie was suspected as having been the thief. Lizzie also had been accused by several local merchants of shoplifting. (Yes, murder is far different that stealing--but it does suggest that Lizzie was hardly a model daughter.)
13. Immediately after the discovery of her parents' bodies, Lizzie sent various persons who came to help off on various errands. It seems strange that a woman would choose to remain alone in a house if she thought a murderer still might be nearabouts on the loose.
14. On August 7, three days after the murders, Alice Russell observed Lizzie burning a blue corduroy dress in a kitchen fire. When asked about it, Lizzie explained that she chose to destroy the dress because it was stained with old paint.
LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AX?
History & Hauntings of One of the Most Puzzling Murder Cases in American History
The August afternoon is unbearably hot, especially for Massachusetts. The temperature has climbed to well over 100 degrees, even though it is not yet noon. The old man, still in his heavy morning coat, is not feeling well and he lies down on a mohair-covered sofa. He sighs as he leans back against the arm of the sofa and he carefully turns so that his boots are on the floor and not soiling the couch’s upholstery. In a short time, he drifts off to sleep, never suspecting that he will not awaken.
The old man also does not suspect that above his head, his wife lays bleeding on the floor of the upstairs guestroom. She had been dead now for nearly two hours and in moments, the same hand that took her life will take the life of the old man’s as well.
And even if he knew these things by way of some macabre premonition, he might never guess that his murderer would never be brought to justice....
The case of Lizzie Borden has fascinated those with an interest in American crime for well over a century. There have been few cases that have attracted as much attention as the hatchet murders of Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby. This is partly because of the gruesomeness of the crime but also because of the unexpected character of the accused.
Lizzie Borden was not a slavering maniac but a demure, respectable, spinster Sunday School teacher. Because of this, the entire town was shocked when she was charged with the murder of her parents. The fact that she was found to be not guilty of the murders, leaving the case to be forever unresolved, only adds to the mystique and fans the flames of our continuing obsession with the mystery.
Andrew Jackson Borden was one of the leading citizens of Fall River, Massachusetts, a prosperous mill town and seaport. The Borden family had strong roots to the community and had been among the most influential citizens of the region for decades. At the age of 70, Borden was certainly one of the richest men in the city. He was a director on the board of several banks and a commercial landlord with considerable holdings. He was a tall, thin and dour man and while he was known for this thrift and admired for his business abilities, he was not well-known for his humor nor was he particularly likable.
Borden lived with his second wife, Abby Durfee Gray and his daughters from his first marriage, Emma and Lizzie, in a two-and-a-half story frame house. It was located in an unfashionable part of town, but was close to his business interests. Both daughters felt the house was beneath their station in life and begged their father to move to a nicer place. Borden’s frugal nature never even allowed him to consider this. In spite of this, and his conservative daily life, Borden was said to be moderately generous with both of his daughters.
The events that would lead to tragedy began on Thursday, August 4, 1892. The Borden household was up early that morning as usual. Emma was not at home, having gone to visit friends in the nearby town of Fairhaven, but the girl’s Uncle John had arrived the day before for an unannounced visit. John Vinnicum Morse, the brother of Andrew Borden’s first wife, was a regular guest in the Borden home. He traveled from Dartmouth, Massachusetts several times each year to visit the family and conduct business in town.
The first person awake in the house that morning was Bridget Sullivan, the maid. Bridget was a respectable Irish girl who Emma and Lizzie both rudely insisted on calling "Maggie", which was the name of a previous servant. At the time of the murders, Bridget was 26 years old and had been in the Borden household since 1889. There is nothing to say that she was anything but an exemplary young woman, who had come to America from Ireland in 1886. She did not stay in the house during the night following the murders, but did come back on Friday night to her third-floor room. On Saturday, she left the house, never to return.
Bridget came downstairs from her attic room around 6:00 to build a fire in the kitchen and begin cooking breakfast. An hour later, John Morse and Mr. and Mrs. Borden came down to eat and they lingered in conversation around the table for nearly an hour. Lizzie slept late and did not join them for the meal.
At a little before eight, Morse left the house to go and visit a niece and nephew and Borden locked the screen door after him. It was a peculiar custom in the house to always keep doors locked. Even the doors between certain rooms upstairs were usually locked. A few minutes after Morse left, Lizzie came downstairs but said that she wasn’t hungry. She had coffee and a cookie but nothing else. It’s possible that she had a touch of the stomach disorder that was going around the household. Bridget later stated that she felt the need to go outside and throw up some time after breakfast.
Two days before, Mr. and Mrs. Borden had been ill during the night and had both vomited several times. It has been assumed that this may have been food poisoning as no one else in the family was affected. It may have been the onset of the flu -- or something far more sinister.
At a quarter past nine, Andrew Borden left the house and went downtown. Abby Borden went upstairs to make the bed in the guestroom that Morse was staying in. She asked Bridget to wash the windows.
At 9:30, she came downstairs for a few moments and then went back up again, commenting that she needed fresh pillowcases. Bridget went about her daily chores and started on the window washing, retrieving pails and water from the barn. She also paused for a few minutes to chat over the fence with the hired girl next door. She finished the outside of the windows at about 10:30 and then started inside.
Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Borden returned home. Bridget let him in and Lizzie came downstairs. She told her father that "Mrs. Borden has gone out - she had a note from someone who was sick." Lizzie and Emma always called their step-mother "Mrs. Borden" and recently, the relationship between them, especially with Lizzie, was strained.
Borden took the key to his bedroom off a shelf and went up the back stairs. The room could only be reached by these stairs, as there was no hallway, and the front stairs only gave access to Lizzie’s room (from which Emma’s could be reached) and the guest room. There were connecting doors between the elder Borden’s rooms and Lizzie’s room, but they were usually kept locked.
Borden stayed upstairs for only a few minutes before coming back down and settling onto the sofa in the sitting room. Lizzie began to heat up an iron to press some handkerchiefs.
"Are you going out this afternoon, Maggie?" she asked Bridget. "There is a cheap sale of dress goods at Sargent’s this afternoon, at eight cents a yard."
Bridget replied that she was not. The heat of the morning, combined with the window washing and her touch of stomach ailment, had left her feeling poorly and she went up the back stairs to her attic room for a nap. This was a few minutes before 11:00.
"Maggie, Come down!" Lizzie shouted from the bottom of the back stairs and Bridget’s eyes fluttered open. She had drifted off into a restless sleep but the urgency of Lizzie’s cries startled her awake.
"What is the matter?" Bridget cried. She smoothed out her dress, slipped into her shoes and scurried to the doorway. As he feet tapped down the staircase, she was horrified by what she heard next!
"Come down quick!" Lizzie wailed, "Father's dead! Somebody's come in and killed him!"
As Bridget hurried from the staircase, she found Lizzie standing at the back door. Her face was pale and taut. She stopped the young maid from going into the sitting room, saying "Don't go in there. Go and get the doctor. Run!"
Dr. Bowen, a family friend, lived across the street from the Borden’s and Bridget ran directly to the house. The doctor was out, but Bridget told Mrs. Bowen that Mr. Borden had been killed. She ran directly back to the house. "Where were you when this thing happened?" she asked Lizzie.
"I was out in the yard, and I heard a groan and came in. The screen door was wide open." Lizzie replied, and then sent Bridget to summon the Borden sisters' friend, Miss Alice Russell, who lived a few blocks away.
By now, the neighbors were starting to gather on the lawn and someone had called for the police. Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, the next door neighbor, came over to Lizzie, who was at the back entrance to the house and asked if anything was wrong. Lizzie responded by saying, "Oh, Mrs. Churchill, someone has killed Father!"
"Where is your father?" she asked.
"In the sitting room."
"Where were you when it happened?"
" I went to the barn to get a piece of iron."
Mrs. Churchill then asked, "Where is your mother?"
Lizzie said that she didn’t know and that Abby Borden, her stepmother, had received a note asking her to respond to someone who was sick. She also added "but I don’t know but that she is killed too, for I thought I heard her come in... Father must have an enemy, for we have all been sick, and we think the milk has been poisoned."
By this time, Dr. Bowen had returned, along with Bridget, who had hurried back from informing Miss Russell of the day’s dire events. Dr. Bowen examined the body and asked for a sheet to cover it. Borden had been attacked with a sharp object, probably an ax, and so much damage had been done to his head and face that Bowen, a close friend, could not at first positively identify him. Borden’s head was turned slightly to the right and eleven blows had gashed his face. One eye had been cut in half and his nose had been severed. The majority of the blows had been struck within the area that extended from the eyes and nose to the ears. Blood was still seeping from the wounds and had been splashed onto the wall above the sofa, the floor and on a picture hanging on the wall. It looked as though Borden had been attacked from above and behind as he slept.
Several minutes passed before anyone thought of going upstairs to see if Abby Borden had come home. "Maggie, I am almost positive I heard her coming in," Lizzie spoke. "Go upstairs and see." Bridget refused to go upstairs by herself, so Mrs. Churchill went with her. They went up the staircase together but Mrs. Churchill was the first to see Abby lying on the floor of the guestroom. She had fallen in a pool of blood and Mrs. Churchill later said that she only "looked like the form of a person."
Bridget saw Mrs. Borden's body. Mrs. Churchill rushed by her, viewed the obviously dead body, and rushed downstairs. "Is there another?" a neighbor asked her.
"Yes," the woman replied. "She is up there."
Dr. Bowen found that Mrs. Borden had been struck more than a dozen times, from the back. The autopsy later revealed that there had been nineteen blows to her head, probably from the same hatchet that had killed Mr. Borden. The blood on Mrs. Borden's body was dark and congealed, leading him to believe that she had been killed before her husband.
Dr. Bowen was heavily involved in the activities of the Borden house on the day of the murder. He was the first to examine the bodies, sent a telegram to Emma to summon her home, assisted Dr. Dolan with the autopsies and even prescribed a calming tranquilizer for Lizzie. He was a constant presence in the house and his involvement with them, especially on August 4, has led to him being considered a major figure in some of the conspiracies developed around the murders.
A call reached the Fall River police station at 11:15 but as things would happen, that day marked the annual picnic of the Fall River Police Department and most of them were off enjoying an outing at Rocky Point. The only officer dispatched to the house was Officer George W. Allen. He ran the 400 yards to the house, saw that Andrew Borden was dead and ran back to the station house to inform the city marshal of the events. He left no one in charge of the crime scene. While he was gone, neighbors overran the house, comforting Lizzie and peering in at the gruesome state of Andrew Borden’s body. The constant traffic trampled and destroyed any clues that might have been left behind.
During the 30 minutes or so that no authorities were on the scene, a county medical examiner named Dolan passed by the house by chance. He looked in and was pressed into service by Dr. Bowen. Dolan examined the bodies as well and after hearing that the family had been sick and that the milk was suspected, he took samples of it. Later that afternoon, he had the bodies photographed and then removed the stomachs and sent them, along with the milk, to the Harvard Medical School for analysis. No poison was ever found.
The murder investigation that followed was chaotic. The police were reluctant to suspect Lizzie of the murder as it was against the perceived social understanding of the era that a woman such as she was could have possibly committed such a heinous crime. Other solutions were advanced but were discarded as even more impossible.
A profusion of clues were discovered over the next few days, all of which went nowhere. A boy reported seeing a man jump over the back fence of the Borden property and while a man was found matching the boy’s description, he had an unbreakable alibi. A bloody hatchet was found on the Sylvia Farm in South Somerset but it proved to be covered in chicken blood. While Bridget was also seen as a suspect for a short time, the investigation finally began to center on Lizzie.
A circumstantial case began to be developed against her with no incriminating physical evidence, like bloody clothes, a real motive for the killings, or even a convincing demonstration of how and when she committed the murders.
Over the course of several weeks though, investigators managed to compile a sequence of events that certainly cast suspicion on the spinster Sunday School teacher. The timeline ran from August 3, the day before the murders to August 7, the day that Alice Russell saw her friend burning a dress that may (or many not) have had blood on it.
There were several incidents that police believed related to the murders that occurred on Wednesday. The first was in the early morning hours when Abby Borden went across the street to Dr. Bowen and told him that she and her husband had been violently ill throughout the night. He told her that he didn’t think the vomiting was serious and he sent her home. Later, he dropped in to check on Andrew, who told him rather ungratefully that he was not ill and would not pay for an unsolicited house call. There would be no evidence of poisoning found in the Borden autopsies.
Another incident took place when Lizzie tried to buy ten cents worth of prussic acid from Eli Bence, a clerk at Smith’s Drug Store. She explained to him that she wanted the poison to "kill moths in a sealskin cape" but he refused to sell it to her without a prescription. A customer and another clerk also identified Lizzie as being in the store that morning, but she denied it. She testified at the inquest that she had not attempted to purchase the poison and had not been at Smith’s that day.
The third incident was the arrival of John Morse in the early afternoon. He came without luggage but intended to stay the night. Both he and Lizzie testified that they did not see each other until after the murders the next day, although Lizzie knew that he was there.
Finally, that evening Lizzie visited her friend, Miss Alice Russell. According to Miss Russell, Lizzie was agitated, worried over some threat to her father, and concerned that something was about to happen. "I feel as if something were hanging over me and I cannot throw it off," she told her. She added that her father had enemies and that she was frightened that something was going to happen to the family.
An eerie foreshadowing of the future? Or laying the groundwork for an alibi?
On the day of the murders, there were several parts of the story that did not make sense to the investigators, or could not have happened the way that Lizzie expressed them.
Abby was killed, according to the autopsy, at around 9:30 in the morning. The killer, if it was anyone but Lizzie or Bridget, would have had to have concealed himself (or herself) in the house for well over an hour, waiting for Andrew Borden’s return. Abby could have been discovered at any moment.
Abby’s time of death also posed another problem for investigators. According to Lizzie, she had gone out but she obviously hadn’t. The note that Lizzie said that Abby had received, asking her to visit a sick friend, was never found. Lizzie later said that she might have inadvertently burned it.
When Andrew Borden returned to the house, Bridget had to let him in as the screen door was fastened on the inside with three locks. This would have made it extremely difficult for the killer to get inside. Only a small window of opportunity would have existed while Bridget was fetching a pail and water from the barn. In addition, Bridget later testified that while she was unlocking the door for Mr. Borden, she head Lizzie laugh from upstairs. However, Lizzie swore that she had been in the kitchen when her father came home.
Borden also had to retrieve the key to his bedroom from the shelf in the kitchen to get into his room. This was done as a precaution because of a burglary the year before. In June 1891, a police captain inspected the house after Andrew Borden reported that it had been broken into. He found that Borden’s desk had been rummaged through and over $100, along with Andrew’s watch and chain, several small items and some streetcar tickets, had been taken.
There was no clue as to how anyone could have gotten into the house, although Lizzie offered the fact that the cellar door had been open. The neighborhood was canvassed but no one reported seeing a stranger in the vicinity. According to the police captain, Borden said several times to him, "I’m afraid the police will not be able to find the real thief." It is unknown what he may have meant by this but various conspiracy theorists have their own ideas.
On the afternoon of the murder, an officer asked Lizzie if there were any hatchets in the house and she told Bridget to show him where they could be found. Four of them were discovered in the basement, including one with dried blood and hair on it (later determined to be from a cow). Another of the hatchets was rusted and the others were covered with dust. One of these was without a handle and was covered in ashes. The broken handle appeared to be recent, so it was taken into evidence.
A Sergeant Harrington and another officer asked Lizzie where she had been that morning and she said that she had been in the barn loft looking for iron for fishing sinkers. The two men examined the barn and found the loft floor to be thick with dust, with no evidence that anyone had been up there.
Deputy Marshal John Fleet questioned Lizzie and asked her who might have committed the murders. Other than an unknown man with whom her father had gotten into an argument with a few weeks before, she could think of no one. When asked directly if Uncle John Morse or Bridget could have killed her father and mother, she said that they couldn't have. Morse had left the house before 9:00, and Bridget had been sleeping when Andrew had been killed... then she pointedly reminded Fleet that Abby was not her mother, but her stepmother.
On the following day, the investigation continued. By now, the story had appeared in the newspapers and the entire town was in an uproar. Sergeant Harrington found Eli Bence at Smith’s Drug Store and interviewed him about the attempt to buy poison. Emma engaged Mr. Andrew Jennings as he and Lizzie’s attorney. The police continued to investigate, but nothing of significance was found.
Saturday was the day of the funerals for Andrew and Abby Borden. The service was conducted by the Reverends Buck and Judd, from the two Congregational Churches. The burial however, did not take place. At the gravesite, the police informed the ministers that another autopsy needed to be conducted. This time, the heads of the Borden’s were removed from the body, the skin removed and plaster casts were made of the skulls. For some reason, Mr. Borden’s head was not returned to his coffin.
On Sunday morning, Alice Russell observed Lizzie burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She told her friend that, "If I were you, I wouldn't let anybody see me do that, Lizzie." Lizzie said it was a dress stained with paint, and was of no use.
It was this testimony at the inquest that prompted Judge Blaisdell of the Second District Court to charge Lizzie with the murders. The inquest itself was kept secret but at its conclusion, Lizzie was charged with the murder of her father and was taken into custody. The only testimony that Lizzie ever gave during all of the legal proceedings was at the inquest and we will never know for sure what she said. She was arraigned the following day and replied that she was "not guilty" of the charge. She was then taken to the Taunton Jail, which had facilities for female prisoners.
After that, a preliminary hearing was held, again before Judge Blaisdell. Lizzie did not testify but the record of her testimony at the inquest was entered into evidence by her attorney, Andrew Jennings. The judge declared her probable guilt and bound Lizzie over for the Grand Jury, who heard the case during the last week of its session.
The Commonwealth, represented by prosecutor Hosea Knowlton, had the disagreeable task of building the case against Lizzie. When he finished his presentation to the Grand Jury, he surprisingly invited defense attorney Jennings to present a case for the defense. This was something that was simply not done in Massachusetts.
In effect, a trial was being conducted before the Grand Jury. Many saw this is as a chance that the charge against Lizzie might be dismissed. Then, on December 1, Alice Russell again testified about the burning of the dress. The next day, Lizzie was charged with three counts of murder. Strangely, she had been charged with the murder of her father, her step-mother and then the murders of both of them. The trial was scheduled to begin on June 5, 1893.
The trial itself lasted fourteen days and news of it filled the front pages of every major newspaper in the country. Between 30 and 40 reporters from the Boston and New York papers and the wire services were in the courtroom every day. The trial began on June 5 and after a day to select the jury, which consisted of twelve middle-aged farmers and tradesmen, the prosecution spent the next seven days putting on its case.
Hosea Knowlton was the reluctant prosecutor in the case. He had been forced into the role by Arthur Pillsbury, Attorney General of Massachusetts, who should have been the principal attorney for the prosecution. However, as Lizzie's trial date approached, Pillsbury felt the pressure building from Lizzie's supporters, particularly women's groups and religious organizations. Worried about the next election, he directed Knowlton, who was the District Attorney in Fall River to lead the prosecution in his place. He also assigned William Moody, District Attorney of Essex County, to assist him.
Moody made the opening statements for the prosecution. He presented three arguments. First, that Lizzie was predisposed to murder her father and stepmother because of their animosity toward one another. Second, that she planned the murder and carried it out and third, that her behavior, and her contradictory testimony, after the fact was not that of an innocent person. Moody did an excellent job and many have regarded him as the most competent attorney involved in the case. At one point, he threw a dress onto the prosecution table that he planned to admit as evidence. As he did so, the tissue paper that was covering the skull of Andrew Borden lifted and then fluttered away. Dramatically, Lizzie slid to the floor in a dead faint.
Crucial to the prosecution in the case was evidence that supplied a motive for Lizzie to commit the murders. This was done by using a number of witnesses who testified to Lizzie’s dislike of her step-mother and her complaints about her father’s spendthrift ways. The prosecution also tried to establish that Borden was writing a new will that would leave Emma and Lizzie with a pittance and Abby with a huge portion of his half million dollar estate. One of the witnesses called to establish this was John Morse, who first said that Andrew discussed a new will with him and then later said that he never told him anything about it.
The prosecution then turned to Lizzie’s predisposition towards murder and her strange behavior before and after the events. They again called Alice Russell to testify about the burning of the dress. The destruction of it seemed a possible answer as to why Lizzie was not covered with blood after killing her parents. It was highly probable that she would have been spattered with it if she did commit the murders.
In later years, some have theorized that perhaps she wore a smock over her dress during the murders or that perhaps she was naked when she did it. However, the smock would have been bloody too and would have had to be disposed of. As far as Lizzie being naked, this seems doubtful as well. Ignore the fact that in the Victorian society of Fall River, a young woman would have never appeared nude in front of her father (even to kill him) and focus on the fact that Lizzie never had time to bathe after killing Abby or in the few minutes between the killing of Andrew and her calling for Bridget.
To the prosecution though, the burning of the dress suggested that Lizzie had changed clothing after the murders. But why would she have kept the dress for three days before burning it and what would she have worn for the hours between the two deaths? Someone would have surely noticed a dress covered with blood.
On Saturday, June 10, the prosecution attempted to enter Lizzie's testimony from the inquest into the record. The defense objected, since it was testimony from one who had not been formally charged. The jury was withdrawn so that the lawyers could argue it out and on Monday, when court resumed, the three-judge panel excluded Lizzie’s contradictory inquest testimony.
On Wednesday, June 14, the prosecution called Eli Bence, the drug store clerk, to the stand. The defense objected to his testimony as irrelevant and prejudicial. The judges sustained the objection and Lizzie’s attempt to buy poison was thrown out of the record.
The prosecution called several medical witnesses, including Dr. Dolan. One of them even produced the skull of Andrew Borden to show how the blows had been struck. Unfortunately for the prosecution, these witnesses had an adverse effect on the case as the defense used their testimonies to strike points in Lizzie’s favor. They were forced to state that whoever had committed the murders would have been covered with blood. There was no one to say that Lizzie had been!
Lizzie Borden’s defense counsel used only two days to present its case. The two attorneys consisted of Andrew Jennings and George Robinson. Jennings was one of Fall River’s most prominent citizens and had been Andrew Borden’s private attorney. He was a solemn man who never again spoke about the Borden case after its conclusion. He and his younger associate, Melvin Adams, were instrumental in getting Lizzie’s damaging testimony excluded from the case. Jennings was joined by George Robinson, who even with less legal experience, was very beneficial to the case.
For the most part, the defense offered witnesses who could either corroborate Lizzie’s story, or who could provide alternate possibilities as to who the killer might be. The testimony of the various witnesses was meant to do little but provide "reasonable doubt" about Lizzie’s guilt.
For instance, an ice cream peddler testified to seeing a woman (presumably Lizzie) coming out the barn. This bolstered her story that she had actually been there. A passer-by claimed to see a "wild-eyed man" around the time of the murders. Mr. Joseph Lemay claimed that he was walking in the deep woods, some miles from the city, about twelve days after the murders when he heard someone crying "Poor Mrs. Borden! Poor Mrs. Borden! Poor Mrs. Borden!" He looked over a conveniently placed wall and saw a man sitting on the ground. The man, who had bloodstains on his shirt, picked up a hatchet, shook it at him and then disappeared into the woods. Needless to say, Lemay’s story has never been given much credibility.
The defense also called witnesses who claimed to see a mysterious young man in the vicinity of the Borden house who was never properly explained. They also called Emma Borden to dispute the suggestion that Lizzie had any motive to want to kill their parents. Emma remained very supportive of her sister during the trial, although there is one witness, a prison matron, who testified that Lizzie and Emma had an argument when she was visiting her sister in jail.
On Monday, June 19, Robinson delivered his closing arguments and Knowlton began his closing arguments for the prosecution. He completed them on the following day. The judges then asked Lizzie if she had anything to say for herself and she spoke for the only time during the trial. "I am innocent", she said. "I leave it to my counsel to speak for me." Instructions were then given to the jury and they left to deliberate over the verdict.
A little over an hour later, the jury returned with its verdict. Lizzie Borden was found "not guilty" on all three charges. Public opinion was, by this time, of the feeling that the police and the courts had persecuted Lizzie long enough.
Five weeks after the trial, Lizzie (who henceforth called herself "Lizbeth") and Emma purchased and moved into a thirteen-room, stone house at 306 French Street in Fall River. It was located on "The Hill", the most fashionable area of the city. Lizzie named the house "Maplecroft" and had the name carved into the top step leading up to the front door.
In 1897, Lizzie was charged with the theft of two paintings, valued at less than one hundred dollars, from the Tilden-Thurber store in Fall River. There were no charges ever filed and it is believed the affair was settled privately.
In 1904, Lizzie met a young actress, Nance O'Neil, and for the next two years, Lizzie and Nance were inseparable. About this time, Emma separated from her sister and moved to Fairhaven. She and Lizzie stopped speaking to one another. Rumors said that sensational revelations about the murders would follow the split, but the revelations never came. Emma stayed with the family of Reverend Buck, and, sometime around 1915, she moved to Newmarket, New Hampshire.
Lizzie died on June 1, 1927, at age 67, after a long illness from complications following gall bladder surgery. Emma died nine days later, as a result of a fall down the back stairs of her house in Newmarket. They were buried together in the family plot, along with a sister who had died in early childhood, their mother, their stepmother, and their headless father. Both Lizzie and Emma left their estates to charitable causes and Lizzie designated $500 for the perpetual care of her father’s grave.
Bridget Sullivan never worked for any of the Borden’s again. After the terrible events of the murder and the trial, she left town. She lived in modest circumstances in Butte, Montana until her death in 1948. Those who suggested that she had been "paid off" to keep quiet about the murders could find no evidence of this in what she left behind.
Over 100 years have passed since the murders in Fall River and we still cannot be sure of what we think we know about them. Perhaps because the case remained "unsolved", we still have a fascination for the events surrounding the murders. No single theory has ever been regarded as the correct one and every writer on the case seems to have a favorite culprit. But how can we explain what draws us to the story? Is it because of the murders themselves, or is Lizzie herself to blame? Who can look at a photo of her, always smiling slightly, and wonder what secrets she carried with her to the grave? We will never know -- but that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying to guess.
The books and articles that have followed the events have each put their own special spin on the story. They use the same evidence and testimony to argue different suspicions of who really killed Andrew and Abby Borden. During the early days of the investigation, and well into the days of the trial, a number of accusations were made. At times the killer was said to be John Morse, Bridget Sullivan, Emma Borden, Dr. Bowen and even one of Lizzie’s Sunday School students. Since that time, there have been other suggested killers. Some of the theories are credible and some are not.
One of the theories remains that Lizzie Borden actually committed the murders of her parents and managed to get away with it. This theory was especially popular in books written prior to 1940 and it still turns up occasionally today. Most of the writers who stand by this solution see the court rulings and poorly executed prosecution case as the reason that Lizzie was never found guilty. They simply refuse to see how an outsider could have committed the crimes.
The main problem with this idea is that it would have taken careful planning for Lizzie to kill Abby Borden and then wait patiently for the time to come to kill Andrew and still interact with Bridget Sullivan. This seems inconsistent with the "blitz" style attacks on the Borden’s. The killer was obviously in a frenzy when each murder was committed and during the "cooling down" time between them, it seems unlikely that they would have been able to so easily iron handkerchiefs, attend to household duties and carry on conversations with the maid.
There is also the glaring problem of the blood. If Lizzie did kill her step-mother, where was the blood that would have been on her dress when she called Bridget a short time later? If she did change clothing (twice in the same morning), wouldn’t Bridget have noticed this? It has been suggested that Lizzie may have gone to the barn between the murders as she claimed to and washed the blood off (there was running water there), but if she did, how did she wash off the blood after her father’s murder?
Some writers believe that Lizzie and Bridget planned the murders together and that Bridget (when she went to Alice Russell’s house) spirited away the bloody hatchet and dress so that they were never found. This theory is also used to explain the testimony that each woman gave about the day of the murder, never implicating the other. It seems hard to believe that Abby Borden’s fall to the upstairs floor would not have been heard from below, especially since Abby weighed in at close to 200 pounds. However, there is no proof of this either and it still places one or both of the women in the role of a depraved killer.
While it seems hard to believe that Lizzie did commit the murders, it doesn’t mean that she was not guilty in other ways. In other words, while she may not have actually handled the hatchet, she may have known who did.
One person who has been accused in this capacity was Emma Borden. It has been noted with some suspicion how she may have arranged an alibi for herself, claiming to be some 15 miles away in Fairhaven, but actually returned to Fall River, hid upstairs in the Borden house, committed the murders and then returned to Fairhaven, where she received the telegram from Dr. Bowen. Once Lizzie is accused, the two sisters worked together to protect each other. Later, the women had a falling out over their father’s estate and Lizzie’s alleged affair with Nance O’Neil. However, neither one of them every spoke of the murder again.
Another astonishing theory pins the murders on William Borden, the slightly retarded, illegitimate son of Andrew Borden, who coincidentally (or not) committed suicide a few years after the trial. According to this theory, Lizzie, Emma, John Morse, Dr. Bowen and Andrew Jennings all conspired to keep his involvement a secret because of his illegitimate status and a claim that he might make against the estate if his relationship with the Borden’s was found out.
Allegedly, William was making demands of his father, who was in the process of writing a new will. Borden rejected the boy and William became enraged. He first killed Mrs. Borden and then after hiding in the house with Lizzie’s knowledge, killed his father as well. The conspirators then either paid William off or threatened him, or both, and decided that Lizzie would allow herself to be suspected and tried for the murders, knowing that she could always identify the real killer, should that be necessary. This may be much in the way of speculation, but it’s long been a favored theory by many.
So who did kill Andrew and Abby Borden? It’s unlikely that we will ever know. It’s also unlikely that we will ever discover just what Lizzie, and her defense counsel, really knew about the events in 1892. The papers from Lizzie’s defense are still locked up and have never been released. The files remain sealed away in the offices of the Springfield, Massachusetts law firm that descended from the firm that defended Lizzie during the trial. There are no plans to ever release them.
But the question of who killed Mr. and Mrs. Borden is not the only mysterious riddle that lingers in the wake of this heinous event. Another question might be, who haunts the house at 92 Second Street where the Borden’s once lived?
In the years since the murders and the trial, the house has gone on to become the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum, a time capsule of the era when the murders took place and a quaint inn. Guests come from all over the country to be able to sleep in the room where Abby Borden was killed, but not all of them sleep peacefully -- and not all of the spirits here rest in peace.
Guests and staff members alike have had their share of strange experiences in the house. Some have reported the sounds of a woman weeping and others claim to have seen a woman in Victorian era clothing dusting the furniture and straightening the covers on the beds. Occasionally, this even happens when the guests are still in the bed! Others have heard the sounds of footsteps going up and down the stairs and crossing back and forth on the floor above, even when they know the house is empty. Doors open and close as well and often, muffled conversation can be heard coming from inside of otherwise vacant rooms.
One man, who had little interest in ghosts, claimed that he accompanied his wife to the inn one night and took their luggage upstairs. The room had been perfectly made up when he entered, the bed smooth and everything put in its place. Over the course of a few minutes of unpacking, he happened to look over to the bed again and saw that it was now rumpled, even though he was in the room alone and had not been near it. With a start, he also noticed that the folds of the comforter had been moved so that they corresponded to the curves of a human body. On the pillow, there was an indentation in the shape of a human head!
His wife found him a few minutes later sitting in the downstairs sitting room. His face was very pale and he seemed quite nervous. When she asked him what was wrong, he took her back upstairs to show her the strange appearance of the bed. However when he opened the door, the pillow had been plumped and the comforter looked just as it did when he first entered the room -- the room where Abby Borden had been murdered!
By Russell Aiuto
Lizzie Borden Took An Axe
The day is stiflingly hot, over one hundred degrees, even though it is not yet noon. The elderly man, still in his heavy morning coat, reclines on a mohair-covered sofa, his boots on the floor so as not to soil the upholstery. As he naps in the August heat, his wife is on the floor of the guestroom upstairs, dead for the past hour and a half, killed by the same hand, with the same weapon, that is about to strike him, as he sleeps.
"... one of the most dastardly and diabolical crimes that was ever committed in Massachusetts... Who could have done such an act? In the quiet of the home, in the broad daylight of an August day, on the street of a popular city, with houses within a stone's throw, nay, almost touching, who could have done it?
"Inspection of the victims discloses that Mrs. Borden had been slain by the use of some sharp and terrible instrument, inflicting upon her head eighteen blows, thirteen of them crushing through the skull; and below stairs, lying upon the sofa, was Mr. Borden's dead and mutilated body, with eleven strokes upon the head, four of them crushing the skull."
(From the closing arguments for the defense of Lizzie Borden, made by her principal attorney, George D. Robinson.)
The Lizzie Borden case has mystified and fascinated those interested in crime for over one hundred years. Very few cases in American history have attracted as much attention as the hatchet murders of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby Borden. The bloodiness of the acts in an otherwise respectable late nineteenth century domestic setting is startling. Along with the gruesome nature of the crimes is the unexpected character of the accused, not a hatchet-wielding maniac, but a church-going, Sunday-school-teaching, respectable, spinster-daughter, charged with parricide, the murder of parents, a crime worthy of Classical Greek tragedy. This is a murder case in which the accused is found not guilty for the violent and bloody murders of two people. There were the unusual circumstances considering that it was an era of swift justice, of vast newspaper coverage, evidence that was almost entirely circumstantial, passionately divided public opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, incompetent prosecution, and acquittal.
However little one might know about Lizzie Borden, she is forever immortalized in the playground verse:
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
The First Murder
At about 11:10 a.m., on Thursday, August 4, 1892, a heavy, hot summer day, at No. 92 Second Street, Fall River, Massachusetts, Bridget Sullivan, the hired girl in the household of Andrew J. Borden, resting in her attic room, was startled to hear Lizzie Borden, Andrew's daughter, cry out, "Maggie, come down!"
"What's the matter?" Bridget (called "Maggie" by the Borden sisters) asked.
"Come down quick! Father's dead! Somebody's come in and killed him!"
Andrew Borden, 70, was one of the richest men in Fall River, a director on the boards of several banks, a commercial landlord whose holdings were considerable. He was a tall, thin, white-haired dour man, known for his thrift and admired for his business abilities. He chose to live with his second wife and his two grown spinster daughters in a small house in an unfashionable part of town, close to his business interests. He was not particularly likable, but, despite the frugal nature of their daily lives, moderately generous to his wife and daughters
When Bridget hurried downstairs, she found Lizzie standing at the back door. Lizzie stopped her from going into the sitting room, saying, "Don't go in there. Go and get the doctor. Run."
Bridget ran across the street to their neighbor and family physician, Dr. Bowen. He was out, but Bridget told Mrs. Bowen that Mr. Borden had been killed. Bridget ran back to the house, and Lizzie sent her to summon the Borden sisters' friend, Miss Alice Russell, who lived a few blocks away.
The portrait of Bridget, taken in her early twenties, shows a sturdy, vaguely pretty Irish maid, which is exactly what she was. At the time of the murders she was 26 years old, and had been working in the Borden household since 1889. There is no evidence that she was other than an exemplary young woman. She had emigrated from Ireland in 1886, and belonged to a socially discriminated class, the Irish of Massachusetts. Her testimony, which has been published in its entirety in the volume edited by Jeans, was straightforward, consistent, and neither helpful nor damaging to Lizzie. She did not spend the night of the murders in the Borden house, but at a neighbor's, although she spent the next night (Friday) in her third-floor room, leaving the house on Saturday, never to return. One legend is that Bridget was paid off by Lizzie, even to the extent of being given funds to buy a large farm back in Ireland. While it is likely that Lizzie or Emma provided the funds for transport back to Ireland, there is no evidence that more than that had come from Lizzie. The story of her being well-off is unlikely, since she returned to the United States a few years later, marrying and moving to Butte, Montana, where she died in 1948 in very modest circumstances.
The Second Murder
In the meanwhile, the neighbor to the North, Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, saw that something distressful was happening at the Borden house. She called across to Lizzie, who was at the back entrance to the house and asked if anything was wrong. Lizzie responded by saying, "Oh, Mrs. Churchill, please come over! Someone has killed Father!"
Mrs. Churchill asked, "Where is your mother?"
Lizzie said that she did not know and that Abby Borden, her stepmother, had received a note asking her to respond to someone who was sick. She told Mrs. Churchill that Bridget was unable to find Dr. Bowen. Mrs. Churchill volunteered to send her handyman to find a doctor and to send him to a telephone to summon help. The police station, about four hundred yards from 92 Second Street, received a message to respond to an incident at No. 92 at 11:15 a.m.
After sending her handy man and informing a passer-by of the trouble, Mrs. Churchill returned to the Borden kitchen. Dr. Bowen had arrived, along with Bridget, who had hurried back from informing Miss Russell. Dr. Bowen examined the body and asked for a sheet to cover it. Bridget said, "If I knew where Mrs. Whitehead (Abby Borden's younger sister) was, I would go and see if Mrs. Borden was there and tell her that Mr. Borden was very sick."
Lizzie said, "Maggie, I am almost positive I heard her coming in. Go upstairs and see."
Bridget refused. Mrs. Churchill volunteered to go up and see if Abby had returned. Bridget reluctantly went with her. The two went up the front staircase together, and before they reached the landing they were able to see that Mrs. Borden was lying on the floor of the guestroom.
Bridget saw Mrs. Borden's body. Mrs. Churchill rushed by her, viewed the obviously dead body, and rushed downstairs, saying, "There's another one!"
Abby Borden was a short, shy, obese woman of 64, who had been a spinster until the age of 36, when she married the widowed Andrew Borden. She was devoted to her younger half-sister, Sarah Whitehead, to whom she had been a mother. Other than Sarah and Sarah's daughter, Abby, who had been named for her aunt, she appeared to have no other intimate relationships. She apparently provided, within the limits of Andrew's penuriousness, a comfortable home for her husband, who clearly appreciated her. Her stepdaughters were not particularly close to her. Lizzie, in fact, had been calling her "Mrs. Borden" for the past several years, rather than "Mother."
In the meantime, Alice Russell had arrived, and Dr. Bowen, having left for a brief time to telegraph Lizzie's older sister Emma, who was visiting friends in the neighboring town of Fairhaven, had returned, and resumed examining Andrew Borden's body. It was on its right side on the sofa, feet still resting on the floor. His head was bent slightly to the right and his face had been cut by eleven blows. One eye had been cut in half and was protruding from his face, his nose had been severed. Most of the cuts were within a small area extending from the eye and nose to the ear. Blood was still seeping from the wounds. There were spots of blood on the floor, on the wall above the sofa and on a picture hanging on the wall. It appeared that he had been attacked from above and behind him as he slept.
Dr. Bowen found that Mrs. Borden had been struck more than a dozen times, from the back. The autopsy later revealed that there had been nineteen blows. Her head had been crushed by the same hatchet or axe that had presumably killed Mr. Borden, with one misdirected blow striking the back of her scalp, almost at the neck. The blood on Mrs. Borden's body was dark and congealed.
Dr. Bowen was heavily involved in the activities on the day of the murder, diagnosing Abby' early morning distress and fears as food poisoning, checking on Andrew and the rest of the household shortly thereafter, being the first to examine the bodies, sending a telegram to Emma, assisting Dr. Dolan with the initial autopsies, prescribing sulphate of morphine as a tranquilizer for Lizzie in short, from about 11:30 a.m. on, he was a constant presence. His involvement with the family, particularly on August 4, has led to his being a major figure in some of the conspiracies developed around the murders.
Within minutes of receiving the call at 11:15, the City Marshall, Rufus B. Hilliard, dispatched Officer George W. Allen to the Borden house. He ran the four hundred yards to the house, saw that Andrew Borden was dead, and deputized a passer-by, Charles Sawyer, to stand guard while he went back to the stationhouse for assistance. Within minutes of his return, seven additional officers went to the murder scene. By 11:45 a.m., the Medical Examiner, William Dolan, passing by the Borden house and noting the flurry of activity, was on the scene.
Thus, the discovery of at least one murder happened at 11:10 a.m., and within the next thirty-five minutes, the authorities were on the scene.
The Cast of Characters
Mrs. Abby Durfee Gray Borden (1828-1892), Lizzie's stepmother
Mr. Andrew Jackson Borden (1822-1892), Lizzie's father
Miss Lizzie Andrew Borden (1860-1927)
Miss Emma Borden (1849-1927), Lizzie's sister
John Vinnicum Morse (1833-1912), Lizzie's maternal uncle, visiting
Bridget ("Maggie") Sullivan (1866-1948), the Borden maid
Josiah C. Blaisdell, presiding judge, Second District Court
Chief Justice Albert Mason (1836-1905), Superior Court of Massachusetts
Associate Justice Caleb Blodgett (1832-1901)
Associate Justice Justin Dewey (1836-1900)
Hosea M. Knowlton (1847-1902), later Attorney General of Massachusetts
William H. Moody (1853-1917), later Attorney General of the United States, and Supreme Court Justice
Andrew J. Jennings (1849-1923), Borden family lawyer
George D. Robinson (1834-1896), former Governor of Massachusetts
Melvin O. Adams (1850-1920), Boston attorney
Rufus B. Hilliard, City Marshal
John Fleet, Deputy Marshal
Michael Mullaly, Officer
Philip Harrington, Sergeant
Dr. William A. Dolan, Medical Examiner
Dr. Edward S. Wood, Professor of Chemistry, Harvard
RELATIVES, MINISTERS, FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS, WITNESSES:
Sarah Gray Whitehead, Abby Borden's younger half-sister
Abby Borden Whitehead Potter, Sarah's daughter
Hiram Harrington, Andrew Borden's brother-in-law
Luana Borden Harrington, Andrew Borden's sister
W. Walker Jubb, minister, First Congregational Church, Fall River
Edwin A. Buck, minister, Central Congregational Church, Fall River
Miss Alice Russell, friend of the Borden sisters
Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, next door neighbor
Eli Bence, drugstore clerk
Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Borden family physician and neighbor
The murder investigation, chaotic and stumbling as it was, can be reconstructed from the four official judicial events in the Lizzie Borden case: The inquest, the preliminary hearing, the Grand Jury hearing, and the trial. Basically, a circumstantial case against Lizzie was developed without the precise identification of a murder weapon, with no incriminating physical evidence for example, bloodstained clothes and no clear and convincing motive. Also, the case against Lizzie was hampered by the inability of the investigators to produce a corroborated demonstration of time and opportunity for the murders.
Over the course of several weeks, investigators were able to construct a time-table of events covering the period of Wednesday, August 3, the day before the murders, through Sunday, August 7, the day that Miss Russell saw Lizzie burning a dress, an act that proved crucial at the inquest.
The investigation found that four events of significance occurred on August 3. The first was that Abby Borden had gone across the street to Dr. Bowen at seven in the morning, claiming that she and Andrew were being poisoned. Both of them had been violently ill during the night. Dr. Bowen told her that he did not think that her nausea and vomiting was serious, and sent her home. Later, he went across the street to check on Andrew, who ungraciously told him that he was not ill, and that he would not pay for an unsolicited house call. Bridget had also been ill that morning. No evidence of poisoning was found during the autopsies of Andrew and Abby.
The second was that Lizzie had attempted to buy ten cents worth of prussic acid from Eli Bence, a clerk at Smith's Drug Store. She told Bence that she wanted the poison to kill insects in her sealskin cape. Bence refused to sell it to her without a prescription. Two others, a customer and another clerk, identified Lizzie as having been in the drugstore somewhere between ten and eleven-thirty in the morning. Lizzie denied that she had tried to buy prussic acid, testifying at the inquest that she had been out that morning, but not to Smith's Drug Store, then changing her story by saying that she had not left the house at all until the evening of August 3.
Third, early in the afternoon, Uncle John Morse arrived. He was without luggage, but intended to stay overnight, so that he could visit relatives across town the next day. Both he and Lizzie testified that they did not see each other until after the murders the next day, although Lizzie knew that he was there.
Finally, that evening Lizzie visited her friend, Miss Alice Russell. According to Miss Russell, Lizzie was agitated, worried over some threat to her father, and concerned that something was about to happen. Lizzie returned home about nine o'clock, heard Uncle John and her parents talking loudly in the sitting room, and went upstairs to bed without seeing them.
The morning of the murder began with Bridget beginning her duties about 6:15. Uncle John was also up. Abby came down about seven, Andrew a few minutes later. They had breakfast. Lizzie remained upstairs until a few minutes after Uncle John left, at about 8:45. Andrew left for his business rounds around nine o'clock, according to Mrs. Churchill, the neighbor to the north. He visited the various banks where he was a stockholder, and a store he owned that was being remodeled. He left for home around 10:40, according to the carpenters working at the store.
Just before nine o'clock, Abby instructed Bridget to wash the windows while she went upstairs to straighten up the guestroom where Uncle John had spent the night.
Some time between nine and ten (probably 9:30) Abby was killed in the guestroom. She had not gone out. The note that Lizzie said Abby had received from a sick friend, asking her to visit, was never found, despite an intensive search. Lizzie said that she might have inadvertently burned it.
Andrew returned shortly after 10:40. Bridget was washing the inside of the windows. Because the door was locked from the inside with three locks, Bridget had to let Mr. Borden in. As she fumbled with the lock, she testified that she heard Lizzie laugh from the upstairs landing. However, Lizzie told the police that she had been in the kitchen when her father came home.
Mr. Borden, who had kept his and Mrs. Borden's bedroom locked since a burglary the year before, took the key to his bedroom off the mantle and went up the back stairs. Lizzie set up the ironing board and began to iron handkerchiefs. For a few minutes more, Bridget resumed washing windows.
Bridget went up to her room to lie down about 10:55. Andrew went to the couch in the sitting room for a nap. Lizzie went out into the yard, or to the barn, or to the barn loft, for twenty to thirty minutes. Where she had precisely gone was vague. She said that her purpose for going to the barn was to find some metal for fishing sinkers, since she intended to join Emma at Fairhaven and to do some fishing. When she returned at 11:10, she found her father dead.
August 4, Continued
The next thirty-five minutes have been recounted in the description of the crime
11:15: Police received notification
11:30: Dr. Bowen arrived
11:45: Charles Sawyer, seven police officers and Medical Examiner William Dolan were on the scene
The police investigation began in earnest. Officer Mullaly asked Lizzie if there were any hatchets in the house. "Yes, she said. "They are everywhere." She then told Bridget to show him where they were. Mullaly and Bridget went down to the basement and found four hatchets, one with dried blood and hair on it cow's blood and hair, as it was later determined a second rusty claw-headed hatchet, and two that were dusty. One of these was without a handle and covered in ashes. The break appeared to be recent. This is the hatchet submitted in evidence.
About this time, Uncle John returned, strolling into the backyard, picking some pears and eating them. He had been asked by Andrew that morning to return for the noon meal. He later testified that he did not notice if the cellar door was open or closed.
Sergeant Harrington and another officer, having questioned Lizzie as to her whereabouts during the morning, examined the barn loft where Lizzie said she had been looking for metal for fishing sinkers. They found that the loft floor was thick with dust, with no evidence that anyone had been up there.
At 3:00, the bodies of Andrew and Abby were carried into the dining room, where Dr. Dolan performed autopsies on them as they lay on the dining room table. Their stomachs removed and tied, and sent by special messenger to Dr. Wood at Harvard.
Upstairs, Deputy Marshal John Fleet questioned Lizzie, asking her if she had any idea of who could have committed the murders. Other than a man with whom her father had had an argument a few weeks before a man unknown to her she knew of no one. When asked directly if Uncle John Morse or Bridget could have killed her father and mother, she said that they couldn't have. Uncle John had left the house at 8:45, and Bridget was upstairs when Mr. Borden was killed. She pointedly reminded Mr. Fleet that Abby was not her mother, but her stepmother.
Emma returned from Fairhaven just before seven that evening. The bodies of the Bordens were still on the dining room table, awaiting the arrival of the undertaker. Sergeant Harrington continued the questioning of Lizzie. Finally, the police left, leaving a cordon around the house to keep away the large number of curious Fall River citizens who had been gathered around the front of the house since noon. Bridget was taken to stay with a neighbor, Alice Russell stayed in the Bordens' bedroom, Emma and Lizzie in their respective bedrooms, and Uncle John in the guest room where Abby had been killed.
August 5 through December
The next day Lizzie's uncle, Hiram Harrington, married to Andrew Borden's only sister, Luana Borden Harrington, had given an interview the day before to the Fall River Globe, which now appeared. He falsely stated that he had had an interview with his niece the evening before the evening of the day of the murders and that his niece had not shown any emotion or grief, "as she is not naturally emotional."
Sergeant Harrington no relation to Hiram found Eli Bence and interviewed him about the attempt to buy poison. Emma engaged Mr. Andrew Jennings as their attorney. The police continued to investigate, but nothing of significance was found. Fall River was in an uproar, and the newspapers, both in Fall River and the metropolitan areas, were obsessed with the killings.
Saturday was the day of the funerals for Andrew and Abby Borden. The service was conducted by the Reverends Buck and Judd, of the two competing Congregational churches. The burial, however, did not take place. At the gravesite, the police were informed that Dr. Wood wanted to conduct another autopsy. At this second autopsy, the heads of Andrew and Abby were removed from their bodies and defleshed. Plaster casts were made of the skulls. Andrew's skull, for some reason, was not returned to his coffin.
On Sunday morning, Miss Russell observed Lizzie burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She said, "If I were you, I wouldn't let anybody see me do that, Lizzie." Lizzie said it was a dress stained with paint, and was of no use. It was this testimony at the inquest that prompted Judge Blaisdell of the Second District Court to charge Lizzie with the murders
August 9 through August 11
Judge Blaisdell conducted the inquest, the proceedings of which were kept secret. At its conclusion, Lizzie was charged with the murder of her father, and remanded to custody. Lizzie's only testimony during all of the legal proceedings was at the inquest. The next day, August 12, she was arraigned, and pleaded not guilty. She was held in Taunton Jail, which had facilities for female prisoners.
August 22 through August 28
The preliminary hearing was held before Judge Blaisdell. Lizzie did not testify, but the record of Lizzie's testimony at the secret inquest were entered by Jennings. Tearfully, Judge Blaisdell declared Lizzie's probable guilt and bound her over for the Grand Jury.
November 7 through December 2
The Grand Jury heard the case of Lizzie Borden during the last week of its session. Prosecutor Hosea Knowlton finished his presentation and surprisingly invited defense attorney Jennings to present a case for the defense. This was unheard of in Massachusetts. In effect, a trial was being conducted before the Grand Jury. It appeared for a time that the charge against Lizzie would be dismissed. Then, on December 1, Miss Russell testified about the burning of the dress. The next day, Lizzie was charged with three counts of murder. (Oddly, she had been charged with the murder of her father, the murder of her stepmother, and the murders of both of them.) The trial was set for June 5, 1893.
In addition to the actual trial record itself, two works (discussed in detail below) chronicle the trial. The first is the book by Edmund Pearson, The Trial of Lizzie Borden, and the second is Robert Sullivan's Goodbye Lizzie Borden. Both are detailed, Pearson's being a day-by-day account, while Sullivan's is mostly a legal analysis of the trial.
A brief synopsis of the events of trial is helpful in understanding how the jury came to its conclusion. The trial lasted fourteen days, from June 5, 1893, to June 20, 1893. After a day to select the jury twelve middle-aged farmers and tradesmen the prosecution took about seven days to present its case.
Hosea Knowlton was a reluctant prosecutor, forced into the role by the politically timid Arthur Pillsbury, Attorney General of Massachusetts, who should have been the principal attorney for the prosecution. As Lizzie's trial date approached, Pillsbury felt the pressure building from Lizzie's supporters, particularly women's groups and religious organizations. Pillsbury directed Knowlton, District Attorney of Fall River, to lead the prosecution, and assigned William Moody, District Attorney of Essex County, to assist him. One author, Pearson, calls Knowlton "a courageous public official," while a second, Sullivan, considers his performance at the trial to be "a clear pattern of reluctance and lethargy." Shortly after the trial, Knowlton replaced Pillsbury as Attorney General.
Moody, according to Sullivan, was the most competent attorney involved in the Borden trial. He was the most thorough in the questioning of witnesses Knowlton, in contrast, would sometimes open a line of questioning and then walk away from it and Moody's arguments to the court about the admissibility of evidence were impressive, even if they failed to sway the three judges. His opening statement delineating the issues that the prosecution would bring to the demonstration of Lizzie's guilt were clear, firm, and logical. Moody was elected to Congress three times, served as Secretary of the Navy, then as Attorney General, both during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, a Harvard classmate. In 1906, Roosevelt appointed Moody a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
William Moody made the opening statements for the prosecution. He presented three arguments. First, Lizzie was predisposed to murder her father and stepmother and that she had planned it. Second, that she did in fact murder them, and, third, that her behavior and contradictory testimony was not consistent with innocence. At one point, Moody threw a dress onto the prosecution table that he was to offer later in evidence. As the dress fell on the table, the tissue paper covering the fleshless skulls of the victims was wafted away. Lizzie slid to the floor in a dead faint.
Crucial to the prosecution case was the presentation of evidence that supplied a motive for the murders. Prosecutors Knowlton and Moody called witnesses to establish that Mr. Borden was intending to write a new will. An old will was never found, or did not exist, although Uncle John testified at first that Mr. Borden had told him that he had a will, and then testified that Mr. Borden had not told him of a will. The new will, according to Uncle John, would leave Emma and Lizzie each $25,000, with the remainder of Mr. Borden's half million dollar estate well over ten million in present-day dollars going to Abby. Further, Knowlton developed the additional motive of Mr. Borden's intent to dispose of his farm to Abby, just as he had done the year before with the duplex occupied by Abby's sister, Sarah Whitehead. Knowlton then turned to Lizzie's "predisposition" towards murder. However, two rulings by the court were crucial to Lizzie's eventual verdict of innocent.
On Saturday, June 10, the prosecution attempted to enter Lizzie's testimony from the inquest into the record. Robinson objected, since it was testimony from one who had not been formally charged. On Monday, when court resumed, the justices disallowed the introduction of Lizzie's contradictory inquest testimony.
On Wednesday, June 14, the prosecution called Eli Bence, the drug store clerk, to the stand, and the defense objected. After hearing arguments from both the prosecution and the defense as to the relevance of Lizzie's attempt to purchase prussic acid, the justices ruled the following day that Mr. Bence's testimony and the entire issue of her alleged attempt to buy poison was irrelevant and inadmissible.
The defense used only two days to present its case.
Jennings was one of Fall River's most prominent citizens. He had been Andrew Borden's lawyer, and from the day of the murders on, he became Lizzie's adviser and attorney. He was a taciturn man who never spoke of the Borden case in the thirty years he lived after its conclusion. Without a doubt, it is Jennings, along with his younger colleague, Melvin Adams, who worked successfully to exclude testimony that would have been damaging to Lizzie.
However, even with his lack of legal experience, the third lawyer for the defense, George Robinson, brought a prominent and respected personality to the proceedings. The fact that he had appointed Justice Dewey to the Superior Court certainly did not hurt their cause.
For the most part, the defense called witnesses to verify the presence of a mysterious young man in the vicinity of the Borden home, and Emma Borden to verify the absence of a motive for Lizzie as the murderer.
Emma Borden is something of an enigma. She is variously described as shy, retiring, small, plain looking, thin-faced and bony an unremarkable forty-three-year-old spinster. The most well-known depiction of her is an unsatisfactory drawing made of her in court. She was supportive of Lizzie during the trial, although there is one witness, a prison matron, who testified that Lizzie and Emma had an argument when Emma was visiting her in jail.
After the trial, she and Lizzie lived together at Maplecroft. While Lizzie found it impossible to attend church because of her ostracism, Emma, unlike her previous existence, became a devoted churchgoer.
On Monday, June 19, defense attorney Robinson delivered his closing arguments and Knowlton began his closing arguments for the prosecution, completing them on the next day. Lizzie was then asked if she had anything to say. For the only time during the trial, she spoke. She said, "I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me." Justice Dewey, who had been appointed to the Superior Court bench by then Governor Robinson, then delivered his charge to the jury, which was, in effect, a second summation of the case for the defense, remarkable in its bias.
At 3:24, the jury was sworn, given the case, and retired to carry out their deliberations. At 4:32, a little over an hour later, the jury returned with its verdict. Lizzie was found not guilty on all three charges. The jury was earnestly thanked by the court, and dismissed.
Five weeks after the trial, Lizzie and Emma purchased and moved into a thirteen-room, gray stone Victorian house at 306 French Street, located on "The Hill," the fashionable residential area of Fall River. Shortly thereafter, Lizzie named the house "Maplecroft," and had the name carved into the top stone step leading up to the front door. It was at this time that Lizzie began to refer to herself as "Lizbeth."
In 1897, Lizzie was charged with the theft of two paintings, valued at less than one hundred dollars, from the Tilden-Thurber store in Fall River. The controversy was privately resolved.
In 1904, Lizzie met a young actress, Nance O'Neil, and for the next two years, Lizzie and Nance were inseparable. About this time, Emma moved out of Maplecroft, presumably offended by her sister's relationship with the actress, which included at least one lavish catered party for Nance and her theatrical company. Emma stayed with the family of Reverend Buck, and, sometime around 1915, moved to Newmarket, New Hampshire, living quietly and virtually anonymously in a house she had presumably purchased for two sisters, Mary and Annie Conner.
Lizzie died on June 1, 1927, at age 67, after a long illness from complications following gall bladder surgery. Emma died nine days later, as a result of a fall down the back stairs of her house in Newmarket. They were buried together in the family plot, along with a sister who had died in early childhood, their mother, their stepmother, and their headless father.
Both Lizzie and Emma left their estates to charitable causes; Lizzie's being left predominately to animal care organizations, Emma's to various humanitarian organizations in Fall River.
Bridget Sullivan, as it has been noted, died in 1948, more than twenty years after the death of the Borden sisters, in Butte, Montana.
The Persistence of the Lizzie Borden Case in American Culture
In addition to the singsong rhyme, Lizzie Borden is fixed in the American imagination for a number of reasons. Hers was the first nationally prominent murder case in the United States. Despite all of the circumstantial evidence that Lizzie did indeed commit these murders, it remains at least technically an unsolved crime. Few cases since perhaps the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Dr. Sam Sheppard case, and, of course, the recent O.J. Simpson case have the fascination of Lizzie Borden.
A number of "solved" cases, such as the Loeb-Leopold case, are equally fascinating, but it is that small group of unresolved murders that continue to persist in our memory.
Support for the contention that these murders will remain as part of our culture for a very long time can be seen in the "industries" that have grown up around each of them. Not only have a great number of books been written about each case, each with its own slant or theory, but these murders have inspired dramas, novels, poems, and, in the case of Lizzie Borden, even a ballet and an opera. The distinguished actress, Lillian Gish, portrayed Lizzie in a 1934 play, Nine Pine Street, although her character had been renamed Effie Holden and "Effie" had used a flat iron and a heavy walking stick as her weapons. In 1995, Lizzie was the subject of an A & E Biography, and recently she was "tried" (and found innocent) in a mock trial on C-SPAN.
But among these handful of fascinating cases, Lizzie Borden, in my opinion, remains preeminent. Each book some of which I describe below presents a different theory. Why? It is not only the unresolved nature of her case, but the inscrutability of her appearance, her light blue eyes staring back at us from her photographs, broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, broad-hipped, an unfathomable smile a very slight smile defying us, over a century later, to make sense of her. So potent is her appeal that an entire mythology has grown up about her. As she became more and more reclusive as she got older mostly as a result of Fall River's social ostracism of her legends grew. At one time, Lizzie had decapitated Abby's cat when it was annoying Lizzie's guests during a tea. A frightened deliveryman, bringing a wooden crate to Maplecroft, ran off in terror when Lizzie offered to get an axe for him. As she became the eccentric who was preoccupied with birds and squirrels and the welfare of animals in general, she became the seldom-seen legend who refused to leave Fall River, except for occasional and mysterious trips to Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., glimpsed riding in her chauffeured limousine. What is true, partly true, and entirely fictional? What is her secret?
Added to the attractiveness, the mystery of Lizzie herself, is the surrounding cast of characters and circumstances: A mouse of an older sister who was, in Lizzie's childhood, a surrogate mother and from whom she was estranged the last twenty years of her life; a strange and mysterious uncle; a set of judges and a jury predisposed to her innocence; a town in frenzy in its partisanship and support for this Christian maiden lady; and, for the first time in American journalism, coverage of a murder case that became in more than one sense her advocate
Theories 1: Lizzie Committed the Murders
The literature that exists on the Borden case is extensive. Without exerting one's self, it is still possible to find in a modest public library three or four books about Lizzie. A visit to a second library, equally modest, will reveal another two or three titles that the first library did not have. Soon, there will be a stack of more than a dozen volumes to say nothing of the dozens of magazine articles staring at anyone who attempts to be even a bit responsible in producing a study of Lizzie Borden.
These books and articles each have their own special spin to the case, usually using the same sets of facts, evidence, interviews, etc., to argue who really hacked Andrew and Abby Borden to death. Some of these theories range from the carefully argued, judicial analysis of the trial, to rather startling assertions naming some other person than Lizzie. Some combine theories, constructing elaborate conspiracies that defy belief. A number of them place great importance on interviews with second and third generation descendants of witnesses.
During the early days of the investigation, and well into the time of the trial itself ten months later, a number of accusations were made. The murderer, at various times, was declared to be Uncle Morse, Bridget, a madman in a straw hat, Dr. Bowen, and fantastically one of Lizzie's Chinese Sunday School students.
I have tried to summarize these theories and their variants. They are from books that are either still in print, or books that can be found in most libraries or second-hand bookstores. The bibliographical information for each is given. A more extensive bibliography is also provided, but it is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather "accessible."
I claim the privilege of authorial wisdom, and I have assigned, on a scale of one to ten, my judgment as to the credibility of each theory.
Variation One: Lizzie committed the murders
Under this category, one runs into most of the books published before 1940, with a few exceptions.
1) Porter, Edwin H. 1893. The Fall River Tragedy. J.D. Munroe, Fall River. (reprinted by Robert Flynn, 1985, King Philip Publications, 466 Ocean Ave., Portland, Me.)
Porter's account is the first thorough work on Lizzie Borden. He was the police reporter for the Fall River Daily Globe, and was an observer of both the investigation and the trial. While he did not explicitly state that Lizzie had committed the crime, his analysis makes it unlikely (in his mind) that the murder could have been done by an outsider. Of the several hundred copies of his book that J.D. Munroe printed, only a few until the recent reprint by Flynn were known to exist. One of those, the copy in the Library of Congress, has disappeared. On the day of its publication, Lizzie, on the advice of Mr. Jennings, bought all the available copies and burned them, although this is an assumption, since there is no direct evidence that she was the purchaser of all but four or five of the volumes. Until the reprint, four of the copies were in the possession of the Fall River Historical Society, and one other was said to be in private hands.
Arnold R. Brown, an author discussed below who is very much intrigued by conspiracy theories, states in his book that Porter "...was an outstanding reporter, and yet after 1893 there are no reported by-lines of his from anywhere in the country. He simply was never heard from again." Brown's implication is that Porter was paid off to both disappear and never publish his book again.
Credibility Score: 8
2) Pearson, Edmund. 1937. The Trial Book of Lizzie Borden. Doubleday.
Pearson was the preeminent writer of "true-crime" for a number of years. He died in 1937. His book is an abridgment of the trial record, with accompanying information to fill in the material that he deleted. Two of his essays on Lizzie Borden are reprinted in the book of his writings edited by Gerald Gross, one of which discusses the myths surrounding the case. He had earlier analyzed the Borden case in a long essay in his Studies in Murder in 1924. His conclusion was unequivocal. Lizzie did it. He was willing to report legends, myths, and odd beliefs. It is he that reports (and rejects) the fanciful suggestion that Lizzie stripped herself naked before killing her victims, thereafter washing off the blood at the water tap in the cellar, and replacing her unblemished clothes. An interesting television movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie used this premise, adding some titillating views of an almost nude Lizzie to the account. To quote the acerbic Pearson, "... the maidens of Massachusetts are not accustomed to undress before committing homicide. In fact, so rigid are their notions of propriety that a good many of them do not slaughter their parents at all, even when fully clothed."
Pearson has gathered a considerable number of legends, recounts them, and enjoys them as the absurdities that they are. He particularly enjoyed two stanzas of a poem written by A.L. Bixby, published during the trial:
There's no evidence of guilt,
That should make your spirit wilt,
Many do not think that you
Chopped your father's head in two,
It's so hard a thing to do,
You have borne up under all,
With a mighty show of gall,
But because your nerve is stout
Does not prove beyond a doubt
That you knocked the old folks out,
Pearson was selective in his analysis of the evidence that confirmed, for him, Lizzie's guilt, dismissing information that was favorable to her. Still, he is convincing in his discussion of motive and opportunity.
Without a doubt, Pearson is the most gifted stylist of any of the writers whom I have read in my research on Lizzie Borden.
Credibility Score: 8
3) Sullivan, Robert. 1974. Goodbye Lizzie Borden. Penguin Books.
Like Pearson, Sullivan concludes that Lizzie was guilty, and emphasizes even more strongly how poorly structured and presented was the prosecution's case. One difference between the two accounts of the case is that Sullivan, a former justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court, examined the official trial record exhaustively, without the subjective selectivity of Pearson. A second difference is that Sullivan credits an extraordinary set of lucky events that helped Lizzie avoid a guilty verdict.
The trial record, some two thousand pages, as well as the information contained in the earlier judicial proceedings, is carefully dissected by Sullivan. He notes every critical piece of testimony, either within the context of the law or with reference to specific procedures. It is a very professional account, as one would expect from a lawyer and jurist.
Sullivan makes much of the court's actions and rulings, and discusses Justice Dewey's instruction to the jury, a strange, virtual summation for the defense. He was not impressed with either the prosecution's case, nor was he in agreement with "the recurring fiction(s)" that Robinson was an accomplished defense lawyer. "Either the able Jennings or the experienced and able Adams could have tried the case as successfully as did Robinson, and even more credibly; and probably for a much smaller fee," the staggering sum of $25,000, five times the annual salary of each of the judges presiding at the trial.
Lizzie's deliverance was due mostly to two judicial rulings: the exclusion of her inconsistent statements made under oath at the inquest, and the exclusion of the prussic acid evidence. A second piece of luck for Lizzie was the sensational axe murder of Bertha Manchester in her Fall River home, five days before jury selection began. Almost immediately, a Portuguese immigrant was arrested and charged. The implication, of course, is that Jose Corriera had also murdered the Bordens, even though he had not arrived in the United States until eight months after the Borden murders.
Credibility Score: 9
4) Lincoln, Victoria. 1967. A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Victoria Lincoln was a novelist who grew up in Fall River, and, as a child, occasionally talked to Lizzie Borden as Lizzie was out feeding the birds and squirrels in her backyard at Maplecroft. Her family knew the Borden family, and Ms. Lincoln spent her childhood little more than a block away from Lizzie's house on the Hill.
This book asserts that Lizzie planned the murder of her stepmother and then, in order to prevent the father she loved very much from testifying against her, killed him as well.
There are three interesting twists to Lincoln's understanding of the case. The first is that Lizzie suffered from epilepsy of the temporal lobe, and that she committed the first murder while "suffering one of her spells." These epileptic seizures occurred during her menstrual periods, it is reported, and, on August 4, 1892, she was having her period.
The second twist is that Lizzie was indeed in the barn in the time interval she claimed to be say, ten thirty to eleven because there was running water in the barn, where she could remove some of Abby's blood from her skirts and the hatchet. Also, the barn had a large vise, where she could break off the handle of the hatchet, burn the handle in the kitchen stove, and dip the cleaned, wet hatchet head in wood ashes.
Finally, Lincoln proposes that the bloodstained dress was not found because the investigators were men. If Lizzie had been wearing a dress of a fabric other than cotton, then the police would have ignored it, since they were confining their search to "a cotton wrapper." Therefore, all Lizzie had to do was to hang a silk dress worn during the murder of her father under another silk dress, and the bloodstained dress would be overlooked.
Lincoln uses her novelist's skills well, and her analyses seem not only plausible, but entirely possible. Even if what she has produced is fiction, it is pretty good.
Credibility Score: 8
Theories 2: Lizzie did not Commit the Murders
I have included in this category books that have a certain plausibility, and I have avoided those theories that strain even heated imaginations. In order to be included, I have considered only those books where the author has done reasonably thorough research, so that the interpretations come out of fact, rather than fancy. Some of these authors often take evidence already circumstantial and expand it into for want of a better word megacircumstantiality.
1) Radin, Edward D. 1961. Lizzie Borden, The Untold Story. Simon and Schuster.
Radin's book is fundamentally an attack on Pearson, whose book on Lizzie he considers "a literary hoax." In the long run, Pearson was biased against Lizzie, simply because his wide experience in the study of crime and his common sense told him so. Thus, his selection and interpretation of the evidence reflected his belief in her guilt.
In the process of debunking Pearson, Radin builds a case that Bridget, the maid, was the murderess. According to Radin, Bridget, ordered to wash windows on the hottest day of the year, went mad and hacked Mrs. Borden to death. She then murdered Mr. Borden in order to prevent him from reporting the hypothesized argument that Bridget had had with Mrs. Borden earlier in the morning, for such a report would incriminate her. This again is a theory that suggests that Mrs. Borden is the target victim, and that Mr. Borden is killed to keep him from identifying her murderer.
Unfortunately, assigning the motive of rage to Bridget is difficult, since there is no evidence that suggests that she harbored great hostility toward her employer. Was Bridget Lizzie's lover, and so her rage against Mrs. Borden was fueled by Lizzie's unjust treatment at the hands of her stepmother and father? There is no evidence to support this idea. Radin, I think, is seduced by the story that Bridget, in her old age, "almost" confessed during an illness that she supposed was her last.
Credibility Score: 2
2) Spiering, Frank. 1984. Lizzie. Random House. Paperback reprint, 1985.Pinnacle Books.
This book attempts to prove that Emma was the murderess, with Lizzie as a frightened accomplice. The motive for Emma is the same as Lizzie's, that is, the desire to inherit all of Mr. Borden's estate, and resentment over financial arrangements that Mr. Borden was making for his second wife.
Spiering uses the testimony, newspaper accounts, other documents to develop a case in which Emma, the "Little Mother" to Lizzie, hatches the elaborate plot. First, she establishes her alibi away from the crime scene some fifteen miles away at Fairhaven while surreptitiously driving her buggy to Fall River, hiding in the upstairs, committing the murders, and driving her buggy back to Fairhaven, where she awaits the telegram from Dr. Bowen. Once Lizzie is accused, the sisters work together to protect each other.
However, there is a point where it seems to Spiering that Emma is trying to double-cross Lizzie and Lizzie forces Emma to share the rewards of the murder with her. It includes legal documents that establish the division of Andrew Borden's wealth.
The lingering suspicion of one another is evidenced from time to time by Emma's estrangement from Lizzie, beginning with her disapproval of Nance O'Neil, with whom, Spiering asserts, Lizzie had an affair. Later, the two sisters went to court over Emma's intent to sell the A.J. Borden building, resolved only by Lizzie buying Emma's share of the building.
Interviews, or records of interviews, with people who knew Lizzie and Emma in their later years are important to Spiering, and he basically creates a scenario of Emma's guilty behavior as his argument that it was Emma who was the actual murderess.
Credibility Score: 6
3) Brown, Arnold R. 1992. Lizzie Borden. Dell.
This recent book concocts an elaborate conspiracy to explain the murders. Brown, a native of Fall River, was a friend of the son-in-law of a man who purportedly knew the identity of the murderer. Further, that man's mother-in-law had actually been a witness to the murderer's leaving the scene of the crime.
Taking this as a point of departure, Brown examines the case and reconstructs it to propose the following, astonishing solution: The murderer was William Borden, the retarded, supposedly illegitimate son of Andrew Borden. Because of his illegitimate status, and a possible claim he might have to his natural father's estate, Lizzie, Emma, Uncle John, Dr. Bowen, and Mr. Jennings conspired to keep his crime hidden. Browns peculates that William was making demands of his father, who was in the process of making his will, and that these demands were rejected by Andrew. William, full of rage, killed Mrs. Borden first, hid in the house with Lizzie's knowledge, and then killed his father. The conspirators then either paid William off or threatened him, or both, and decided that Lizzie would allow herself to be suspected and tried for the murders, knowing that she could always identify the real killer, should that be necessary.
Brown works very hard on his hypothesis, discovering such bits of information as William Borden's fascination with hatchets, his possible connection to the Bertha Manchester murder could that have been a "contract" murder to divert guilt away from Lizzie? and his unique combination of repulsive body odors remembered by the witness who saw him in the Borden's side yard, wild-eyed and fragrant, just after the murders.
As in the case of Spiering's book, a great deal of massaging of the facts of the case takes place. Lizzie's testimony at the inquest, for example, is completely recast in the form of clever red herrings, intended to keep William Borden from being discovered.
Credibility Score: 4
4) Gross, Gerald. 1963. "The Pearson-Radin Controversy over the Guilt of Lizzie Borden" in Masterpieces of Murder: An Edmund Pearson True Crime Reader, Gerald Gross, editor. Little, Brown and Company.
An odd compromise between Pearson and Radin is offered by Gerald Gross. The final selection in his collection of famous crime pieces written by Pearson is a brief essay written by Gross himself. He presents Radin's attack on Pearson, a summary of Radin's contention that Bridget is the murderer, and his own hypothesis.
Gross proposes that Lizzie did indeed murder her parents, but that she could not have brought off the crime successfully without Bridget's assistance. It was Bridget who spirited away virtually under the very noses of the police the murder weapon and the bloodstained dress. Gross suggests the possibility that Lizzie plotted the murders with Bridget. This connivance explains the mutually non-accusatory testimony of Lizzie and Bridget with respect to each other. Gross points out that only the two of them were in the house when the two-hundred-pound Abby Borden fell heavily and noisily to the floor after being struck. He finds significance in Bridget's passage being paid so that she could return to Ireland was it Lizzie's part of the bargain? He also attaches importance to Bridget's "almost-death-bed confession" over half a century later, when Bridget was living in Butte, Montana.
Most of the writers on the case have described Bridget as open and guileless, but it is possible that she might have had some guilty knowledge of the crimes. Gross's brief account, relying heavily on Radin's arguments, at least serves as a counter argument for the absence of a reasonable motive for Bridget as the murderer.
Credibility Score: 5
Lizzie Didnt Do It! A Review of William L. Mastertons book, by Marilyn Bardsley
"There is not one particle of direct evidence in this case, from beginning to end, against Lizzie Borden. There is not a spot of blood, there is not a weapon they have connected to her in any way, shape, or fashion. They have not had her hand touch it or her eyne see it or her ear hear of it. There is not, I say, a particle of direct testimony in the case connecting her with the crime."
Andrew Jennings, Lizzie's lawyer
And you thought that there was no way that anyone could add anything new to the 1892 Lizzie Borden case. Well, like Jack the Ripper, Lizzie has become a cottage industry. Every few years will produce new books and, sometimes, new insight.
I have selected William L. Masterton's Lizzie Didn't Do It. as a comparatively recent (2000) book that is, from my viewpoint, worthy of reading. After reading Robert Sullivan's Goodbye Lizzie Borden, I had decided that Lizzie had to be guilty, so when I saw Masterton's book, which uses some modern forensics and extensive research to come to his conclusion about Lizzie's innocence, I felt that I needed to open up my mind.
Masterton's book is refreshingly easy to understand and he addresses evidence and testimony by topic, such as the prussic acid issue, the note that Lizzie said Abby Borden received the morning of her murder, and every other controversial area that caused Lizzie to be arrested, handed over to trial and eventually found "not guilty."
Let me address one of the many controversial issues from this classic murder case that Masterton handles so well: Abby Borden's time of death. Why is this important? Because, police and forensic experts at that time believed that Abby Borden was murdered well over an hour, maybe even 2 hours, before her husband Andrew Borden was killed.
Were that really the case, it is very difficult to conjure up a vision of Lizzie, or anyone else for that matter, brutally rampaging against the mild-mannered Abby Borden, then cooling his or her heels for a couple of hours, after which another similar rampage of brutality is generated toward Andrew Borden.
Lizzie was out in the barn around 11 A.M. when her father, Andrew, was murdered, but was in the house between 9 and 10 A.M when contemporary experts testified that Abby died. Furthermore, Abby weighed some 200 pounds and it is hard to imagine that Lizzie would not have heard the stricken Abby crash to the floor.
A number of contemporary experts based their belief that Abby had died between an hour and two hours earlier than Andrew on several factors: 1) Abby's blood seemed to be coagulated and Andrew's was not, 2) Abby's body felt cooler to the touch than Andrew's, and 3) there was a great deal of undigested food in Abby's stomach, but the food in Andrew's stomach was pretty well digested.
At the time of the trial, Dr. Frank Draper testified on the very limited value of blood coagulation as an indicator of time of death. He said that "after fifteen minutes [from death], it would be unsafe to form an opinion." Regarding the degree of warmth of the body as determined by the touch of the medical examiner, even then in 1892, the defense ridiculed the use of touch rather than a thermometer to determine the body temperature. With the difference in the degree of digestion between Abby and Andrew Borden, Dr. Draper pointed out that different people digest food at different frequencies and that there could easily be an hour's variation among two individuals who ate the same food at the same time. Masterton points out that there is no record of what and when Abby might have eaten that morning. In fact, there were items in her stomach that were not served at breakfast.
Masterton devotes an entire chapter to utilizing modern forensic analysis to determine the time of death for Abby Borden. From Masterton's research, it appears as though over 100 years later, Dr. Draper was essentially correct about the time it took for blood to coagulate between 5 and 15 minutes after death. Interestingly, according to reliable testimony, for a number of hours after his death, Andrew's blood behaved in an unusual, but not unknown way. It did not coagulate. Masterton states, "Often, when a person dies suddenly and violently, as Andrew did, the blood becomes uncoagulable shortly after death."
Today, pathologists, when estimating time of death, take internal temperature measurements over a period of time rather than just taking it once. Masterton's research revealed that the temperature of a dead body "drops very little if at all during the first few hoursMoreover, the decomposition reactions that take place immediately after death give off heat"
On the subject of the rate of digestion as a determinant as to time of death, Masterton found that "large deviations from the 'average' behavior is the rule rather than the exception."
Masterton demonstrates in some detail that if Lizzie's trial were held today with the benefits of modern forensic technology that the evidence presented would not determine that Abby Borden died 1-2 hours before Andrew died.
And so, Masterton addresses every piece of evidence and assumption that was used in the case and finds it quite reasonable that Lizzie was acquitted in the deaths of her father and step-mother. "The prosecution did not or could not make out a strong case against hera century later (September 1997), a jury of Stanford Law School alumni, faculty and students, in a mock Borden trial presided over by Justices Rehnquist and O'Connor of the United States Supreme Court, again found Lizzie not guilty for the same reason."
I recommend the book to serious students of the Borden case.