The first time I heard about Lizzie Borden was when I watched the Christina Ricci and Chloe Sevigny movie “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax.” I then realized that the nursery rhyme I had heard when I was younger was about her. They really did make nursery rhymes out of macabre situations back then.
The murders occurred in what is now one of the most haunted places in America. Yes, the Lizzie Borden house is still standing.
Lizzie Borden, in her Childhood
On July 19, 1860, Lizzie Andrew Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her parents were Andrew and Sarah Borden. I’ve never seen a girl taking her father’s name unless it was made feminine. It is said that Andrew wanted a son, and so he named his daughter Lizzie instead of Elizabeth, and that’s why she has his name as her middle name. Lizzie also had an older sister whose name was Emma, who was about ten years older. The couple also had another daughter before having Lizzie, but she passed away at two. She was born to a well-to-do family. Her father, Andrew, had a thriving manufacturing and real estate development business. However, even though the family was wealthy, Andrew was highly frugal and even lived in a part of a time underneath his stature. When peopled asked him why they lived there, Andrew would exclaim, “What is the matter with the house? It is good enough for me — good enough for anyone to live in.”
When Lizzie was around two years old, her mother Sarah passed away from ““uterine congestion and spinal disease.” Her widowed father remarried three years later. Andrew remarried three years later to Abby Durfee Gray. It is said that the marriage between Sarah and him was out of love. With Abby, it was more out of convenience. He was a single dad who was raising his daughters on his own, so he married 37-year-old Abby, who at that time would be considered an old maid. The two sisters didn’t really care for their stepmother. Emma was around 13 when her dad married Abby. Emma never took to Abby and thought she was only with her dad for the money. It seems that Emma might have influenced Lizzie because when she got older, she also felt the same way. People said that Abby tried to be a mother to the girls. Emma never took to her, but Abby did and called Abby “mother.”
When she was a teenager, Lizzie dropped out of high school. This was shocking because girls in families like her tried to educate themselves. Instead, Lizzie seems to have suffered from entitlement and preferred to spend her father’s money instead of trying to do something other than traveling and lounging around the house.
Lizzie, alongside her sister, was brought up in the church. Lizzie was involved in church activities and even taught Sunday school. She was also an active participant of Christian organizations like the ‘Christian Endeavour Society’ and ‘Women’s Christian Temperance Union.’
Five years before the murders, money tensions between the two sisters and Abby came to a head. Abby’s half-sister Sarah Whiting and her stepmother started fighting over the house when Sarah’s father passed away. The stepmother wanted to buy the house, but Sarah wanted to remain. Andrew, with Abby’s urging, bought the stepmother out for $1,500. He then gave Abby the feed. When the sisters found out, they were furious. In their mind, Abby was in the marriage for money and would eventually try to take their part.
Emma would say in the trial that this event would cause issues “between my father and Mrs. Borden and my sister and me.”
To keep the peace, Andrew gave Lizzie and Emma the deed to their grandfather’s home where they could get $3,000 in rent.
The two sisters kept a cordial but superficial relationship with Abby. They would greet her as “Mrs. Borden.” Even so, Lizzie and Emma lived with their father and stepmother even when they could have left. We also have to remember that it was customary for women to remain in their family home until they got married during those times. It could have been why they remained.
The family had servants, and there was one who was with them for a long time. Her name was Bridget. Andrew and Abby would call her Bridget, but Lizzie and Emma would call her “Maggie.” This was a slur against Irish immigrants basically to say that they all were the same and had the same name. The two sisters seemed like spoiled, entitled brats who had no respect for anyone.
On August 3, 1892, Emma went on vacation with some friends, so she was out of town. The only ones in the home were Lizzie, Andrew, Abby, and Bridget. That day Andrew and Abby were severely sick and spent the night vomiting. Lizzie was a little ill but not like the elderly couple. Abby was convinced that someone tried to poison them. Was this true?
It probably was proper because the next day, August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby were hacked to death with a hatchet. Andrew seems to have been taking a nap when he was murdered. He had over ten hacks. Upstairs, Abby laid dead. She had almost 20. The two bodies were mutilated. Abby’s head was hacked over 18 times, so you can imagine how the body looked. It is said that the two bodies were unrecognizable.
At first, the police thought it was a man who was probably an immigrant. I can see that they thought it was a man due to the viciousness of the attacks, but an immigrant? The police even arrested a Portuguese immigrant.
Lizzie told police that she had come into the house from a barn on the property, which is when she found her father. She then screamed for the maid Bridget. Bridget had been in her room resting. She ran downstairs to also see Andrew’s mutilated body.
They called the police and the family doctor. It wasn’t after later that someone thought about Abby and where she could be. Lizzie responded nonchalantly that she had seen Abby come in from an errand and was probably dead somewhere in the house. When the doctor examined the body, he realized that Abby had been murdered before Andrew had been.
After interviewing Lizzie a couple of times, she told them that there was a hatchet in the house and to ask Bridget. Bridget took them down to the cellar where the hatchet usually was, and there was the murder covered in dried blood and clumps of hair.
Lizzie quickly became the primary suspect. Before getting arrested, Lizzie burned a dress that she said had been painted on it. Was it paint or blood? Why even burn the dress?
The police went around and questioned pharmacists in the area. One pharmacist said that on August 3, a woman came in asking for prussic acid. He refused to sell it to her, and she left. They brought the pharmacist to the house to see Lizzie, and he said it was her.
During the funeral, Andrew and Abby had open caskets, and everyone could see what the murderer had done. New York Times said that Lizzie’s face “showed traces of the intense suffering she borne for three days.”
Lizzie was brought in for an inquest, and she was questioned under oath. Her testimony was full of discrepancies, confirmed to the police that she was the killer.
On August 11, 1892, Lizzie Borden was arrested. Her arrested caused rallies from the Christian groups she was a member of, as well as suffragists. The reason was that Lizzie’s trial would only have men as jury members, so she wouldn’t get a fair trial.
Lizzie remained in prison until her trial in June 1893. She had a good defense team that was helping her. It helped because she was acquitted of all charges on June 20, 1893.
Even though she had been acquitted and all these people rallied for her innocence, they were gone after Lizzie got out of jail. No one wanted to support her.
Emma was like a second mother to her sister. Lizzie stopped talking to her in 1905. Emma and Lizzie never spoke again. What did they argue about that caused Emma to disown her sister? Did Lizzie confess? What is money? No one knows.
A nursery rhyme was created that basically said Lizzie was the murderer:
Lizzie Borden took an ax, And gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.
In 1927, Lizzie passed away. Enma passed away nine days later. Lizzie and Emma are now in the same burial plot as their mother, their sister, father, and stepmother in the graveyard.
Was Lizzie Borden guilty? Some think she is innocent. My thought is that she did murder her father and stepmother. I am going back and forth if she had helped. It seems that her uncle on her mother’s side had been in the house the night before, left that morning, and was coming back later that day. Maybe he never left and helped Lizzie commit the murders. Why murder her father and stepmother in that way?
There are speculations that there was sexual abuse and that Abby knew what was going on but ignored it. However, that is just speculation.
Another one is that Lizzie was a lesbian, so Emma left the home and never spoke to her again. Again, speculations.
I do think that if the murders had been committed in the present time, the killer would have been caught. Forensics would have quickly helped find who did it.
The Lizzie Borden house is now one of the most haunted houses in America. It has been turned into a bed-and-breakfast, so I guess if you want to see a ghost or two, you can go stay.
I think Lizzie Borden is guilty. Do you?