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Elizabeth Borden. Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was an American woman who was tried and acquitted on August 4, 1892, axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts.

The Lizzie Borden Case

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one

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. If anything, the grip is tightening. The reason? Everyone’s fascination with Andrew Borden’s younger daughter, Lizzie, who was arrested, tried for the murders and acquitted.

It didn’t take long after Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and stepmother for the public to start obsessing over the case. Newspaper coverage began immediately after that hot August day in 1892 and centred on the fact that a prim, proper, churchgoing woman in Fall River, Massachusetts, may have brutally killed two members of her family with a hatchet. Lizzie’s acquittal in June 1893 only stoked the interest – and that interest never died down.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts never charged anyone else with the grisly double murder. Lizzie lived the rest of her life in Falls River, unmarried and largely ostracised, finally dying of pneumonia at age 66.

“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When her body hit the floor, she gave her father forty more.”

The rhyme is a variation on a song dedicated to Lizzie Andrew Borden, who gained infamy during her trial, an infamy that just never went away.

The facts of the case are fairly straightforward: During an oppressive heat wave in August 1892, prominent Fall River residents Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally murdered in their home; each had received multiple blows to the head with a hatchet. The only serious suspect was Andrew’s 32-year-old unmarried daughter, Lizzie, who was at the house during the killings. His other daughter, Emma, was out of town, and their live-in maid Bridget Sullivan was in her third-floor room, resting from a morning of window washing and vomiting following the consumption of spoiled mutton stew. But the finer details of the Borden murders were hazy from the beginning, starting when thousands of curious townspeople visited the crime scene, unintentionally tampering with evidence. Moreover, Lizzie’s inquest testimonies were inconsistent, perhaps owing to the fact that she was prescribed morphine after the murders to help calm her nerves.

But it’s not just the act of murder that keeps people coming back well over a century later. What separated this from other crimes was the combination of an unlikely suspect, the rise of sensationalised journalism, and the fact that it offered a morbid and wry critique of high society – and we have never lost interest.

The family history of the Bordens is a tense and tangled one.

Andrew Borden came from a financially modest family, but he managed to prosper by manufacturing and selling furniture and caskets. He became a successful property developer who directed a few textile mills. Mr Borden owned various commercial properties as well. He was a director of Trust Co. and the Durfee Safe Deposit, and also a president of the Union Savings Bank. When he died, Borden’s estate was estimated at $300,000 (equivalent to $8 million in 2016).

Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, were educated in a religious spirit and attended Central Congregational Church. Lizzie was involved with many church activities, such as teaching Sunday school to the children of immigrants who had recently moved to America. If she wasn’t at her own church, Lizzie spent her time at other religious organisations. She served as secretary-treasurer at the Christian Endeavor Society. She was also a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Ladies’ Fruit and Flower Mission.

Lizzie was born on July 19, 1860. At the age of two, she suffered the loss of her mother. However, she remained close to her father. Lizzie told many she had no memory of her mother. Her older sister, Emma, appeared to be the only constant in Lizzie’s life. Emma was friend and mother to a young Lizzie.

Lizzie knew her position in life and held it well. She was a typical high society young debutante. She belonged to numerous clubs. She was an active member of her church. In all the organisations she participated in, Lizzie generally held a leadership role. She was often treasurer (because of her father’s wealth) or secretary.
Despite her position, Lizzie remained unmarried. There are many reasons given for this. First, she was not a great beauty–some, unfairly perhaps, called her homely. Second, she resented her father and the fact that she was not allowed the great benefits of being well-to-do. She wanted money and the power, but her father would have none of that. Third, she was in an odd station in life. No suitor was acceptable. For those who would suit her station, she was unacceptable.  Those who would have her, her father viewed as inferior and would chase them off as fortune hunters.

Abby Borden

Abby Borden, born in 1828, was the second wife to Andrew Borden.  She was 37 years old and considered to be an old maid when they married.  Abby used the Durfee to link her with one of the first families in the area.  She desired respect and social status but was often regarded as the daughter of a pushcart peddler: to marry someone of Andrew’s station was unexpected.  Many at the time speculated Andrew had proposed because he was looking for a housekeeper and a someone to raise his daughters.

The relationship between Abby and her stepdaughter Lizzie remains something of a mystery.  There is no documentary evidence of abuse or neglect.  Several persons, however, including prosecution witnesses in the murder trial, reported that the relationship was less than loving.  Many believe Lizzie killed Abby because she hated her, then felt that she had no choice but to also kill her father, who would know the truth.

Abby’s body was found in the second-floor guest room, her body in an unusual position. second-floor cleaned of blood and matter was used as evidence at the trial.  It showed a huge section missing.

Andrew Borden, born September 13, 1822, was the eighth generation high society man.  He had been married twice.  His first wife was Sarah Morse.  Together they had three daughters.  The middle child, Alice, died at the age of two.  He married Abby Durgee Gray two years after Sarah died.  Mr Borden was the President of a major bank in his hometown of Fall River, owned substantial property, was the director of three major cloth mills and was very wealthy.

Andrew’s father was one of the few Borden men who had not retained the wealth associated with the family.  His father was a fish peddler.  Andrew, not wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, began as a carpenter’s helper.  Eventually, he became a partner with Frank Almy in a casket company.  They sold Crane’s Patented Casket Burial Cases.

Mr Borden was known for his clothing.  Summer or winter, he could be seen in his black, double-breasted Prince Albert and string tie.  He was also known for his love of money.  He was well on his way to becoming a millionaire.  He worked 14-hour days.  He was known to be somewhat of a tightwad.  One of his prized properties was nearing completion the day he was brutally murdered.  In downtown Fall River, it stands as the A.J.  Borden Building.

Emma Lenore Borden was born on March 1, 1851, Emma was the oldest of three daughters born to Sarah and Andrew Borden.  When Sarah died, Emma was 12. Emma was not home when her father and stepmother were murdered.  There are several accounts of where she was.  One account has her off with a suitor.  The story goes that she was in love with a man beneath her station.  They desired to be wed, but her father was opposed.  The real story seems to be that she was off visiting some friends.  She was notified by telegram by a family friend.

Some accounts have Emma as the real murderess, but there is virtually no evidence to support this theory.  Unlike Lizzie, Emma never appeared unhappy about her life.  She seemed to take things as they came.  There is little knowledge of who Emma Borden really was.  There are no records of her education, love life, etc.  There are even few pictures of her.

Emma remained a supporter and friend to Lizzie.  When Lizzie was charged with the murders, Emma became the sole heir to the Borden fortune.  (Despite rumours that Andrew had a will, none was ever found.)  She used the funds from the fortune to help Lizzie in her quest for innocence.  On June 1, 1927, the day Lizzie died, Emma, living a reclusive life in New Hampshire, fell and broke her hip.  She died nine days later, on June 10, 1927.

When she died, Emma was worth $450,000.  She left most of this to charity.  She is buried with the rest of the Borden family in Fall River.

Bridget Sullivan emigrated from Ireland in 1883.  She came to the Borden family six years later as their live-in maid.  No one is sure how old she was the day of the Borden murders, but it is estimated that she was in her mid-20’s. Bridget was in and around the Borden home on August 4, 1892.  She was washing windows (despite experiencing the stomach flu), as Mrs Borden had ordered her to do that morning.

Some people have speculated that Bridget was Lizzie’s accomplice in the murders.  How else, proponents of this theory suggest, would Bridget not have heard anything that fateful day?  She did hear a noise at one time.  She went to the stairs to investigate and assumed it was Lizzie. Bridget took the stand at every phase of the trial.  Her testimony neither helped nor hurt Lizzie.  She always seemed, to most observers, to be truthful to the best of her knowledge.

One legend has Bridget being paid off by Lizzie and returning to Ireland.  However, she remained in the U. S. and spent her later years leading a modest life in Montana…

Emma Borden, born March 1, 1851, and oldest of three daughters born to Sarah and Andrew Borden

In 1863, when Lizzie was only three years old, her mother died. After three years, Mr Borden remarried, to Abby Durfee Gray. The two girls, Lizzie and Emma, apparently didn’t get along with their stepmother. Lizzie didn’t even try to hide the nature of their relationship during the police questioning, stating that Mrs Borden, as she used to call her stepmother, was interested in her father’s money.

At the time of the investigation, Bridget Sullivan, the Bordens’ live-in maid, testified that the two girls almost never ate the meals together with their parents.

The maid also told how earlier that year, Lizzie had built a new roost for the pigeons and Mr Andrew Borden killed the pigeons, believing that they attracted local children to hunt them. Lizzie got very upset and it led to a family fight that resulted in both sisters taking extended “vacations” at the Bordens’ property in New Bedford. Lizzie returned to Fall River just a week before the murders.

The family tension had increased in the months preceding the murders, especially after Andrew started gifting Abby’s family with real estate. When Abby’s sister received a house, the sisters demanded the house where they lived before the death of their mother and received it from their father for $1. Just a few weeks before the murders, the sisters sold the property back to Andrew for $5,000 (equivalent to $133,000 in 2016).

There was a sudden visit from Lizzie and Emma’s uncle, their mother’s brother, who was invited to stay for a few days in the house and discuss business, which again heated the atmosphere in Borden home. Also, for a few days before the murders, the entire household became violently ill. Since Andrew wasn’t a popular man, his wife, Abby, suspected poisoning.

Andrew Borden

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 neighbour 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.

The Fall River Herald

SHOCKING CRIME
A Venerable Citizen and His Aged Wife
HACKED TO PIECES THEIR HOME.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Borden Lose Their Lives
AT THE HANDS OF A DRUNKEN FARM HAND.
Police Searching Actively for the Fiendish Murderer.

The community was terribly shocked this morning to hear that an aged man and his wife had fallen victims to the thirst of a murderer, and that an atrocious deed had been committed, The news spread like wildfire and hundreds poured into Second street. The deed was committed at No. 62 Second street, where for years Andrew J. Borden and his wife had lived in happiness.It is supposed that an axe was the instrument used, as the bodies of the victims are hacked almost beyond recognition. Since the discovery of the deed the street in front of the house has been blocked by an anxious throng, eagerly waiting for the news of the awful tragedy and vowing vengeance on the assassin.

“FATHER IS STABBED.”

The first intimation the neighbours had of the awful crime was a groaning followed by a cry of “murder !” Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, who lives next door to the Bordens, ran over and heard Miss Borden cry: “Father is stabbed; run for the police !”Mrs. Churchill hurried across the way to the livery stable to get the people there to summon the police John Cunningham who was passing, learned of the murder and telephoned to police headquarters and Officer Allen was sent to investigate the case.

Meanwhile the story spread rapidly and a crowd gathered quickly, A HERALD reporter entered the house, and a terrible sight met his view. On the lounge in the cosy sitting room on the first floor of the building lay Andrew J. Borden, dead. His face presented a sickening sight. Over the left temple a wound six by four had been made as it the head had been pounded with the dull edge of an axe. The left eye bad been dug out and a cut extended the length of the nose, The face was hacked to pieces and the blood had covered the man’s shirt and soaked into his clothing. Everything about the room was in order, and there were no signs of a scuffle of any kind.

Bridget Sullivan

Upstairs in a neat chamber in the north-west corner of the house, another terrible sight met the view. On the floor between the bed and the dressing case lay Mrs Borden, stretched full length, one arm extended and her face resting upon it. Over the left temple, the skull was fractured and no less than seven wounds were found about the head. She had died evidently where she had been struck, for her life blood formed a ghastly clot on the carpet.

Dr Bowen was the first physician to arrive, but life was extinct, and from the nature of the wounds it is probable that the suffering of both victims was very short. The police were promptly on hand and strangers were kept at a distance. Miss Borden was so overcome by the awful circumstances that she could not be seen, and kind friends led her away and cared for her.

A squad of police who had arrived conducted a careful hunt over the premises for a trace of the assailant. No weapon was found and there was nothing about the house to indicate who the murderer might have been. A clue was obtained, however, a Portuguese whose name nobody around the house seems to know, has been employed on one of the Swansey farms owned by Mr Borden. About 9 o’clock this man went to the house and asked to see Mr Borden. He had a talk with his employer and asked for the wages due him… Mr Borden told the man he had no money with him, to call later. If anything more passed between the men it cannot be learned.

At length, the Portuguese departed and Mr Borden soon afterwards started downtown. His first call was to Peter Leduc’s barber shop, where he was shaved about 9:30 o’clock. He then dropped into the Union Bank to transact some business and talked with Mr Hart, treasurer of the savings bank, of which Mr Borden was president. As nearly as can be learned after that he went straight home. H took off his coat and composed himself comfortably on the lounge to sleep. It is presumed, from the easy attitude in which his body lay, that he was asleep when the deadly blow was struck. It is thought that Mrs Borden was in the room at the time, but was so overcome by the assault that she had no strength to make an outcry. In her bewilderment, she rushed upstairs and went to into her room. She must have been followed up the stairs by the murderer, and as she was retreating into the furthest corner of the room, she was felled by the deadly axe.

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 pieces 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, centred on a “Portuguese labourer” 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.”

Unlike the song, Abby didn’t suffer 40 but rather 18 or 19 blows, while Andrew received 11. The 19 hits that killed Abbey were delivered directly to the back of her head. At the time, Andrew was out for his morning walk. When he got back to the house, Andrew was surprised to find that his key failed to open the door. Bridget, the housemaid, went to help him, but she too couldn’t unlock the door, as it was jammed. She later testified that at that moment she heard Lizzie laughing from the top of the stairs.

Lizzie later denied being upstairs at that time and testified that when her father got into the house, she rushed to help him take off his boots and put on his slippers before he stretched out on the sofa for a nap. She also testified that when he got in, Andrew asked her where Abby was and that her reply was that a summons was delivered by a messenger regarding the sickness of a friend. When Andrew fell asleep, Lizzie informed Bridget of a sale at a department store and encouraged her to go, but the maid felt unwell and went to her bedroom to take a nap.

Lizzie told two different stories at her questioning. The first time, she said that after Andrew and Bridget had gone for their respective naps, she went to the barn to search for iron or tin to fix the door and stayed in the loft for about 20 to 30 minutes eating pears. The police were sceptical, mostly because it was too uncomfortable for anybody to remain in the heat of the loft for such a long time, and also they reported that they couldn’t find any footprints in the dust of the loft.

The Borden house

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 rumours 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.”

Borden back yard and barn

According to Bridget’s testimony, at around 11:10 a.m. that day, while she was resting in her room on the third floor, Lizzie called, “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” (Lizzie always called Bridget “Maggie,” the name of an earlier maid.) When she got downstairs, she saw Andrew dead.

Lizzie’s answer to the questions of the police officers were sometimes strange and contradictory, and many of them reported that her demeanour was strangely calm and poised. She claimed that when she got back to the house at first, she had no idea of anything unusual in the house until she spotted the dead body of her father. She also stated that after she had found her father, she was sure that Abby went to visit a friend and sent Bridget and a neighbour to check on her. And yet, despite Lizzie acting suspiciously, nobody thought to check her for blood stains or to do a proper search of her room. The police were criticised for their lack of diligence.

The jurors who decided the fate of Lizzie Borden

On August 9, an inquest into the Borden murders was held in the courtroom at 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.)

At the inquest, Lizzie’s contradictory testimony might have been affected by the regular doses of morphine she was prescribed to calm her nerves. She once claimed that at the time her father arrived at the house she was reading a magazine in the kitchen. Then, another time, she testified that she was doing ironing in the dining room.  She also refused to answer many questions even when they might have helped. Lizzie’s behaviour was described as erratic during the inquest.

The skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden

The trial of Lizzie Borden opened on June 5, 1893, in the New Bedford Courthouse before a panel of three judges. A high-powered defence 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 as 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 next set of witnesses described events and conversations after the 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 defence’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 neighbour 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, defence 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.”

The defence 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 marvellous contradictions given by witnesses called for a common purpose.” The defence kept hammering at the contradictory testimony of key prosecution witnesses. The defence also explored holes in the prosecution case: Where, the defence 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.

Since the police officers failed to provide any significant evidence from the crime scene, the whole trial was based on speculation. Lizzie’s claim that she was in the barn was confirmed by two men who confirmed seeing her at the time she said she was there. The murder weapon never was found. There were no clothes containing blood in the house or around it. Shortly before the trial, there had been another axe murder near the house, but the later suspect provided an alibi of being out of the country at the time the Bordens were killed.

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.”

There are several factors that led to Lizzie‘s acquittal—she was a small woman, who, at the time, was deemed too frail to have wielded a hatchet with such authority; she was a woman accused of committing a horrific crime at a time when it was inconceivable to think a woman could do something so horrible; and on the surface, Lizzie appeared to love her father very much. She was a good girl, a servant of the church, well-liked by those around her, often described as friendly and quiet. That’s a sharp contrast from the hatchet-wielding woman described today. But perhaps the biggest factor in her acquittal was the absence of the forensic technology that is available today. Many of the evidence gaps might have been filled in—for example, where was all the blood on Lizzie?”

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.”

Lizzie Borden

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 defence’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.

When the trial ended, Lizzie went on living with her sister in a large house in the neighbourhood called “the Hill” in Fall River. Despite her acquittal, Lizzie faced condemnation from the community, and she started using the name, Lizbeth Broden. However, she lived quite comfortably in her new house, with a housekeeper, a coachman, and live-in maids. Since Abby was said to have died before Andrew, her belongings and estate went first to her husband, and at Andrew’s death, everything passed to his daughters. In 1905, Emma and Lizbeth had an argument about a party that Lizzie gave for an actress. After this argument, Emma moved out of the house and the sisters never met again.

Lizzie was thirty-two when the murders occurred.  She inherited a substantial amount of money when she was found not guilty.  After her acquittal, she fell into an unlikely circle of friends, primarily the theatre and bohemian crowds.  She spent many nights out with her friends spending her new-found wealth at will.

Lizzie could not escape her famous name.  She chose not to leave Fall River even though this might have allowed her some semblance of a normal life.  Once in 1926, she entered a hospital and tried to use an alias.  Everyone knew who she really was, but kept up the facade for her benefit.

Lizzie died in 1927 [June 1].  She planned her own funeral, having left a list of those to be invited.  When the guests arrived, they were told the funeral had taken place the night before.  She left her heirs $225,000.  She was buried with the rest of the family at Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River.  On her grave is the name “Lisbeth Andrews Borden.”

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