Date: August 4, 1892
Location: Fall River, MA
Cause of Death: Blows from a hatchet
Accused: Lizzie Andrew Borden
John Morse, brother of Andrew's first wife Sarah (mother of Lizzie and Emma), was visiting the Bordens that week. Andrew had decided to divide his property among relatives while he was still alive. He was in the process of transferring a summer home to John Morse. The daughters felt this property should be theirs. This was thought to have been Lizzie's motive.
Trial: June 5, 1893
Police had found a hatchet with a broken handle in the basement, but it showed no sign of blood. Forensics experts testified that it would have taken the killer too long to clean it. Andrew's body was still warm when it was discovered. Similarly, it was argued that it would have taken too long for Lizzie to have changed her bloody clothing and returned to "discover" the body.
A neighbor testified to seeing Lizzie burn a blue dress in the kitchen stove, claiming it was covered with paint. She also testified to seeing Lizzie in a blue dress the morning of the murder. A few days prior to the murder Lizzie had tried to buy prussic acid, a deadly poison, from a local druggist but her request had been refused. This fact was excluded from her trial.
Lizzie had a powerful defense team that included former Massachusetts Governor George Robinson. Though there was compelling circumstantial evidence against her, with the murder weapon successfully challenged, the prosecution had no physical evidence. The defense was able to cast doubt on all of the prosecution's case.
After the trial Lizzie and her sister Emma used their inheritance to buy a much larger house in Fall River, which they named Maplecroft. They lived together there until 1905 when, after an argument over a party Lizzie had thrown for actress Nance O’Neil, Emma moved out. Lizzie remained in Maplecroft until her death in 1927. During the time at Maplecroft she changed her name from Lizzie, the name on her birth certificate to Lizbeth, the name on her gravestone.
Though Lizzie Borden was found not guilty by a jury of her peers, the public has never been satisfied with the verdict. The story is incomplete, there is a need to know more. If Lizzie did it, how did she hide the evidence? If she didn’t do it, then who did? In the hundred and twenty years since Lizzie’s acquittal, dozens of authors and media producers have been working to satisfy that need. Here are a few of the theories put forth—it should be remembered that these are all pure speculation, none is based upon fact:
- Bridget Sullivan was angry for being asked to clean windows on an oppressively hot day. She had been sick with food poisoning the previous day. Perhaps she snapped under the pressure and killed her employers.
- John Morse had been out of the house when the murders occurred. He could have been hiding in the basement then, alone or with Lizzie's help, killed the Bordens. It is speculated that Emma was also included in this conspiracy.
- Lizzie did not get any blood on her clothing because she removed them and committed the murders in the nude. Then she hastily redressed, careful not to get any blood on her dress.
- William Borden, an alleged illegitimate half-brother of Lizzie and Emma, committed the murders out of revenge after his father failed to submit to his extortion demands.