Monday, November 2, 2009

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...Or Did She?

Either Lizzie Borden got away with murder or someone else did. Lizzie was acquitted of the axe murder of Andrew and Abby Borden and no one else was ever arrested. The Borden murder case has been cold for over a hundred years yet criminologist - professional and amateur - continue to pore over newspaper accounts, police reports, and trial transcripts looking for the real killer. There have been many theories, but the case remains unsolved.

Date: August 4, 1892

Location: Fall River, MA

Victims: Andrew Jackson Borden, Abby Durfee Borden

Cause of Death: Blows from a hatchet

Accused: Lizzie Andrew Borden

About 10:45 on August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden returned home from his daily errands in downtown Fall River. About half an hour later his daughter Lizzie found him dead on the couch in the sitting room. She called out to their maid, Bridget Sullivan, who was in her upstairs bedroom. Andrew had been hacked beyond recognition, his skull crushed by hatchet blows. Shortly after, while Lizzie was being tended to by neighbors and the family doctor, Bridget Sullivan went upstairs and found Lizzie's stepmother, Abby Borden, on the floor of her bedroom, in the same state as her husband.

The police concluded that the murder was committed by someone within the Borden home. Only Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan were home at the time and Lizzie became their prime suspect. At the inquest on August 9, Lizzie gave testimony that was confused and contradictory. Two days later she was arrested for murder.

Lizzie and her older sister Emma had grown apart from their father and stepmother, so much so that  the family never dined together. Emma, who seldom left home, was out of town on the day of the murders.

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.

Verdict: Not guilty

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. 

This is one of 50 stories featured in the new book
The Bloody Century
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts
Lizzie Andrew Borden Virtual Museum and Library
The Hatchet
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast

The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. d: Branden Books, 1992.

Chaney, Karen Elizabeth. Lizzie Borden (New England Remembers) . Beverly, MA: Commonwealth Editions, 2006.

Masterton, William. Lizzie Didn't Do It!. d: Branden Books, 2000.

Gravesite (from Findagrave)
Lizzie Borden's Tombstone

Ballads (from Mudcat Cafe)
"Fall River Hoedown"


Anonymous says:
October 26, 2010 at 6:41 PM

i Have To Do A Report On This And iTs Kool !! Haha <3

Anonymous says:
January 5, 2012 at 6:51 PM

She was the OJ Simpson of the 19th Century. Money bought her the Dream Team of lawyers. Also, I think it didn't hurt that "women didn't do such things" in those days (so people thought). I cannot see clear that it was anyone else but Lizzie; but theories are always interesting.

Anonymous says:
February 19, 2012 at 4:03 PM

She and her sister hired a "hit-person".

Anonymous says:
March 2, 2012 at 6:06 PM

You are kidding me, right? She is SO GUILTY!!!!She could have buried the ax and burned her clothes. It kinda says that she is guilty IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous says:
March 3, 2012 at 11:41 AM

I am prone to believe the Step Brother theory...I think Andrew came home at that time to meet with the son...and I believe Lizzie knew there was a meeting. When Lizzie went on trial it was clear and simple. She didnt do it....after the trial she was excommunicated from her a way that was her punishment...I believe they knew she knew who the killer was

AM Ballard says:
May 6, 2012 at 2:33 AM

I think she did it, though not necessarily without others' knowledge, maybe even assistance---a lone person negotiating the house, avoiding notice by the maid would have been very difficult in itself, let alone escaping detection by two people---for a 2 hour interval. She did it. I think the sister Emma just quietly turned a blind eye and let her younger sister was going to do.
As for the step-brother theory, there is no proof at all William Borden was a illegitimate son of Andrew. Borden is a common name in the region.

Anonymous says:
June 29, 2012 at 3:40 PM

I don't believe she did the murders, but I do believe that she knew who did and chose to protect this person. That person is the maid, B. Sullivan.

I go with the first explanation given as to the who and the why of the murders. There is ample proof that Bridget had an expensive attorney (provided for by Emma and Lizzie). At one point, Bridget was given money and a trip back to Ireland curtesy of the two ladies.

Yes, in my book it was Bridget Sullivan. And both Lizzie and Emma knew this and chose not speak of it.

Susan Sager

Anonymous says:
August 7, 2012 at 12:38 AM

I have to be honest, I've always thought that Lizzie Borden was guilty. But, now this story has cast some doubt in my mind. Still, who would kill their dad and step-mom naked? That part doesn't make much sense to me. However, I have to say that burning her dress, even though in my book that's going a little too far, it's very incriminating. Plus, if your dress had a paint stain on it, would you burn it? Probably not. If you were a rational person of sound mind, you'd simply sew yourself a new one and let the old one get swept up with the trash.

Anonymous says:
October 5, 2012 at 9:51 AM

She did because it is always the people that you dont expect her and her brother did it because they knew that they wouldn't cause a woman of doing such a thing I also think it is the maid she was the one who was find the bodiwe and she was the only one at home it was all three of them they all had motives

Anonymous says:
October 19, 2012 at 4:01 PM

There's so much more that ahsn't been metioned about the Borden family. It is rumored that Mr Borden molested Lizzie over a period of time. It is noted that Lizzies bedroom was next to her fathers bedroom and Lizzie would block the door leading from his room to hers. This itself would be motive for Lizzie to murder her father. Did she do it? I believe she did adnh I believe she had motive and opportunity as it is quite possible that there was a family conspiracy to kill the father and step mother.

Robert Wilhelm says:
October 20, 2012 at 9:09 AM

If I dealt in rumors this would be a much different blog. The rumor that Lizzie was molested by her father is a modern one; no one at the time suggested that she was molested. Where is it noted that Lizzie would block the door? Give me a written source for this information and I will check it. If there is any hard evidence, I will update the post.

Caleb21 says:
November 7, 2012 at 5:55 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caleb21 says:
November 7, 2012 at 6:00 PM

That dresser, according to a map of the Borden house was actually on Mr/Mrs Borden's side of a door between their room and Lizzie's, blocking it off. Both bedrooms had second doors, Lizzie's leading to a front stairwell and Borden's to a back stair. A common setup to be found in old houses in New England as many old homes were built without hallways, one room lead to another typically.
The molestation theory is a modern one, sheer conjecture based on modern psychology and nothing else...there is zero evidence to support it, however. The Lizzie also had a desk blocking a door, but it was to a front guest bedroom (where Mrs Borden was found dead, shoved partly under the bed according to recently found journals). Both of these blocked doors were also kept locked apparently and the dresser and desk were simply placed in their positions as it was convenient, not to block the doorway as they were not being used.

Caleb21 says:
November 9, 2012 at 3:39 AM

Sorry to add a second comment but someone mentioned the step-brother theory that was first brought forth in Brown's book, published in 1992. Even he conceited that there was no proof either Andrew had any illegitimate children or what a certain William Borden was Andrew's illegitimate son. He gives some evidence to suggest a connection but nothing very convincing. I have to wonder if anyone has researched it more recently as Brown did that back in the 1980s--records can be searched much easier now. The William Borden that Brown alleges is the secret son died in 1901 apparently at his own hand, though little is given as to his origin. Borden is a common name in the area, however.

Unknown says:
January 27, 2014 at 2:03 AM

We will never know who did it, ever, unless someone, somewhere produces verifiable written letters or journals of whom ever it was that committed the murders,that have indisputable facts and evidence that they alone or with accomplices committed the murders. All we got are far out theories and hypotheses. Until that day comes, or by some awesome technologies that could determine through exhumation that beyond a shadow of a doubt Lizzie, the maid, Emma, or the illegitimate brother, or all 3 or 2 or just 1lone person did it. It will forever remain an unsolved, cold case. However fascinating it is. Anyway, people love this kind of mystery, it keeps us guessing! And guessing ........

Unknown says:
January 27, 2014 at 2:04 AM

We will never know who did it, ever, unless someone, somewhere produces verifiable written letters or journals of whom ever it was that committed the murders,that have indisputable facts and evidence that they alone or with accomplices committed the murders. All we got are far out theories and hypotheses. Until that day comes, or by some awesome technologies that could determine through exhumation that beyond a shadow of a doubt Lizzie, the maid, Emma, or the illegitimate brother, or all 3 or 2 or just 1lone person did it. It will forever remain an unsolved, cold case. However fascinating it is. Anyway, people love this kind of mystery, it keeps us guessing! And guessing ........

Linda says:
August 21, 2015 at 10:09 AM

There have been several theories that Lizzie, and perhaps also Emma, had been sexually abused by their father. I'm not sure if any evidence of this was found, but it would provide an explanation as to why Mr Borden was found lying down and how Lizzie could have been in a state of undress while murdering him.

NorthsideRasta says:
September 22, 2015 at 8:17 PM

A step brother isn't the same as a "half brother" why all the confusion on the two terms? A step sibling is a child or children from the person who marries your parent while the so-called half sibling is genetically related to you by 1parent.As for the O.J.Simpson comparison for Lizbeth Borden who was the Dick Chaney,Adolph Hitler,Napoleon,Genghis Khan, the 19th century?SMH.

Unknown says:
October 9, 2015 at 3:09 PM

She did, it was the driver for the family Joseph Tatet can't spell his last name but it is pronounced Tetra.

Unknown says:
October 9, 2015 at 3:11 PM

She did, it was the driver for the family Joseph Tatet can't spell his last name but it is pronounced Tetra.

Unknown says:
December 20, 2015 at 9:12 PM

If Lizzie didn't do it she certainly knew who did, Andrew had countless enemies any one who would have been more then happy to see him dead.

Rosemary Rivera says:
February 17, 2016 at 10:26 AM

I think Emma Borden killed her father. I find it strange that Emma left the house on the day her father was murdered if she hardly ever left the home. Who else would Lizzie protect like this? She wouldn't go through all these lengths for a maid. Perhaps they saw her as a friend, but nothing to have to stand on trial for. Emma most likely found it the most opportune time to commit the murder due to the food poisoning and the meeting her father had, and decided it was better she do it then and there.

Lizzie buying attempting to buy prussic acid, well prussic acid had several uses: "Engraving, explosives and dye processes all make use of HCN. Historically, it has also been used in vermin or insect poisons, but has recently been replaced with materials less toxic to humans. The United States is one of the leading producers of prussic acid for industrial purposes."

Unknown says:
June 3, 2016 at 10:58 PM

I believe she did do it after all there were many reasons for her to kill her father and step mother. #1 She despised her step mother. #2 She cared for her father but she also did get along with her father either. Jealous of her step mother for her father giving money to her family and buying a house for them as well. Also Lizzie hated how even though her father was a wealthy banker her father bought there house not an upper class area but a middle. Lizzie wasn't living the life she wanted one she thought she deserved. There were many different other reasons. I don't believe her uncle did it there were witnesses to prove he wasn't anywhere in the facility. And Emma was visiting a friend also witness's. But Lizzie was home. Barn story she gave made no sense. Also she could have hid the ax in her underwear droor and the cops wouldn't of noticed because back then it was not exceptable to go through a women's droor. She also burned a dress that had blood on that the detectives wanted her to bring in to them. Why did she burn it?

CA Verstraete says:
September 2, 2016 at 8:40 PM

Or how about a new theory? What if Lizzie did it... because she had no other choice? Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter (Neat blog and that book looks good!)

Unknown says:
January 3, 2017 at 12:41 PM

Dear anonymous; what actual proof do you have for anything you've said? Can you say, with certainty, that Andrew Borden molested Lizzie? If so, please include citations. What proof do you have? Are you simply another basement-dweller, trying out a theory, because your theory doesn't fit the evidence presented at trial.

trustmeigetit says:
April 10, 2017 at 1:31 AM

Lizzie called out to the maid to confirm she was outside and the locked the door. This is stated in her inquest or trial. I can't recall.

The neighborhood testified that she saw the father knock on the front door to be let in.

This means, at the time the step mom was killed, both doors to the home were locked and only Lizzie and the mother were in the home.

It was Lizzie.

Some tests have been done too and based on the angle, it's possible shegot little blood on her.

I also personally feel that an innocent person would be terrified to remain in thej home if someon was just murdered.

Lizzie did this immediately following the murders and slept in the home that night with the parents dead bodies laying on the table.

She had the means to stay in a hotel but stayed there.

She also went to the dark cellar twice that night. Once with her friend, a 2nd time alone.

The police officer guarding the home saw her. He said she was bent down by a sink for several minutes but he could not see why she was doing.

She so did it.

Unknown says:
April 14, 2017 at 12:21 AM

What concerns me is, whoever the killer is; why did they stop? This degree of rage is almost never stopped in one day.. There was a similar murder 10 months later that was blamed on an immigrant that was fired by that family.. That immigrant wasn't in the country at the time of the Borden murders, so no follow up was looked at.. What if the immigrant is innocent too?

jzcookie says:
April 30, 2017 at 10:34 AM

It was made to look like a crazed fiend did the deed when it was just naked greed, probably Lizzie or John Morse, who was previously a butcher. If Lizzie did it it would be in her white under clothes later torn up and put in the slop pail as menstrual rags, hatchet dropped in the privy in the barn (it is a sink hole) which was not thoroughly searched. John Morse could have done Mrs. Borden before he left to establish his alibi. He didn't know Andrew would be back early. Lizzie had to take him as he was the last barrier to her inheriting all that money.

Unknown says:
March 28, 2019 at 9:34 AM

the question is why would she do it its crazy btw im related to lizzy borden its carzy not by blood but meried in to the family thank god

Sloopie says:
July 29, 2019 at 3:13 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sloopie says:
July 29, 2019 at 3:14 PM

Around that time there were several ax murderers roaming around the country; Billy the Axman in the Midwest (eg, Villisca murders) and the Louisiana Axman, who liked jazz and specialized in killing whole families of Italian grocers. I have often wondered if Billy the Axman did this, or if it was a copycat murder.

Robert Wilhelm says:
July 30, 2019 at 9:16 AM

Axe murders were very common in the 19th Century. Every home had one or more axes; they were weapons of convenience. There are several dozen unrelated axe murder posts on Murder by Gaslight:

Unknown says:
August 1, 2020 at 12:06 PM

Why do you think you know all the answer? Guilty because of how she looked? Read some books on it. It will make you she or isn't one will ever know for sure...

bibiji says:
August 21, 2021 at 4:26 PM

Evidence about lizzies burning of her dress was pure speculation. her testimony was also very believable but i highly doubt the theory of her committing the crime nude. evidence point for it be impossible to commit such crime and cover it up in the time allotted. this makes me believe that the murder was committed by a third-party, possibly hired by Lizzie or Emma

Unknown says:
October 23, 2021 at 4:03 PM

Lizzie did not have a drop of blood on her, do that without getting blood on you, I believe it was John morse with lizzies knowledge...

Unknown says:
February 20, 2022 at 1:53 PM

Try the inquest testimony of the locked door between her room and her father's, and she had no he had access and she had no protection? . Father's bedroom door was kept locked and his door into my room was locked and hooked, too, I think and I had no keys.

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