Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Lizzie Borden

I originally started writing about the Lost Ninth Roman Legion, but after a whole lotta' research, I couldn't bring myself to care about it. Instead, I'll bring you a classic that I'm interested in no matter how many times I hear about it, because there's always some new little tidbit that comes along, and then it's new! Woo-hoo!

Thursday, August 4, 1892 was a hot day in Fall River, Massachusetts, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Some members of the Borden family had been suffering a stomach illness the last couple days, which was assumed to have been food poisoning.

Andrew Borden, patriarch of the family, came in from running errands and reclined on a sofa for a nap, shoes on, feet on the floor.

Abby Borden, stepmother to the two thirty-something girls from Andrew's first marriage, Lizzie and Emma, was upstairs making the guest bed, where her predecessor's brother was sleeping on one of his many visits.

Bridget, the maid, was upstairs resting after having washed the windows in the intense heat.

Lizzie Borden.
By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lizzie had slept in late, starting some chores after a breakfast of coffee and a cookie. She was on the main floor, in the kitchen, and went out to the barn for a time.

Emma, Lizzie's sister, and their uncle were off visiting people, Emma fifteen miles away.

Bridget had drifted off, but was awakened by Lizzie yelling for her, saying her father had been killed, that someone must have broken in. The house was always locked from the inside, and many of the interior doors were locked between rooms (think of Nicole Kidman's character in The Others, locking doors as she went through them).

The mutilated body of Andrew Borden.
Anonymous. Wikimedia Commons.
Andrew Borden had been murdered using a hatchet, struck about eleven times in the head and face, his eyeball cut in half, his nose severed entirely. The perpetrator appeared to have been standing directly behind him as he reclined on the sofa, his head on the armrest.

Lizzie claimed she thought she had heard her stepmother return from a chore (one only Lizzie was aware of her having gone on). Abby was found on her stomach in a pool of blood in the guest room, struck from behind at least nineteen times with the same weapon as her husband. These blows had rained down upon her head and neck.

Abby's blood had congealed, but Andrew's was still seeping out, which led examiners to think Abby had been murdered first.

Some facts:

Hearing that they had suffered a stomach malady, the victims' stomachs and the family's milk were sent off to be tested. No poison was found in the milk or in the victims' stomachs, so their illness in the days leading up to their deaths was attributed to food poisoning or a stomach bug. They had left food out on the stove to be used over the course of a couple days, so food poisoning stands to reason.

Lizzie attempted to buy prussic acid the day before the murders. She was turned down for not having a prescription. She denied having been there, though two people placed her there.

When Lizzie's father got home, she told him Abby had received a note asking for her help with an illness and
Abby Borden, stepmother.
By Anonymous [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons.
had taken off. Chances are, at the time he arrived home to lie down, Abby was already dead. Was there ever a note? No one else knows anything about it, and it was never found. When questioned on this, Lizzie claimed she may have burned it.

Bridget (the maid) was upstairs for both murders, probably dozing when Andrew was killed, yet she heard nothing.

A hatchet with a broken/missing handle was found in the cellar. There was no blood on it. A second hatchet was found with hair and blood on it, but this was determined to be from a cow. There were two other dirty hatchets, no blood on either.

Lizzie burned a dress on August 7, claiming she had gotten paint on it, which had ruined it.

Andrew Borden was an unfriendly penny pincher, and one of the richest men in town. His business dealings were said to be dishonest. He was the head of several banks and owned substantial property in town. He had many enemies.

Lizzie was the first to find Andrew, and she claimed she'd heard Abby come in, directing her maid to go upstairs and look for her stepmother (who she called Mrs. Borden, not mother, and who she didn't get along with).

Abby was killed at about 9:30 AM, Andrew at about 11:00 AM. Where was the killer all this time as two other women (Lizzie and Bridget) walked around the house?

The house was kept locked from the inside. Bridget unlocked the door for Andrew when he returned then went out to get a pail of water. She locked the door when she came back in. This was the only time the house would have been unlocked for anyone to get in.

Bridget heard Lizzie laugh upstairs around the time Andrew arrived home. Lizzie claimed she was in the kitchen at that time. (Anyone else find it disturbing that she was laughing, if she had indeed killed her stepmother?)

When asked where she'd been when the murder occurred, Lizzie said she was in the barn loft. Officers found the loft to be covered in dust. No footprints.

Lizzie had visited a friend the day before the murders, claiming she was worried something was going to happen to her father, and she just knew someone was out to get him. She claimed someone had threatened him.

Lizzie's uncle testified that Andrew was changing his will to leave his money to his wife, with only a small amount for each of his daughters.

Lizzie and Emma often tried to get their father to move to a nicer area and to improve things in life, as he was too cheap to even have indoor plumbing, though it was available at the time.

There was no time for Lizzie to have washed any blood off herself between Andrew's death and her calling for Bridget. The wall over Andrew was splattered, as would the person standing behind him to kill him have been. Where was the blood? The house was searched, and no bloody clothing found.

A boy claimed to have seen a strange man running from the home at about the time the murder was committed. A man fitting the description was found, but he had an alibi. Other eye witnesses claimed to see a strange man (though never the same one or in the same place) and Lizzie coming out of the barn just as she had said.

The key to the upstairs (the only way to get up there was locked at all times, as well) was on the shelf when Andrew got home. He went upstairs briefly, then came back down before settling in for his nap on the sofa.

Borden Home.
By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
From book "Infamous Murders" (1975) (out of print)

Various suspicions include:

1. Lizzie Borden did it alone. No one has been able to say for certain how she concealed the blood she should have been covered with, or how she escalated and de-escalated so rapidly after each frenzied kill, in order to be calm and doing household chores each time she spoke with someone (Bridget, Andrew).

2. Lizzie and Bridget worked together. Each left the house to the backyard/barn at some point between the murders and could possibly have concealed bloody clothing outside. Bridget left the day after the murders, though, returning to Ireland before coming back to the U.S., marrying, and living out the rest of her life in Montana. She never showed signs of any new riches, such as she might have received for being duplicitous in the crime. Also, the girls were not kind to her, calling her Maggie snidely, which was the previous maid's name. Why would she help Lizzie when Lizzie was a spoiled little rich girl, and she didn't appear to have been paid off?

3. Emma used her visit out of town as an alibi, then snuck back, probably working with Lizzie, even possibly Bridget.

4. One of many of the townsfolk who hated Andrew did it. Someone he'd cheated or swindled. Someone he'd fired or denied a loan to. However, how did they get into the house when it was locked? How did they lie in wait for 1 1/2 hours after killing Abby? And why kill Abby, but not Bridget or Lizzie?

5. It has been hypothesized that there was a troubled, mentally retarded brother that no one knew about, and that he had shown up out of nowhere insisting to be in the will. When his father turned him down, he coaxed Lizzie to help him kill their parents. He killed them both, with her covering for him. Whether this alleged son exists is not established.

All of these facts add up to a tricky case, unsolved after more than a century. Charges were pressed against Lizzie--three murder charges, one for each person, then a separate murder charge for both of them together. It would be almost a year before the case saw trial in June of 1893. Lizzie was found not guilty after a fourteen day trial. She didn't get to testify, and she fainted at the sight of her father's skull.

She was found not guilty.

Five weeks later, Lizzie and Emma purchased a house in the moneyed area using money they'd gotten from both Abby's and Andrew's estates (Abby's went to Andrew, as she died first, and his money went to the girls, his will not having been changed). They had a full service staff and enjoyed the finer things in life for the rest of their days, both dying in 1927, though they no longer lived together, and hadn't spoken in awhile due to a falling out about a friend of Lizzie's, an actress she spent much of her time with, and was rumored to have a relationship with. The girls were laid to rests by the bodies of their father, their mother and their stepmother. Lizzie left money behind to be used to maintain her father's grave.

I wouldn't doubt Lizzie was a bit of a sociopath. She was certainly a spoiled little rich girl. When reading about her behavior, I pictured her as far younger than her thirties. In fact, I was shocked to discover her age. Being spiteful to her stepmother and the maid. Acting petulant because her father wouldn't move them to The Hill, the ritzy area Lizzie and Emma moved to after their father's death. She listened intently throughout the proceedings, not showing emotion, save the moment she "fainted" when her father's skull was revealed. How easy would that have been to fake?

Did Lizzie kill her stepmother in a frenzy, wait an hour, then do the same to her father? How did she hide the blood from her stepmother's death for an hour, talk to Bridget calmly, and iron handkerchiefs, all the while waiting to kill her father? Did she change twice, wearing a total of three outfits that day in order to hide blood stains from two murders? Where did she put the bloody clothing? How did Bridget not hear the sound of a 200 pound woman hitting the floor? Did Bridget and Lizzie work together? Was there a stepbrother? Or did one of the townsfolk who had been swindled by Andrew commit the murder? Why would they kill his wife, but let his maid and daughter live?

May you find your Muse.


Dana said...

I've always been fascinated by this story! I don't know if we'll ever know the answers.

Have a great Saturday!

Unknown said...

A mystery indeed! I loved the way you wrote the article from different view points and perspective. Most articles, I have read on Lizzie, don't leave room for doubt. A good read. I enjoyed it very much. :) I'm also supposed to tell you that Matthew MacNish sent me.
A to Z April Blogging Challenge

David T List said...

First I wondered if she committed the murders naked, then ran and showered the blood off each time (creepy image, I know... naked girl stalking people with a hatchet) but there was no plumbing with which to wash away blood.... hmm.

DL Hammons said...

Like many others I'm sure, I have been fascinated by the mystery ever since I first read about it. You've offered an excellent summary of it here! :)

M Pax said...

Very mysterious. Good mysteries are an awful lot of fun.

D.G. Hudson said...

Wicked tale (and a lovely long post, Shannon). When anyone is pushed too far, it's amazing what twists and turns can evolve in their minds.

Reading 'Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde, and how he killed the artist, gave me a good idea of the tortured mind and how it justifies its actions.)

Excellent and interesting post, Shannon!

mshatch said...

Definitely one of the most intriguing unsolved cases. Changing in between murders makes the most sense. Maybe Lizzie and her sister were working together and Emma got rid of the stained clothing. But, how could Lizzie have known everyone would be conveniently lying down at the same time? Food poisoning doesn't necessarily affect everyone the same way (sadly,I know)which means it was likely a crime of opportunity but that doesn't fit with the rest of the facts. Hmm, very interesting indeed.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Had there been the forensics we have today, they might've solved it, but now we'll never know.

The Daily Bern said...

Wow! Cool post. Very interesting.
Shawn at Laughing at Life 2

Susan Scott said...

Great post thank you Shannon! Fact is often stranger than fiction.
You know the rhyme?
Lizzie Borden had an axe.
She gave her mother 40 whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
she gave her father 41 ..

Susan Scott's Soul Stuff

Unknown said...

I love murder mysteries. I read this very carefully and still have no guess about what really happened. I'd always thought Lizzie was found guilty (thus the song). It's like the unsolved Jack-the-Ripper murders. Too bad there were no modern CSIs to investigate those crimes a hundred years ago.
Great post!

Jeff Hargett said...

A chilling tale. I would have liked your take on the 9th Legion too. Reminded me of a cool movie based on them.

Kathleen Jennette said...

The stories were always fascinating to me as a kid hearing about her. Still is today.

KaTy Did at: Life's Ride As I See It

Rachel said...

"Lizzie Borden had an ax,
She gave her mother 40 whacks.
When she'd realized what she'd done,
She gave her father 41."

Not entirely accurate but still creepy. I once managed to say it while sounding like a demonic ghost child and even scared myself.

Anyways, I think that the sisters did it. I believe that the father was abusive to them and they blamed him, and the stepmother for not protecting them. Perhaps even the maid wanted in on it. Maybe she was being abused too. Maybe they all wanted out.

Doreen McGettigan said...

This is such a fascinating case even today. I always thought she did it and her sister knew about it. The maid and sister were most likely too terrified of her to tell.
I lived in Newport Rhode Island for a few years and it was pretty creepy visiting the town of Fall River.

Unknown said...

Great story enjoyed reading it again, such a good mystery.
maggie winter

J.A. Kazimer said...

One of my favorite cases ever. Is there really any question as if she acted alone? Apparently, no one was overly surprised by the murders, which tells us something. Thanks for sharing this murderous tale.

Christine Rains said...

I don't know if Lizzie did it, but she wasn't mentally all there. She had a rough life and I think there was something in the Borden genes too.

Andrew Leon said...

I was reading something about this relatively recently that claims that new evidence (or re-examined old evidence using new techniques) proves that Lizzie did not do the killing. I don't remember where I was reading that, though.

And, remember, I have a book you need to read.

Patricia JL said...

This is always an interesting case to read about because there's no clear answer. The mystery is intriguing and I always learn something new.

Andrea said...

This was fascinating! Yes, I have heard Lizzie's name before, but honestly knew nothing of the tale. Yikes!

Mark Means said...

Very interesting and I wonder if we'll ever find out the real story?

Left and Write

Unknown said...

I love the Lizzie Borden case! So interesting.

Jessica at Scary-Simple-Smitten

JoJo said...

I live in Massachusetts and last summer me and two of my friends went to the Lizzie Borden house in Fall River. I came down with a horrible headache bordering on a migraine and my camera totally spazzed out near the end of the tour. It took me days to straighten it out.

Unknown said...

I like the way you set out the facts. If Lizzie didn't do it, she must have been complicit. Possibly the maid too. But who knows???

Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous said...

It's interesting isn't it. But I suppose we'll never really know who did it.

Chuck said...

The story and the sing-song verse about these murders has always been a little lacking for me. Now That I have read this, I do not know anymore then I did when I started. I guess we will never know for sure...

Unless CSI opens it as a cold case :)

Chuck at Apocalypse Now

Unknown said...


J.L. Murphey said...

Good questions.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I hadn't realized Lizzie was as old as she was - I, too, pictured a younger woman. Very interesting post!

Unknown said...

What a chilling mystery. Most of these details were new to me. Your A-Z theme is really intriguing!

Nagzilla said...

I was always fascinated by this story when I was a kid, and I vaguely remember a TV movie about it (starring the woman from Bewitched, if I recall correctly). I've always wondered if current DNA and techniques could solve the case.

TaMara Sloan said...

I've always been fascinated by this story. You've shared several facts I was not aware of.

Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

Julie Flanders said...

This story has always fascinated me. I had no idea the photos were now available online but should have guessed. They make the story even more horrific, wow.

Anonymous said...

You have outdone yourself on this post. Wow! Great post, ah, not the murders.

KC Weldon said...

I think Lizzie did it. I saw a thing on tv once that said her rain slicker was missing. If that's true, I think she wore the slicker over her clothes. Super creepy case.

KC @ The Occasional Adventures of a Hermit & Oh Frog It

Kern Windwraith said...

I've always sort of hoped that Lizzie did commit the murders. Otherwise, can you imagine how dreadful it would have been to live under the cloud of suspicion that followed her for the rest of her days.

As others have said, it's a fascinating case, and we'll likely never know the truth now--but we love to speculate!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed your telling of the story and all the information. I wonder if this would have happened in the current years how easily it would have been solved. Of course, it wasn't so we will never know.

Kinley Dane said...

That was a really good post. I have always loved the Lizzie Borden story, too. I have never seen any of those pictures, that made it all seem more real.

Bob Sanchez said...

Yikes. This is the most info I've seen on the Lizzie Borden murders. Thanks.

Unknown said...

So she (Lizzie) gave her step-mother 19 whacks, not her mother 40 as the nursery rhyme suggests. Lizzie Borden had an ax...gave her mother 40 whacks...when she saw what she had done she gave her father 41.

Jak said...

I must be behind! This is another I've never heard of, but a handful even know a diddy that goes a long with it?

My guess would be the sisters were in on it together. Unsure about the maid, though.

katie eggeman said...

This has always been an interesting mystery. I like the movie that Elizabeth Montgomery made about her.
Katie atBankerchick Scratchings

Kristen said...

It's definitely a fascination story, and the amount of research and work you put into the post is impressive! It's hard to know how the mind of a sociopath works, except that they are very good at fooling people, and feel no empathy. I don't really have a guess as to how it really went down though.

#atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

JoJo said...

I took 2 friends down there last August for the Lizzie tour. I believe the place is haunted. One friend is real sensitive to the spirit world and was feeling stuff. Meanwhile I came down with a horrible headache, then my camera completely spazzed out when we went into the kitchen from the back stairs. I told the guide my camera was flipping out and she told me to start snapping pics right away so I did, but I didn't get anything like shadows or orbs. I'd even charged the batteries the night before to make sure it'd work.

In the gift shop, they sell tshirts splattered with red paint. And I got a magnet that says, 'everything I need to know about anger management I learned from Lizzie Borden'.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Dana, this is one I think I'd like the answer to, because if she didn't do it, I'd like to know HOW someone else did it.

Debra, I appreciate that, thank you! And thanks for letting me know Matthew sent you.

David, it would have been a good theory otherwise, though! (and yikes!)

DL, it definitely captures one's attention, doesn't it?

Mary, I think so!

D.G., it's been awhile since I read that one! Is this the first you've read it?

Marcy, every time a theory sounds good, there's something to make it otherwise. Such a fun case!

Alex, I'm sure they would have. And I'll always wonder if that was, indeed, cow's hair and blood on the hatchet. They didn't have any cattle...

Shawn, thank you!

Susan, oh yes, I'm familiar with the rhyme! Catchy, isn't it? And completely inaccurate, LOL!

Lexa, I did, too, until I first started researching it. History has certainly passed her down as guilty.

Jeff, what's the movie? (And thank you!)

Katy, I think they will forever be interesting. And every few years, new evidence will come to light.

Rachel, hysterical about scaring even yourself! I'm surprised there's no Bloody Lizzie game to play where her spirit is supposed to come eat you.

Doreen, so cool that you've visited the town! The sister was certainly happy to share in the spoils, either way.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Maggie, it's THE murder mystery, IMO. Such a wonderful mix of locked door mystery (like Sherlock Holmes) and flawed family.

Julie, one of my favorites, too!

Christine, there was definitely something wrong with her. No matter what.

Andrew, I need to search for that! I need to also find out what that book is.

Patricia, I love that aspect of it, too. The more you look into it, the more you learn, and the more questions are raised.

Andrea, I'm glad you found it interesting!

Mark, on this one, I hope so!

Jessica, I do, too!

JoJo, now that is fascinating! So cool that you visited and had such an experience there.

Jan, it sure seems like she had to have been. She was never out of the house for the full 90 minutes she would have had to have been. And neither was the maid.

Kellie, but darn it, I want to!

Chuck, it seems like a big piece of the puzzle is missing, doesn't it?

Lisa, I'm glad you like it!

J.L., now if only I had the answers.

Madeline, glad I'm not the only one!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Nan, thank you so much!

Nagzilla, interesting! I need to look into that movie. With Elizabeth Montgomery, no less? (Is that her name?)

TaMara, that's good to hear! I like the thought of giving people new information, especially on such a well known story.

Julie, they do, don't they? They're so graphic, without being gory.

Elizabeth, thank you!

KC, now that is interesting! I didn't find anything about a rain slicker, but I bet if I search with that as part of it, I will.

Kern, it definitely would have been terrible if she was innocent. I wonder if it contributed to her and her sister never getting married? They were already considered spinsters, though, so maybe not.

Betty, I wonder the same thing. Would it have been more obvious, easier to track?

Kianwi, it was interesting finding the photos! I didn't expect to.

Bob, so nice to hear, thank you!

Lacey, yep, completely inaccurate. Plus, it was a hatchet, not an axe. Darn unrealistic songs! Sort of diminishes the reality.

Jak, oh yeah, the song that goes with it is something kids sing sometimes. I've seen people jump rope to it, even. Ack, eh?!

Katie, you're the second to mention the movie! I need to check it out.

Kristen, whoever did this certainly had no empathy, and I'm still fascinated by the cool off period between the two murders. It certainly wasn't spur of the moment, at least not the second crime.

JoJo, haha, I love that magnet!!

Andrew Leon said...

I'll be reviewing it soon.