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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.