On a hot morning on August 4, 1892, Mr. Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby Borden, were brutally murdered. A daughter of the victims, Lizzie Borden was arrested, tried and acquitted of the crime. “She was a woman of spotless character and reputation, and more than that she was educated, refined and prominently connected with the work of the Christian church in the Fall River”(Gates 2). The town and the country were divided in their opinions of who could commit such horrifying murders. Many theories have been made to explain that day; the finger has been pointed in every direction- even to a Chinese Sunday school student of Lizzie’s. To this day people are unsure as to whether or not Lizzie brutally murdered her parents.
The day started off with the usual routine. Mr. And Mrs. Borden made their way downstairs to eat breakfast a little after seven. The next to wake up was Lizzie’s uncle, who had shown up unannounced and without luggage the evening before so he could visit a friend in the area the next day. The day of the murder he left the house at nine thirty. Prior to that time Lizzie woke up, waited for her parents to finish eating and went downstairs herself to eat breakfast. (It had become a custom for her and her sister to avoid eating meals with their father and stepmother.) Not long after this Mrs. Borden asked the maid to wash the windows. She did as she was told and spent the rest of the day going throughout the house. Mr. Borden went out to run some errands then he came home, lay down on the couch and proceeded to take a nap. This was the last time that he was seen alive (Martins, Michael, and Binette 72.) After breakfast, Lizzie
went outside to the barn to find some metal of some sort so that she could use it on her planned fishing trip that day. In the twenty minutes she spent in the barn her parents were murdered (Martins, Michael, and Binette 78). An autopsy was done on the dinning room table later that day which determined that Mr. Borden was sleeping when he died. The cause of death was “ten blows to the head with an axe” (Porter 8). Meanwhile upstairs while making the bed, Mrs. Borden was murdered with “a total of 18 gaping wounds, more than one of which went through the skull” (Flenn 2). Lizzie was the first to discover her father’s body. The maid, who was resting in her room in the attic, was called downstairs at 11:10 (Martins, Michael, and Binette 91). Before the maid was able to see Mr. Borden’s mutilated body, Lizzie sent her across the street to the family’s doctor. Finding that he wasn’t home, she and the doctor’s wife returned to the Borden home. Meanwhile, Mrs. Churchill, the closest neighbor to the Borden’s, discovered Lizzie on the back porch in great distress. She walked over to the house to console her after hearing that Mr. Borden had been murdered. She volunteered to send her handyman to find a doctor, and to help. The police station, about 400 yards away, received the message at 11:15. By 11:45 the police and Dr. Bowen were on the scene (Sullivan 16). During all the confusion, while the handyman went for help, Mrs. Borden was completely forgotten. She had left the house earlier to visit a sick friend. After Dr. Bowen asked about her Lizzie recalled hearing her return and asked the maid to go upstairs to look for her. The maid refused fearing what she might find. So with the company of Mrs. Churchill the maid agreed to scale the steps finding Mrs. Borden murdered in the guestroom (Spiering 16). Mrs. Borden was found with her head crushed in. There was a hole about 1.5 x 5.5 inches along with a scalp wound where the flesh was cut off but not separated from the head. The wound was 2 inches long by 1.5 inches wide. On the left side
there were four wounds. Three of them went into the skull, one taking a piece right out of the skull. Many of the wounds crushed through to the brain. Altogether she received 18 blows to the head (Porter 19). Mr. Borden’s wound count was just less than that of his wife; he only had ten. From inch in front of his ear to inch behind it his skull was crushed in (Martins, Michael, and Binette 106). One wound started at his left nasal bone and extended down through the nose, the upper and lower lip, and through the chin cutting into the bone (Porter 23). Another started just above the eye severing it completely in half and cutting the cheekbone (Porter 24). According to Mr. Harrington, a police officer questioned in court, when Mr. Borden’s body was examined “blood was still seeping from his wounds, and his body was warm.” However, Mrs. Borden’s body was cold and stiff. “No blood was flowing, and it was dark and congealed” (Engstrom 54). Judging form this and the stage of digestion in the stomachs of the two bodies, Mrs. Borden died first (Flenn 5). This account of the murder day is entirely factual. The only things that can be argued are the alibis. Abby, her sister, the maid, and her uncle couldn’t prove their exact whereabouts at the approximate time of the murders. Not only is this account entirely fact, it is most of the facts. “No blood stained clothes, fingerprints, or murder weapon were ever found” (Porter 1). This is one strong reason why Abby was acquitted. However, there are other interesting facts that took place before, the day of, and after the murders. Lizzie and her sister Emma didn’t usually attend meals with their father and stepmother. This habit was created when their father, a self made man who was relatively tight with his money, bought half of his sister-in-law’s house. He did this as a favor so she didn’t have to sell it. He then allowed her to live in the other half. Lizzie and Emma took great offense to this and have been quoted as saying, “we thought what he did to her people (their step-mothers’ family) he ought to do for his own”(Sullivan 217). Mr. Borden tried to make up for it by buying them their own house as well, but the damage was already done. From that point on they ate alone and addressed Abby, their mother since the age of 2, as Mrs. Borden (Lincoln 41). Another interesting event that occurred in the Borden household was the disappearance of Abby’s cat. Robert Sullivan, in his research of the case, interviewed Lizzie’s niece: “Lizzie Borden had company and my aunt had a tabby cat and the cat was trained so that it would touch the latch — you know, it was sic latches in those days — she’d touch the latch and the door would open. So the cat went in where Lizzie was entertaining and she took it out and shut the door again, and came back so this is what she told Aunt Abby and Abby told my mother; Lizzie Borden finally excused herself and went downstairs — took the cat downstairs — and put the carcass on the chopping block and chopped its head off. My aunt for days wondered where that cat was — all she talked about. Finally, Lizzie said, ‘You go downstairs and you’ll find your cat.’ My aunt did” (Sullivan, 23). It takes a strange frame of mind to be able to chop a cat’s head off, especially for a reason that small. Assuming that was her single driving force for killing it, but perhaps Lizzie had some built up anger towards their stepmother. On the day of the murder even more interesting things happened. One is the issue of her dress. After reading the court testimony of many of the people who were in the house that day, there is somewhat of a discrepancy as to what the color and type of the dress she was wearing (Brown 2). The general consensus is that early that morning she was wearing a light blue dress which is not in her habit of wearing. She then later changed again once the house began to fill with police and neighbors into another dress (Martins, Michael, and Binette 29). In many of the sources researched, writers tend to focus on Lizzie’s calm and cool, attitude throughout the trial. At first this seems to make Lizzie look more and more suspicious. After reading the dialogue of the trial one might feel differently. On the day of the murders, Seabury W. Bowen was questioned. Q. Well, what is commonly called morphine? A. Yes sir. Q. The next day you changed that? A. I did not change the medicine but doubled the dose. Q. How long did she continue to have that? A. She continued to have that all the time she was in the station house. Q. After her arrest, was it not? A. And before. Q. In other words she had it all the time up to the time of her arrest, the hearing and while in the station house. A. Yes sir. Q. Does not morphine given in double doses to allay mental distress and nervous excitement somewhat affect the memory and change and alter the view of things and give people hallucinations? A. Yes sir.’ (Porter 212).
There are innumerable theories as to how Mr. and Mrs. Borden were murdered. Some of these have interesting and very possible twists, while others are laughable. Nearly every theory has something missing, whether it is lack of motive, opportunity, or evidence. One of the two more plausible theories is that Bridget, the maid, was the murderer. According to Radin, Bridget, ordered to wash windows on the hottest day of the year, went mad and hacked Mrs. Borden to death. She then murdered Mr. Borden in order to prevent him from reporting the hypothesized argument that Bridget had with Mrs. Borden earlier in the morning, for such a report would incriminate her (Porter 13). Unfortunately, assigning the motive of rage to Bridget is difficult, since there is no evidence that suggests that she harbored great hostility toward her employer. Was Bridget Lizzie’s lover, and so her rage against Mrs. Borden was fueled by Lizzie’s unjust treatment at the hands of her stepmother and father? There is no evidence to support this idea. Radin seems seduced by the story that Bridget, in her old age, almost confessed during an illness that she supposed was her last (Porter 28). Radin’s account is possible, but his hypothesis is missing a motive; Bridget never showed signs of hostility towards the Borden family. Also as for Lizzie and Bridget being lovers, that also has no strength what so ever. The next theory is that Lizzie killed her parents. Gross proposes that Lizzie did indeed murder her parents, but that she could not have brought off the crime successfully without Bridget’s assistance. It was Bridget who spirited away — virtually under the very noses of the police — the murder weapon and the bloodstained dress. Gross suggests the possibility that Lizzie plotted the murders with Bridget. Gross is also missing a motive, but answers most of the rest of the questions: Why didn’t Bridget hear 200lb Abby fall to the ground? What happened to the murder weapon? Why did Lizzie pay for Bridget’s return to Ireland? This explains the mutually non-accusatory testimony of Lizzie and Bridget with respect to each other. Gross points out that only the two of them were in the house when the two-hundred-pound Abby Borden fell heavily and noisily to the floor after being struck. He finds significance in Bridget’s passage being paid so that she could return to Ireland — was it Lizzie’s part of the bargain? He also attaches importance to Bridget’s almost-death-bed confession over half a century later, when Bridget was living in Butte, Montana (Porter 56).
The discovery of a murder weapon, or even just a clue left by the murderer, like bloody clothes or a footprint, would be enough to lift the fog draped over this case. A concrete motive for any of the persons thought physically capable of completing the crime could also very easily seal the case, finally bringing the century old crime to a close.
Arrests To Be Made: The Inquiries by Lizzie Borden About Poison Seem Peculiar. New York Times. Saturday, August 6, 1892: 1.
Brown, A. R. 1992. Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter. 400 p. Dell
Engstrom, Elizabeth. Lizzie Borden; St. Martins Press, 1997.
Flynn, Robert A. 1992. Lizzie Borden & the Mysterious Axe. 30 p. King Philip Publications.
Gates, David. A New Whack at the Borden Case. Newsweek, June 4, 1984: 12.
Kent, David. 1992. Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden. Yankee Books.
Martins, Michael & Dennis A. Binette. 1994. Commonwealth of Massachusetts VS. Lizzie A. Borden; The Knowlton Papers, 1892-1893 : A Collection of. 400 p. Fall River Historical Society.
Porter, Edwin H. The Fall River Tragedy: A History of the Borden Murders. Fall River: Press of J.D. Munroe, 1893.
Spiering, Frank. Lizzie: The Story of Lizzie Borden.
Sullivan, Robert. Goodbye Lizzie Borden. Battleboro, Vermont: The Stephen Greene Press, 1974.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden, with a history of the case by Edmund Pearson.