Lizzie Borden

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Lizzie Borden
Lizzie borden.jpg
c. 1889
BornLizzie Andrew Borden
(1860-07-19)July 19, 1860
Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJune 1, 1927(1927-06-01) (aged 66)
Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S.
Cause of deathPneumonia
Resting placeOak Grove Cemetery
Known forAcquittal in murder of father and stepmother
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Lizzie Borden
Lizzie borden.jpg
c. 1889
BornLizzie Andrew Borden
(1860-07-19)July 19, 1860
Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJune 1, 1927(1927-06-01) (aged 66)
Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S.
Cause of deathPneumonia
Resting placeOak Grove Cemetery
Known forAcquittal in murder of father and stepmother

Lizzie Andrew Borden[1] (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was an American woman who was tried and acquitted in the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. The case was a cause célèbre throughout the United States. Following her release from the prison in which she had been held during the trial, Borden chose to remain a resident of Fall River, Massachusetts, for the rest of her life, despite facing significant ostracism. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected to charge no one else with the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden; speculation about the crimes continues into the 21st century.


Lizzie Borden's father, Andrew Jackson Borden, despite being the descendent of wealthy and influential residents of the area, grew up in very modest surroundings and struggled financially as a young man. As he grew older, he prospered through the manufacture and sales of furniture and caskets. He later became a successful property developer and directed several textile mills including the Globe Yarn Mill Company, Troy Cotton, and Woolen Manufacturing Company.[2][3] At the time of his death, he owned considerable commercial property and was both president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co.[4] Despite his wealth, Andrew was known for his frugality. The Borden home, for instance, lacked indoor plumbing on its ground and first floor, and was located near Andrew's businesses; the wealthiest residents of Fall River, Massachusetts generally lived in a more fashionable neighborhood ("The Hill") that was farther away from the industrial areas of the city and much more homogenous racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically.[5]

Lizzie and her older sister Emma had a relatively religious upbringing, attending Central Congregational Church. As a young woman Lizzie was very involved in activities related to her church, including teaching Sunday school to children of recent immigrants to America. She also was involved in Christian organizations such as the Christian Endeavor Society, where she served as its secretary-treasurer;[6] and contemporary social movements such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.[7] She was also a member of the Ladies Fruit and Flower Mission.[6]

During the inquest, the Bordens' live-in maid Bridget Sullivan testified that Lizzie and her sister rarely ate meals with their parents.[8] Further during questioning by police and during the inquest Lizzie indicated that she did not call her stepmother "Mother" but rather "Mrs. Borden" and demurred on the subject of whether or not they were cordial with each other. In May 1892, there was an incident in which Andrew, believing that pigeons Lizzie kept in the barn were attracting intruders, killed the pigeons with a hatchet. A family argument in July 1892 prompted both sisters to take extended "vacations".[9]

Tension had been growing in the family in the months before the murders, especially over Andrew's gifts to various branches of the family. After Abby's relatives received a house, the sisters demanded and received a rental property—which they later sold back to their father for cash[1][10]—and just before the murders a brother of Andrew's first wife had visited regarding transfer of another property. The night before the murders John Vinnicum Morse, the brother of Lizzie's and Emma's deceased mother, visited the home to speak about business matters with Andrew. Some writers have speculated that their conversation—particularly as it related to property transfer—may have aggravated an already tense situation.

For several days before the murders the entire household had been violently ill. The family doctor blamed food left on the stove for use in meals over several days, but Abby had feared poisoning—Andrew Borden had not been a popular man.[11]


Body of Abby Borden
Body of Andrew Borden

On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden had breakfast with his wife and made his usual rounds of the bank and post office, returning home about 10:45 a.m. The Bordens' maid, Bridget Sullivan, testified that she was in her third-floor room, resting from cleaning windows, when just before 11:10 a.m. she heard Lizzie call out to her from downstairs, "Maggie, come quick! Father's dead. Somebody came in and killed him." (Sullivan was sometimes called "Maggie", the name of an earlier maid.)[5][12]

Andrew was slumped on a couch in the downstairs sitting room, struck 10 or 11 times with a hatchet-like weapon.[7] One of his eyeballs had been split cleanly in two,[13] suggesting he had been asleep when attacked.[14] Soon after, as neighbors and doctors tended Lizzie, Sullivan discovered Abby Borden in the upstairs guest bedroom, her skull crushed by 19 blows.

Police found a hatchet in the basement which,[15] though free of blood, was missing most of its handle. Lizzie was arrested on August 11; a grand jury began hearing evidence on November 7 and indicted on December 2.


Lizzie Borden during the trial, by Benjamin West Clinedinst
"...with a certain weapon, to wit, a sharp cutting instrument, the name and a more particular description of which is to the Jurors unknown..."

Lizzie's trial took place in New Bedford the following June.[16] Prosecuting attorneys included future Supreme Court Justice William H. Moody; defending were Andrew V. Jennings,[15] Melvin O. Adams, and former Massachusetts governor George D. Robinson.

Prominent points in the trial (or press coverage of it) included:

On June 20, after deliberating an hour and a half, the jury acquitted.[15]

The trial has been compared to the later trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and O.J. Simpson as a landmark in publicity and public interest in the history of American legal proceedings.[24][25][26][27][28][29]

Other theories[edit]

Trial jury

No one else was charged in the murders, and they continue to be the subject of research and speculation. Among those suggested to be the killers by various authors are:

Subsequent life[edit]

After the trial the sisters moved to a large, modern house in the fashionable "Hill" neighborhood of Fall River. Around this time Lizzie began using the name Lizbeth A. Borden.[16][35] At their new house, which Lizbeth named "Maplecroft," the sisters had a staff that included live-in maids, a housekeeper, and a coachman. Because Abby was ruled to have died before Andrew, her estate went first to Andrew and then, at his death, passed to his daughters as part of his estate; a considerable settlement, however, was paid to settle claims by Abby's family (especially Abby's two sisters).[16][35]

Despite the acquittal, Lizbeth was ostracized by Fall River society.[36] Lizbeth Borden's name was again brought into the public eye when she was accused of shoplifting in 1897 in Providence, Rhode Island.[37]

In 1905, shortly after an argument over a party that Lizbeth had given for actress Nance O'Neil,[38] Emma moved out of the house.

Lizbeth was ill in her last year following the removal of her gallbladder; she died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927 in Fall River. Funeral details were not published and few attended.[39] Nine days later, Emma died from chronic nephritis at the age of 76 in a nursing home in Newmarket, New Hampshire,[37][40] having moved to this location in 1923 both for health reasons, and to get away from the public eye, which had renewed interest in the sisters at the publication of another book about the murders. The sisters, who never married, were buried side by side in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery.[37]

Lizbeth left $30,000 to the Fall River Animal Rescue League[41][42] and $500 in trust for perpetual care of her father's grave; her closest friend and a cousin each received $6,000—substantial sums at the estate's distribution in 1933, during the Great Depression.[43] Books from Maplecroft's library, stamped and signed by the sisters, are valuable collectors' items.[citation needed]

Folk rhyme[edit]

The case was memorialized in a popular skipping-rope rhyme:[44]

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Folklore says that the rhyme was made up by an anonymous writer as a tune to sell newspapers. Others attribute it to the ubiquitous, but anonymous, "Mother Goose".[45] In reality, Lizzie's stepmother suffered 18[46] or 19[36] blows; her father, 11 blows.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Inquest Testimony of Lizzie Borden". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved April 19, 2011. "Q. Give me your full name. // A. Lizzie Andrew Borden. // Q. Is it Lizzie or Elizabeth? // A. Lizzie. // Q. You were so christened? // A. I was so christened." 
  2. ^ Fanthorpe, R. Lionel; Fanthorpe, Patricia (2003). The World's Most Mysterious Murders. Dundurn. p. 142. ISBN 1-550-02439-6. 
  3. ^ Scott, Gini Graham (2005). Homicide By The Rich And Famous: A Century Of Prominent Killers. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 134. ISBN 0-275-98346-3. 
  4. ^ David Kent, "The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook," (Boston: Brandon Publishing Company, 1992). Assessed February 2, 2012
  5. ^ a b Newton, Michael (2009). The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes. Infobase Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 1-438-11914-3. 
  6. ^ a b King, Florence (1996). The Florence King Reader. Macmillan. p. 369. ISBN 0-312-14337-0. 
  7. ^ a b Hoogenboom, Olive (2000). "Lizzie Andrew Borden". American National Biography Online. Retrieved January 30, 2012. 
  8. ^ “Testimony of Bridget Sullivan in the Trial of Lizzie Borden”. University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law: Famous Trials. Accessed September 5, 2011.
  9. ^ Douglas, John E.; Olshaker, Mark (2001). The Cases That Haunt Us: From Jack the Ripper to Jon Benet Ramsey, The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Sheds New Light on the Mysteries That Won't Go Away. Simon and Schuster. p. 111. ISBN 0-743-21239-8. 
  10. ^ Rehak, David (2005). Did Lizzie Borden Axe for It?. Just My Best Publishing Company. pp. 67–69. ISBN 1-4505-5018-5. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  11. ^ Kent, David (1992). The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. Branden Books. p. 26. ISBN 0-828-31950-2. 
  12. ^ Philbin, Tom; Philbin, Michael (2011). The Killer Book of Infamous Murders: Incredible Stories, Facts, and Trivia from the World's Most Notorious Murders. Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 40. ISBN 1-402-23746-4. 
  13. ^ Porter, Edwin H. (1893). The Fall River Tragedy: A History of the Borden Murders. Fall River: Press of J.D. Munroe. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Testimony of Bridget Sullivan in the Trial of Lizzie Borden". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law: Famous Trials. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b c d Linder, Doug. "The Trial of Lizzie Borden". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law: Famous Trials. Retrieved June 14, 2008. 
  16. ^ a b c Cantwell, Mary (July 26, 1992). "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  17. ^ Noe, Denise (October 1999). "The Murderer Who Inadvertently Helped Miss Lizzie". The Lizzie Borden Quarterly: 8. Retrieved June 3, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Prussic Acid In The Case". New York Times. June 15, 1893. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  19. ^ Lanahan, Daniel J. (2006). Justice for All: Legendary Trials of the 20th Century. AuthorHouse. ISBN 1-425-94785-9. 
  20. ^ Katz, Hélèna (2010). Cold Cases: Famous Unsolved Mysteries, Crimes, and Disappearances in America. ABC-CLIO. p. 29. ISBN 0-313-37692-1. 
  21. ^ Miller, Wilbur R., ed. (2012). The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. SAGE. p. 146. ISBN 1-412-98876-4. 
  22. ^ Kent, David (1992). The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. Branden Books. p. 158. ISBN 0-828-31950-2. 
  23. ^ Kent, David (1992). The Lizzie Borden Sourcebook. Branden Books. p. 210. ISBN 0-828-31950-2. 
  24. ^ Chiasson, Lloyd Jr (1997). The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-30022-4. 
  25. ^ Knox, Sara L. (1998). Murder: A Tale of Modern American Life. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2053-3. 
  26. ^ Cramer, Clayton E. (1994). "Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage in the Mass Media". Journal of Mass Media Ethics 9: 26. doi:10.1207/s15327728jmme0901_3. 
  27. ^ Beschle, Donald L. (1997). "What's Guilt (or Deterrence) Got to Do with It?". William and Mary Law Review 38. 
  28. ^ Eaton, William J. (December 1995). "Just like O.J.'s Trial, but without Kato". American Journalism Review 17. 
  29. ^ Scott, Gina Graham (2005). Homicide by the Rich and Famous: A Century of Prominent Killers. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-275-98346-3. 
  30. ^ Lincoln, Victoria (1967). "1". A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight (Book Club ed.). New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 44–60. ISBN 0-930330-35-8. 
  31. ^ Kent, David (1992). "4". Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden (1 ed.). Emmaus, PA: Yankee Books. p. 39. ISBN 0-89909-351-5. 
  32. ^ Arnold R. Brown, Lizzie Borden: The Legend, The Truth, The Final Chapter
  33. ^ Spiering, Frank (1984). "3". Lizzie (1 ed.). New York: Dorset Press. p. 28. ISBN 0-88029-685-2. 
  34. ^ Daily Mail Reporter (12). "Could the journals of Lizzie Borden's lawyer reveal the truth behind America's most enduring murder case?". Daily Mail (Mail Online). Mail Online. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  35. ^ a b "Cast of Characters". Retrieved June 13, 2008. 
  36. ^ a b Adams, Cecil (March 13, 2001). "Did Lizzie Borden kill her parents with an axe because she was discovered having an affair?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved November 21, 2008. 
  37. ^ a b c "Dates in the Borden Case". Fall River Historical Society. Archived from the original on February 5, 2008. Retrieved June 13, 2008. [dead link]
  38. ^ "Sisters Estranged Over Nance O'Neill". The San Francisco Call. June 7, 1905. Retrieved June 13, 2008. 
  39. ^ "Few at Borden Burial" (fee required). The New York Times. June 6, 1927. Retrieved June 13, 2008. 
  40. ^ The Cases That Haunt Us. Google Books. 2001. ISBN 978-0-7432-1239-7. Retrieved April 19, 2009. 
  41. ^ "Lizzie Borden's Will Is Probated". The New York Times. Associated Press. June 25, 1927. 
  42. ^ "Lizzie Borden's Last Will and Probate Records" (PDF). Retrieved June 13, 2008. 
  43. ^ "Bequest for Tomb of Slain Father" (fee required). The New York Times. June 8, 1927. Retrieved April 19, 2011. 
  44. ^ "Lizzie Borden". 1927-06-01. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  45. ^ Mother Goose's Melodies – Google Books. 1970. ISBN 9780486225777. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  46. ^ "Lizzie Borden Took An Ax". Crime Library. Retrieved November 21, 2008. 

Further reading[edit]

A number of works expounding the facts and different theories have been written about the crime. These include:

External links[edit]