It seems everyone has heard the story of Lizzie Borden, especially around Halloween. Women in Halloween costumes, with the Victorian dress, the upswept hair, and of course, the infamous axe. Telling the scary tale to children dressed in their Star Wars costumes, their little light sabers shivering in fright. A gruesome murder, a farce of a trial, and ghosts. What a story!
Who was Lizzie?
Lizbeth Andrew Borden was born July 19, 1860. Her mother, Sarah Morse Borden, passed away before she was three. Her Father Andrew Jackson Borden was one of the most influential men in Falls River, Massachusetts, making millions in the banking and realty business. Lizzie had one sister, Emma Lenora Borden, who was nine years older. Five years after the death of Lizzie's mother Sarah, Andrew remarried in 1865 to Abby Durfree Grey Borden, whom both girls never liked and referred to as “Mrs. Borden.” Lizzie was a Sunday school teacher and belonged to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In 1890, she travelled abroad with friends.
After being found innocent, Lizzie and her sister bought a big house named “Maplecroft,” in the most fashionable part of town. Emma lived with her sister until 1905, when Lizzie allegedly had a lesbian affair with a New York actress, Nance O’Neil. The sisters never spoke to one another again. Lizzie died June 1, 1927, from complication of gall bladder surgery. The sisters died within nine days of each other, and were both buried with Andrew, Sarah, and Abby.
July 1892, Lizzie and Emma went to visit friends in Fairhaven, a small seaside town about eleven miles away. Lizzie returned early. Lizzie’s maternal uncle, John Vinnicum Morse, had come for a visit. The family had been struck violently ill with what was thought to be food poisoning. On August 4, 1892, Andrew and John went into town, while Abby went to make the guest room up again. Andrew came home early and was told by Lizzie that a note arrived and Abby had left to help a sick friend. Andrew lay down on the couch and took a nap, while Lizzie was in the kitchen preparing to do the ironing. The maid, Bridget Sullivan, was feeling poorly and went to take a nap, when she was called downstairs by Lizzie that her father had been killed to fetch the doctor. When he arrived, they found Abby upstairs in a puddle of blood. On August 6, after inquiries, Lizzie was arrested for murder, and sent to Taunton Jail which had facilities for women.
Investigation, Trial, and Verdict
The murder of the elderly Borden’s occurred during the annual police picnic and there was only one officer on duty. He ran down to the murder scene and ran to alert the mayor, not securing the crime scene. There were many neighbors coming in the house to comfort Lizzie and to see the grizzly remains, so the crime scene was contaminated from the start. There is also speculation that the doctor in charge of the bodies, a good friend of the family and neighbor, may have kept some things out of the investigation to protect the sisters.
The trial began June 3, 1893, in the New Bedford Courthouse. It was the media frenzy of the year. Reporters from around the country came to the trial. It was followed by everyone. The townspeople were divided. No one at that time could believe a proper Victorian woman could have committed such a crime. The prosecutor was Hosea Knowlton. The only evidence that could be produced was a hatchet that had recently been broken, found in the basement with blood and hair on it, that was later found to be from a cow, and a report that she tried to burn a dress with stains on it, which a friend of Lizzie’s told the court was paint. There was no hard evidence and Lizzie’s lawyer countered that if Lizzie did indeed kill her parents, why did she not have a drop of blood on her. Lizzie did not take the stand saying that she was innocent and her attorneys would give her statement to the courts. On June 20, 1893, with little direct evidence, an all male jury, found Lizzie not guilty.
The house the murders were committed in was 92 Second Ave. It was a large two and a half story farm house in the poorest part of town. Andrew might have been rich, but he was tight fisted. It had a barn in the back. There was a front and back stairway in the house. The master bedroom could only be reached by the back stairway, while Lizzie’s room could only be reached from the front. Emma’s had an adjoining door with Lizzie’s that always remained locked. The guest room (in which Abby was killed), could also only be reached by the front stairway.
The house is now the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast. It is the only hotel in the country where you can stay and sleep in the same room, with the same furniture, where the murders took place. It also seems that Lizzie and her family might not have left the house after all. Guests and staff report sounds of weeping and footstep on the stairs and in rooms that are known to be empty. There are claims of a woman dusting and straightening the bed the murder took place in, sometimes while the guests are still sleeping in them. There are muffled conversations heard in empty rooms, and one of the scariest stories of all is the man who, while unpacking, looked at the bed, which moments before had been made, to see it unmade and what looked like the indentation of a head on the pillow. When he found his wife and brought her back upstairs, the bed had been made, and the pillows fluffed. Is it coincidence that this was the same room Abby Borden was cleaning the day she was hacked to death?
Ghost Investigation of the Lizzie Borden House - Psychic Jane Doherty holds a seance in the house and records her impressions.
Pictorial Tour - A tour of the Lizzie Borden house through pictures. Also includes photos of Maplecroft and the Borden Family grave plot.
The Story Lives On - Lizzie Borden's story is immortalized through the media. Art, books, movies, and dance have been created to tell versions her story.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden - Website discusses questions about the crime, the trial, and what really happened.
Historical Investigation - The digital archive on this website offers information on the case. It also offers materials for people to further investigate the mystery on their own and develop their own conclusions.
Lizzie Borden House Tour - A paranormal skeptic takes a tour of the Lizzie Borden house.
The Case of Lizzie Borden - Uses the murder investigation to further learn about women of the nineteenth century and the perceptions held by men of the time.
Last Will and Testament - Read a pdf copy of Lizzie Borden's will.
Testimony of Lizzie Borden - Online transcript of the testimony given by Lizzie before her trial.
Testimony of Bridget Sullivan - The testimony of the household maid in the Borden home at the time of the murder.