The August afternoon is unbearably hot, especially for
Massachusetts. The temperature has climbed to well over 100 degrees, even
though it is not yet noon. The old man, still in his heavy morning coat, is
not feeling well and he lies down on a mohair-covered sofa. He sighs as he
leans back against the arm of the sofa and he carefully turns so that his
boots are on the floor and not soiling the couchís upholstery. In a short
time, he drifts off to sleep, never suspecting that he will not awaken.
The old man also does not suspect that above his head, his
wife lays bleeding on the floor of the upstairs guestroom. She had been dead
now for nearly two hours and in moments, the same hand that took her life will
take the life of the old manís as well.
And even if he knew these things by way of some macabre
premonition, he might never guess that his murderer would never be brought to
The case of Lizzie Borden has fascinated those with an
interest in American crime for well over a century. There have been few cases
that have attracted as much attention as the hatchet murders of Andrew Borden
and his wife, Abby. This is partly because of the gruesomeness of the crime
but also because of the unexpected character of the accused. Lizzie Borden was
not a slavering maniac but a demure, respectable, spinster Sunday School
teacher. Because of this, the entire town was shocked when she was charged
with the murder of her parents. The fact that she was found to be not guilty
of the murders, leaving the case to be forever unresolved, only adds to the
mystique and fans the flames of our continuing obsession with the mystery.
From Left to Right:
Andrew Jackson Borden
Abby Durfree Gray Borden
Emma Lenora Borden
Andrew Jackson Borden was one of the leading citizens of
Fall River, Massachusetts, a prosperous mill town and seaport. The Borden
family had strong roots to the community and had been among the most
influential citizens of the region for decades. At the age of 70, Borden was
certainly one of the richest men in the city. He was a director on the board
of several banks and a commercial landlord with considerable holdings. He was
a tall, thin and dour man and while he was known for this thrift and admired
for his business abilities, he was not well-known for his humor nor was he
Borden lived with his second wife, Abby Durfee Gray and his
daughters from his first marriage, Emma and Lizzie, in a two-and-a-half story
frame house. It was located in an unfashionable part of town, but was close to
his business interests. Both daughters felt the house was beneath their
station in life and begged their father to move to a nicer place. Bordenís
frugal nature never even allowed him to consider this. In spite of this, and
his conservative daily life, Borden was said to be moderately generous with
both of his daughters.
The events that would lead to tragedy
began on Thursday, August 4, 1892. The Borden household was up early that
morning as usual. Emma was not at home, having gone to visit friends in
the nearby town of Fairhaven, but the girlís Uncle John had arrived the
day before for an unannounced visit. John Vinnicum Morse, the brother of
Andrew Bordenís first wife, was a regular guest in the Borden home. He
traveled from Dartmouth, Massachusetts several times each year to visit
the family and conduct business in town.
The Borden House at
92 Second Street & the barn at the rear, where Lizzie claimed to be during
The first person awake in the house that morning was
Bridget Sullivan, the maid. Bridget was a respectable Irish girl who Emma and
Lizzie both rudely insisted on calling "Maggie", which was the name of a
previous servant. At the time of the murders, Bridget was 26 years old and had
been in the Borden household since 1889. There is nothing to say that she was
anything but an exemplary young woman, who had come to America from Ireland in
1886. She did not stay in the house during the night following the murders,
but did come back on Friday night to her third-floor room. On Saturday, she
left the house, never to return.
Bridget came downstairs from her attic room around 6:00 to
build a fire in the kitchen and begin cooking breakfast. An hour later, John
Morse and Mr. and Mrs. Borden came down to eat and they lingered in
conversation around the table for nearly an hour. Lizzie slept late and did
not join them for the meal.
The Borden's maid,
At a little before eight, Morse left the
house to go and visit a niece and nephew and Borden locked the screen door
after him. It was a peculiar custom in the house to always keep doors
locked. Even the doors between certain rooms upstairs were usually locked.
A few minutes after Morse left, Lizzie came downstairs but said that she
wasnít hungry. She had coffee and a cookie but nothing else. Itís possible
that she had a touch of the stomach disorder that was going around the
household. Bridget later stated that she felt the need to go outside and
throw up some time after breakfast. Two days before, Mr. and Mrs. Borden
had been ill during the night and had both vomited several times. It has
been assumed that this may have been food poisoning as no one else in the
family was affected. It may have been the onset of the flu -- or something
far more sinister.
At a quarter past nine, Andrew Borden left the house and
went downtown. Abby Borden went upstairs to make the bed in the guestroom that
Morse was staying in. She asked Bridget to wash the windows. At 9:30, she came
downstairs for a few moments and then went back up again, commenting that she
needed fresh pillowcases. Bridget went about her daily chores and started on
the window washing, retrieving pails and water from the barn. She also paused
for a few minutes to chat over the fence with the hired girl next door. She
finished the outside of the windows at about 10:30 and then started inside.
Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Borden returned home. Bridget
let him in and Lizzie came downstairs. She told her father that "Mrs. Borden
has gone out - she had a note from someone who was sick." Lizzie and Emma
always called their step-mother "Mrs. Borden" and recently, the relationship
between them, especially with Lizzie, was strained.
Borden took the key to his bedroom off a shelf and went up
the back stairs. The room could only be reached by these stairs, as there was
no hallway, and the front stairs only gave access to Lizzieís room (from which
Emmaís could be reached) and the guest room. There were connecting doors
between the elder Bordenís rooms and Lizzieís room, but they were usually kept
Borden stayed upstairs for only a few minutes before coming
back down and settling onto the sofa in the sitting room. Lizzie began to heat
up an iron to press some handkerchiefs.
"Are you going out this afternoon, Maggie?" she asked
Bridget. "There is a cheap sale of dress goods at Sargentís this afternoon, at
eight cents a yard."
Bridget replied that she was not. The heat of the morning,
combined with the window washing and her touch of stomach ailment, had left
her feeling poorly and she went up the back stairs to her attic room for a
nap. This was a few minutes before 11:00.
"Maggie, Come down!" Lizzie shouted from the bottom of the
back stairs and Bridgetís eyes fluttered open. She had drifted off into a
restless sleep but the urgency of Lizzieís cries startled her awake.
"What is the matter?" Bridget cried. She smoothed out her
dress, slipped into her shoes and scurried to the doorway. As he feet tapped
down the staircase, she was horrified by what she heard next!
"Come down quick!" Lizzie wailed, "Father's dead!
Somebody's come in and killed him!"
As Bridget hurried from the staircase, she found Lizzie
standing at the back door. Her face was pale and taut. She stopped the young
maid from going into the sitting room, saying "Don't go in there. Go and get
the doctor. Run!"
Dr. Bowen, a family friend, lived across the street from
the Bordenís and Bridget ran directly to the house. The doctor was out, but
Bridget told Mrs. Bowen that Mr. Borden had been killed. She ran directly back
to the house. "Where were you when this thing happened?" she asked Lizzie.
"I was out in the yard, and I heard a groan and came in.
The screen door was wide open." Lizzie replied, and then sent Bridget to
summon the Borden sisters' friend, Miss Alice Russell, who lived a few blocks
By now, the neighbors were starting to gather on the lawn
and someone had called for the police. Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, the next door
neighbor, came over to Lizzie, who was at the back entrance to the house and
asked if anything was wrong. Lizzie responded by saying, "Oh, Mrs. Churchill,
someone has killed Father!"
"Where is your father?" she asked.
"In the sitting room."
"Where were you when it happened?"
" I went to the barn to get a piece of iron."
Mrs. Churchill then asked, "Where is your mother?"
Lizzie said that she didnít know and that Abby Borden, her
stepmother, had received a note asking her to respond to someone who was sick.
She also added "but I donít know but that she is killed too, for I thought I
heard her come in... Father must have an enemy, for we have all been sick, and
we think the milk has been poisoned."
(Above) Andrew Borden's bloody corpse was discovered on his favorite
downstairs sofa. (Right) Abby Borden's body was found upstairs. She was
struck from behind, likely while on her knees making the bed.
By this time, Dr. Bowen had returned, along with Bridget,
who had hurried back from informing Miss Russell of the dayís dire events. Dr.
Bowen examined the body and asked for a sheet to cover it. Borden had been
attacked with a sharp object, probably an ax, and so much damage had been done
to his head and face that Bowen, a close friend, could not at first positively
identify him. Bordenís head was turned slightly to the right and eleven blows
had gashed his face. One eye had been cut in half and his nose had been
severed. The majority of the blows had been struck within the area that
extended from the eyes and nose to the ears. Blood was still seeping from the
wounds and had been splashed onto the wall above the sofa, the floor and on a
picture hanging on the wall. It looked as though Borden had been attacked from
above and behind as he slept.
Several minutes passed before anyone thought of going
upstairs to see if Abby Borden had come home. "Maggie, I am almost positive I
heard her coming in," Lizzie spoke. "Go upstairs and see." Bridget refused to
go upstairs by herself, so Mrs. Churchill went with her. They went up the
staircase together but Mrs. Churchill was the first to see Abby lying on the
floor of the guestroom. She had fallen in a pool of blood and Mrs. Churchill
later said that she only "looked like the form of a person."
Bridget saw Mrs. Borden's body. Mrs. Churchill rushed by
her, viewed the obviously dead body, and rushed downstairs. "Is there
another?" a neighbor asked her.
"Yes," the woman replied. "She is up there."
Dr. Bowen found that Mrs. Borden had been struck more than
a dozen times, from the back. The autopsy later revealed that there had been
nineteen blows to her head, probably from the same hatchet that had killed Mr.
Borden. The blood on Mrs. Borden's body was dark and congealed, leading him to
believe that she had been killed before her husband.
Dr. Bowen was heavily involved in the activities of the
Borden house on the day of the murder. He was the first to examine the bodies,
sent a telegram to Emma to summon her home, assisted Dr. Dolan with the
autopsies and even prescribed a calming tranquilizer for Lizzie. He was a
constant presence in the house and his involvement with them, especially on
August 4, has led to him being considered a major figure in some of the
conspiracies developed around the murders.
A call reached the Fall River police station at 11:15 but
as things would happen, that day marked the annual picnic of the Fall River
Police Department and most of them were off enjoying an outing at Rocky Point.
The only officer dispatched to the house was Officer George W. Allen. He ran
the 400 yards to the house, saw that Andrew Borden was dead and ran back to
the station house to inform the city marshal of the events. He left no one in
charge of the crime scene. While he was gone, neighbors overran the house,
comforting Lizzie and peering in at the gruesome state of Andrew Bordenís
body. The constant traffic trampled and destroyed any clues that might have
been left behind.
During the 30 minutes or so that no authorities were on the
scene, a county medical examiner named Dolan passed by the house by chance. He
looked in and was pressed into service by Dr. Bowen. Dolan examined the bodies
as well and after hearing that the family had been sick and that the milk was
suspected, he took samples of it. Later that afternoon, he had the bodies
photographed and then removed the stomachs and sent them, along with the milk,
to the Harvard Medical School for analysis. No poison was ever found.
The murder investigation that followed was chaotic. The
police were reluctant to suspect Lizzie of the murder as it was against the
perceived social understanding of the era that a woman such as she was could
have possibly committed such a heinous crime. Other solutions were advanced
but were discarded as even more impossible.
A profusion of clues were discovered over the next few
days, all of which went nowhere. A boy reported seeing a man jump over the
back fence of the Borden property and while a man was found matching the boyís
description, he had an unbreakable alibi. A bloody hatchet was found on the
Sylvia Farm in South Somerset but it proved to be covered in chicken blood.
While Bridget was also seen as a suspect for a short time, the investigation
finally began to center on Lizzie. A circumstantial case began to be developed
against her with no incriminating physical evidence, like bloody clothes, a
real motive for the killings, or even a convincing demonstration of how and
when she committed the murders.
Over the course of several weeks though, investigators
managed to compile a sequence of events that certainly cast suspicion on the
spinster Sunday School teacher. The timeline ran from August 3, the day before
the murders to August 7, the day that Alice Russell saw her friend burning a
dress that may (or many not) have had blood on it.
There were several incidents that police believed related to the
murders that occurred on Wednesday. The first was in the early morning hours
when Abby Borden went across the street to Dr. Bowen and told him that she and
her husband had been violently ill throughout the night. He told her that he
didnít think the vomiting was serious and he sent her home. Later, he dropped
in to check on Andrew, who told him rather ungratefully that he was not ill
and would not pay for an unsolicited house call. There would be no evidence of
poisoning found in the Borden autopsies.
Another incident took place when Lizzie tried to buy ten
cents worth of prussic acid from Eli Bence, a clerk at Smithís Drug Store. She
explained to him that she wanted the poison to "kill moths in a sealskin cape"
but he refused to sell it to her without a prescription. A customer and
another clerk also identified Lizzie as being in the store that morning, but
she denied it. She testified at the inquest that she had not attempted to
purchase the poison and had not been at Smithís that day.
The third incident was the arrival of John Morse in the
early afternoon. He came without luggage but intended to stay the night. Both
he and Lizzie testified that they did not see each other until after the
murders the next day, although Lizzie knew that he was there.
Finally, that evening Lizzie visited her friend, Miss Alice
Russell. According to Miss Russell, Lizzie was agitated, worried over some
threat to her father, and concerned that something was about to happen. "I
feel as if something were hanging over me and I cannot throw it off," she told
her. She added that her father had enemies and that she was frightened that
something was going to happen to the family.
An eerie foreshadowing of the future? Or laying the
groundwork for an alibi?
On the day of the murders, there were several parts of the story
that did not make sense to the investigators, or could not have happened the
way that Lizzie expressed them.
Abby was killed, according to the autopsy, at around 9:30
in the morning. The killer, if it was anyone but Lizzie or Bridget, would have
had to have concealed himself (or herself) in the house for well over an hour,
waiting for Andrew Bordenís return. Abby could have been discovered at any
Abbyís time of death also posed another problem for
investigators. According to Lizzie, she had gone out but she obviously hadnít.
The note that Lizzie said that Abby had received, asking her to visit a sick
friend, was never found. Lizzie later said that she might have inadvertently
When Andrew Borden returned to the house, Bridget had to
let him in as the screen door was fastened on the inside with three locks.
This would have made it extremely difficult for the killer to get inside. Only
a small window of opportunity would have existed while Bridget was fetching a
pail and water from the barn. In addition, Bridget later testified that while
she was unlocking the door for Mr. Borden, she head Lizzie laugh from
upstairs. However, Lizzie swore that she had been in the kitchen when her
father came home.
Borden also had to retrieve the key to his bedroom from the
shelf in the kitchen to get into his room. This was done as a precaution
because of a burglary the year before. In June 1891, a police captain
inspected the house after Andrew Borden reported that it had been broken into.
He found that Bordenís desk had been rummaged through and over $100, along
with Andrewís watch and chain, several small items and some streetcar tickets,
had been taken. There was no clue as to how anyone could have gotten into the
house, although Lizzie offered the fact that the cellar door had been open.
The neighborhood was canvassed but no one reported seeing a stranger in the
vicinity. According to the police captain, Borden said several times to him,
"Iím afraid the police will not be able to find the real thief." It is unknown
what he may have meant by this but various conspiracy theorists have their own
On the afternoon of the murder, an officer asked Lizzie if
there were any hatchets in the house and she told Bridget to show him where
they could be found. Four of them were discovered in the basement, including
one with dried blood and hair on it (later determined to be from a cow).
Another of the hatchets was rusted and the others were covered with dust. One
of these was without a handle and was covered in ashes. The broken handle
appeared to be recent, so it was taken into evidence.
A Sergeant Harrington and another officer asked Lizzie
where she had been that morning and she said that she had been in the barn
loft looking for iron for fishing sinkers. The two men examined the barn and
found the loft floor to be thick with dust, with no evidence that anyone had
been up there.
Deputy Marshal John Fleet questioned Lizzie and asked her
who might have committed the murders. Other than an unknown man with whom her
father had gotten into an argument with a few weeks before, she could think of
no one. When asked directly if Uncle John Morse or Bridget could have killed
her father and mother, she said that they couldn't have. Morse had left the
house before 9:00, and Bridget had been sleeping when Andrew had been
killed... then she pointedly reminded Fleet that Abby was not her mother, but
On the following day, the investigation continued. By now, the
story had appeared in the newspapers and the entire town was in an uproar.
Sergeant Harrington found Eli Bence at Smithís Drug Store and interviewed him
about the attempt to buy poison. Emma engaged Mr. Andrew Jennings as he and
Lizzieís attorney. The police continued to investigate, but nothing of
significance was found.
Saturday was the day of the funerals for Andrew and Abby Borden.
The service was conducted by the Reverends Buck and Judd, from the two
Congregational Churches. The burial however, did not take place. At the
gravesite, the police informed the ministers that another autopsy needed to be
conducted. This time, the heads of the Bordenís were removed from the body,
the skin removed and plaster casts were made of the skulls. For some reason,
Mr. Bordenís head was not returned to his coffin.
On Sunday morning, Alice Russell observed Lizzie burning a dress in
the kitchen stove. She told her friend that, "If I were you, I wouldn't let
anybody see me do that, Lizzie." Lizzie said it was a dress stained with
paint, and was of no use.
It was this testimony at the inquest that prompted Judge
Blaisdell of the Second District Court to charge Lizzie with the murders. The
inquest itself was kept secret but at its conclusion, Lizzie was charged with
the murder of her father and was taken into custody. The only testimony that
Lizzie ever gave during all of the legal proceedings was at the inquest and we
will never know for sure what she said. She was arraigned the following day
and replied that she was "not guilty" of the charge. She was then taken to the
Taunton Jail, which had facilities for female prisoners.
After that, a preliminary hearing was held, again before
Judge Blaisdell. Lizzie did not testify but the record of her testimony at the
inquest was entered into evidence by her attorney, Andrew Jennings. The judge
declared her probable guilt and bound Lizzie over for the Grand Jury, who
heard the case during the last week of its session.
The Commonwealth, represented by prosecutor Hosea Knowlton,
had the disagreeable task of building the case against Lizzie. When he
finished his presentation to the Grand Jury, he surprisingly invited defense
attorney Jennings to present a case for the defense. This was something that
was simply not done in Massachusetts. In effect, a trial was being conducted
before the Grand Jury. Many saw this is as a chance that the charge against
Lizzie might be dismissed. Then, on December 1, Alice Russell again testified
about the burning of the dress. The next day, Lizzie was charged with three
counts of murder. Strangely, she had been charged with the murder of her
father, her step-mother and then the murders of both of them. The trial was
scheduled to begin on June 5, 1893.
The trial itself lasted fourteen days
and news of it filled the front pages of every major newspaper in the
country. Between 30 and 40 reporters from the Boston and New York papers
and the wire services were in the courtroom every day. The trial began on
June 5 and after a day to select the jury, which consisted of twelve
middle-aged farmers and tradesmen, the prosecution spent the next seven
days putting on its case.
Hosea Knowlton was the reluctant
prosecutor in the case. He had been forced into the role by Arthur
Pillsbury, Attorney General of Massachusetts, who should have been the
principal attorney for the prosecution. However, as Lizzie's trial date
approached, Pillsbury felt the pressure building from Lizzie's supporters,
particularly women's groups and religious organizations. Worried about the
next election, he directed Knowlton, who was the District Attorney in Fall
River to lead the prosecution in his place. He also assigned William
Moody, District Attorney of Essex County, to assist him.
Moody made the opening statements for
the prosecution. He presented three arguments. First, that Lizzie was
predisposed to murder her father and stepmother because of their
animosity toward one another. Second, that she planned the murder and
carried it out and third, that her behavior, and her contradictory
testimony, after the fact was not that of an innocent person.
listened attentively at her trial. She was eventually acquitted but
suspicion and rumor followed her for the rest of her life.
Moody did an excellent job and many have regarded him as the most
competent attorney involved in the case. At one point, he threw a dress onto
the prosecution table that he planned to admit as evidence. As he did so, the
tissue paper that was covering the skull of Andrew Borden lifted and then
fluttered away. Dramatically, Lizzie slid to the floor in a dead faint.
Crucial to the prosecution in the case was evidence that
supplied a motive for Lizzie to commit the murders. This was done by using a
number of witnesses who testified to Lizzieís dislike of her step-mother and
her complaints about her fatherís spendthrift ways. The prosecution also tried
to establish that Borden was writing a new will that would leave Emma and
Lizzie with a pittance and Abby with a huge portion of his half million dollar
estate. One of the witnesses called to establish this was John Morse, who
first said that Andrew discussed a new will with him and then later said that
he never told him anything about it.
The prosecution then turned to Lizzieís predisposition
towards murder and her strange behavior before and after the events. They
again called Alice Russell to testify about the burning of the dress. The
destruction of it seemed a possible answer as to why Lizzie was not covered
with blood after killing her parents. It was highly probable that she would
have been spattered with it if she did commit the murders. In later years,
some have theorized that perhaps she wore a smock over her dress during the
murders or that perhaps she was naked when she did it. However, the smock
would have been bloody too and would have had to be disposed of. As far as
Lizzie being naked, this seems doubtful as well. Ignore the fact that in the
Victorian society of Fall River, a young woman would have never appeared nude
in front of her father (even to kill him) and focus on the fact that Lizzie
never had time to bathe after killing Abby or in the few minutes between the
killing of Andrew and her calling for Bridget.
To the prosecution though, the burning of the dress
suggested that Lizzie had changed clothing after the murders. But why would
she have kept the dress for three days before burning it and what would she
have worn for the hours between the two deaths? Someone would have surely
noticed a dress covered with blood.
On Saturday, June 10, the prosecution attempted to enter
Lizzie's testimony from the inquest into the record. The defense objected,
since it was testimony from one who had not been formally charged. The jury
was withdrawn so that the lawyers could argue it out and on Monday, when court
resumed, the three-judge panel excluded Lizzieís contradictory inquest
On Wednesday, June 14, the prosecution called Eli Bence,
the drug store clerk, to the stand. The defense objected to his testimony as
irrelevant and prejudicial. The judges sustained the objection and Lizzieís
attempt to buy poison was thrown out of the record.
The prosecution called several medical witnesses, including
Dr. Dolan. One of them even produced the skull of Andrew Borden to show how
the blows had been struck. Unfortunately for the prosecution, these witnesses
had an adverse effect on the case as the defense used their testimonies to
strike points in Lizzieís favor. They were forced to state that whoever had
committed the murders would have been covered with blood. There was no one to
say that Lizzie had been!
Lizzie Bordenís defense counsel used only two days to
present its case. The two attorneys consisted of Andrew Jennings and George
Robinson. Jennings was one of Fall Riverís most prominent citizens and had
been Andrew Bordenís private attorney. He was a solemn man who never again
spoke about the Borden case after its conclusion. He and his younger
associate, Melvin Adams, were instrumental in getting Lizzieís damaging
testimony excluded from the case. Jennings was joined by George Robinson, who
even with less legal experience, was very beneficial to the case.
For the most part, the defense offered witnesses who could
either corroborate Lizzieís story, or who could provide alternate
possibilities as to who the killer might be. The testimony of the various
witnesses was meant to do little but provide "reasonable doubt" about Lizzieís
For instance, an ice cream peddler testified to seeing a
woman (presumably Lizzie) coming out the barn. This bolstered her story that
she had actually been there. A passer-by claimed to see a "wild-eyed man"
around the time of the murders. Mr. Joseph Lemay claimed that he was walking
in the deep woods, some miles from the city, about twelve days after the
murders when he heard someone crying "Poor Mrs. Borden! Poor Mrs. Borden! Poor
Mrs. Borden!" He looked over a conveniently placed wall and saw a man sitting
on the ground. The man, who had bloodstains on his shirt, picked up a hatchet,
shook it at him and then disappeared into the woods. Needless to say, Lemayís
story has never been given much credibility.
The defense also called witnesses who claimed to see a
mysterious young man in the vicinity of the Borden house who was never
properly explained. They also called Emma Borden to dispute the suggestion
that Lizzie had any motive to want to kill their parents. Emma remained very
supportive of her sister during the trial, although there is one witness, a
prison matron, who testified that Lizzie and Emma had an argument when she was
visiting her sister in jail.
On Monday, June 19, Robinson delivered his closing
arguments and Knowlton began his closing arguments for the prosecution. He
completed them on the following day. The judges then asked Lizzie if she had
anything to say for herself and she spoke for the only time during the trial.
"I am innocent", she said. "I leave it to my counsel to speak for me."
Instructions were then given to the jury and they left to deliberate over the
A little over an hour later, the jury returned with its
verdict. Lizzie Borden was found "not guilty" on all three charges. Public
opinion was, by this time, of the feeling that the police and the courts had
persecuted Lizzie long enough.
Five weeks after the trial, Lizzie (who henceforth called
herself "Lizbeth") and Emma purchased and moved into a thirteen-room, stone
house at 306 French Street in Fall River. It was located on "The Hill", the
most fashionable area of the city. Lizzie named the house "Maplecroft" and had
the name carved into the top step leading up to the front door.
In 1897, Lizzie was charged with the theft of two
paintings, valued at less than one hundred dollars, from the Tilden-Thurber
store in Fall River. There were no charges ever filed and it is believed the
affair was settled privately.
(Above) Lizzie's (or Lizbeth's) home in Fall River, Maplecroft. (Fall
River Historical Society) (Right) The beautiful actress Nance O'Neil,
with whom it has been rumored that Lizzie had a long affair. (New York
In 1904, Lizzie met a young actress, Nance O'Neil, and for
the next two years, Lizzie and Nance were inseparable. About this time, Emma
separated from her sister and moved to Fairhaven. She and Lizzie stopped
speaking to one another. Rumors said that sensational revelations about the
murders would follow the split, but the revelations never came. Emma stayed
with the family of Reverend Buck, and, sometime around 1915, she moved to
Newmarket, New Hampshire.
Lizzie died on June 1, 1927, at age 67, after a long
illness from complications following gall bladder surgery. Emma died nine days
later, as a result of a fall down the back stairs of her house in Newmarket.
They were buried together in the family plot, along with a sister who had died
in early childhood, their mother, their stepmother, and their headless father.
Both Lizzie and Emma left their estates to charitable causes and Lizzie
designated $500 for the perpetual care of her fatherís grave.
Bridget Sullivan never worked for any of the Bordenís
again. After the terrible events of the murder and the trial, she left town.
She lived in modest circumstances in Butte, Montana until her death in 1948.
Those who suggested that she had been "paid off" to keep quiet about the
murders could find no evidence of this in what she left behind.
Over 100 years have passed since the murders in Fall River
and we still cannot be sure of what we think we know about them. Perhaps
because the case remained "unsolved", we still have a fascination for the
events surrounding the murders. No single theory has ever been regarded as the
correct one and every writer on the case seems to have a favorite culprit.
But how can we explain what draws us to the story? Is it because of the
murders themselves, or is Lizzie herself to blame? Who can look at a photo of
her, always smiling slightly, and wonder what secrets she carried with her to
the grave? We will never know -- but that hasnít stopped anyone from trying to
The books and articles that have followed the events have
each put their own special spin on the story. They use the same evidence and
testimony to argue different suspicions of who really killed Andrew and Abby
Borden. During the early days of the investigation, and well into the days of
the trial, a number of accusations were made. At times the killer was said to
be John Morse, Bridget Sullivan, Emma Borden, Dr. Bowen and even one of
Lizzieís Sunday School students. Since that time, there have been other
suggested killers. Some of the theories are credible and some are not.
One of the theories remains that Lizzie Borden actually
committed the murders of her parents and managed to get away with it. This
theory was especially popular in books written prior to 1940 and it still
turns up occasionally today. Most of the writers who stand by this solution
see the court rulings and poorly executed prosecution case as the reason that
Lizzie was never found guilty. They simply refuse to see how an outsider could
have committed the crimes.
The main problem with this idea is that it would have taken
careful planning for Lizzie to kill Abby Borden and then wait patiently for
the time to come to kill Andrew and still interact with Bridget Sullivan. This
seems inconsistent with the "blitz" style attacks on the Bordenís. The killer
was obviously in a frenzy when each murder was committed and during the
"cooling down" time between them, it seems unlikely that they would have been
able to so easily iron handkerchiefs, attend to household duties and carry on
conversations with the maid.
There is also the glaring problem of the blood. If Lizzie
did kill her step-mother, where was the blood that would have been on her
dress when she called Bridget a short time later? If she did change clothing
(twice in the same morning), wouldnít Bridget have noticed this? It has been
suggested that Lizzie may have gone to the barn between the murders as she
claimed to and washed the blood off (there was running water there), but if
she did, how did she wash off the blood after her fatherís murder?
Some writers believe that Lizzie and Bridget planned the
murders together and that Bridget (when she went to Alice Russellís house)
spirited away the bloody hatchet and dress so that they were never found. This
theory is also used to explain the testimony that each woman gave about the
day of the murder, never implicating the other. It seems hard to believe that
Abby Bordenís fall to the upstairs floor would not have been heard from below,
especially since Abby weighed in at close to 200 pounds. However, there is no
proof of this either and it still places one or both of the women in the role
of a depraved killer.
While it seems hard to believe that Lizzie did commit the
murders, it doesnít mean that she was not guilty in other ways. In other
words, while she may not have actually handled the hatchet, she may have known
One person who has been accused in this capacity was Emma
Borden. It has been noted with some suspicion how she may have arranged an
alibi for herself, claiming to be some 15 miles away in Fairhaven, but
actually returned to Fall River, hid upstairs in the Borden house, committed
the murders and then returned to Fairhaven, where she received the telegram
from Dr. Bowen. Once Lizzie is accused, the two sisters worked together to
protect each other. Later, the women had a falling out over their fatherís
estate and Lizzieís alleged affair with Nance OíNeil. However, neither one of
them every spoke of the murder again.
Another astonishing theory pins the murders on William
Borden, the slightly retarded, illegitimate son of Andrew Borden, who
coincidentally (or not) committed suicide a few years after the trial.
According to this theory, Lizzie, Emma, John Morse, Dr. Bowen and Andrew
Jennings all conspired to keep his involvement a secret because of his
illegitimate status and a claim that he might make against the estate if his
relationship with the Bordenís was found out. Allegedly, William was making
demands of his father, who was in the process of writing a new will. Borden
rejected the boy and William became enraged. He first killed Mrs. Borden and
then after hiding in the house with Lizzieís knowledge, killed his father as
well. The conspirators then either paid William off or threatened him, or
both, and decided that Lizzie would allow herself to be suspected and tried
for the murders, knowing that she could always identify the real killer,
should that be necessary. This may be much in the way of speculation, but itís
long been a favored theory by many.
So who did kill Andrew and Abby Borden? Itís unlikely that
we will ever know. Itís also unlikely that we will ever discover just what
Lizzie, and her defense counsel, really knew about the events in 1892. The
papers from Lizzieís defense are still locked up and have never been released.
The files remain sealed away in the offices of the Springfield, Massachusetts
law firm that descended from the firm that defended Lizzie during the trial.
There are no plans to ever release them.
But the question of who killed Mr. and Mrs. Borden is not
the only mysterious riddle that lingers in the wake of this heinous event.
Another question might be, who haunts the house at 92 Second Street where the
Bordenís once lived?
In the years since the murders and the trial, the house has
gone on to become the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum, a time capsule
of the era when the murders took place and a quaint inn. Guests come from all
over the country to be able to sleep in the room where Abby Borden was killed,
but not all of them sleep peacefully -- and not all of the spirits here rest
Guests and staff members alike have had their share of
strange experiences in the house. Some have reported the sounds of a woman
weeping and others claim to have seen a woman in Victorian era clothing
dusting the furniture and straightening the covers on the beds. Occasionally,
this even happens when the guests are still in the bed! Others have heard the
sounds of footsteps going up and down the stairs and crossing back and forth
on the floor above, even when they know the house is empty. Doors open and
close as well and often, muffled conversation can be heard coming from inside
of otherwise vacant rooms.
One man, who had little interest in ghosts, claimed that he
accompanied his wife to the inn one night and took their luggage upstairs. The
room had been perfectly made up when he entered, the bed smooth and everything
put in its place. Over the course of a few minutes of unpacking, he happened
to look over to the bed again and saw that it was now rumpled, even though he
was in the room alone and had not been near it. With a start, he also noticed
that the folds of the comforter had been moved so that they corresponded to
the curves of a human body. On the pillow, there was an indentation in the
shape of a human head!
His wife found him a few minutes later sitting in the
downstairs sitting room. His face was very pale and he seemed quite nervous.
When she asked him what was wrong, he took her back upstairs to show her the
strange appearance of the bed. However when he opened the door, the pillow had
been plumped and the comforter looked just as it did when he first entered the
room -- the room where Abby Borden had been murdered!
Dead Men Do Tell Tales
© Copyright 2004 - 2008 by Troy
Taylor. All Rights Reserved.