The Continued Fascination with Lizzie Borden

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There is a continued fascination with the Lizzie Borden story although it’s been 125 years since the gruesome murders.

Lizzie Borden was born on July 19, 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her biological mother Sarah passed away when Lizzie was very young and her father Andrew was remarried just three years later to a woman named Abby Durfee Gray. Lizzie and her older sister Emma had a strained relationship with their stepmother Abby, as they would only acknowledge her as “Mrs. Borden.” The daughters were convinced that Abby’s family was trying to get access to their father’s money, which made for a very awkward relationship between the three women. Andrew Borden was lucky enough to have had a good job in manufacturing as well as real estate development, so the family did not struggle monetarily. They even had several servants working at their home.

Lizzie and her sister Emma lived with their father Andrew and their stepmother Abby right up until they were adults. And, of course, right up until the very tragic and gruesome murders.

The Murders

The murders of Andrew and Abby Borden took place on the morning of August 4, 1892. Andrew was found killed while he slept on the sofa and Abby was later found murdered in an upstairs bedroom. They were both murdered by a hatchet. Lizzie had first told the maid, Bridget, of her father’s deceased body. The police then arrived at the house and although they had immediately suspected Lizzie of carrying out the brutal murders, they did not arrest her that day. Her sister Emma was out of town when the killings took place, so she was immediately ruled out as a suspect.

A lot of eyes were on Lizzie as some people suspected the youngest daughter of murdering her father and stepmother. And her actions in the days following the murders casted even more doubt on her innocence. First of all, she changed her stories several times on what she was actually doing on the day of the killings. She also didn’t seem to be very upset about the deaths according to her neighbors and the police. And if nobody in the house committed the murders, then why weren’t there any signs of a break-in?

Another thing that cast a lot of suspicion toward Lizzie is that she had burned a dress that she claimed had paint stains on it. The timing, however, was very suspicious as the burning of the dress took place just days after the murders happened. This is why the prosecutors argued that the dress was actually stained with blood and that’s why Lizzie had burned it, because she wanted to destroy the evidence.

The Trial

Lizzie was indicted on December 2, 1892 and her trial took place in June of the following year. And this was a highly publicized trial, as many people were fascinated with the wealthy (an estate estimated at $8 million according to today’s standards) and respectable female who was charged with two violent murders. She was represented by Andrew Jennings, who was also her father’s lawyer, and if she was convicted she would face death.

Lizzie herself decided not to take the stand during her trial. There was no physical evidence that linked her to the murders, although a hatchet was found in her basement. However, the blade was completely clean and the handle of the axe was broken off. Not to mention the fact that fingerprint testing wasn’t done, so nothing could link her to the hatchet. Therefore, on June 20, 1893, she was acquitted of the murders of her father and stepmother and nobody else was ever charged with the two killings.

One theory worth mentioning is that Andrew and Abby Borden were perhaps killed by one of his numerous enemies. He was one of the town’s wealthiest men and that made him rather unpopular as well. He is said to have made several enemies over the years as a result of some corrupt business deals. Some people believe that it was one of his many enemies that murdered him and his wife as retribution.

Sibling Love and Rivalry

After their mother Sarah’s death, Emma became very protective of her younger sister Lizzie. In fact, when Lizzie’s schoolmates would make fun of her and call her “strange,” Emma always came to her defense and stuck up for her. She also helped cover up the fact that Lizzie allegedly had a habit of stealing things. As a matter of fact, in 1897 – just five years after the murders – Lizzie was accused of shoplifting although she was never charged.

Although the sisters had a very close relationship, it has also been said that Lizzie was the favorite child and that caused some friction between the siblings. Apparently Andrew Borden was more lenient with his youngest daughter and gave Lizzie more attention and treated her better than Emma, who was expected to grow up much faster and assume more responsibilities than her younger sister.

Although Lizzie wasn’t as smart in school as Emma was, their father still pulled the older sister out of high school while allowing the younger daughter to get more education. Then when Lizzie was 30-years-old, she went on a huge tour of Europe. Lizzie also had the larger and nicer bedroom.

After Lizzie’s acquittal in 1893, she and her sister sold the family home and bought a mansion in “The Hill,” which was a wealthy part of town. Although they were both said to have had two bedrooms each (one for winter and one for summer), Lizzie apparently wanted the bigger bedrooms.

Lizzie started living a rather extravagant lifestyle that Emma wasn’t fond of, which included outrageous parties. Emma had enough, and in 1905 she moved out of the house and they rarely spoke to each other after that.

While Lizzie died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927 in Fall River, her sister Emma passed away only days later in Newmarket, New Hampshire.

The Famous Rhyme is Incorrect

The famous jumping rope rhyme goes like this:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

While most people know that rhyme, it is in fact wrong. The coroner confirmed that Abby was murdered first but she received 19 blows instead of 40. Andrew then received either 10 or 11 whacks.

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast/Museum

The actual house where the Borden family lived was turned into a bed & breakfast/museum in 1996 and is a popular tourist attraction. You can even stay in Lizzie’s actual room, although the bedroom where Abby was found murdered is the most requested. There are house tours that people can take to explore the eerie location, and there are even ghost cameras all throughout the house hoping to catch a glimpse of a restless spirit wandering the home.

Continued Media Obsession

People are still fascinated with the Borden murder mystery, even though it’s been 125 years. There have been characters based on Lizzie Borden, as well as movies based on her life. For example, in a 1993 episode of The Simpsons titled “Treehouse of Horror IV,” there was a Lizzie Borden character who was named one of the Devil’s jurors in a trial for Homer Simpson’s soul.

Another example was a 2014 movie called Lizzie Borden Took An Ax, which starred Christina Ricci as Lizzie. The television movie was based on the life of Lizzie Borden which included the murders of her parents. The Lizzie Borden house (and story) was also featured in the Supernatural episode “Thin Lizzie” in 2015.

Conclusion

We think it’s safe to say that, even after 125 years, interest in the Lizzie Borden story remains extremely high. Was she wrongfully accused, or did she get away with murder? Although it’s now over a century later, people are still torn on whether or not she killed her father and stepmother. Even people she knew were torn on her guilt or innocence – her friends who had initially supported her ended up abandoning her. And as time passed by, more people were convinced that she had gotten away with murder.

This is a story of family betrayal, money, greed, and murder. Many people are still obsessed with this mystery and everyone has their own personal opinions on whether Lizzie Borden was a cold-blooded killer who got away with murder; or whether she was an innocent woman who found her beloved father in the most tragic circumstances and was wrongfully accused. We may never know the truth.

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