LIZZIE BORDEN TOOK AN AX?
But Did She Really?
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
The August afternoon was unbearably hot, especially for Massachusetts. The temperature had climbed to well over 100 degrees, even though it was not yet noon. The old man, still in his heavy morning coat, was not feeling well and he reclined on a mohair-covered sofa in the parlor, leaning back so that his boots were resting on the floor and soiling the upholstery of the couch. In a short time, he drifted off to sleep, never suspecting that he would not awaken.
He also did not suspect that, above his head, his wife was bleeding on the floor of the upstairs guestroom. She had been dead for nearly two hours and in moments, the same hand that took her life would take the life of the old man’s as well.
And even if he knew those things by way of some macabre premonition, he might never guess that his murderer would never be brought to justice.
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 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 particularly likable.
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. Borden’s 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 girls’ Uncle John had arrived the day before for an unannounced visit. John Morse, the brother of Andrew Borden’s 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 murders
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 girl who had worked for them. 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 a.m. 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, Bridget Sullivan
At a little before 8:00 a.m., 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 wasn’t hungry. She had coffee and a cookie but nothing else. It’s 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 a.m. 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 Lizzie’s room (from which Emma’s could be reached) and the guest room. There were connecting doors between the elder Borden’s rooms and Lizzie’s room, but they were usually kept locked.
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 Sargent’s 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 a.m. She was awakened a few minutes later by a cry from downstairs.
"Maggie, Come down!" Lizzie shouted from the bottom of the back stairs and Bridget’s eyes fluttered open. She had drifted off into a restless sleep but the urgency of Lizzie’s cries startled her awake. Bridget replied in a flustered voice, asking what was wrong.
"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 and ordered her to go and fetch a doctor.
Dr. Bowen, a family friend, lived across the street from the Bordens’ 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. Mrs. Bowen asked Lizzie where she had been when the murder occurred and she said she was out in the yard, heard a groan and came inside. This was the first version she would give of her movements that morning – various others would follow.
Lizzie sent Bridget to summon a friend of the Borden sisters, Alice Russell, who lived a few blocks away and by now, 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!"
She explained that her father was in the sitting room and asked where she was when he was killed, she stated that she had been in the barn, getting a piece of iron. She didn’t know where Abby Borden was, stating that she had gone out to visit a sick friend. But she added, “But I don’t 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."
Andrew Borden's bloody corpse was discovered on his favorite downstairs sofa.
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 day’s 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, couldn’t positively identify him at first. Borden’s 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. Lizzie, who previously was sure that Abby was out of the house, now stated that she thought she heard her come inside. She ordered Bridget to go upstairs and check, but the maid refused to go alone. Mrs. Churchill offered to go 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 had been so savagely attacked that she only "looked like the form of a person."
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 a.m., 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 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 Borden’s body. The constant traffic trampled and destroyed any clues that might have been left behind.
During the half hour 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 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 improbable.
A profusion of clues were discovered over the next few days, all of which led nowhere. A boy reported seeing a man jump over the back fence of the Borden property and while a man was found matching the boy’s 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 considered 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. The timeline is as follows:
The timeline began in the early morning hours when Abby Borden sent for Dr. Bowen and told him that she and her husband had been sick and vomiting during the night. He did not believe the illness was serious and 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 Smith’s 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 the drugstore 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. Borden had a number of enemies made during business dealings and she claimed to be frightened that something might happen to the family.
Abby was killed, according to the autopsy, at around 9:30 a.m. 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 Borden’s return. Abby could have been discovered at any moment.
Abby’s time of death also posed another problem for investigators. According to Lizzie, she had gone out but she obviously hadn’t. 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 thrown it away.
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 heard 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 a crime. Borden’s desk had been rummaged through and $100 and a watch and chain 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, "I’m 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 ideas.
On the afternoon of the murder, four hatchets were discovered in the basement of the house, 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 a.m., and Bridget had been sleeping when Andrew had been killed. She pointedly reminded Fleet that Abby was not her mother, but her stepmother.
The investigation continued on the day after the murders. By now, the story had appeared in the newspapers and the entire town was in an uproar. Sergeant Harrington found Eli Bence at Smith’s Drug Store and interviewed him about the attempt to buy poison. Emma engaged Mr. Andrew Jennings as their family attorney. The police continued to investigate, but nothing of significance was found.
The funerals of the Bordens took place on Saturday. The service was conducted by the Reverends Buck and Judd, from the two Congregational Churches. The bodies were not buried at that time. The police arrived and removed the bodies for another autopsy. The heads of the Bordens were removed from the body, the skin removed and plaster casts were made of the skulls. For some reason, Mr. Borden’s head was not returned to his coffin.
On Sunday morning, Alice Russell observed Lizzie burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She told Lizzie, "If I were you, I wouldn't let anybody see me do that." Lizzie said it was a dress stained with paint and was of no use.
It was this testimony from Miss Russell 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 and 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 what she said for the records were sealed. She was arraigned the following day and entered a not guilty plea. She was then taken to the Taunton Jail, which had facilities for female prisoners.
After that, Judge Blaisdell held a preliminary hearing. 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. 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 Lizzie’s dislike of her step-mother and her complaints about her father’s 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 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 Lizzie’s 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 and also would have had to be disposed of. As far as Lizzie being naked, this seems doubtful too. 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 Lizzie’s contradictory inquest testimony.
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 Lizzie’s 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 Lizzie’s favor. They were forced to state that whoever had committed the murders would have been covered with blood. There was no witness to say that blood was ever found on Lizzie.
Lizzie Borden’s defense counsel used only two days to present its case. For the most part, the defense offered witnesses who could either corroborate Lizzie’s 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 Lizzie’s guilt.
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 said that he looked over a 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. 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.
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. She said: “I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me.” Instructions were then given to the jury and they left to deliberate over the verdict.
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.
Lizzie's (or Lizbeth's) home in Fall River, Maplecroft.
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 father’s grave.
Bridget Sullivan never worked for any of the Bordens 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.
Many years have passed since the murders in Fall River and they remain unsolved. No single theory has ever been regarded as the correct one and every writer on the case seems to have a favorite culprit. Many books and articles have been written about the case, but each writer puts their own spin on the story. 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 Lizzie’s 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, but many believe it 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. But there is that problem of all 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), wouldn’t 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 father’s murder?
Some writers believe that Lizzie and Bridget planned the murders together and that Bridget (when she went to Alice Russell’s 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 Borden’s fall to the upstairs floor would not have been heard from below, especially since Abby weighed nearly 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 doesn’t 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 who did.
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 father’s estate. But we will never know. Neither woman ever spoke of the murder again.
Another theory accuses William Borden, the illegitimate son of Andrew Borden, who 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 Borden’s 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 Lizzie’s knowledge -- killed his father. 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. There’s a lot of speculation with this theory, but it’s as possible as so many others.
So who did kill Andrew and Abby Borden? It’s unlikely that we will ever know. It’s also unlikely that we will ever discover just what Lizzie, and her defense counsel, really knew about the events in 1892. The papers from Lizzie’s 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.
The history of the Lizzie Borden case lingers in our collection imaginations, much like the spirits that are still believed to linger at the former Borden house in Fall River, Massachusetts, which now serves as a bed and breakfast. More than one overnight guest has claimed an encounter with one of the ghosts that remain from the brutal murders. The truth behind such stories remains as elusive as the killer of the Bordens – but the speculation will certainly never end.
Author Troy Taylor has a book on the Lizzie Borden case planned for later in 2014. Keep an eye on the Whitechapel Press website for upcoming information.