Lizzie Borden & the infamous axe murders: Original news stories, plus follow-ups from decades later

The real Lizzie Borden story at Click Americana

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Find out about the double murder Lizzie Borden may have committed – starting with the first news reports, through the court case, then summaries of the dramatic tale that riveted the nation..

The millionaire murder mystery of Massachusetts becomes more weird and sensational every hour (1892)

Mrs Borden was killed an hour before her husband — The assassin must have waited in broad daylight with one victim for the return of the other they were killed with a hatchet, but other persons on the same floor claim to have heard no struggle

Suspicion rests on members of the family because it is difficult to see how anyone else could have accomplished the deed — The house not robbed — Progress of the investigation  — An inquest today  — A theory that both were drugged — Possible arrests.

No motive yet revealed for one of the most remarkable crimes of modern times

Special Telegram to the Dispatch – Fall River, Mass., August 8, 1892

The assassination of Millionaire Borden and his wife promises to become one of the most noted of modern murder mysteries. The discoveries and developments of each passing hour, instead of revealing the secret of the tragedy, only add to its weird and puzzling nature.

No motive for the crime has yet been ascertained, Mr Borden not being robbed, and nothing in the house being disturbed. There is still more to this. Neither the servant girl nor the people in the adjacent houses heard an outcry nor a sound of a struggle.

Yet Mr Borden was in fair health and Mrs Borden was a robust, powerful woman. Therefore, it is argued, that either they must have been under the influence of drugs, or their assailant was a person of whom they had no fear.

More remarkable than this even, the results of the investigation satisfied Medical Examiner Dolan that Mrs Borden was killed at least an hour before her husband.

This appears from the statement of Dr Bowen, that when he arrived Mr Borden’s body was warm and the blood was flowing, but Mrs Borden’s body was cold and stiff During the hour that elapsed where was the murderer? He must have been concealed somewhere about the house. The murderer must, therefore, have stayed upon the very scene of his first crime, not knowing what moment it might be discovered and he with it, though immediately after his second murder be disappeared so amazingly that no one can guess how he went.

Lizzie Borden case murder victim father Andrew Borden

Remarkable and mysterious features

Mr Borden owned a great deal of real estate, was president of a savings bank and had other interests, and the fatal morning, as usual, went about town looking after his affairs.

All that is positively known about his taking off is quickly told. He started for home about 10:30. About 11:15 o’clock, his servant girl ran over to Dr Bowen, who lives just across the narrow street and told him that her master had been murdered. Dr Bowen, going with the girl, found Mr Borden lying dead on the lounge in the sitting room, his head mangled in the manner before described. A few, minutes afterward the body of the wife was discovered in a room upstairs, the second one from the street on the south of the house.

Lizzie Borden house

There were two persons in or about the house at the time of the murder. These were Lizzie Borden, the second daughter, and the servant girl, named Sullivan. District Attorney Knowlton reached here late this afternoon from Marion. Chief of Police Hilliard met him at the depot and drove direct to police headquarters with him. For five hours, the District Attorney, the Chief of Police, Medical Examiner Dolan, Mayor Coughlin and State Detective Seaver were closeted together in Marshal Hllliard’s private office.

A judge produces papers

Judge Blaisdell, who presides over the court of this district, dropped in for a few minutes’ talk with a big bulky envelope, and when he came out, he had no envelope or papers with him.

Dr Dolan drove to a private entrance to Marshal Hilliard’s office about 5 o’clock. He had with him a box covered with a lap robe. As he lifted the box from his carriage, a bundle fell out. It was Lizzie Borden’s dress, on which the police think there is a drop of blood. In the box, among the other things, was the ax which was found in the cellar of the Borden house, and on which there are stains, supposed to be bloodstains.

A patrolman entered a few minutes later with a register containing the names of all persons who had purchased poison recently in Fall River. He took the book direct to Chief Hilliard.

The conference opened with Chief of Police Hilliard beginning with the remotest clue and going over it thoroughly and running it down to the satisfaction of District Attorney Knowlton. It was learned that clue after clue was taken up and was, in turn, traced through to its end.

Suspicion rests on the daughter

Chief Hilliard reserved the Lizzie Borden theory until the close. His purpose was to disprove all other theories, to open out all other clues and then suggest to the District Attorney that the Lizzie Borden theory was the only one left that could not be readily disproved. The whole ground was gone over. The premises were described, all the suspicions and evidence, direct and circumstantial, were laid before the Attorney.

After the entire case had been recited the advisability of making immediate arrests was discussed. It was found that while the evidence might indicate whom the police should arrest, yet it is hardly sufficient to guarantee the holding of the prisoner, not to mention a conviction. It is said late tonight, however, by good authority, that other evidence not yet brought by Marshal Hilliard will be laid before the District Attorney.

Lizzie Borden case murder victim Abbie Borden

The inquest scheduled for today

It was decided to hold the inquest tomorrow morning. It is expected that the testimony and evidence brought out then will once and for all decide definitely whether any persons whose names are mentioned in connection with the case will be arrested.

State Detective Seaver, just coming from Marshall Hllliard’s room, said there would be no arrests tonight. The cordon of police guarding the Borden house are neither vigilant nor shrewd. It was supposed by them and believed by Marshal Hilliard that the servant, Bridget Sullivan, had been in the house from the time of the murder until today. The Dispatch reporter learned this evening that the girl left the house on Saturday afternoon and spent Saturday night, Sunday night and part of today at a Mrs Jessie Harrington’s house.

Her absence was not known to the police guarding the house until they saw her coming up Second street today. Marshall Hilliard was greatly vexed when he learned of the negligence of his men. It is argued that if the girl left the house before the police searched it on Saturday, she could have taken the hatchets with her, had she been so inclined.

The search for a motive

The police and other official investigators discussed today what possible motives prompted the murderers, irrespective of who they might be. The motive of gain was considered, as was the suggestion that a person who hated one of the victims and was not friendly to the other, did the deed.

5000 dollar reward notice for Borden murders - Aug 27 1892
$5,000 dollar reward notice – Borden murders (Aug 27 1892)

The insanity theory was considered, but the police finally decided that the easiest way to determine the motive was first to catch the murderer. Color was given to the poisoning theory today by the strong rumor that Dr Dolan had received a report from the experts in Boston, who have analyzed the stomachs of Mr and Mrs Borden, saying that traces of poison was found.

Dr Dolan refused to deny this. He said that he could not speak of it. He denied, however, the story that he went to the receiving vault in the cemetery to match some hair alleged to have been found on one of the axes picked up in the Borden cellar. There was no hair on any of the instruments found in the cellar.

Another mark against Lizzie Borden

George B Fish, of Hartford, who was visiting here some time ago and who is quoted as saying that there was a strong feeling between Mr and Mrs Borden and Lizzie Borden, is the husband of the murdered woman’s sister, and is conversant with the true state of the family relations.

“With the explosion of the story that Mrs Chace and a young French boy saw a strange man in the backyard on the morning of the murder there comes another black mark against Lizzie Borden, according to the police. After a patient search today, a Dispatch reporter found out who the man was that Mrs Chace saw. He was a stonemason, who was working in a yard adjoining the rear of the Borden yard.

He jumped over the fence to get some pears. This was about the time of the murder, and just the time Lizzie Borden should, according to her story, have passed from the house to the stable. But even if Lizzie Borden did not leave the house the stonemason in the rear of the house, Mrs Buffington on the north side, Mrs Chace on the south, and the French boy in the street, surrounded the Borden house.

The axe - hatchet thought to be the Borden murder weapon
The axe/hatchet thought to be the Borden murder weapon
Nobody could enter or leave unseen

No one could have entered the house by the rear 20 feet from her, and the boy, who was watching the mason from the street as he picked pears, would have seen anyone pass him either in leaving or entering the house. On the north side, where the side entrance is the boy, the mason and Mrs Buffinton would all have seen the murderer as he entered the house.

The police argue that, with all these people watching, Lizzie Borden could not easily have left the house without being seen, and, above all, no other person could have entered or left the house unobserved.

G M Hanscom, assistant superintendent of the New England agency of the Pinkertons, spent the afternoon at the Borden house with Lizzie and Emma Borden. His coming here was first regarded as mysterious, but gradually a story leaked out that the Bordens had brought him there to see that the girls were not arrested. This rumor further insinuated that Mr Hanscom’s dealings with the police had been singularly successful, and that none of the Borden family would be molested.

A reporter took this story to police headquarters and asked if it was true. The police at once denied it emphatically.

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Barring out a Pinkerton Chief

Late last night it was said that Chief of Police Hilliard had issued an order which substantially prohibited Mr Hanscom from entering the Borden house and from seeing Lizzie Borden. When the story first came out, a futile attempt was made to deny it, but this afternoon, the police admitted that it was true. The order was revoked this morning, and Mr Hanscom was allowed to enter the house.

Chief Hilliard, when seen this afternoon, said: “I did not give the order, though I know the matter was being considered by the city authorities last night. In any event I see no reason why such orders are not proper at this time. I do not believe there is any reason why Mr Hanscom, who is an expert detective, and in the family’s employ, should have access to the Borden House any more than the reporters. The reporters are working as hard to get at the bottom of this case as he is, and no class of unofficial investigators should be discriminated against.

“What reason had the Borden girls to engage detectives? Are they afraid that we will overstep the bounds of law in our investigation of crime? If so, why did they not come to us and show us where our act might seem or may be inconsistent? I believe that the course pursued has been taken to protect the living.

“There has been much labor and great effort within the past 24 hours to create sympathy in that direction. In the performance of my duty, I do not forget that there is something due to the dead. Our purpose is to bring the murderer of Mr and Mrs Borden to justice, and our efforts will be rewarded.”

Lizzie Borden infamous axe murders - Early newspaper headlines

Don’t want outside interference

The police say they believe that Mr Hanscom’s efforts will retard their work. While it is doubtful if the police fear this, yet it is a significant fact that as fast as the police suggest suspicious circumstances which might connect Lizzie Borden, just as fast are these circumstances answered by Mr Hanscom.

Since Mr Hanscom has seen and talked with Lizzie Borden, her story has changed materially in several important points. For instance. In her story, as she first told it, she said that she was in the barn not more than 20 minutes. Mr Hanscom now fixes it at half an hour. But why did Lizzie Borden remain there 30 minutes? Mr Hanscom answers this by saying that she was hunting for something.

But Mr Hanscom adds that she was so weak and rambling in her talk that he could not ask her about such points as why she did not notice her dead stepmother as she passed the door of the room in which Mrs Borden lay dead. If Lizzie Borden is so weak and so rambling in her mind that she cannot answer perplexing questions like that, how is it, ask the police, that she can explain so minutely her trip to the barn, and be so clear about certain other simple points?

Mystery crime: Anniversary of Lizzie Borden case finds murder unsolved (1942)

By Winifred Van Duzer – The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) October 18, 1942

AS USUAL, Bridget Sullivan crept out of bed at dawn on that August morning fifty years ago. Early as it was, the day seethed with the furious heat that sometimes descends even upon southern Massachusetts to offset the bitter cold of New England winters. Outside the attic windows leaves hung limp on ancient oaks and elms; Fall River’s sun-scorched streets looked shriveled and dun.

Maid of all work in one of the town’s wealthiest homes, Bridget plodded down three flights of stairs, sullenly tossed fuel into the old wood-burning range, began to prepare breakfast.

To fortify her employer, his wife, daughter and a guest for the sizzling hours ahead, Bridget warmed over the mutton broth, also the mutton, left from yesterday. She made a Johnny-cake and coffee. To round out the menu, she placed sugar cookies and sliced bananas on the table. And thanked her stars that the second daughter of the house was away on a visit in Fairhaven.

Presently they would come straggling downstairs. The old man and the old lady and their guest would eat hot mutton, while the old man’s disapproving eye roved about for signs of waste. When they had gone, the daughter would some to drink coffee, nibble a cookie. For the twenty-seven years of her father’s second marriage, she had refused to sit at the table with her stepmother.

A curious sense of gloom that was partly foreboding, partly resistance of a normal person to the abnormal took possession of Bridget.

Lizzie Borden case - Bridget Sullivan

Family portrayals

EUGENE O’NEILL has given the world a strange but convincing picture of the introverted family which inevitably follows its anti-social pattern to frustration, sometimes disaster.

Other writers have told about the Borden family. Psychologists, psychiatrists, criminologists have written learned studies of the father, step-mother, two daughters. Novelists have portrayed them in stories that were only partly fiction. They have been pictured on the stage; Lillian Gish starred in an old-time film version of their tale.

Andrew J. Borden was seventy on that hot August morning in 1892. He was a tall, gaunt man; thin-lipped, with cold gray eyes. He wore rusty black, also the thin whiskers popular thirty years before. He was president of one bank, director of two others, owner of several manufacturing companies.

He was, in fact, an enormously wealthy man, as wealth was computed those days. Yet he lived in a shabby little frame house, burdened his family with petty economies.

Abby Durfee Gray Borden was sixty-four, weighed 200 pounds, got around with astonishing speed for a woman of her age and size. She was addressed only as “Mrs. Borden” by her stepdaughters. Emma. thirty-seven, and Lizzie, thirty-two, who held her in jealous and bitter resentment.

Lizzie was considered “queer” [strange] by her New England friends. She was, of course, a thoroughly conventional, even exemplary, young woman. She taught a Sunday school class, was secretary of a Christian Endeavor Society, a worker in the Congregational Church she attended, also in the WCTU and the auxiliary of the YMCA.

But she was given to brooding moods. She spent hours reading romantic novels, mooned over paintings. She would tell her friends of vague fears and premonitions. Occasionally she would withdraw into herself, avoid all contacts for days at a time.

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The guest departs

THE guest on that morning of the mutton breakfast was John Vinnicum Morse, an 80-year-old retired farmer and a brother of Borden’s first wife. He left the house immediately after the meal and spent the day with friends in another part of Fall River. At eight o’clock Borden left to take care of his Union Savings Bank, his mills, his Swansea Farm.

Hot and sulking, Lizzie came down to her coffee and sugar cookies in one of her moods. Mrs. Borden directed Bridget to wash the windows on the lower floor. Throughout the morning, neighbors saw her first on one side of the house, then on the other.

Mrs. Borden announced that she, herself, would go upstairs to tidy the guest room Just vacated by Morse. Lizzie went to the kitchen to iron handkerchiefs. When Borden came home shortly before eleven o’clock, he tried the side door and was surprised to find it locked. He was more surprised when he discovered that the front door also was locked. Bridget, who was working in the living room by this time, turned the key, a bolt, released a third spring lock before she could let him in, and spent a few moments wondering. It was not the family custom to secure the doors in the daytime.

The real Lizzie Borden story at ClickAmericana com

Scream in parlor

AS THE master of the house went wearily into the living room. Lizzie came down to tell him that his wife was not at home. Mrs. Borden, she said, had received a note from a sick friend whom she had gone to see.

Rewards totaling $5500 were to be offered later for that note or the messenger who brought it. Neither was found then or ever.

Borden remarked on the heat, went to a couch to lie down. Lizzie generously offered the maid time to attend a bargain sale in the town’s business section. But Bridget was worn out with the work she had been doing since dawn. She climbed the back stairs to her isolated attic bedroom. As she lay down on the bed, she heard the nearby City Hall clock strike eleven. Perhaps Bridget slept briefly — she never was sure.

In any case, she was aroused by a scream. Then she heard Lizzie’s shrill voice. “Come quickly,” Lizzie called. “Somebody came in and killed father!” And when Bridget stumbled down, Lizzie said she had been in the yard when a groan brought her into the house to see what was wrong.

“The screen door was wide open,” she added. Neighbors heard tile commotion, hurried over. Lizzie told her story all over again; a note from a sick friend had taken her stepmother away: she was in the yard when she heard her father groan and came in to find him dead.

“I don’t know but what Mrs. Borden may be killed, too,” Lizzie said. “I thought I heard her come in.”

But the neighbors had not seen Mrs. Borden leave the house. They had seen no one except Borden enter it. They had not observed Lizzie in the yard.

Police found that Andrew Borden had been slain as he lay on the couch, probably with an ax. Although the first blow undoubtedly had killed him, his head had been terribly beaten. The murder weapon never was found.

They went upstairs and in the guest room, found Abby Borden. She lay with her face pressed against one of the fat red roses that decorated the carpet, her white head beaten in as her husband’s had been. She had on the same simple house dress she wore at breakfast, not the more formal garment she would have donned for a visit to a sick friend.

Trial headline from June 14 1893

Planned crime

IT WAS quickly established that no robber had committed the murders. Nothing had been stolen from the house; Borden’s ring, watch, wallet holding more than eighty dollars were untouched.

Moreover, it was seen at once that no one outside the household could have figured the delicate timing necessary for the slayings; the moment when Mrs. Borden would be alone in the guest room and the other moment when Borden would be lying on the living room couch, also alone.

Lizzie’s stories of the morning conflicted with each other as she told them over and over. Suspicion began to point a long, dark finger her way. She had been in the house all morning, had plenty of opportunity to commit both murders. She had motive — her bitter dislike of her step-mother. She hurriedly had burned a dress not long after the murders; a dress which, perhaps, had been spattered with the blood so strangely absent from the scene of each killing.

Lizzie Borden in court during her trial

National interest

THE whole nation was watching the Fall River case with shocked interest; nearly all of the country took sides.

When word went out that Lizzie had been arrested, groups of people everywhere sprang to her defense. Church leaders, newspapers, women’s organizations said she was the innocent victim of police blundering. Others, of course, argued that no one but Lizzie had either the opportunity or the motive for the crimes.

They suggested that her “queerness” might be the evidence of some deep-seated madness which had impelled her terrible acts. Still others, less sympathetic, repeated the jingle which to this day survives as a commentary on one of the most ferocious crimes: Lizzie Borden took an ax/And gave her Mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done/She gave her Father forty-one!

Lizzie Borden 40 whacks rhyme

Old Judge Blaisdell, a life-long friend of her father’s, who had dandied Lizzie on his knee when she was a baby, held her for trial with tears in his eyes. The three Justices who presided at her trial in June, 1893, gave her every break in their conduct of the case.

Some of the best known legal authorities of the day were engaged. George D. Robinson, a former Governor of Massachusetts, was chief counsel for the defense. The Prosecuting Attorney was Hosea M. Knowlton, later Attorney General of the State; his assistant, William H. Moody, became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Cheers for verdict

THE trial lasted thirteen days. Then after only an hour’s deliberation, the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty. Courtroom spectators cheered.

Lizzie changed her name to Lisbeth, retired to the old house with her sister Emma. For seven years, they lived alone there; they stopped going to church, seldom were seen by their neighbors. Then they purchased Maplecroft, a rambling old mansion in Fall River’s aristocratic sector, bought up property about the estate, surrounded their possessions with high stone walls. But they parted in 1905 after a quarrel, and Emma went to live with friends in Newmarket, New Hampshire.

When Lizzie died on June 2, 1927, she left more than $1,000,000. Besides bequests to servants and friends, $32,000 to the Animal Rescue League. The will also set aside $500 for perpetual care of the grave of her father, Andrew Jackson Borden.

Now Lisbeth sleeps beside that grave, and beside the grave of her sister Emma who survived her by a mere eight days.

Unique Lizzie Borden murder mystery still intrigues the nation after 60 years (1952)

By Cynthia Lowry, New York – Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, Michigan) Aug 3, 1952

The life and times of Lizzie Borden, involving a double murder which occurred 60 years ago, is still a show-stopping theme in the annals of American crime and — paradoxically — of entertainment.

The ax killings of Andrew Jackson Borden, Fall River, Mass., bank president, and his second wife, Abby, took place on sultry August 4, 1892.

Lizzie Andrew Borden, spinster daughter of Andrew, has been dead a quarter of a century, but her strange, never-explained personality continues to stimulate the imagination of playwrights, novelists and choreographers.

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Ballet tells story

Agnes De Mille, famed fashioner of ballet, told of the tragedy in a somber dance “Fall River Legend,” exploring the psychological overtones of the affair by boiling down the motive to a stepmother-step-daughter conflict.

Six years after Lizzie’s death. Lillian Gish played the role of “Effie Holden” in a play called “Nine Pine Street,” which took its basic plot from the murders. Currently a feature of the Broadway hit “New Faces of 1952” is a song and dance comedy routine on the same macabre theme. It’s impossible to count how many other authors have derived inspiration from the killings.

The Borden murders undoubtedly are the more fascinating because they never were solved officially. Without exception, however, serious students of the case believe only one person could have committed the crime.

Portrait of Lizzie Borden (1)

Guilt seen certain

The late Edmund Pearson’s “Trial Of Lizzie Borden” still is the definitive work on the subject. His conclusion: “When seven or eight items of circumstantial evidence point at the guilt of one person, he’s innocent only in a detective story.”

He did not attempt to explain Lizzie in terms of complexes and frustrations. He was hypnotized by the barbarity of the two slayings, committed in a 90-minute period of a life otherwise commonplace.

Lizzie and her tribulations have been immortalized in American folklore by some forgotten Massachusetts rhymester who tossed off this apparently deathless doggerel: “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. And when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Basically, the affaire Borden was rather sordid. Fall River in 1892 was a manufacturing town of 75,000. The Bordens were among a handful of Yankee families in the town. Andrew Borden was a rich man.

Quarreled over money

Borden’s youngest child was born July 19, 1860, and christened “Lizzie.” Her mother died soon afterward. When the little girl was five, Andrew Borden married Abby Gray. a kindly woman in her late thirties. Borden was parsimonious and canny, and his two daughters, Emma, and Lizzie, 10 years the junior, apparently inherited these characteristics.

Money — particularly when the girls thought they were not getting as much as their stepmother — was the cause of severe family dissension. At the time of the murders, when Lizzie was 32, it was a strange, torn household. The daughters did not eat with their parents. They were all careful about keeping doors locked.

Lizzie was an active churchgoer and an officer of the Christian Endeavor. She taught a Sunday school class and was busy in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the church fruit and flower mission. That a woman with this background could commit two bloody, savage killings was unthinkable to her contemporaries.

LIzzie Borden portrait

Poisoning suspected

Early in August, odd things began occurring in the Borden household. During the night of August 2, Mr. and Mrs. Borden were seized with violent illness. The next morning, Lizzie said she, too, had been ill, but not as violently. A doctor was called, and Mrs. Borden said she thought she and her husband had been poisoned.

Lizzie called on a neighbor and said she thought someone was trying to poison the family and that “they” had broken into the Borden house recently. She hinted her father was having trouble with some unidentified men.

Later, a clerk in a nearby pharmacy told police Lizzie had come in some time before the murders and had tried to buy 10 cents worth of prussic acid to clean a sealskin cape.

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On the morning of the murders. Mr. and Mrs. Borden and the brother of Borden’s first wife, a house guest, had a 7 a. m. breakfast of mutton, sugar cakes or Johnny cakes, bananas, mutton broth and coffee. Emma was out of the city visiting friends. At 9 a.m. Lizzie came downstairs and had coffee. Borden left at 9:15 for his office.

The maid, Bridget, had a sick headache, but started to wash windows. Eventually, Mrs. Borden went upstairs. saying she was going to put fresh pillow slips on the guest room bed. In that room, death came to her, in the form of a rain of ax blows.

June 7 1893 Newspaper report of Borden case testimony

Borden returns home

At 10:45 a. m. Borden returned, and Bridget let him in the triple-locked door. It was a fiercely hot day. Bridget later said she heard Miss Lizzie laughing and the sound came from the stairs landing. Lizzie told her father Mrs. Borden had gone out — “She had a note from somebody who is sick.”

Then Lizzie started to iron hand-kerchiefs in the dining room and told Bridget there was a sale downtown. Bridget, however, went upstairs to rest her aching head. Twenty minutes later she heard. Lizzie call, “Father’s dead. Someone came in and killed him.”

When neighbors, a doctor and others had gathered, Lizzie explained she had been in the yard, heard a groan, and found him. He had been killed as he napped on a sofa in the sitting room. Soon afterward, Mrs. Borden’s body was discovered. The murderer had struck a total of 29 blows, and the doctor said he believed an ax was the instrument of death.

Picture of the crime scene: Mr Borden as his body was discovered

Lizzie Borden father death

Picture of the crime scene: Mrs Borden as her body was found

Murder victim Mrs Borden as she was found

Lizzie Borden gives conflicting account

At the inquest, Lizzie told a strange, contradictory story, and said she was in the barn loft — looking for sinkers for a fish line — at the time of the murders. She was arrested after the inquest and indicted for the double murders.

Her evidence at the hearing was excluded from the trial on the grounds — heatedly attacked by law scholars later — that she was practically under arrest when the evidence was given, and therefore deprived of her constitutional rights.

One thing puzzled the authorities: How it was possible for Lizzie to have committed two particularly gory killings and have no evidence of blood on her clothing?

A neighbor related that the Sunday after the murders, Miss Lizzie stood at the stove, ready to burn an old dress which she carefully explained was covered with paint. No ax was found on the premises, but three hatchets were. Two of them received a clean bill of health, but the third had a broken handle and was covered with ashes. That led to a theory it had been washed of bloodstains and then rubbed in ashes.

Lizzie Borden murder trial scenes - Boston Globe June 1893 (6)

Lizzie Borden murder trial scenes - Boston Globe June 1893 (1)

Lizzie Borden murder trial scenes - Boston Globe June 1893 (2)

Lizzie Borden murder trial scenes - Boston Globe June 1893 (3)

Lizzie Borden murder trial scenes - Boston Globe June 1893 (4)

Lizzie Borden murder trial scenes - Boston Globe June 1893 (5)

Case stirs country

The case flashed to national prominence. Everyone took violent sides. The press came from all over the nation to cover the trial. Lizzie did not testify. She swooned twice, but on the last day of the trial, she arose to say: “I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me.”

The prosecution’s case collapsed when almost all circumstantial evidence was barred, as well as testimony concerning her attempted purchase of prussic acid and her earlier testimony.

Lizzie’s battery of attorneys relied on Sister Emma’s character evidence, on vague reports of loiterers, unlocked doors and on the absence of traces of blood. Students of the judge’s charge to the jury find it almost a plea for acquittal.

The newspapers backed Lizzie strongly, and clergymen of her church escorted her to court daily. When the jury promptly returned its verdict of innocent, rejoicing spread far and wide.

Lizzie Borden murder trail scene - 1893
The Borden murder trial–A scene in the court-room before the acquittal – Lizzie Borden, the accused, and her counsel, Ex-Governor Robinson / drawn on the spot by B. West Clinedinst.
Lizzie’s life changes

Lizzie Borden’s life took on a new pattern. She and Emma lived for a while in their old house on Second Street. Then they moved to a more impressive place in a better neighborhood. Lizzie took to signing her name “Lizabeth.” And although people generally had been on her side during the trouble, she soon was avoided. She became almost a recluse and stopped going to church. Frequently, she traveled alone to Boston, New York or Washington and took in a round of theaters.

On one occasion, she entertained an entire theatrical company at her house for a week. That proved the last straw for her sister Emma, with whom she hadn’t been getting along well, anyway, and Emma departed, first to Fairhaven, then Providence, and finally disappeared. She died, 10 days after Lizzie, in New Market. N. H., where she had lived quietly for years.

One strange episode occurred in the post-trial life of Lizzie Borden. In 1897, a Providence woman took a painting on porcelain to a firm of silversmiths for repair. Questioned by members of the firm, she said she had received the painting from a friend named Lizabeth Borden. It happened that the firm was missing this particular painting. A warrant was issued against Lizzie Borden, but the matter was “adjusted.”

Lizzie was never pretty and in later life she grew plump. She was of middle height and had light brown hair. Friends said she was timid and shy. She was a dull conversationalist and her preference in literature was light romances. Although she loved money, she was not stingy, and left an estate of about $265,000. Careful Emma’s estate, by contrast, was about $425,000.

Lizzie Borden

Died in 1927

Lizzie died in the summer of 1927 in her French street house at the age of 67. Her will made bequests to friends, servants and relatives.

Today. the scene of the murder on South street still stands, changed a little and with stores on the ground floor. Few sightseers turn up there anymore, although they used to arrive in numbers during the summer months.

The cemetery remains unchanged. Lizzie’s grave is well separated from her parents. Hundreds of people visit the graves each year. Fall River newspapers no longer mark the anniversaries of the killings.

About the only living witness is the widow of Dr. Bowen, who lived across the street from the Second Street house. She told police she saw Andrew Borden return home shortly before he was killed.

Lizzie Borden herself, however, appears to be deathless and forever tantalizing. Did she do it? And if she did. why? No one will ever know, really.

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