Lizzie Borden took an Ax,
and gave her mother forty whacks.
When she had seen what she had done,
she gave her father forty-one.
One hundred and twenty years after the acquittal of New England’s Miss Lizzie Borden, new evidence has surfaced that many feel will open up whole new avenues in the 1892 double murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. This case has always peaked my curiosity, but naturally the historic details have become hazy over time. When the news broke of the freshly located items, I immediately started researching. Before we get into the new found historic evidence though, lets take a trip down memory lane and revisit the events leading up to the bloody morning of August 4th, 1892, and the 1893 case.
Andrew Borden was married to Sarah Anthony Morse on December 25, 1845 and they had three daughters. Emma Lenora was the eldest, followed by Ester Alice, who sadly only survived until the age of two. Lizzie Andrew was born in 1860. When Lizzie was just two years of age, Sarah died, leaving her husband and two girls. They survived due to Andrew’s endeavors in not only farming but industry, banking and even undertaking. When Lizzie was five years old Andrew Borden married Abby Durfee Gray, who was 37.
As the girls grew older, they learned to resent their step mother Abby and by 1887 they referred to her only as Mrs. Borden. Emma spent much of her time out of their 92 Second Street home visiting friends while Lizzie remained more of a homebody, leaving only for activities such as teaching Sunday School.
As Lizzie grew up, she became a chronic shoplifter. Despite being aware of her thieving, local shopkeepers, in deference to her fathers status in the town, wrote a tab for Andrew which he paid monthly.
On August 2nd, 1892, the entire family, including the maid, Bridget 'Maggie' Sullivan, became ill with digestive issues. The next day Lizzie Borden called for the family physician Dr Sebring Bowen, who diagnosed the family with food poisoning. The suspected cause was lamb that had spoiled due to a lack of refrigeration.
Later that evening Lizzie set off to visit a friend of the family, Alice Russell, and confided in her that she feared that someone was going to poison her family. She even went as far as to say that she felt as if she needed to sleep with one eye open because of the fear that her home may burn to the ground at the hand of someone in business with her father.
Back at the Borden residence, John Morse (Uncle to Lizzie and Emma) had come for a visit to discuss family business with Andrew. When Lizzie arrived home that evening she stomped to her upstairs bedroom refusing to acknowledge Abby, Andrew or John. Lizzie had caught wind of the fact that Andrew was considering changing his will and leaving everything to Abby, leaving the girls out entirely. Lizzie felt a strong connection to her family's properties and she was consumed with anger at the thought of any alteration. No one really knows the business that Andrew and John discussed that night, but it seems that Lizzie was certain that it pertained to the family farm.
We will now move on to the very unpleasant morning of August, 4, 1892. The weather was said to be extremely warm; one of the hottest days recorded in years. John Morse had departed after his breakfast with Abby and Andrew at approximately 8:45 am. At 9:15 am, Maggie ventured outside the home to wash the windows, chatting with the neighbours maid as she worked and Abby went upstairs to change the bedding in the guest room where John had slept the night before. As she was changing the sheets, an assailant entered the room and struck her nineteen times from behind, killing her.
At approximately 10:30 am, Maggie reentered the home and began dusting, still feeling queazy from the day before. At 10:40 am Andrew Borden came home from work, though when he went to enter through his usual entrance on the side of the home, his access was denied because the door was locked from the inside. The doors in the family home were often kept locked since the family had experienced a daytime robbery during 1891. Money and jewellery had been stolen, and it as suspected that Lizzie had stolen the goods, although this theory was never pursued. When Maggie heard someone at the door, she rushed over to unlock it. Andrew, unimpressed at being locked out of his own home, began to lecture Maggie, when the sudden sound of laughter came from the top of the stair case. There stood Lizzie laughing carelessly. She came down the stairs and told Maggie she should run into town to peruse the local yard shops, but Maggie declined saying that she was going to retreat to her attic bedroom to lay down for a bit due to her aching stomach. As she headed for the stairs, Andrew reclined on the family sofa.
Only minutes after Maggie laid down to rest she heard Lizzie shriek from down stairs, 'Maggie call Dr Bowen; someone has killed father!” Maggie stumbled downstairs to find Lizzie screaming and Andrew dead, still in a reclined position on the couch. He had suffered twelve blows to the head. The left side of his skull had sustained several blows in the same area and his left eye was gouged out with the laceration reaching as far down as the tip of his nose.
At 11:15 am, Dr Bowen arrived and made the panicked suggestion that someone needed to locate Abby to tell her the news. Lizzie stated that she had seen her return home and head upstairs. Maggie, accompanied by close family friend Adelaide Churchille slowly made her way up the stairs, where they found Abby Borden’s cool body laying on the floor in the guest room. The Doctor guessed that Abby had been killed at least an hour and a half before her husband. An interesting clue to this gruesome puzzle is the fact that when the women reached the landing they could clearly see the body of Abby laying on the floor in the adjoining room. However, a short time before, Lizzie had stood laughing on this very landing; a position from which the mutilated body should have been clearly visible.
By 12:20 pm Phillip Harrington, a city official, had arrived at the house and immediately began questioning Lizzie. When asked of her whereabouts, she said that she had gone to the loft in the back barn to locate “irons” for an upcoming fishing trip. She stated that she was in the barn for approximately twenty minutes before returning to the house where she had found her father's body. This immediately made Harrington suspicious; given that the day was so hot, he couldn’t imagine anyone spending any amount of time up in the loft of a barn.
By now, crowds of onlookers had started to gather outside of the Borden home. Emma was sent for and returned home quickly.
That night the girls spent the night in the Borden home with the murdered corpses of their father and step mother laying downstairs under sheets in the parlor.
Early in the morning of August 5th, the Borden girls offered a $5000.00 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who occasioned the death of their parents. The next day, a funeral was held for Abby and Andrew in the family home., and as their parents bodies were brought to the Oak Grove Cemetery, it is said that three to four thousand people lined the streets in an attempt to get a closer look
From the moment the bodies were discovered, Lizzie had been a suspect. While the newspapers were her most vociferous critics, the local community seemed to be on her side. On August 9th 1892 ,the District Attorney Hosea Knowlton summoned Lizzie to be questioned in an inquest that was to be closed to the public. Then on August 11th, 1892, she was questioned, again in private. The testimonies that she gave were very contradictory, and Lizzie was said to have had a confused manner. After an intense session, Lizzie was a physical and mental wreck so it was decided to take a break to allow her to recover from the stress.
After two hours in a private session between District Attorney Knowlton and Marshal Hillard , they traveled to the home of Andrew Jennings, the Borden family attorney at about 7:00 pm and then returned to Lizzie who was laying on the sofa in the matron’s room. There, they read her her rights. During the reading of the warrant, it is said that Lizzie remained calm while her sister and friend who were in attendance, grew very distraught.
In the August 16th, 1892 edition of The New York Times, under the article 'Not Imprisoned In Haste- What Fall River’s Marshal Says Of Miss Borden’s Arrest', Marshal Hillard said
This case will depend on circumstantial evidence wholly, and the people’s interest cannot be subserved by throwing the evidence into the hands of the defense until the hearing of the trial takes place. The District Attorney and myself are satisfied that the public authorities have ample cause for holding Miss Borden and she has not been imprisoned in haste nor without a full understanding of what her arrest means.
The article later listed a publication put out by a member of the Borden family as follows,
"The honor of the Bordens, whose names are so closely allied with the prosperity of the town, is not to be affected by the police suspicion perhaps resting justly on Miss Lizzie Borden. No true Borden has ever placed a stumbling block in the way of the law, and no member of my family will in any way hamper the police in their investigation."
As Lizzie was searched and placed into custody, murder investigation gathered momentum. The town machinist was at work trying to open the the family safe. Eli Bence, a local shop keeper was being examined, giving testimony that the day before the murders, he had refused the sale of prussic acid to Lizzie. The shop keepers testimony assured the police that they had made the correct arrest. The Marshal also requested that a guard stand by the Borden home for a few more days to protect the crime scene from onlookers. Marshal Hillard also made requests at this point to shadow the actions of Maggie Sullivan and John Morse, though, due to the events Maggie was taking refuge at her family's homestead.
On the same day, the bodies of Andrew and Abby were exhumed and a second autopsy was performed. There was a post mortem bruise noted on Abby's left shoulder that matched the appearance of an ax. There were also better indications of the position of the perpetrator during the attack. Several other relatives were questioned and Mrs. Alice Russell was granted short term charge of the household, while Emma was named administrator of the estate. Officer Harrington drove to Boston to locate a suspect with the given description of a “wild looking man” who was said to be seen in front of the household the morning of the murders by the family physician as he passed by. This lead, as well as several others, proved to be dead ends.
Lizzie entered the plea of not guilty to the murder charges at her arraignment and she was taken to a jail in Taunton , Massachusetts, approximately eight miles north of Fall River to wait until August 22nd, for her preliminary hearing. After reviewing information brought forth from the investigation, Judge Blaisdell pronounced Lizzie “probably guilty” and ordered a full trial.
November 30th, 1892, the set jury met and then reconvened due to new evidence. Testimony was given by Alice Russell, a close family friend, who stayed with the girls during the days that followed the murder. In her testimony, she said that she had witnessed Lizzie burning a blue dress in the kitchen fire, which, Lizzie claimed was covered in paint and therefore ruined. Alice testified that Lizzie came into the room where she and Emma were sitting in the Borden home August 7th,1892 and said ” They are making so much fuss over things about here that I guess I will burn this. It is an old dress upon which I have spilled some red paint.” When the court questioned Alice as to why, precisely, she had said nothing of the burning of the dress until now, she said that she thought it unimportant until Maggie had made mention that Lizzie was seen wearing a blue dress the morning of the murders. When Emma was questioned about her silence in the matter she said it was normal custom for the family to burn old or tattered clothing.
An interesting but little known fact is that when police searched the home a few days after the murders, a small piece of blue fabric was found in the kitchen stove, which backed up the story. The Borden family severed ties with Miss Russell after that. Even though they had not yet located a murder weapon, the police had enough to hold Lizzie until a trial.
The highly publicized trial began on June 5th, 1893 at the New Bedford Courthouse. Lizzie was accompanied with a well oiled defense team consisting of George Robinson( the former governor of Massachusetts) and Andrew Jennings. Thomas Moody and District Attorney Knowlton fought the case for the prosecution. There was a panel of three judges and twelve jurors.
During the case, it was said that when the prosecution displayed images of the victims skulls to the jurors, that Borden fainted and that she had to be placed in front of a fan to rejuvenate her.
The prosecution said that Lizzie was the only one that could have committed this crime against her parents. An ax head was then brought to evidence by the prosecution that was said to be the murder weapon. I must add a this was the dull head of an ax with no handle.
With several of the testimonies given throughout the investigation of the murders being so conflicting, the prosecution and defense had a steady line up of witnesses to examine during the trial. Some of the witnesses said that Lizzie and her step mother had a great relationship and the home was pleasant, while others testified that Lizzie was usually found in her room and that she had nothing but distaste for Abby. It was also revealed that Abby was most likely killed while the maid was outside washing the windows. Sullivan explained the timeline to the court making it clear that the maid had in fact opened the door for Andrew Borden when he had returned home and then headed upstairs to lay down after being scolded.
The family physician who was summoned by Lizzie the morning of the murders also testified that he had given Lizzie morphine to calm her during the days following the murders and that her drugged state may have explained her initial conflicting testimonies.
Several interesting twists and turns took place during the life of the trial; for example, it was said in reference to Alice Russell’s testimony that if Lizzie was attempting to hide evidence of the murders, she would have not openly thrown the dress into the kitchen fire and she would have been much more secretive in disposal. The fact that Lizzie had openly discussed that she was in fear for her parents lives was also heavily debated. When the question was asked as to why Lizzie didn’t search the home for her step mother, it was argued that Lizzie thought she was out of the house that day and had never thought to look for her. Another conflicting story.
Both the defense and prosecution were streamlined in their duties. The defense fought the prosecution with their time lines, simply stating that in the few minutes between Andrew’s gruesome death and the time Lizzie screamed to the maid there was not enough time to not only change clothes and wash, but also hide the murder weapon. It was also brought forward that at the time that Lizzie gave her statement to the police, she was being questioned on the double murder and her testimony was not voluntary. Lizzie should have been warned that she needed an attorney present, which she was not. They said they could not use the testimony originally given by Lizzie. The testimony that Lizzie had sought out poison on the day before the murders was also excluded after a full panel of medical professionals explored the properties of prussic acid. It was soon proven that poison was not present in the bodies, or in the milk that the family consumed.
Several witness’ came forward claiming to have seen a young man in front of the Borden home the night before the murders. Also, a utility man told of being in the loft of the Borden barn the day before the murders, which excused the police statements that everything in the barn showed no sign of disturbance. It was a triumph for Lizzie during the case, because, due to faulty police work a key piece of evidence against Lizzie was now excused.
The testimony of Emma Borden, Lizzie’s older sister was a key in the defense of Lizzie. She testified that Lizzie and her father had always had a very close loving relationship. In fact, the small gold ring found on Andrew’s body had been gifted to him by Lizzie over a decade before. Emma explained that both sisters were cordial with Abby Borden, though there was a deep set resentment due to dealings with the properties that their father owned. Emma even made mention that they often burnt old clothes when they were irreparable. Even though the court ruled the testimony of Alice Russell inadmissible, this was another large defense piece in the trial.
Jennings argued for her defense that there wasn’t a single shred of evidence against the Borden woman. No blood or a weapon that connected with her. Jennings and Robinson closed with the claim that a crime of this brutality had to have been committed by a unleashed maniac or the devil himself, not by their daughter, a high end well liked woman of the community. They said they had nothing but reasonable doubt that Lizzie was guilty, not only that, but the fact that without a counterpart, Lizzie could have never achieved these murders and hidden all evidence in the time line given by the prosecution. The defense even poked fun at the prosecution on their claim that Lizzie committed the grisly murders completely naked to avoid the blood spatter! They stated that an intruder could have easily left the house after the deadly intrusion, completely unnoticed.
After the prosecution displayed their evidence, the papers explained that Justice Dewey made a plea for Lizzie’s innocence and noted her christian character.
Now, as for how long the jury deliberated for their verdict, details are a little hazy. A few sources say as little as ten minutes and other sources read a half hour of deliberation. In the end, no matter how quickly, the jury came back with two words, Not Guilty. When the verdict was spoke out it is said that Lizzie let out a scream and sank back into her chair clutching her face in her hands. She held on to the rail behind her in the court room and then again let out a cry of joy. Through the crowds of people in the court room rushing the woman to congratulate her, Lizzie nestled her face into Emma’s arms and begged her sister to take her home.
After the trial ended, the papers read with praise for the verdict. They sarcastically titled the police force of Fall River as stupid men, unable to conduct decent police work.
With the trial completed and Lizzie a free woman, she and her sister purchased a home which they lovingly dubbed “Maplecroft.” Both women shared in the very large wealth of their parents. Lizzie was known for her interest in theater and would often be seen attending plays and associating with people of the trade. In 1905 Emma moved out of Maplecroft. It is said that Emma’s retreat from the shared resident was due to conflict between the sisters because of Lizzie’s socializing. Emma was nine years older than Lizzie and she had little interest in the glitz and glam of the theater and socialite status that Lizzie did. She couldn’t handle the constant entertaining of celebrities in the home, which Lizzie thrived on.
Emma only moved four blocks from the Maplecroft to a much smaller and crowded home of a friend Alice Lydia Buck, at 114 Prospect Street. Towards the end of her life, as suggested by a family member, Emma moved to Newmarket, New Hampshire with friend Annie C. Connor and lived under an assumed name. She had developed the renal disease nephritis and could no longer stand being in the public eye. Annie, being a nurse, cared for her until her death in 1927. Emma passed away nine days after her younger sister who died at the Maplecroft. Lizzie had been hospitalized for gallbladder surgery, and while in recovery contracted pneumonia. Both sisters were buried in Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery next to, of course, their parents.
Was Lizzie guilty of killing her parents? No one knows… The case was intense for the time, and some say if she had been male the jury may have convicted her. Though, without the beauty of todays forensic evidence, there was no way to be sure, even with the evidence of the burning of her blue dress. It was a hard image to swallow, a woman of Lizzie’s character being able to pull off one of the most monstrous crimes ever seen in history.
The story of the Borden family has spawned hundreds of books, documentaries and movies. The public interest has not wavered from this case. Even today, tourists still go to view the home of the tragic August 4th murders. The family home is also a hot spot for tourists that have a spark for paranormal investigations. Presently, the home is rented out to paranormal enthusiasts nightly to try to grasp communication with the famous family members.
And there the story ended. Until....
In February 2012, Jennings handwritten journals and evidence from the 1892 case that had ended up in Jennings possession were discovered. The two journals and other evidence, including bloody pillowcases even the infamous hatchet had been hidden in a victorian bathtub in his home. Jennings’ grandson, Edward Waring who passed away last year left the items to the Fall River Historical Society. Waring had been secretive about the items he possessed in order to guard his grandfather. Files full of interviews, newspaper articles, and private thoughts will all give the legendary case a new light. Much of what has been said about the case has been twisted over time into a glamorous fictional horror movie script. It will be refreshing to see actual proof of dealings from the time of the case and how Jennings built his defence case, although transcribing the journals will be of some difficulty due to Jennings messy handwriting.
What has been discovered so far are Jennings private thoughts about Andrew Borden being a loving man who cared for his daughters and referred to Emma and Lizzie as “My Girls.” There is also a private diary that Lizzie kept while in prison, as well as hand written letters. These show a side of Lizzie that many had never seen before. The deep grief that she had over the death of her father was poured out in these private letters and diaries.
According to Long island Press, in an article wrote by Juliette Dawson dated March 14th, 2012 titled Lizzie Borden Journals Found From Murder Case, Michael Martins the curator at the Fall River Historical Society said, “You have to create villains in order to justify the murders, and Andrew Borden is portrayed as evil, but he gave his daughters a lot more than some other fathers were giving theirs, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief in the letters, and that’s a new side to the story.” The finding of these diaries and letters is a very exciting moment for historians and history lovers alike, and right now they are attempting to preserve the well indexed private journals. Though she was acquitted, it is still the general consensus that Lizzie Borden was guilty of the murders of her parents.
While investigating the historic events surrounding the case, I located several photos of the murder weapon presented by the prosecution during the trail. I would be very interested if the wide spectrum of advances in forensics could open a new light on history. In my opinion, the “ax” supposedly used in the murders is not the murder weapon. Let me explain my theory.
When you look at the weapon, you will clearly see that it is a roofers hatchet. Now, if you examine where the handle was broken you can notice the stress points. The way the wood was split, was done in the process of turning the handle to the side and prying nails. It was also broken by a left handed person. Unless you're a carpenter, you would never notice that. A roofer’s hatchet is also a very small piece. The amount of strength the assailant would need to produce that amount of damage to the victims with such a small hatchet, with no handle mind you, would be intense. It would also bring the assailant much closer to the victims, creating a much messier murderer. Now, according to the coverage of the trial, it was said that Abby Borden was killed by a “taller man.” Just to clear up the grey area, Lizzie was 5’2″.
There have been several theories exhibited over the years of “who did it.” Rumors have floated that Maggie was the murderer, as well as John Morse. There are even theories surrounding assassin William A. Davis in dealings with John Morse. Antonio Auriel, [Paul Dennis Hoffman. Yesterday In Old Fall River: A Lizzie Borden Companion, 2000, pg. 10] a Portuguese immigrant who briefly worked for Andrew Borden on one of his farms was also arrested and questioned because of an argument he had over his pay on the morning of the murders. Even an William S. Borden, [Arnold R. Brown. Lizzie Borden: The Legend, The Truth, The Final Chapter, 1991] was thought of as the murderer. It is rumored that Billy Borden was the illegitimate son of Andrew, and committed the murders. There are lists and pages of theories and names.
In my opinion, someone was in and out. I also believe the murderer had been in the house while Lizzie and Maggie were conversing, hiding until Lizzie headed to the loft of the barn. It was a clean and quick murder, not done in anger or during a collapse in mentality. This was planned and smooth. Whether Lizzie was part of the plan or not, we may never know, She did not commit these murders with her hand. I sure as hell do not believe that was the murder weapon either. What do you think?