July 6, 2020

Lizzie Borden // Massachusetts // 17

Lizzie Borden // Massachusetts // 17

Lizzie Borden's family had a lot of money, but they lived in a small, shabby home.  Lizzie may have been mentally disturbed and was known to be a kleptomaniac.  Besides this, she seemed to be a fairly normal girl.  On August 4th, 1892, Lizzie's stepmother and father were hacked to death with an ax.  There were only two people in the home that day and evidence is stacking up against Lizzie.  Join us for this quick story, it's bound to keep you hopping!


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Lizzie Borden was born on July 19th, 1860, in Fall River, Massachusetts. In 1865, her father, Andrew Borden, remarried to Abby Durfree Gray, three years after his first wife died. Lizzie attended a school that wasn't far from home. After she graduated from high school, she began teaching Sunday School at church and serving as secretary of the local Christian Endeavor Society. She was also a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and dabbled in the Ladies Fruit and Flower mission. She even traveled abroad briefly with some friends.

Lizzie's father, Andrew had started out his business career as an undertaker, but bought rental properties and went into banking and textile mills as well. He worked his way up and became a bank president and a director of several textile mills. His estimated net worth was $300k, which ends up being about $8.5 million in 2019. Despite all this money, the family lived in a home that was small and shabby and they didn't live in an elite neighborhood. The family also didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing. In 1884, Andrew gave his wife's half-sister a house. His daughters objected and fought with their stepmother and at this time, began refusing to call her mother and referred to her as Mrs. Borden. Andrew wanted to make peace with his daughters so, in 1887, he gave them some money and allowed the girls to rend out his old family home. This allowed Lizzie to get a small weekly income and she put $2,500 in a bank account, which is worth about $70k today.

There are several accounts where people stated Lizzie was mentally disturbed. She was known to be a kleptomaniac, which essentially means you an urge to steal things. The locals knew about this problem Lizzie had and would shopkeepers would check for missing items after she left their stores and would send bills to her father. There was even an incident, in 1891, where the stepmother, Abby, had a jewelry box that was rifled through and Lizzie's father had to get locks for their bedroom. 

Another incident that happened, was when Lizzie and her sister, Emma, took a trip to visit some friends. Lizzie returned early and all of a sudden, her father and stepmother became ill and were vomiting. Mrs. Borden told people that she suspected they had been poisoned. It's noted that Andrew, the father, killed multiple pigeons in his barn with a hatchet because he believed there were attracting local children that wanted to hunt them. Lizzie had built a roost for the pigeons and was very upset that he was killing them.

The reconstruction of the crime found that around 9:30 AM on August 4th, 1892, Lizzie's stepmother, was hacked to death with an ax while she was in the guest bedroom. Andrew, the father, arrived home about an hour or two later. His key failed to open the door so he had to knock. The maid answered the door and later testified that she heard Lizzie laughing right after this, but she couldn't see her. She believed the laughter was coming from the top of the stairs. This would be a significant fact because Abby was already dead and her body would have been visible to someone on that was standing on the second floor. Andrew asked where Abby was when he came in. Lizzie told him that a messenger delivered Abby a summons to visit a sick friend. Andrew went to sleep on the sofa that was located in the sitting room. Lizzie informed the maid that there was a department store sale and permitted her to go. The maid, Bridget, felt unwell and decided to go lie down for a nap. Andrew was hacked to death with an ax at roughly 10:45 AM. The maid was woken from her nap when she heard Lizzie calling her to come downstairs. Lizzie said she had been in the barn and returned to find her father dead. After the doctor across the street was called, the stepmother's body was discovered. Since the father, Andrew, died without a will, his estate went straight to his daughters and his wife, Abby's children, were not included in the money.

The popular nursery rhyme says that The mother got 40 whacks and the father got 41. There wasn't a total of 81 whacks. It's actually estimated that Andrew Borden took about 18 to 19 blows and Abby got about 9 to 11. By the time they found Abby, her blood was already drying up on the floor and her body temperature was low. It was determined that she had been killed one to hours prior to her husband's death. If Lizzie or their maid didn't commit the murders, that means, someone would have needed to stay in the house for 1 to 2 hours to kill Andrew and risk Abby being discovered before finishing the deed.

Lizzie Borden's trial began on June 3rd, 1893. Lizzie's defense was that she had been searching the barn for fishing equipment and eating pears outside during the time of the murders. This story didn't hold up well because the loft floor was covered with undisturbed dust and there weren't any fruit cores. 

Lizzie was prescribed regular doses of morphine to calm her nerves. When she gave her testimony, her behavior was erratic and she often refused to answer a question even if it would be beneficial to her to answer. She contradicted herself and kept changing her story about the morning in question. She said she was in the kitchen reading a magazine when her father arrived home, then she said she was actually in the dining room ironing, then she said she was coming down the stairs when he got there. She stated that she removed her father's boots and helped him into his slippers before he took a nap on the sofa. This couldn't be true because he was wearing his boots in the photos taken after his murder.

Evidence included a report that she tried to burn a dress a week after the murders. A friend testified that the dress was stained with paint. There were reports that Lizzie tried to buy poison before the murders. In fact, the officers checked with the local pharmacies and a clerk said that a lady attempted to buy prussic acid on the previous day. He was able to identify the lady as Lizzie Borden and she told the clerk she needed it to kill moths. The murder weapon was never found....at least, not for sure. There was a hatchet head that may have been washed and deliberately dirtied back up and was placed in the cellar. There weren't any blood stained clothes that were found. Without any direct evidence linking Lizzie to the murder, she was acquitted.

Lizzie and her sister, Emma were now able to move to the elite part of town and purchased a bigger home together. Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth and stopped doing her club and charity work and even started attending theater performances in Boston. The girls eventually had a falling out and Emma moved away. Lizzie died of pneumonia in Massachusetts. Just nine days later, her sister, Emma died at her home in New Hampshire.


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