Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lizzie Borden

Everyone knows the story of Lizzie Borden, or at least the rhyme associated with her: Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Cute, huh? I knew of Lizzie Borden from this rhyme, and that's about it until a few years ago when I finally decided to learn the whole story. The funny thing was that I always assumed that Borden killed her parents, was arrested and killed/rotted in jail or even got away somehow. The real story of Borden is less exciting, but still interesting.

Lizzie Borden was born July 19th, 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts to a reasonably wealthy family. Her father was a successful property developer and owned a few textile mills in the area. Lizzie had an older sister named Emma and both were brought up in a strict religious home and were very active in their church. The two girls lived with their father and step-mother but there were inklings that the girls and their step-mother didn't get along. When questioned after the murders, the maid revealed that there may have been some animosity between Lizzie and her father, as he had violently killed all her pigeons with an ax, for he thought they were attracting intruders. The atmosphere in the house was also tense due to property dealings with other family members and the sisters felt a little jilted by their father. Things became even worse when Mr. Borden's first wife's brother came to visit to discuss transfers of property. The family was also violently ill in the days preceding the murders. So in general, you had a lot of bad vibes going around. Mrs. Borden feared that her and her family had been poisoned, seeing as Mr. Borden wasn't exactly the most popular man in town, but the doctor assured her that it was just food poisoning.

On August 4th, 1892 (making Lizzie 32 years old at the time), Mr. Borden woke and had breakfast with his wife, went out and did his usual rounds, then came back to the house around 10:45 am. The maid was on the third floor cleaning windows when she heard Lizzie call out to her from the first floor of the house a little before 11:10 am. Lizzie yelled for the maid to come quick because someone had come in and murdered her father. There was Mr. Borden, slumped on the couch and looking like he was hit with a hatchet-like weapon. Investigators later assumed that Mr. Borden was asleep on the couch when he was attacked, which would explain why the maid hadn't heard a struggle or anything. While Lizzie was being cared for by a doctor and neighbors, the maid found Mrs. Borden dead inside an upstairs guest room. The police searched the building and found a bloodless hatchet in the basement, though it was missing most of its handle. Since apparently the maid was above suspicion and Emma Borden was out of town, the police only had Lizzie as a suspect. She was promptly arrested and stood trial a few months later.

A few things came to light at the trial. The hatchet found in the basement was never determined to be the murder weapon because the police couldn't keep straight whether the missing handle was at the scene of the murder or not. No bloody clothing was found at the Borden house, though Lizzie did burn a dress in the stove claiming it was ruined after she had brushed against new paint. A similar ax murder had happened a few days before the trial, but the perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country at the time of the Borden murders. A piece of evidence that was excluded from the trial was that Lizzie had attempted to purchase prussic acid (for a sealskin cloak apparently) a day before the murders. The skulls of each victim was removed and used at the trial as evidence. Lizzie fainted upon seeing them. The jury deliberated for just an hour and a half and found her not guilty. Yup, Lizzie Borden was found innocent. You don't hear that fact very often when hearing her story.

The two sisters moved out of the death-filled house and went to the rich side of town. Lizzie started to go by Lizbeth A. Borden, but since she had only moved to a different part of the same town, I don't think it fooled anyone. The two sisters were able to afford the bigger and better house with maids and a couchman because they inherited all their dad's money. Needless to say, Lizzie was ostracized in Fall River. Most probably assumed she had gotten away with murder and treated her thus. Lizzie and her sister lived most of their lives together, both never marrying. Lizzie eventually passed away at the age of sixty-six from pneumonia in 1927, while Emma died just a few days later of chronic nephritis.

No one else was ever charged for the murders, though there are still many theories today on who actually murdered Mr. and Mrs. Borden. Lizzie is often the most considered killer since there is a lot of weird evidence that points to her. The maid is another suspect, someone who may have felt animosity towards the Borden family and couldn't take it anymore. Another theory involves any one of Mr. Borden's business partners or even his deceased wife's brother. Again, Mr. Borden was not exactly popular in the community and it is very possible someone killed him and his wife to get rid of the Borden hold on the town real estate. The last theory is that it was in fact Emma Borden who killed her parents. She apparently had an alibi that she was in Fairhaven-fifteen miles away-but some suspect that she snuck back to the Borden household to commit the murders and then traveled back to Fairhaven to receive the telegram concerning the murders. Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if Lizzie and Emma had worked together to kill their parents. They both got a bunch of money from their parents being dead and they were finally out from under them.

Unfortunately it looks like we'll never know who killed the Bordens. This case is up there with Bruno Hauptmann's trial (he's the one who stole Lindbergh's baby) and the O.J. Simpson trial in terms of public knowledge and popularity. The Borden house is still standing to this day and now serves as a B&B and a museum. The house is allegedly haunted about the spirits of Mr. and Mrs. Borden and the house has been the subject of many TV show specials including Ghost Hunters.

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