Who Is Lizzie Borden?

Who is Lizzie Borden? What happened in the Borden house in August of 1892? Did Lizzie, possibly aided by her older sister, kill her parents?

August 4, 1892 dawned with the sweltering promise of hundred degree temperatures over Fall River, Massachusetts. In the Borden house at 92 Second Street, the maid, Bridget Sullivan, awakened around six AM and entered the kitchen to prepare the morning meal of mutton broth, johnny-cakes and cookies. The Bordens, except Lizzie, and their house guest, "Uncle John" Vinnicum Morse, awoke at seven. Sister Emma was away visiting friends at Fairhaven, a nearby seaside town. For Andrew Jackson Borden aged seventy, and his wife, Abby Durfee Gray, aged sixty-four, this unbearably hot Thursday morning would be their last on earth.

Life on Second Street for the Borden sisters, Lizzie Andrew, aged 32 and Emma, 41, was lonely and contentious. Their real mother had died many years before and neither daughter cared for their father's second wife, whom Lizzie often contemptuously referred to as "Mrs. Borden." This was especially true after Andrew Borden gave her some stock in 1887. Both Lizzie and Emma felt that they should have gotten something, too. In an effort to assuage their ill feelings, Andrew finally relented, deeding his daughters some property and comparable stock. Still, petty rivalries and a lack of diversion from them prevented any real peace in the Borden household.

Both Lizzie and Emma were "spinsters." Neither woman had any profession or love outlet for any man except their stern, distant and very aberrant father. Many years later, long after Lizzie and Emma had moved to the fashionable "Hill" section of town, Lizzie had a scandalous lesbian affair with an actress whom she had befriended. Although the strong bond between the sisters was possibly forged by a joint conspiracy to kill their parents, this liaison was intolerable to Emma. She moved away from the elegant estate known as "Maplecroft" and the two sisters never spoke again. They died with their own secrets within nine days of each other in 1927.

Lizzie maintained all of the trappings of Victorian respectability as both a Sunday school teacher and active member of various church organizations. But she was a sad captive of the strict, unyielding New England mentality into which she was born and raised. Her unnatural closeness to her father and sexual estrangement from all other men suggest the possibility of sexual abuse. Although it will never be known for sure, whispers of incest still linger behind locked the door of Andrew Borden's bedroom which is today part of the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum.

Fall River at the end of the nineteenth century had become the cotton manufacturing capital of the United States. The flourishing mills offered endless opportunity to the thousands of immigrants who came from all around the world for their chance at the American dream. Although Andrew Borden was the richest man within the city's borders, he and his family lived as paupers in a modest, two and one half story frame house in one of the poorest sections of town. Having made a fortune in real-estate and banking, his estate was valued at more than five million dollars at the time of his death.

But what really happened on that fateful Thursday morning? Uncle John Vinnicum Morse, who was the brother of Andrew Borden's first wife, left the house at eight AM. Andrew Borden departed at 9:15 at which time Abby gave instructions to Bridget Sullivan to wash all of the windows in the house. She then went upstairs to make the bed in the guest room. At 9:30 she came down again and was last seen alive as she returned upstairs. She would be found in the guest room a few hours later, lying face down in a pool of blood.

Andrew Borden, not feeling well possibly from the rancid mutton broth of the morning meal, returned home at approximately 9:45 and was told by Lizzie that Mrs. Borden had gone out to visit someone "who was sick." He retired to the front parlor with his newspaper and shortly before 11 Bridget Sullivan climbed the back stairs to lie down in her room because she too was feeling ill. At 11:15 Lizzie called up to Bridget to "come quickly because someone had killed father."

Except for the victims, Bridget and Lizzie were the only two people in the house at the time of the murders. It would have been impossible for an intruder to conceal him or herself in the Borden house which was constructed like a railroad flat with all the rooms inter-connecting. There was simply no place to hide between the time of the first murder of Abby and the second of Andrew about an hour and a half later. Lizzie's testimony was inconsistent; she was out in the yard, she was in the barn looking for sinkers and she was in the kitchen when her father was killed. Still, one question loomed in everyone's mind. How could a proper lady of the Victorian upper class commit such a heinous crime? There were those, especially prosecutor, Hosea Knowlton, who claimed that Lizzie hid behind her skirts and that no man presented before the court with such a charge would dare expect escape from punishment. Even after a six day hearing, an indictment and a trial that lasted for thirteen days it was still difficult, even for a blood-thirsty public, to accept the fact that a woman could have committed such a crime.

The trial that was held at the New Bedford Courthouse in June of 1893 was in reality more of a side show. The all male jury was out but one hour before it reached its verdict of not guilty. No weapon was ever found in the Borden house to match the terrible wounds inflicted on the skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden and there was, by all accounts, no blood ever found on Lizzie. There was the matter of a red rain slicker which might have absorbed a great deal of blood had Lizzie been wearing it over her clothes as one passerby claimed to have seen. Oddly, at the trial Lizzie was asked to present her slicker, but Emma, who owned an identical one, was not. Both girls had motive and opportunity. If they did do it together, it was still Lizzie and Lizzie alone who ultimately paid.

Lizzie was acquitted of all charges as there was not enough evidence to hang her. Today, more than likely, the sophistication of forensic science would have rendered another verdict. Still, Lizzie was never really free. There was never any escape from the cruel innuendo that haunted her nearly every day of her lonely life, epitomized in the childish rhyme:

"Lizzie Borden took an ax- and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one."

She had inherited enough money to move away from it all, but could never bring herself to leave the place of her birth and the land of her father. She lived as a recluse high on a hill where not even the soft rain of New England summers could wash everything clean.

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