!!!WARNING SOME IMAGES AND DESCRIPTIONS MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME READERS. DISCRETION IS ADVISED!!!
A Brief Overview of Lizzie
Lizzie Andrew Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was the youngest daughter of Andrew Jackson Borden and Sarah Borden and lived her entire life in Fall River. Lizzie attended church and taught Sunday School, and was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Lizzie had an elder sister Emma and another elder sister who had died in infancy. After Sarah’s death, when Lizzie was less than three years of age, Andrew remarried to Abby Durfree Gray in 1865. In 1884, Andrew gave his new wife’s half-sister a house, this action would be objected and fought over by his own daughters and Lizzie and Emma would refuse to call Abby mother anymore, instead calling her “Mrs. Borden”. Andrew tried to mend the wounds with his daughters in 1887, but in 1891 tensions in the family had reached the boiling point and after some apparent thefts from the master bedroom of their home, each of the Bordens bought locks for their bedrooms. In early August of 1892, Andrew and Abby were struck with a violent illness, with symptoms including vomiting, Abby told someone that she suspected they were poisoned. On the 4th of August, the brother of Andrew’s first wife visited the home. The next day, after breakfast and a journey through town made by the uncle and Andrew, Abby and Andrew would be found dead in the home, Lizzie would be suspected. The rest is history and we will discuss the life, death, and crime of Lizzie Andrew Borden, of which she was found not guilty in more detail here.
Lizzie’s Father: Andrew Jackson Borden
Andrew Borden was raised in very modest surroundings, struggling financially as a young man, even though he had come from a wealthy and influential family in the town of Fall River. Andrew would eventually prosper through the manufacture and sales of furniture
and caskets. He also became a successful property developer and managed several textile mills, including the Globe Yarn Mill Company, Troy Cotton, and Woolen Manufacturing Company. Andrew also owned many commercial properties and was the president of the Union Saving Bank and director of Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co. At the time of his death his estate was valued at $300,000, today (2016) the value would be about $7,900,000.
Even though Andrew was wealthy he was known to have been quite frugal. The home he had raised his family in had no indoor plumbing on ground or second floors. It was also quite close to his businesses, but was in a pretty well-to-do area of town, but not the wealthiest. The wealthiest of Fall River lived in an area of town known as “The Hill”, which was further from the industrial areas of the city. It was also much more homogeneous, racially, ethically, and socioeconomically.
According to a local newspaper article from August 5, 1892 in the Daily Globe, Andrew was a peculiar man. He was tall and neatly clothed, as well as familiar to all of the older citizens in Fall River. He had gentleman-like manners and was dignified, but still at the same time he was courteous and kind. In all of his dealings he was “scrupulously upright and would expect the same fairness in others.” Andrew was also positive in his views but was unbending in will and sometimes he would appear to have lacked sympathy.
Lizzie and Emma Borden
Lizzie and her sister, Emma Lenora Borden, were raised in a rather religious upbringing. They attended Central Congregational Church, and as a young woman, Lizzie was involved in many activities in the church. She would later teach Sunday School to the children of recent immigrants to America. She was also involved with Christian organizations, such as the Christian Endeavor Society, of which she had been secretary-treasurer, and contemporary social movements such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Lizzie had also been a member of the Ladies’ Fruit and Flower Mission.
Lizzie was unlike her elder sister, she was more temperamental, and spoke her mind when she felt the need to. She didn’t regret confronting her stepmother or her father when she disagreed with either of them. Lizzie also felt her father was cheap and thought that he should spend more so that they would be more accepted in the Fall River society. Her temperament went along with her hair color, red. She was also stubborn and set in her ways. Though she was said to be attractive in facial features and figure she was doomed to eternal spinsterhood by those on “The Hill”. The Borden girls were branded unacceptable by the citizens in that area of town as well as by their father. Any man that was acceptable wouldn’t be good enough for them and would be considered as fortune hunters by Andrew and were chased off. Any man that was available by their means and expectations would have had more acceptable women to hunt after. Lizzie was also fond of animals, having set up a home for many pigeons in the barn at the family home.
Not much is known of Emma Borden. As stated by Arnold R. Brown in his book “Lizzie Borden: The legend, the truth, the final chapter”, “We know nothing of her schooling, her activities in the community, her suitors, or the implied total lack of them. Her physical description is given as “slight,” nothing more. Photographs of her are rare, and the one courtroom sketch in which she appears shows her with her hand covering her face. Unlike her sister, she was never known to express dissatisfaction with her lot in life, her “humble” home, or her lack of the material things seemingly so important to Lizzie and so easily obtainable for those with Andrew Borden’s wealth. We do know that she did not like her stepmother, Abby.” (Brown, pp. 41-42).
Both Emma and Lizzie would reside in the home of their father and step-mother into their adulthood. The two women had managed the rental properties that were owned by their father before his murder. Both girls didn’t have a close relationship with their step-mother either. They would refer to her as “Mrs. Borden” and thought that her family had only been after their father’s wealth. Upon the women’s deaths they both left part of their estates to the Animal Rescue League.
Andrew and Abby’s Marriage
Just three years after Lizzie and Emma’s mother, Sarah Anthony Morse, had passed away, their father would marry Abby Durfree Gray who was a thirty-seven year old spinster. The marriage was not a love match, but more of an arrangement that was advantageous for both Andrew and Abby. Lizzie would come to believe that Abby was only after her father’s fortune.
Abby’s father, Oliver Gray was a pushcart peddler and she wasn’t very attractive. She was pretty plain, short and overweight, weighing between 210 and 220 pounds at the time of her death. When Andrew married Abby he was looking for a housekeeper and someone that would attend to his daughters since they were still of dependent age.
Bridget Sullivan- The Maid
It was in 1889 that the family had found an Irish immigrant girl, Bridget Sullivan, who they
had hired to take care of household chores. Lizzie and Emma might have taken Bridget into their confidence, but Andrew and Abby probably would have treated her like she was a second class servant. Except for her small bedroom on the second floor Bridget was not allowed to go into or take care of any of the other upstairs rooms. Only Abby would tend to the family bedrooms, as Bridget was looked down upon as lower class and not able to be trusted. Bridget was left in charge of the tasks to be had downstairs as well as grounds work.
Robbery in the Borden Household
On June 24th 1891 there was a robbery in the daylight hours at the Borden home. Some cash and jewelry had supposedly been taken. Andrew and Abby, instead of suspecting Bridget of robbery, suspected Lizzie, but no one would be charged for the crime. From this time on all doors through the Borden home were kept locked at all times, no one could be trusted.
Andrew Borden, killer?
In May of 1892, Andrew began to believe that pigeons in the barn, Lizzie’s pigeons, had been attracting the local children who would hunt them. He decided one day to go and grab his hatchet and kill all of them. Lizzie had built a roost for the birds and was pretty upset when he killed all of them. An argument would begin in July of 1892 and the girls took an extended “vacation” to New Bedford. A week before the killings of Andrew and Abby, Lizzie returned home, Emma stayed in New Bedford. Lizzie had chosen to stay in a town rooming house before returning to the house.
In the months before the murders, tensions began to brew in the household. They were grown when Mr. Borden had given Abby’s family gifts of real estate. After her sister received a home, Lizzie and Emma demanded that Andrew give them something too. They would receive a rental property of Andrew’s, of which they had to pay their father one dollar for, just weeks before the crime. The home that was purchased was the one that the family had lived in until Andrew’s deceased wife, and the women’s mother had passed away. Emma and Lizzie would sell the home back to their father for $5,000 ($132,000 in 2015). Maybe the resell was in relation to the tension over the pigeons being killed.
Several days before the murders, Andrew, Abby, and Bridget had fallen violently ill. A family friend had speculated that mutton left on the stove for meals over several days in the intense heat of the time was the cause. Abby on the other hand, had feared they had been poisoned, as Andrew had made some enemies on his way to wealth, through business dealings. The Borden’s did have an icebox, of which some historians feel that they would have probably used. Later, during the inquest for the murders, Bridget Sullivan would testify that the sisters had rarely eaten any meals with their parents, which may have been why Lizzie had not been ill too. Emma was still not home so she would not have become sick.
Wednesday, August 3, 1892
On this date, the night before the murders took place, John Vinnicum Morse, Andrew’s ex-brother-in-law, had visited and was invited to stay for a few days so he could discuss some business matters with Andrew. Some writers have thought that their conversation, particularly the part about property transfer, might have aggravated the tension that was in the household. Previous to this visit John Morse had stayed on good terms with Andrew, but when he would come to visit, Lizzie had supposedly stayed in her room because she felt uncomfortable around him.
At some point in the day Lizzie had tried to purchase prussic acid, which she says she needed to clean a sealskin cloak she owned, from a local druggist. The druggist had denied her purchase and Lizzie had said she had been able to purchase it there before, but he said she would need to go get a prescription from a doctor in order to make the purchase. She would leave. Could the mysterious illness that had plagued her father, step-mother and Bridget have been from prussic poisoning?
The Morning of Thursday, August 4, 1892
Andrew and John had woke that morning and had breakfast, just as most people would have. The men went to the sitting room where they talked for about an hour, then John went out to visit a relative at 8:45 a.m. Andrew too went out that morning on a walk of which he would take on a normal basis, he left after 9 a.m. After breakfast, Abby would have gone upstairs to the guest bedroom to make John’s bed since he had stayed the night before. This was normally a chore of
either Lizzie’s or Emma’s. It was about this time that somebody came up on Abby, striking her on the side of the head with a hatchet, cutting her just above the ear and causing her to fall face down on the floor. Falling to the floor had created contusions on her nose and forehead. The killer probably sat on Abby’s back and delivered nineteen more direct hits to the back of her head.
About an hour and a half later, Andrew returned home. Trying to unlock the door, his key had failed to work, so he would knock so as to get someone’s attention. Bridget answered the door and also found it jammed, uttering an expletive. Later she had testified that she heard Lizzie laughing right after this, but hadn’t seen her. She stated that the laughter had sounded as though it was coming from the top of the stairs. This would later become significant. Lizzie would later deny having been upstairs at this time and stated that her father had actually asked where Abby was. She said that she had told her father that a messenger had delivered a summons for her to visit a sick friend. She went on to say in her statement that she then removed her father’s boots and helped him into his slippers before he had laid down on the sofa for a nap. Next Lizzie had told Bridget of a sale going on at a department store and permitted her to go, but instead Bridget, feeling unwell, went to take a nap in her room instead. This occurred at about 10:58 a.m. One account as to what happened next was given by Lizzie to police and many other people. She originally had stated that she went out to the barn to look for an iron or tin to fix a door and sat in the loft for around twenty to thirty minutes eating pears. This would have put Lizzie outside in the barn when the murder of her father had occurred. However, a Hyman Lubinsky had later said he had seen Lizzie leaving the barn at 11:03 and another man, Charles Gardner confirmed that time.
Sometime after Andrew laid down to nap and Bridget went to rest as well, somebody approached Andrew in the sitting room. Struck him ten or eleven times with a hatchet-like weapon. The murderer had struck with such force to have split one of Andrew’s eyeballs clean in two, which suggests that he never woke from his sleep. Just before 11:10 a.m. Bridget heard Lizzie calling from downstairs, “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” Lizzie had always called Bridget “Maggie” which was the name of a maid that had worked for the family earlier. Bridget probably ran downstairs from the third floor. She was then told by Lizzie to not go into the room where her father had laid dying or already died, but instead, was told to fetch a doctor. This time frame shows that in fact Lizzie would have been lying about how long she would have been in the barn, even if Bridget had gone to her room at 10:55 and Lizzie called for her at 11:10 that was only a fifteen minute time frame. Lizzie again had stated to police that she was out of the house for twenty to thirty minutes. However, remember that Charles and Hyman both agreed they saw her going back from the barn at 11:03. So if she
was out of the house from 10:55 until 11:05 that makes the time frame even smaller and Lizzie’s estimation of time even less likely, and quite possibly placing her in the house to kill her father. After the doctor was sought after the police too would have shown up and the media circus would begin.
The Afternoon and Evening of Thursday, August 4, 1892
Police would have questioned Lizzie upon their arrival about what had happened or who else was in the home at the time, among many other questions. When she was asked where her step mother, Abby, was at she recounted how she saw or heard that Abby had received a note asking her to visit a sick friend. She also had said how she thought Abby had returned and asked if someone could go upstairs so as to look for her. Bridget and a neighbor, Mrs. Churchill, had gotten only halfway up the stairs, their eyes being level with the floor, and looked over to the guest room and saw Mrs. Borden lying face down on the floor. Most officers that were in the home that day and that were interviewed had said how they didn’t like Lizzie’s attitude. Some said she just seemed to be too calm and poised, but even though she had an odd attitude and “changing alibis”, none of the officers ever checked her for bloodstains. Police had searched her room, but it was only a cursory inspection; later on at her trial they would admit that they did not proper search because Lizzie hadn’t been feeling well.
The police had also inspected other areas of the home and had found two hatchets, two axes, and a hatchet-head with a broken handle in the basement. The hatchet-head would be the suspected murder weapon as the handle had looked as though it had been freshly broken and ash and dust had appeared to have been placed on the head, unlike the other tools. Again another police error would be made and none of the tools would be taken from the home by the officers as evidence.
A friend of the sisters’, Alice Russell, had decided to stay with the women, while John Morse had spent the night in the attic guest room, contrary to some later accounts that he had slept in the murder-site guest room. Police were also stationed around the home. Later on that night, Lizzie entered the basement, according to the officers, and was seen bent over the pails that had contained her parent’s bloody clothes, an action that would never be explained.
The Aftermath and Investigation
“A HERALD reporter entered the house, and a terrible sight met his view. On the lounge in the cozy sitting room on the first floor of the building lay Andrew J. Borden, dead. His face presented a sickening sight. Over the left temple a wound six by four had been made as if the head had been pounded with the dull edge of an axe. The left eye had been dug out and a cut extended the length of the nose. The face was hacked to pieces and the blood had covered the man’s shirt and soaked into his clothing. Everything about the room was in order, and there were no signs of a scuffle of any kind. Upstairs in a neat chamber in the northwest corner of the house, another terrible sight met the view. On the floor between the bed and the dressing case lay Mrs. Borden, stretched full length, one arm extended and her face resting upon it. Over the temple the skull was fractured and no less than seven wounds were found about the head. She had died, evidently where she had been struck, for her life blood formed a ghastly clot on the carpet.”
~The Fall River Herald~
The day after the murders this article may have been one of many that turned up in papers around the Fall River area. Maybe one that friends of the family, other family members, neighbors, and possibly Emma and Lizzie themselves would have read upon waking for breakfast that day.
The police would do a more thorough investigation of the crime scene on Saturday, August 6th. They inspected the sisters’ clothing and at that time also confiscated the broken-handled hatchet-head. That evening the mayor and a policeman had visited the Borden house and Lizzie was informed that she was a suspect in the crimes. Mr. John Morse, the women’s uncle had left to go home that evening as well, but was swarmed by hundreds of people and police had to escort him back inside. It was probably during this time that Lizzie as well as John were told they were suspects. His suspicion was quickly dismissed.
The next morning, Alice Russell had entered the kitchen to find Lizzie burning a dress in the stove. Lizzie had explained to her that she was burning it because it was covered in paint. She later told police as well that she had burned it because it was stained while doing housework. They would consider this act as destruction of evidence. When officers asked her where she was during her father’s murder, as previously said she was in the barn loft eating pears, but upon investigation there was no evidence that she had even gone to the barn, no footprints in the dust going to or from the structure. It was also unlikely to them she had been there because it was so hot the day of the murders that for one to be in a barn loft, where it would have been even hotter, for such the amount of time that Lizzie says she was, would have been unbearable.
The Borden murders had shocked the community of Fall River, but at the same time townsfolk were not totally surprised that Andrew had met an untimely death, as many people may have wanted to see him dead. Andrew had made some enemies on his way to the top, there were rumors that swarmed through the town that he might have been killed as revenge for his shady business dealings. The initial investigation had focused upon people outside of the immediate family including local businessmen, some neighbors, as well as Bridget Sullivan, but soon police would realize that Lizzie had as much to gain from her father’s passing as anyone else had. The Victorian sensibilities at the time could not comprehend how a thirty-two year old, upper middle class woman could have been able to kill two of her own family members in such a brutal and heartless fashion so many people weren’t quick to point the finger at Lizzie.
Newspapers and citizens of Fall River’s initial belief was that a man who visited Andrew on business had probably lashed out at him and killed him and then killed Abby as well to protect his identity, since she would have known about him being in the home when her husband was killed. But then why would they not have killed Bridget and Lizzie too? Many theories and scenarios began to run about Fall River. One theory that was reported by The Fall River Herald that’s been given little notice in present day recounts of the crime reads as such:
“Josiah A. Hunt, keeper of the house of correction, who has had an extensive experience as an officer of the law in this city (New Bedford), in speaking of the tragedy advanced a theory which has thus far escaped the notice of the police, or, if it has not, they are putting the public on the wrong scent. Said Mr. Hunt: “It is my opinion that both Mr. Borden and his wife were dead before the murderers struck a blow, probably poisoned by the use of prussic acid, which would cause instant death. The use of a hatchet was simply to mislead those finding the bodies. I believe this to be the real state of the case, for if they had been alive when the first blow was struck, the action of the heart would have been sufficient to have caused the blood to splatter more freely than is shown from the accounts furnished by the papers. There was altogether too much of a butchery for so little splattering of blood.”
Another person was looked at as well, another axe murderer at the time, who was committing his killings in the same manner. He was not looked at until close to Lizzie’s trial, but was found to not have been the murderer since he was not in the country at the time of Mr. and Mrs. Borden’s murders.
Autopsy and Funeral: Saturday, August 6, 1892
Mr. and Mrs. Borden were laid to rest on the Saturday after their murders. Since Lizzie was not jailed yet she could have gone to the funerals, but I could not find anything saying that her or Emma were in attendance. However, I think that at least Emma would have been since she may have been there for at least her father.
There was an autopsy done on both bodies prior to burial and on the same day of the funeral. They were conducted in the dining room of the Borden home. During the autopsies both Andrew’s and Abby’s stomachs were removed to examine for what might have caused their mysterious illness, nothing had been found to show poisoning. However, if prussic acid, of which we know of now as cyanide, had been used it could have been used in such a low amount that it would not have shown up in testing that could have been done at that time. The family’s milk wa
s also examined to see if that could have been the cause of illness. Also during the autopsy, Andrew’s and Abby’s heads were removed. They would later be used at the trial as evidence and after were buried at the foot of each grave. The coroner would confirm that Abby had been killed first, with a total of nineteen blows. Andrew on the other hand had received fewer wounds, ten or eleven being enough to finish him off. They were focused mainly on his head and had completely destroyed his face.
The Inquest: Monday, August 8, 1892
Lizzie had appeared at the inquest hearing on the Monday after her parents had been murdered. She requested to have her family attorney present, but was denied under a state statute providing that such an inquest could be held in private. She had been prescribed regular doses of morphine so as to calm her nerves, and because of this it’s quite possible that her testimony could have been affected by the drug. Her behavior too was erratic and she had refused to answer quite a bit of the questions that were being asked of her, even if the answer would benefit her. She had also contradicted herself. After her original testimony of having helped her father take off his boots and putting on his slippers for him to take a nap in the sitting room, she would give a new testimony that she was in the kitchen reading a magazine when he returned home. Then she later claimed that she was in the dining room doing some ironing, then claimed that she was coming down from upstairs. The statement of helping her father put on his slippers was positively not true as Mr. Borden was found dead still wearing his boots. The district attorney had also been very confrontational and aggressive towards Lizzie at this inquest as well.
Thursday, August 11, 1892
On this day Lizzie was served with a warrant for her arrest and taken to jail for the murders of her father, Andrew Borden, and her step-mother Abby Borden. Next would be the trial.
Saturday, June 3, 1893: The Trial
By this time Lizzie had been in jail for nearly ten months. The case as well as the impending trial was widely covered in the press, both locally as well as nationally. The townspeople in Fall River were split into two camps, some believed she was innocent, like some Massachusetts feminists who had written in Lizzie’s favor, and some thought she was guilty. By this time, a grand jury had already started hearing evidence in the case, back on November 7th to be exact, and by December 2nd, Lizzie was indicted. The Lizzie Borden Trial would later be compared to the trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and most recently O.J. Simpson, as a landmark in publicity and public interest.
Lizzie’s trial had taken place in the town of New Bedford. On the prosecutions side were attorneys Hosea M. Knowlton and a future Supreme Court Justice by the name of William M. Moody. For the defense, Lizzie’s side, were attorneys Andrew V. Jennings, Melvin O. Adams, and a former Massachusetts governor George D. Robinson.
The investigators and prosecution had faced a battle in convincing
the jury of Lizzie’s guilt. Evidence for the jury to make their decision of guilt or innocence upon included the report of how Lizzie tried to burn a dress a week after Abby and Andrew were killed, but a friend would testify that the dress had been stained with paint. Another topic brought up was how Lizzie had tried to buy poison just prior to the murders as well, but was unable to do so. However, at the time of trial the prosecution was not able to present this as evidence. Other evidence was the hatchet head, the possible murder weapon, which had possibly been washed and then deliberately made to look as though it was dirty, having been in the basement as long as the tools that surrounded it. They also tried to say that the handle had been removed due to being covered in blood. One officer had then testified that there was a hatchet handle found near to the head but another officer’s statement had contradicted this.
There were no blood stained clothes ever found that could have been involved in the crime either, and the prosecution would go as far to say that Lizzie had committed the murders while naked, explaining why there were no stained clothes that could be found. When
doing their investigation, police had never done any kind of forensic testing, which would also hamper their investigation. Fingerprinting did exist, though it was just in its infancy, but either way it was never even attempted during their inquiry. All of this added to their being no physical evidence in proving that Lizzie had committed the murders, only circumstantial. Even Andrew and Abby had made an appearance at the trial in their own way. Their skulls that were removed from their bodies were presented still with the hatchet blows present. This had shocked people in the courtroom, even leading to a rather dramatic, possible well-timed, fainting spell by Lizzie.
Lizzie would never testify, but said when she was asked if she’d like to that “I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me.” Her attorneys would get Lizzie’s contradictory testimony at her original inquest ruled inadmissible even.
The trial was more of a media circus and a police investigation fiasco than anything else. How could anyone be proven guilty on such messy police work? Miles of ink had been used as papers all over had printed hundreds of stories describing the murders in great detail, speculations had been made of possible motives as well as alternative perpetrators. There was even a child’s jump roping rhyme made about the case:
“Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother 40 whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father 41.”
A jury of twelve men would deliberate for just ninety minutes on the 20th of June 1893, before they returned their verdict. The papers were probably already printed up, one for a GUILTY verdict, one for NOT GUILTY. As soon as the verdict was read the papers reading NOT GUILTY on the front page were probably released, being handed out on every street corner in Fall River.
Who Was William Borden?
There is also a theory that a William Borden had stopped by the home to talk with Andrew that day. He was purportedly the illegitimate son of Andrew and his sister-in-law Phebe Hathaway Borden, carefully shrouded as such to society. There is no birth record of him as being such though, but at the time it was common to not issue such a public record on an illegitimate birth. It is theorized that William had been making demands of Andrew over some financial obligations to him that he felt he owed. At the time of the murders it is believed that the rest of the family would have known about him and also would have been active in keeping his true paternity a secret from society. For whatever the reason, the women’s Uncle John was to be a mediator between the men and his presence had been required when William insisted to meet with his father. Lizzie also was theorized to have been involved in the arrangement as some kind of mediator as well. It’s thought that Andrew and William had argued that morning and William was the murderer. Lizzie too may have suspected William but hadn’t divulged on the circumstances of him being around so as not to let the family secret out of the closet. However, on that day, a man had been reported lurking around the house during the time that the murders were committed. His identity, however, has gone down in history as some shadowy unknown person. This theory was written about in a book by Arnold Brown called “Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter”.
So what did happen to William Borden after the murders? He is thought to have spent time in an asylum between the time of the crimes and his death for being mentally unstable. When he had passed away he was married and was living in East Taunton, Massachusetts on his own apple farm. On the 17th of April 1901 he was found on his farm hanging from a tree by a chain after having ingested some kind of poison, supposedly committing suicide. In life William had been described as an eccentric man but had avoided social contact with people. An eyewitness to his behavior would later tell Brown how William would make threats to people. Whether William had actually been the killer, we will probably never know, but he did have a motive, accessibility to the victims and also seemed physically and mentally capable of doing such a crime, but then again maybe his behavior towards other people was just for show since he didn’t really like social contact. Being a Borden, maybe he had thought that he could use that name and the publicity of the case as a means to not have to be social with others.
After the Trial
Even though Lizzie had been acquitted of the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, many around town would have still considered her guilty, as people continue to do today. Therefore, Lizzie never was able to enjoy the acceptance she had so longed for in the community. Lizzie had still remained in Fall River though, her and her sister would purchase a large house in the city’s most fashionable of neighborhoods, “The Hill” and then Lizzie would spend a lot of time traveling to Boston and New York to indulge herself in her love of theater. This house would be called Maplecroft by Lizzie. She had always wanted to live in this part of town, and when Andrew was still alive he could have afforded it but would not move, now since he was deceased Lizzie had finally got what she always wanted. She and Emma would live together until about 1904 or 1905 after they had a falling out, at which time Emma moved away from both Lizzie and Fall River.
Maplecroft would be staffed by live-in maids, a cook, a housekeeper and a coachman. It also was more modern, which probably meant, unlike the house the murders were committed, they would had indoor plumbing, and had four bathrooms. The house also had fourteen rooms, a carriage house and a grand garden. It was also down the street from the wealthiest family in all of Fall River, the Braytons.
How did Lizzie afford all of this traveling and a new home? At the time of Andrew’s murder, his estate was valued at a whopping $300,000, it doesn’t sound much now, but if we translate that into what it would be worth today, it would mean that the estate was worth $7,900,000. Since Abby had been ruled to have died prior to Andrew, her estate had fallen to him, and then upon his death the entire estate would have passed down to his daughters. Some of it was used to settle claims by Abby’s family, especially her two sisters.
Since Lizzie was still thought by many as being the killer and ostracized in the community she would suffer the rest of her life, no matter what she had done, or didn’t do. Lizzie tried to return to church, only to have felt the ice-like stares that were being directed towards her. She had gone one time, but then never returned. She also changed her name from Lizzie to Lizbeth as another attempt to fit into the new lifestyle she so much looked forward to enjoying.
Five years after the murders, in 1897, Lizzie’s name would be in the press again. This time not for murder, but for shoplifting in Providence, Rhode Island. She would never be tried for the crime though.
Lizbeth would have some close acquaintances, but most of the sister’s social occasions had taken place within their own home, because they were worried about their safety. The Borden sisters never kept their windows or doors open, even on days that were extremely hot. Both women had a deathly fear of making themselves too accessible to anyone that they didn’t know or trust.
It would seem as though Emma and Lizzie would remain spinsters and live together for the rest of their lives in a mutual seclusion, but this arrangement had seemed to change when Nance O’Neil came along. While Lizbeth was visiting in Boston she met the actress and was quite taken with her.
Who Was Nance O’Neil?
Nance O’Neil was a beautiful, glamorous, and for Lizzie was most importantly non-judgmental. She had struggled with finances and through the theater circles was known to be a lesbian.
Lizzie had a comfortable lifestyle when Nance met her. She had also seemed willing to support the lifestyle that Nance had preferred. For some time Nance even lived with the Borden sisters, and it had soon became apparent to Emma that three was a crowd and though Maplecroft had a lot of room, there just wasn’t enough for everybody. The exact nature of Nance and Lizzie’s relationship has been open to interpretation, but Emma did not approve of whatever kind they had. Were Nance and Lizzie in a relationship together?
As stated before in about 1904 or 1905 Lizbeth and her sister Emma had become estranged. It seems to some that the reason they had become such was because of Nance. Lizzie would not let go of the actress and sometime during this time Emma decided to move away from Lizzie and away from Fall River as well. The girls would rarely speak for many years after their disagreement.
Eventually Nance and Lizzie’s friendship would fall apart as well and Nance would go back to her acting career. She later would go on to act in silent and speaking films and married a fellow actor in 1916 by the name of Alfred Hickman. They couple would remain married until his passing in 1931. Nance would survive until 1965 when she had died in her deceased husband’s home in Englewood, New Jersey.
Lizzie’s Final Years
Another possibility for Emma’s departure from Lizzie’s life has been said to have been her acquiring details of the murders of her father and step-mother that she hadn’t known before, may she had learned her sister did in fact murder the two.
Lizbeth would live her final years isolated and alone. Her dreams of living a life among the upper society of Fall River were more a sham rather than a reality, as she was never really accepted by the upper class.
In 1926, she had become ill after she had her gallbladder removed. On Wednesday evening of the 1st of June of 1927 in Fall River, Miss Lizzie Andrew Borden would pass away, being ill with pneumonia. Her funeral details were never published in papers and only a few people had attended.
Nine days after Lizzie’s passing her sister Emma died from chronic nephritis at the age of seventy-six in a nursing home in Newmarket, New Hampshire. She had moved there in 1923 for both health reasons and to get away from the public eye that had followed her after the renewed interest of herself and her sister upon the publication of another book about the murders.
Neither Emma nor Lizzie would ever marry and would be buried side by side in the family plot in Oak Grove Cemetery. They were also laid to rest near to their father and step-mother as well.
Lizzie would leave behind an estate of $30,000.00 to the Fall River Animal Rescue League. This is the equivalent to $548,000 in 2015. She’d also leave behind a trust for the continued care of her father’s grave of $500. Equivalent today to $9,000. Her closest friend and a cousin would each receive $6,000 ($110,000 today). These were substantial amounts at the time of the estate’s distribution in 1927.
An excerpt from a local newspaper would report on Lizzie’s passing as follows:
“Miss Lizzie Andrew Borden, nationally known as the defendant in the famous Lizzie Borden murder trial of 1893, died at 8:30 last evening at her home, 306 French Street, Fall River. Death was due to heart disease, her physician, Dr. Annie Campbell Macrae, stated this morning. She had been in poor health for some years. She was 68. A Sister, Miss Emma Borden, is next of kin, and was joint heir with Miss Borden to their father’s estates, estimated in 1893 to be worth about $350,000. It is assumed that it has increased in value since. There is no record that this estate was ever divided. According to last reports, Miss Emma Borden has been making her home in New Hampshire. She formerly resided in Providence, after breaking with her younger sister.”
125 Years after the Murders
No one else has ever been charged for the murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, and still today they are a subject of much research and speculation. Many books have been written making suggestions as to who committed such a horrible crime.
Although Lizzie was acquitted, she still remains the prime suspect. One writer had speculated she murdered them in a fugue state. While another mystery author, Mr. Ed McBain, in his novel “Lizzie”, had her committing the crimes after being caught in a relationship with Bridget Sullivan. To elaborate on his theory in an episode of the 1999 Film Garden Entertainment series, “Case Reopened” he speculated that Abby had caught her and Bridget together and reacted with horror and disgust. Thus, Lizzie decided to kill Abby with a candlestick. When her father returned she confessed to him, but he too reacted as Abby did. Lizzie was angered beyond belief and got the hatchet and killed Andrew as well. In later years, Lizzie had been rumored to have been a lesbian, again with Nance, but there had been no speculation about Bridget, as she had found other employment after the crime and later had married a man.
Another prominent theory was that Lizzie was physically and sexually abused by her father. Again, there is little evidence to support this theory. However, incest was not a topic that would have been talked about at the time, and the type of methods for collecting the physical evidence to prove such thing would have been much different during the time than it is today.
Another theory that Lizzie committed the crimes was made when Bridget Sullivan had supposedly given a deathbed confession to her sister. She had stated that she had changed her testimony on the stand at Lizzie’s trial to protect Lizzie.
One other theory, that does not include Lizzie as the murderer, but does theorize Emma as the murder states that Emma had established an alibi in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, which was fifteen miles from Fall River. She then came in secret to Fall River to commit the murders and then returned to Fairhaven to receive the telegram informing her of the murders.
Another theory was that of William Borden, which was written about earlier.
In 1992, at the home of the Borden murders, a bed & breakfast had opened. From then on anyone could come into the Lizzie Borden home and spend the night in rooms where the crimes had taken place or even sleep in Lizzie’s bedroom. The house is also a place of many paranormal investigations, and has also been featured on paranormal shows such as “The Dead Files” and “Ghost Adventures”.
In March of 2012, the Borden murders were back in the headlines when some researchers at the Fall River Historical Society had announced they had discovered some handwritten journals. These journals were written by Andrew Jennings, Lizzie’s defense attorney. Those journals contained newspaper clippings and interview notes that he had made during his pretrial preparations. They may yield new insight into what had happened that day. However, as of 2016, we are still waiting for that information to be released.
With the advancements that have been made in forensics and investigative techniques, if such a case would happen today, the chances of it being solved are pretty likely. Maybe one day, as more advancements are made and more records are found, this case too will be solved, and Mr. Andrew Borden and Mrs. Abby Borden can finally rest in peace.
Brown, Arnold R. Lizzie Borden: The legend, the truth, the final chapter. Rutledge Hill Press: Nashville, Tennessee.
Kent, David. The Lizzie Borden sourcebook. Brandon Publishing Company: Boston.
Fall River Historical Society
Lizzie Andrew Borden Crime Library