Lizzie Andrew Borden was found not guilty of the brutal double murder of her father, Andrew Borden, and her stepmother, Abby Borden, in only an hour-and-a-half. The murder was headline news around the world and the trial revolved around a seemingly unlikely suspect – the victims’ own daughter. Lizzie Borden was a busy woman. She was a Sunday School teacher, worked with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and was involved with the Congregationalist Church that the family attended.
Hardly a person capable of hacking family members to death, one would think.
The story of this unlikely suspect begins long before the August 4, 1892 when the bodies of the victims were discovered.
Lizzie Borden was born July 19, 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts. She and her elder sister, Emma, lived with their parents, Andrew and Sarah Borden. Lizzie was only three-years-old when her mother died and, three years later, her father remarried a woman named Abby Durfee Gray. While the newlyweds apparently adored one another, Lizzie and Emma weren't quite so happy as they believed their step-mother would interfere with their inheritance.
Their inheritance would have likely been a fine one as their father was far from poor. Andrew Borden, though he'd had humble beginnings, had the means to provide well for his family. For all that he made money well enough it seems that he didn’t like spending it. He kept the family in a poor neighborhood in a small house that didn’t even have the luxury of indoor plumbing. Lizzie had arguments with her father when she wanted to make improvement to the family’s home, but he thought it was little more than a waste of money.
The day before the infamous murder, there was an ominous sign that something wasn’t right when both Andrew and Abby Borden fell ill. Abby complained to the family doctor of upset stomach, but was told that it was only food poisoning. That same day, though she’d also said she also wasn’t feeling well, Lizzie attempted, but failed, to buy Prussic acid with the excuse that it was to clean a cape. After that, she visited a neighbor who said that Lizzie thought some enemy of her family was poisoning the family’s milk in an effort to kill them and that everyone being sick was a sign of it.
On August 4, 1892 Lizzie was the one to discover her father’s body as he lay dead on a downstairs sofa. His mutilated head must have been a horrific sight as he’d taken eleven blows to the head, four of which had crushed his skull. Later, after police had arrived, Abby Borden’s body was found upstairs in her bedroom. Like Andrew, she had been brutally killed. She had taken even more blows; eighteen strikes to her head, many of them crushing her skull. In fact, she was nearly decapitated.
Many people were investigated as suspects, including neighbors and the family’s maid. It wouldn’t be unthinkable that a man of wealth and status, as Andrew Borden was, would have made enemies. He was apparently a stern business man and there were rumors that he and his wife were killed because of his business. Despite the rumors, it became apparent that Lizzie had as much reason as any to want her parents dead.
Lizzie’s behavior was suspicious. When investigators questioned her about where she was when the murder happened, her story changed several times as she apparently couldn’t remember. When the police asked her to give them the dress she was wearing the day of the murder, she handed over a different dress and a neighbor said that she’d seen Lizzie putting a dress in the kitchen stove.
On August 11th Lizzie was arrested for murder and pled not guilty. The case quickly became famous all over the world.
Despite the gruesome crime she was accused of, Lizzie didn’t lack supporters during her trial. Emma Borden testified on Lizzie’s behalf. When her trial began, Lizzie entered the court room dressed smartly in black with two reverends at her sides. She also had the support of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the suffragettes.
The trial was hard for the prosecution. They argued that Lizzie’s motive was financial gain. Lizzie’s uncle, John Vinnicum Morse, said that Andrew Borden’s will had been in the process of being changed and that the change would leave Lizzie and Emma $25,000 each while Abby Borden would receive about half-a-million dollars.While money is always a convincing motive, the prosecution’s job was made more difficult when Lizzie’s lawyers argued that her testimony shouldn’t be used in court as she’d said it before she was charged and that she hadn't been allowed counsel during the inquiry when she asked for it. One of the three judges said that they wouldn’t allow the testimony of Eli Bence, who had refused to sell Lizzie Prussic acid the day before the murders, because the autopsies, which had been done because it was suspected that Andrew and Abby had been poisoned as they’d been so sick just before the murder, showed no evidence of poison. Even the murder weapon they presented was a problem. A hatchet had been found in the cellar of the Borden house and was what the prosecution showed the court as the murder weapon. It was the right size for fitting the wounds of the victims and had been recently cleaned. The problem the prosecution had was that there was no real evidence to connect the hatchet to Lizzie. The last thing that the prosecution had to bring up against Lizzie was her conflicting stories of where she was during the murder. That evidence was damaged when Doctor Bowen, the family doctor, said that he’d given Lizzie sulphate of morphine after her father’s murder, during the investigation, and while she was in jail. Her defense argued that the sulphate of morphine could have altered her memory about the night of the murder.
The defense presented the story that a stranger had got into the house and murdered Andrew and Abby Borden then snuck out. Several witnesses said that they’d seen a stranger near the time of the deaths.
After only ninety minutes, the jury found Lizzie Borden not guilty.
While she was free, Lizzie was always subjected to rumors and whispers of her neighbors. Despite that, she stayed in Fall River. Her reputation wasn’t helped when, in 1897 she was arrested for the theft of two paintings. The case was settled out of court.
With their inheritance, Lizzie and Emma bought a much bigger house in a much nicer area. Lizzie frequently traveled to attend the theater. Emma eventually left the house and ended up living in Newmarket, New Hampshire, but Lizzie lived in Fall River until June 1, 1927 when she died because of complications after surgery. Nine days later, her sister Emma died. Both sisters had large fortunes when they died and Lizzie’s, worth about $260,000 was left to family, friends, and the Animal Rescue League. When they were laid to rest, the sisters were buried in their family’s plot with their mother, father, and stepmother.