The Strange Case of Lizzie Borden
It’s almost impossible to not know about the bizarre events that took place in the Borden house in 1892, but besides the obvious brutal murders what actually happened? Why were the Borden parents murdered, what was the motive? How was the crime committed? Was it robbery? Was it revenge? Was it an accident? Although based on the crushed skulls, it would hardly seem to be an accident or some random bit of violence. Like the London murders involving Jack the Ripper, there is far more rumor and speculation than hard evidence and facts.
What we find out about Lizzie is that her real mother died while she was very young and her father remarried. While he had money, he was very frugal. Their house was small with no indoor plumbing and no hot running water. There was no reason they shouldn’t live "on the hill" with the more well to do citizens of the town. It’s also brought up that Lizzie and her step mother may not have gotten along very well, especially after their father buys a house for the sister on the mother’s side. It’s seems this was the start of the family rift with them no longer eating dinner together and tensions running high.
To try and restore peace Andrew Borden has guests come to the house and has Lizzie spend time with their more affluent relatives. This seems to only make matters worse. But it was during one of these family visits that the crime occurs. After one of the cousins has spent the night and left the house, Abby is upstairs tidying the room. It was while she was cleaning the room that she takes 19 blows to the head. Within a few minutes Andrew Borden comes home because he isn’t feeling well. After lying down for a few minutes he gets 11 blows to the head. Eleven savage blows that completely destroy his face. Both parents are dead within a matter of minutes.
Lizzie, who has been home all morning, discovers the bodies. She sends Bridgette the house servant to get the doctor from across the street. The doctor comes over and does a cursory exam of the bodies. After some time the police are called to the scene. Lizzie stays in the house and has guests come over to visit as news of the crime spreads. The police don’t secure the house so it is hopelessly compromised as far as evidence is concerned. There was plenty of opportunity for someone to remove the murder weapon, remove something of importance, or help clean up.
Emma, Lizzie’s sister, is out of town so she is not considered a suspect. Bridgette isn’t considered a suspect since she would have no reason to murder her employer. That leaves Lizzie and she has motive since she was at odds with her mother and would inherit a substantial amount upon her father’s death.
The police search the house, but rifling through a woman’s personal things just isn’t something you do during that time period, so where did they actually search? While no definitive murder weapon is found they find what could have been used, the infamous hatchet. The handle looks to have been broken recently, fits the wounds and appears to have blood on it. But is it the right weapon and is that human blood?
And then things begin to spiral out of control. Lizzie is taken into custody and questioned. She gives conflicting testimony and defiantly refers to Abby as her step mother, not her mother. Lizzie is arrested and charged with three counts of murder, one for each parent and one for the pair.
During the trial many additional details come to light. Lizzie is said to have tried to buy poison a few days before. She is said to have burned a stained dress. It’s later found Lizzie is questioned without her attorney present and she’s been given sedatives by the doctor who came over to investigate the crime. One of the main points of controversy is how Lizzie could have been so violent, yet not gotten any blood on her person. Considering the poor state of their plumbing how could she have cleaned herself up? Some people begin to speculate Lizzie committed the crimes in the nude. But there would still be blood. If it wasn’t her, wouldn’t there be someone covered in blood fleeing the scene? Since there are no other suspects, they feel it has to be Lizzie.
But Lizzie has some great legal representation. Her attorney knows the judge presiding over the case and is able to get most of the evidence thrown out because of the way it was obtained and that the poison is irrelevant since her parents were beaten. Legal counsel also coaches her on how to wear subtle black during the trial and hide her face during the gruesome testimony. There is even one point where she faints at the sight of a skull.
The sensation continues with people sending in letters to the police espousing their reasons over Lizzie’s guilt or innocence. Dozens of people send in their confessions taking credit for the deed. Even the townspeople rally behind her claiming she couldn’t have done it. This kind of brutality isn’t something a woman would do.
When all is said and done Lizzie is acquitted of the crimes and is free to go. But the town that once rallied to her side now turns their back on her. While they might not think she’s guilty that doesn’t mean they want to socialize with her. Undaunted, Lizzie does indeed buy her big house on the hill; a 14 bedroom complete with housekeeper and servants. The name Maplecroft is stamped into the concrete steps leading up to it. This is all seen as out of character and not something women of the town should do. Lizzie further alienates herself from the town as she begins to mix with theater folk. This is seen as cavorting with prostitutes and causes a scandal with the townspeople. Rumors fly that one of these unsavory characters committed the murder, or that Lizzie is having an affair with one of them.
Emma, who realizes there will be no peace living with Lizzie decides to take her leave and move out. She moves away and it’s the last time the sisters speak. Lizzie remains alone until her death, never quite achieving the status she craves. But the murder is never solved. Once Lizzie is found innocent no other suspects are found, no one is questioned and certainly no one stands trail. Over a hundred years later the speculation is as wild as ever with Lizzie murdering her family because of incest, a love affair gone wrong, greed or revenge. There are certainly more questions than answers and if Lizzie did commit the crime, how did she clean up and get away with it? Who helped her? Did one of the dozens of guests who showed up after the murder was discovered help her with her plan? Did she destroy evidence and get away with murder because of a good defense attorney? Was she an innocent patsy? Was Lizzie abused and justified in her revenge? Was she a spoiled brat who didn’t get her way? If Lizzie is truly innocent, who would be so angry with her family as to murder her father and step-mother in broad daylight and leave no evidence? Innocent or guilty? Victim or criminal?
No matter how you look at it, there’s more to this story. So many questions left unanswered. So many pieces that just don’t make sense. We will never know what truly happened on that fateful morning, but there is no denying it was a brutal crime and whoever the killer is, they got away with it and left behind one of the great unsolved mysteries.
Lizzie Borden on Wikipedia
Lizzie Borden on Prairie Ghosts
Lizzie on TruTV
Lizzie Borden Virtual Museum
Lizzie Borden Trial and Legal Documents
The Strange Case of Lizzie Borden (Netflix)
The Strange Case of Lizzie Borden (Amazon)
Other Articles of Interest:
- Lizzie Borden Took An Ax – Prequel to the Lizzie Borden Chronicles
- The Dead Files – Lizzie Borden House – S02E01
- Haunted Towns – Fall River MA – Lizzie Borden House – S01E07
- Whitechapel Series 1
- The Dark Life of H.H. Holmes
- Bloodstains – Jeff Mudgett
- The Hunt for Jack the Ripper
- Haunted History – The Manson Murders – S01E01
- Ghost Adventures – Dorothea Puente Murder House – S13E05
- Murder Maps–Life and Crime in London