The Still Unsolved Mystery of the Lizzie Borden Murders

Lizzie Borden has been a fascinating part of US history since 1892 when she was accused of massacring her parents. From the moment the bodies of her parents were discovered. The town was shocked that such a brutal crime could happen, and everyone wanted to know who did it. Lizzie was the primary suspect from the beginning. 

What made Lizzie a suspicious target for the murder was that she was a Sunday school teacher who came from a wealthy family. Borden’s father was a very successful businessman, and the family had a lot of money. Lizzie was also an unmarried woman in her early thirties, which was considered to be quite old for that time period. 

Many people thought that Lizzie had murdered her parents because she was angry with her father for not giving her enough money. Some people also thought that she might have been having an affair with a man who was not acceptable to her family. 

The Borden murder trial—A scene in the courtroom before the acquittal – Lizzie Borden, the accused. 29 June 1893. CC / FRANK LESLIE’S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER / B.W. CLINEDINST

Why was it difficult to see Lizzie Borden as the murderer?

The nature of the murders was incredibly brutal, and Lizzie did not seem like the primary person that could have been responsible. The Bordens were murdered with an ax, and it would have taken a lot of strength to do that. Lizzie was also known to be a very timid person. 

Lizzie was arrested and charged with the murders, which was difficult. The police struggled to find suspects in the case, and Lizzie had a story that continued to change throughout the investigation. She would never come through to admit to the murders, but she was eventually acquitted of the crime. 

The day of the murders

On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden awoke and had breakfast prepared by the family maid Bridget Sullivan. Lizzie stayed asleep upstairs while her mother Abby straightened up the home, and Andrew went into the city. 

Emma and Lizzie, the two Borden children, did not care for Abby, who was their stepmother. Lizzie was interested in moving out and finding her own place, but Borden’s father, Andrew, was reluctant to see any of his children leave home. 

That morning, Lizzie told her father that she planned to visit a friend in Fall River. Borden’s maid Bridget Sullivan overheard the conversation between Andrew and Lizzie. 

A little later, after Andrew had left, Abby climbed the stairs to the guest room to tidy up for an incoming border when someone followed her up the stairs. On that hot day in August, she would not be seen again after she claimed those stairs. 

When Andrew returned home, he received a note that Abby had left to tend to a sick friend. He settled down in his sitting room, and the house would be quiet until the afternoon when Lizzie Borden screamed out for the maid that her father was dead. 

The maid would flee the house to find the doctor, and the screaming from the house would go on to attract several neighbors. A crowd of curious onlookers made their way across the front of the house. 

Andrew was the only confirmed injured at this point, and Lizzie remained steadfast that her stepmother had gone to visit a friend. Lizzie would tell police that her parents had been sick for several days, and she suspected that the milk in her home was poisoned. 

The maid would eventually go on to check on baby upstairs with the police and a doctor on site and her body was found lying face down in a pool of her own blood and likely murdered with the same weapon. 

The police determined that Abby Borden had been murdered first and Andrew was second with a blow to the face. 

The police investigation

The police had not suspected Lizzie at any early point during the investigation. Lizzie’s behavior was not considered strange or out of the ordinary in the days following the murders. 

Lizzie had reported that her stepmother was missing, and she seemed very concerned. Police were investigating several leads, including the possibility that Abby Borden had been poisoned. 

The autopsy reports would come back and reveal that Abby Borden had been struck with a hatchet over 15 times, and Andrew experienced a similar fate. 

Lizzie’s demeanor began to change as the investigation went on. She would go from being very concerned about her stepmother’s whereabouts to telling people that she was not upset about her death. Lizzie continued to change her story, suggesting that the iron used in the murder could be found in the barn and her various recipes that she shared in great detail with the police. 

What was even more surprising is there was no evidence to charge her. She had no blood on her clothing, no weapon was found in her possession, and she likely did not have the strength to complete the murders. The prosecutor would suggest that Lizzie had used a disguise to perpetuate the murders, but the jury did not buy it, and Lizzie Borden was ultimately acquitted of all charges. 

The trial of Lizzie Borden

The Borden trial was the victorian trial of the ages. The people of the time could not fathom that a woman considered in the upper class of society was capable of this type of murder. The nation was tuned in to the trial through the newspapers, but Lizzie was never asked to testify during the case. The only reaction she had was when she caught a glimpse of the bludgeoned skull of her father and fainted. 

The judge determined that Lizzie was unlikely to have committed the murder without any blood evidence on her clothing. Some witnesses suggested that she was in the barn at the time of the murder and that there had been some strange people around the property. 

The closest example of a testimony that could place motive on Lizzie came from a druggist that said she had come in for prussic acid, which could have contaminated the milk causing her parents to be sick. This testimony was eventually thrown out, suggesting that the druggist had misidentified her. 

The reaction to her acquittal

The trial would continue until June 19, 1893, when Lizzie was found not guilty of murdering her parents. After the trial, she would go on to inherit the estate with her sister Emma. The two sold off their parents’ home, moving into a more fashionable part of the area where Lizzie had always wanted to live. 

Many would continue to believe that Lizzie was responsible for the murders due to her need to move so quickly. Many suggested that Lizzie could have committed the murders nude or had an accomplice for the murders as well. As no evidence came to light, she continued her life.

Lizzie would go on to meet Nance, her longtime partner, and the two would move out of the house she shared with Emma. She would die in privacy with her companion nance at the age of 67 in 1927. Still, nearly a century after the murders, people debated who was responsible and saw her as a primary subject. 

Modern Evidence

Evidence from the trail resurfaced again in 2012. There was a longstanding theory from many historians that Andrew’s illegitimate son William was responsible for the crime, with Emma and Lizzie acting as a cover-up to gain the estate. However, the evidence that came to light in 2012 were from her lawyer from the Fall River Historical Society. 

In the journal, her lawyer described her as cold-blooded and callous and would detail how she was throughout the trial. At the end of his entries, he suggested that he would see a sensitive side to his client and legitimate grief for her loved ones.

The journals would bring on a different side to the trial but they would not reveal any hard evidence or confession to who murdered the Bordens. 

A mystery unsolved

The legend of Lizzie Borden lives on. Although the trial would likely not share the same large news cycle, it did back then in a modern age. People are still very familiar with Lizzie Borden. She is a historical figure and something of a mythical figure. 

Throughout more modern times, the mystery has been explored in everything from documentaries to dramas and portrayed in the film as well. There is even a popular rhyme about her “giving her mother forty whacks” and “giving her father forty-one.”

Although it can be hard to imagine the real Lizzie Borden committing such a murder, the idea of this crime continues to haunt many people to this day. Unfortunately, without any new evidence coming forward and without the modern forensics that we would use to solve the same type of case today, this is a mystery that will go unsolved.

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