The Still Unsolved Mystery of the Lizzie Borden Murders

Last updated on September 29th, 2022 at 04:42 am

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. 

Lizzie was a suspicious target for the murder because she was a Sunday school teacher 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, considered quite old for that time period. 

Many people thought Lizzie had murdered her parents because she was angry with her father for not giving her enough money. Some people also thought 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 admitted to the murder and 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 their stepmother Abby. 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 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 climbed those stairs. 

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

The maid fled the house to find the doctor, and screaming from the house attracted several neighbors. A crowd of curious onlookers made their way across the front of the house. 

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

The maid eventually checked on the baby upstairs with the police and a doctor and found her lying face down in a pool of her own blood.

The police determined that Abby Borden had been murdered and Andrew was second.

The Police Investigation

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

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

The autopsy reports came back and revealed 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 went from being very concerned about her stepmother’s whereabouts to telling people that she was not upset about the crime. Lizzie continued to change her story, suggesting that the iron used in the murder could be found in the barn.

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 suggested 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 an upper-class woman 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. Her only reaction was when she caught a glimpse of the bludgeoned skull of her father and fainted. 

The judge determined that Lizzie was unlikely to have murdered her parents without any blood evidence on her clothing. Some witnesses suggested that she was in the barn at the time of the murder and that some strange people were 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 continued until June 19, 1893, when Lizzie was found not guilty of murdering her parents. After the trial, she inherited 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 continued to believe that Lizzie was responsible for the murders due to her need to move 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 went on to meet Nance, her longtime partner, and the two moved out of the house she shared with Emma. She passed in privacy with her companion Nance at age 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 was from her lawyer from the Fall River Historical Society. 

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

The journals brought out a different side to the trial but did not reveal any hard evidence about who murdered the Bordens. 

A Mystery Unsolved

The legend of Lizzie Borden lives on. People are still very familiar with Lizzie Borden today as a sort of mythical figure.

Today, the mystery has been explored in everything from documentaries to dramas and film. 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, this crime still haunts many people today. Unfortunately, this is a mystery that will go unsolved without any new evidence coming forward and without the modern forensics that we would use to solve the same type of case today.

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