"Lizzie Borden took an Axe…"

Today I’m coming to you with the story of one of the most infamous unsolved murders in American history. One that inspired a schoolyard rhyme that everyone knows:]

“Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother 40 whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father 41.”

Although it is historically inaccurate, we’ve all heard it.  Even if you weren’t born and raised in Lizzie’s hometown like I was, you have heard that song. I remember when I was in high school, we were at a rest stop in New Jersey for a school trip to Hershey, PA.  One of the locals asked where we were from and when we responded “Fall River, MA” we were immediately met with “ah, Lizzie Borden.”

Now everyone has their own theory about how the murder went down, and before we get to my opinion, we’ll start with what we know for sure.

Lizzie: The Early Years

The younger of two sisters, Elizabeth Andrew Borden was born in 1860 to Andrew and Sarah Borden.  Sarah died shortly after, and in three years, Andrew was remarried to Abby Durfee Gray. The family lived in a small home in the South End of the city (which is now a bed and breakfast). 

The family lived well, but Andrew was always known for being frugal. Lizzie and her sister Emma never had a close relationship with their stepmother, always addressing her as “Mrs. Borden.” Lizzie and Emma lived with their parents through adulthood. Lizzie was unmarried and was as Sunday school teacher at Central Congregational Church.

The Murders

Crime scene photo of Andrew Borden’s body
Crime scene photo of Abby Borden’s body


On the morning of August 2, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were hacked to death with a hatchet or axe. Abby was killed between 9:00 and 10:30 that morning.  She had been making the bed in one of the upstairs guest rooms when she was attacked, receiving 19 blows to the head. Andrew went for his morning walk and returned home to take a nap. He was killed while he slept on the downstairs sofa, suffering 11 blows to the head and face, rendering him almost unrecognizable. The only other people in the home at the time of the murders were Lizzie and the housekeeper, Bridget (Emma was away visiting friends for the week) . When questioned, they stated that Lizzie found Andrew and then instructed Bridget to “check on” Abby.

The Trial

Lizzie was indicted on December 2, 1892 and he trial started the following June. She never took the stand to defend herself, but apparently, she didn’t have to.  She was acquitted two weeks later, and no one else was ever charged with the murders.

After the Trial

Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth and purchased a large estate with her father’s inheritance. The house is known as Maplecroft and was located in the most affluent area of town which she lived in with Emma.  The trial destroyed her reputation, and she was never welcomed into the wealthy community which she longed to be part of.  She and Emma had a falling out after Lizzie befriended actress Nancy O’Neil, and the two never spoke again. Some believe the friendship was more likely a romantic relationship, which Emma did not agree with. Lizzie died of pneumonia in 1927.

Maplecroft, Lizzie and Emma’s home after the trial.

My Thoughts

Ok, I have read and heard so many things about how everyone thinks it was Emma/the maid/a disgruntled former employee/Colonel Mustard, blah blah blah. But honestly, Lizzie was definitely involved, regardless of whether or not she swung the axe.  She had motive up the butt, including:

·         Resentment of dear old dad for living like a pauper when they were loaded

·         Hatred of the “evil stepmother” and thinking she was a gold digger

·         Rumored abuse (emotional, physical, even sexual)

It was also alleged that she and Bridget had a romantic relationship and carried out the murders together, which I think is totally possible.  It was not the only time in her life that she would be rumored to have been in a same-sex relationship.

There were also multiple suspicious aspects of the investigation and subsequent trial that made me raise my eyebrows:

·         Lizzie’s story changed during every interrogation

·         She burned a dress during the week before her arrest saying it was “stained with paint”

·         There were potentially damning pieces of evidence that were never brought to trial, and the cops couldn’t even get their stories straight about ANYTHING. They couldn’t even agree on whether or not they found the murder weapon. Which leads me to believe that Lizzie maybe promised them a nice little cut of the inheritance if they helped sabotage the prosecution’s case.

·         She bought freaking POISON at the local drugstore, and allegedly just casually decided to mention the potential that her parents had been poisoned during questioning (not sure why it mattered when their skulls already looked like Swiss cheese, but whatever). Their autopsies revealed ZERO evidence of poison, by the way.

Not to mention how she immediately used daddy’s inheritance to buy a 14-room mansion in “The Highlands.”

We might be debating the guilt or innocence of Lizzie Borden until the end of time, but until someone invents a time machine, we’ll never know for sure. But until I’m convinced otherwise, I’m in the camp that believes that if it looks and quacks like a duck (even if that duck looks like an innocent, friendly, Sunday-School-teaching spinster.)