The Lizzie Borden Case

This is another one of those cases that has fascinated me for years.  I have read many books and looked at a lot of research that has been done.  Just like the modern cases of O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony, this is a case in which many people believe the defendant was guilty but either the prosecution did not prove their case, or the verdict was just simply unjust.  The only one true difference that I have seen is that in the Borden case there has been a lot of speculation as to an alternative murderer.  Obviously the other two cases are rather recent and there has not been 120 years of speculation to work with but in the same respect I think it is also different in the fact that there really did not seem to be enough evidence to convict Lizzie Borden despite if you believe she was the murderer or not.  This could also be based on the fact of how quickly trials were conducted in those times compared to today.  Take into consideration that Caylee Anthony went missing in July of 2008 and her body found a few months later yet her mother, Casey, did not go to trial until June of 2011 whereas in the Borden case the crime occurred on August 4, 1892 and the trial began in June of 1893, less than a year later.  Consequently though in that time period even that was considered to be a long time.  

On August 4, 1892 just after 11:00 am, Bridget Sullivan, the housemaid at the Borden household, was awakened by the screams of Borden daughter, Lizzie.  Upon coming down from her third story room Bridget is informed that Andrew Borden, her father,  has been found killed in his sitting room by Lizzie.  She immediately went to the house of Dr. Bowen just across the street only to return shortly after finding him not home.  Lizzie then sent her to her friend, Alice Russell's home as someone else was headed to the nearby police station.  Sometime between 11:10 and 11:15 the police were notified and were on site in a few short minutes.  By this time neighbor Adelaide Churchill had also come across the scene and while everyone was examining the situation in the sitting room Adelaide and Bridget went upstairs to see if they could find Abby Borden, Lizzie's stepmother.  They indeed found her.  They found her dead in the guest room that had been occupied the previous night by her husband's ex brother in law who had visited.  

Andrew Borden was one of the most wealthy men in Fall River, Massachusetts, owning several businesses and properties.  What set them apart from many of the other wealthy families in the area was the fact that they did not live in the area call "The Hill" as the other wealthy families did.  They lived in a modest house close to town and the factories.  It seems that everything was within walking distance.  They also lived very frugal, which is how many people obtain, and keep their money.  By all account though Andrew was notoriously frugal.  The home they lived in did not have indoor plumbing (something that should be remembered soon) which was unusual for someone of their means.  Living in the home was Andrew, his second wife, Abby and his two "spinster" daughters, Emma who was 40 and Lizzie who was 32 and their housemaid, Bridget. 

Andrews first wife had died when Lizzie was about 3 years old and for the most part and by most accounts Emma did a lot of the "mothering" to Lizzie.  Reports vary on several issues.  One is the relationship between Lizzie and her step-mother.  Some reports say that they did not get along at all with both daughters resenting her, while others say they got along fine.  All reports do fairly agree however, that Lizzie made it clear that Abby was her "step" mother and that she referred to her as "Mrs. Borden."  Some reports indicated that the relationship was strained much due to the influence of Emma. Being as she was older when her mother died, and when her step-mother came into the picture it is reasonable to believe that any resentment of Abby would have first come from Emma.  Other reports vary on whether Andrew was as frugal with his wife and daughters as he was with his businesses and employees or if he did not spoil them to a fault.  Those that say he was frugal with his daughters often use this as a reason for the murders, if in fact the author believes the murderer to be Lizzie or those who say that Emma had as much or even more of a motive than Lizzie. I personally tend to think the fact that they lived in a home without indoor plumbing expresses that he was frugal at home also, which in turn would put more undue pressure on the women of the home.  Then again, he also employed a housemaid which one could argue puts less pressure on them.  

Few people argue that Andrew was a shrewd business man and had made enemies within the town.  There are reports that Abby mentioned this within the few days prior of the murder.  She was convinced that the household had been poisoned and feared an associate of Andrews was responsible.  Dr. Bowen had examined her the day before the murders, as well as stomach content was examined through autopsy and there was no evidence of poison.

After finding the bodies in the home and examining them to the point in which they could the investigators began examining the scene and questioning people, especially Lizzie and Bridget who were in the home.  They obtained a timeline of events of the morning....

Around 8:45 that morning both Andrew Borden and his ex brother in law (the brother of his first wife), John Morse had left the home.  Emma was already visiting friends in another town so that left Bridget, Lizzie and Abby home alone.

Around 9:30 Abby told Bridget she wanted the windows cleaned.  

Sometime after this Lizzie stated someone had come to the door with a note for her step-mother that someone was ill and she believed she had left, hence she did not look for her after finding her father.

Around 10:45 Andrew Borden returned home, being let in by Bridget, who was now inside cleaning windows after doing the outside.  Bridget testified she thought she heard Lizzie upstairs on the second floor at this time in the front of the house (this would have been near Abby's body) but Lizzie says she was in the kitchen.

Around 10:55 Bridget had finished the window and since she was not feeling well she decided to go to her third story room (in the back of the house) and lay down.  At this time Lizzie stated she had gone outside to the barn and was in the loft looking for sinking for an upcoming fishing trip.  

Likely between 11:05 and 11:10 or so Bridget was awakened by Lizzie's screams.

One of the first things investigators asked was if either of the women knew of anyone who would want to harm the couple.  I have seen reports that say they both said they could think of no one who would want to harm either Andrew or Abby; I have seen reports that Lizzie said a "Portuguese laborer" had come to the door earlier in the morning looking for wages from Andrew and seemed agitated he was not available and was told to return; I have also seen reports that she mentioned someone who had come to the house a few days previous.  After 120 years it is highly unlikely it will be discovered which statement is true.

As the investigators were starting their case there were now two doctors on the scene that were examining the bodies.  Based on the experience of the time and the condition of Abby's blood they determined that Abby was likely killed at least 1.5 hours prior to Andrew.  After talking to Bridget and Lizzie a few of the investigators went to the barn where Lizzie said she had been and immediately became suspicious.  According to their report the loft in the barn had a layer of dust that looked undisturbed.  They also doubted this story based on the fact that it was extremely hot (over 100 degrees) and they did not feel that anyone would have been in that area for very long if at all.  The heat has also been discussed by those who believe that Bridget could have been the murderer saying that with her already feeling ill she resented Abby Borden sending her outside to wash the windows.  There is absolutely nothing to substantiate this claim.

They also looked around the house and asked Lizzie if there were any hatchets (the suspected weapon) in the home.  She openly said yes, that there were several.  Upon a search they found several in the cellar.  However, only one had blood or hair on it, that was determine to have come from a cow.  Others were rusty or dusty.  One was just a hatchet head with a handle that according to investigators close by that looked freshly broken.  This particular hatchet head was used in the trial and portrayed as the murder weapon.

Within the next day or so a local drugstore owner was contacted (or maybe he contacted authorities) and stated that the day before the murder Lizzie Borden had entered the business and inquired about buying prussic acid.  She stated that she wanted it to clean a sealskin cloak but the druggist refused without a prescription.  Suspicion was that she was looking to buy it to poison her family. (more on this later)  

Two days after the murders Lizzie was officially considered the main suspect.  On August 9th an inquest was held.  It was widely reported that Lizzie's answers to questions were vague and sporadic.  Some commented on her conduct and behavior (more on that later). Based on the inquest it was determined there was enough information to hold a preliminary hearing and on August 11th Lizzie was officially arrested.  She faced three counts of for the murder of Abby, one for the murder of Andrew and one for the murder of the couple together. At the preliminary hearing on August 22nd it was determined there was enough information to give the case to the grand jury.  

The grand jury convened in November 1892.  It appeared that there was not a lot of evidence to prove her guilt and most suspect that they were likely ready to dismiss the case.  That is until family friend Alice Russell testified.  Russell had stayed with Emma and Lizzie immediately following the murders.  She told the grand jury that two days after the murder she saw Lizzie burning a blue dress, the same color Bridget had testified she wore the day of the murders.  Russell said when she asked Lizzie about it she said that it was an old dress that had been ruined when she had rubbed up against paint.  This was enough for the grand jury to indict Lizzie.

Lizzie Borden's trial began on June 5, 1893.  One of the main defense attorney's was the former Massachusetts Governor, George Robinson. The trial was conducted in front of a jury but also a panel of three judges.  There was much talk especially after the trial because when he was governor, Robinson had placed one of the judges (Dewey) to the bench.  

There are few that will argue that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict even in the beginning.  Based on their beliefs their evidence was as follows....

On the day before the murders Lizzie Borden had attempted to buy prussic acid. They had this evidence but the defense argued successfully that it was inadmissible so the jury never heard about this, although it is doubtful they had not already heard it through the media.  In my opinion this was a just decision.  First, Andrew and Abby were not murdered by poison, but by a sharp object, likely a hatchet.  Secondly, although there had been rumors that Abby believed they may have been poisoned the day before there was no evidence then or during the two autopsies that were perform (a second was just done just before burial).  

Alice Russell testified once again that she witnessed Lizzie burning a blue dress, the same color of dress that she wore the day of the murder.

Lizzie had stated she had been in the loft of the barn just prior to finding her father's body, yet investigators said that the area appeared undisturbed.  

They presented an axe head and proclaimed it was the murder weapon but reality was they really had no proof this was the weapon.

They claimed that Lizzie was the only person with both motive and opportunity to commit the murders.

They attempted to enter Lizzie's testimony at the initial inquest hearing, the one where her behavior was in question.  The defense objected and it was discussed outside the presence of the jury.  First, Dr. Bowen announced that he had prescribed sedatives for Lizzie in the days following the murders and that could have accounted for her behavior.  In the end the judge ordered that the testimony was not admissible based on the fact that in essence Lizzie was being interrogated and was considered to be the prime suspect and had not been advised of her Fifth Amendment rights to an attorney.  

Bridget had stated that when she had let Andrew into the house she thought she heard Lizzie on the landing of the second floor.  Lizzie claimed to be in the kitchen.  Bridget never claimed to have physically seen her.

And that was basically all they had.  Each one of those pieces of "evidence" could be easily argued.  

Aside from arguing the evidence the prosecution had the defense had a few decent arguments of their own...

Based on the evidence it was believed that Abby had been murdered about an hour and a half prior to Andrew.  It should be noted that in recent and more modern times have looked over this theory and do not believe this to be true but they only had the evidence available to them in 1892.  So, based on those findings the theory was that Abby had been killed sometime around 9:30 where only Lizzie and Bridget were home.  The killer would have likely had a significant amount of blood on them so neither of them could have been near the other without noticing.  Nor could Lizzie have murdered Abby and changed her dress without Bridget noticing.  There are those who theorize that Lizzie could have created the murders naked but the timing and evidence does not fit.

So then Lizzie, if she was the killer would have not only had to clean up to not be noticed by Bridget.  It is unclear whether Bridget and Lizzie saw each other physically between 9:30 and 11 or not but it does not seem reasonable that Lizzie would have remained covered in blood, or even in a different dress all that time and risked being seen.  Bridget testified that she let Andrew in the home about 10:45 (he was not seen leaving town until about 10:40) and she did not go to lay down until 10:55.  She then heard Lizzie screaming between 11:05 and 11:10.  That means that in a matter of no more than 15 minutes if Lizzie was the murderer she had to make sure Bridget was in her room, go into the sitting room and murder her father (if she was already covered in blood she added more, if not she was again), get rid of the weapon, clean herself up, change her close and then work herself up to scream for Bridget.  Also... remember?  There's no indoor plumbing.  This means she either had to go outside covered in blood and wash up outside, or if she had brought water in she still had to wash up to the point that there was absolutely no evidence of blood on her noticed by anyone and get rid of the water and make sure whatever it had been in was also cleared of blood.  Also it was never mentioned that she had different clothing on after the discovery than what she was wearing prior to the murders.  Even for those who still believe she could have covered herself with something or even believe the theory that she did it naked, keep the following in mind.  If she was naked she would still have had to clean up in some way, or at least attempted to.  It would have been nearly impossible that there was blood all around the bodies that the killer could have relied on only getting spray on them where the dress would cover.  She would have had to have gotten blood on her face, in her hair or at the very, very least her hands, which still would have entailed clean up.  This theory still holds true if she would have attempted to cover herself, but then she would have also had the added issue of getting rid of that item (i.e a sheet, blanket, etc).  The home was searched and nothing was ever found with any blood on it nor evidence there ever had been.  

The defense presented several witnesses that stated that they had seen a strange individual around the Borden home.  It was never clear if they were all talking of the same person or different people and different people testified to seeing these people at different times from a few days before the murders to just prior to the murders.  They also presented witnesses who testified to being in the loft within a day or two of the murders which contradicted the investigators who testified that the loft appeared to have not been touched in a very long time.

As far as Lizzie being the only person with motive and opportunity they were able to dispute this also.  They never truly came out and blamed anyone specifically but by bringing up people seeing individuals around the home, presenting evidence of Andrew Borden's business reputation and even if they casually mentioned that Emma did not get along with her stepmother and may have had the same problems with the couple as Lizzie they could prove there were others with motive.  One could argue no one else had opportunity but no one can prove that.  No one witnessed the murders so no one knows for sure that no one else had opportunity.  

One of the more striking things that occurred at trial was when one of the prosecutors tossed a dress onto a table and it moved a sheet that was covering the skulls of the victims.  Again this is an area where the information is a bit sketchy.  It is agreed that at the second autopsy the heads of the victims were removed and defleshed.  Some reports say the actual skulls were on display at trial while other reports say they molds of the skulls.  When they were revealed it shocked everyone, most notably, Lizzie who fainted at the site.  Some reports state that the skulls were eventually buried at the bottom of their burial sites but there are some that state Andrew's was never replaced.  Presumably this was done in order to show the wounds to the skulls as that's where most of the injuries were. Contrary to the famous nursery rhyme, there were not 40 and 41 injuries.  Abby was struck approximately 19 times and Andrew around 10 or 11.

After each side rested their case Judge Dewey (remember defense attorney Robinson appointed him) addressed the jury to give instructions.  It has been said that he in essence told the jury to find her not guilty and is often joked that it was an additional summation for the defense.

The jury returned after a hour and a half with a not guilty verdict.

After the verdict the Borden sisters bought a new home on "The Hill."  For some this was proof that one or both of them were involved in the murders for greed so that they could live in a way they felt their money offered. Lizzie remained in Fall River the rest of her life but often being considered an outcast of the community.  She and Emma had some sort of disagreement that was never clarified and Emma left the area about 1905. Lizzie died June 1, 1927 after developing pneumonia after gall bladder surgery.  Emma died nine days later at a nursing home after a fall down the stairs.  They are both buried with their father, birth mother, stepmother, and a sister who died at birth.  Both women left the bulk of their estate to charity.  Lizzie donated to the Fall River Animal Rescue League and Emma to humanitarian causes.  

It has been over 120 years since these murders and they still capture the imagination.  In March of 2012 the Fall River Historical Society obtained the journals of Andrew Jennings, the lead defense attorney (as well as long time attorney of Andrew Borden) after his grandson had passed away.  As of the last report that I can find there has been nothing officially published as they were being preserved and still being evaluated.


  1. This case fascinates me as well. I have always wondered if Bridget and lizzie committed the murders together. One killed they both covered it up. As well that lizzie was a lesbian, and that Andrew abused them. I notice you ommit these from this blog yet surely you have read the same things?

  2. Yeah, I have but this is one of those cases that has had so many theories published and rumored that I couldn't possibly talk about them all. The lesbian issue really did not come into play or talked about until much later though, after the trial and speculated as to why Emma moved out of the new house and they were no longer close. As far as abuse from Andrew, I am not sure I have really heard a lot of that other than from his frugalness (sp)

  3. It's ok, but your research is full of holes. Time won't allow me to go into any of them, except to point out, that there was a hand pump in the kitchen for water. Lizbeth need not go outside for water to clean up.


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