Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?


On August 4, 1892, in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, someone crept into an upstairs bedroom of the Borden house and whacked Abby Borden nineteen times in the face and head with an axe. Ninety minutes later, Andrew Borden was dealt ten whacks to his face while he napped on the sofa. Contrary to the famous rhyme, the total really added up to no more than twenty-nine.

Andrew Borden, seventy years, lived with his second wife, Abby, 64, and his two unmarried adult daughters by his late first wife. Emma, the eldest, was 41 and Lizzie was 32.

Andrew Borden was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Fall River, yet he chose to live with his family in a small house in an unfashionable part of town. Their simple house had no electricity or indoor plumbing ­ luxuries enjoyed by those with far less money than Andrew Borden. His daughters felt that his frugal nature was ruining their chances for social success.

On the day before the murders, Andrew, Abby and, Bridget, the family's housekeeper, had all been feeling poorly, complaining of terrible stomach pains and nausea. Bridget felt that the mutton stew that they had been eating for the last several days was the reason behind their suffering. She begged Mr. Borden to let her throw it out, but his thrifty nature would allow no such thing.

On Thursday morning, Andrew left for work at around 9:00 a.m. A few minutes later, Abby instructed Bridget to wash all the windows. Andrew returned from work at 10:40 a.m., said he was feeling sick and went into the parlor to rest. Bridget, also ill, went upstairs to take a nap.  Emma was away visiting friends.

As the town clock struck 11:00 a.m., Bridget heard Lizzie call, "Come down quick! Father's dead! Somebody came in and killed him!" But who could have done it?

Bridget told police that she had been washing windows most of the morning and went up to her room to lie down. Her story never wavered. But, Lizzie's story had holes and inconsistencies. Police found human blood on a petticoat and on the sole of her shoe. When they questioned her about it, she simply stated that it was from a "flea bite," a euphemism for menstrual blood.       

Nearly a year later, Lizzie Borden was tried for the murder of her father and stepmother.

Overwhelming evidence placed Lizzie at the time and scene of the murders. The prosecutors showed that Lizzie detested her stepmother and feared that her father's money would go to her stepmother's family. One witness testified that she saw Lizzie burn a dress shortly after the murders. Yet it took the jury of all white males just 68 minutes to declare her "not guilty." Jurors evidently could not believe that a demure, well-mannered, church going, former Sunday school teacher was capable of whacking her parents to death. Her handwriting, however, tells another story.

© Copyright 2008 Michelle Dresbold and James Kwalwasser