Lizzie Borden went from being a Sunday school teacher to being the main suspect in the death of her parents, who were bludgeoned to death with an ax in their own home on August 4, 1892.
The double murder was a massive shock to the usually quiet town of Fall River.
The 32-year-old woman came from a well-to-do family and was not the first individual the authorities suspected of the murder of her parents. The problem was that her accounts of what had happened on that day kept changing. It made her the main suspect in the brutal killings.
The crimes came to be known as the Lizzie Borden murders, but the question is: was she guilty of the horrific crimes?
Lizzie Borden was born in 1860, and she died in 1927 of pneumonia, days before her sister also passed away. She denied committing the crimes to her death, but her trial got everyone's attention even though she was eventually found innocent of the murders.
Here's everything you need to know about the Lizzie Borden murders.
Events Leading To The Lizzie Borden Murders
Nothing seemed out of place on the day the Lizzie Borden murders happened. As her parents, Andrew and Abby (pictured), ate breakfast, Lizzie was still sleeping upstairs.
The family was well-off and immensely respected in the community, but everything was not as it seemed. Emma and Lizzie, Andrew's daughters, did not particularly like their stepmom even though she had been with them nearly all their lives.
Andrew Borden's first wife had passed away, and a few years later, Abby came into their lives as Andrew's second wife and Lizzie and Emma's stepmother.
The other issue was that Lizzie was not happy with the family's living. She wished that they would move to a better part of town.
Therefore, when the Lizzie Borden murders happened, there was quite a bit of tension in the household.
The problem was compounded because the family was still reeling from an illness they had caught a few days earlier. Sour mutton stew was thought to be the issue. However, on the day the crimes took place, everyone seemed to be doing much better.
In fact, Andrew left to go to town, and Abby went upstairs to tidy up a guest room where Lizzie's uncle had spent the night. Eventually, Andrew came back home, and when Lizzie was asked about his wife, she said that Abby, whom she referred to as "Mrs. Borden," had left after getting a note about a sick friend.
Her father had no reason to doubt her story, and he sat on the sofa in the sitting room. Meanwhile, their maid, Sullivan, was still feeling unwell and decided to take a nap in her room.
Andrew And Abby Were Brutally Attacked
Sullivan had not slept for long when she was woken up by a screaming Lizzie, who was calling her because her father was dead.
The maid soon found Andrew's body and went to seek a doctor. However, the screaming had also gotten the attention of their neighbors, who called the police. Soon, a crowd was forming around their home.
All the while, it was believed that Abby was still visiting a sick friend, as Lizzie had claimed. Lizzie also claimed that Andrew and Abby had been feeling unwell in the past few days. She also said that she thought that the milk had been poisoned.
When Sullivan finally came home with a doctor, she went upstairs to see if Abby was there. That's when she found her, face down, in a pool of her own blood.
During investigations into the Lizzie Borden murders, it was determined that Abby had been hit with a hatchet 19 times. Andrew had also been hit with the same weapon 11 times. It appeared that Abby had been attacked first.
The injuries were so brutal that Andrew's nose had been cut off his face, and one of his eyes had been cut in half.
Search For Suspects In Lizzie Borden Murders
Initially, the authorities had no reason to believe that Lizzie had anything to do with the murders of her parents. She had claimed that she was in the barn looking for a piece of iron when the attacks occurred. Additionally, she was a Sunday school teacher, and her family was quite respected.
At first, the authorities suspected that a man was behind the brutal murders, probably a "foreigner." In fact, the police managed to arrest a Portuguese immigrant, who turned out to be innocent, thanks to his airtight alibi.
Otherwise, the only strange man caught close to Borden's home when the crimes happened also had an unquestionable alibi.
Generally, many things didn't add up about the stranger theory. If the theory were true, the person who killed the couple would have had to hide in the property for quite a while after killing Abby while waiting for Andrew to get back from town.
It would have been highly unlikely that such a killer would have gone unnoticed by either Lizzie or Sullivan.
The only thing that seemed suspicious was the fact that Lizzie's story kept changing. After saying that she was in the barn looking for iron, she changed the story and said she was eating pears in the barn loft.
Why Nobody Was Convicted In The Lizzie Borden Murders
In the end, Lizzie was the person most likely to have committed the crimes, according to the police. However, even though the police had many reasons to believe Lizzie was behind the murders of her parents, they had no physical evidence to support their suspicions.
The circumstantial evidence, however, was mounting. For instance, Lizzie's claim that Abby had received a note about a sick friend turned out to be an outright lie since her stepmother had not left the house. Lizzie then claimed that Abby may have burned it.
It also turned out that Lizzie had tried to buy poisonous prussic acid from a drug store. She was unsuccessful because she did not have a prescription.
She was also caught burning her dress on the stove days after the murders. She said it was because the dress was stained, and that is why she was destroying it.
After many contradicting stories and questionable actions, Lizzie Borden was finally arrested on August 8.
It was against this set of circumstances that Lizzie was going to be tried for the murder of her parents.
The Interesting "Great Trial"
After the authorities were convinced they had found the person responsible for the Lizzie Borden murders, a trial eventually started in 1893. The media called it "The Great Trial," and the courtroom was filled with Boston and New York reporters.
The whole nation was shocked. It was unimaginable that an upper-class woman would kill her own parents. So, the entire country was watching.
During the trial, Lizzie did not say much, and she fainted when she saw her father's bludgeoned skull after a piece of tissue covering it fell to the floor.
Interestingly, another axe murder took place in Fall River when the trial took place. The victim was Bertha Manchester. The woman was killed in her kitchen in the very same manner Andrew and Abby had been killed.
Otherwise, in the trial, the defense argued that whoever caused such extensive damage to the skulls also got their clothes covered in blood. However, since Lizzie's clothes were clean, some people thought she committed the crimes in the nude.
A witness corroborated Lizzie's story about her being in the barn as the murders occurred.
Eventually, Lizzie was acquitted by the all-male jury. At the time, women could not be jurors. Even though the court decided that Lizzie was not guilty of the murders, the Fall River community still ostracized her after it ended.
The Aftermath Of The Lizzie Borden Murders
After the trial, Lizzie and her sister Emma inherited their father's estate and bought a new home in a more fashionable area of the town, just as Lizzie had always wanted.
With the Lizzie Borden murders drama behind them, the two sisters lived together peacefully until 1904, when Emma moved out. She made the decision after Lizzie got into a relationship with an actress called Nance O'Neill. Emma disapproved of the relationship.
After they started living apart, Lizzie had a relatively quiet and private life.
Both Emma and Lizzie never got married, and after their deaths, they were buried beside each other. At the time of her death, Lizzie was worth several million dollars in today's money. The money was distributed among friends and family members.
More interestingly, a lot of conspiracy theories about the Lizzie Borden murders started to emerge.
According to some people, the murders were committed by William, Andrew's "illegitimate" son. The two sisters conspired to have the murders committed based on another theory.
In yet another theory, the Lizzie Borden murders were caused by a romantic relationship between Lizzie and Sullivan. Apparently, after their lesbian relationship was discovered, Lizzie decided to kill her parents since they reacted with horror and disgust to the affair.
Although Lizzie got involved with another woman, Sullivan married a man she met while working as a maid. However, Sullivan apparently confessed that she altered her testimony to protect Lizzie on her deathbed.
Some people also suspected her uncle, John Morse, was responsible for the Lizzie Borden murders. He was in the house on the day the murders took place, and the police found his alibi "absurdly perfect and over-detailed."
A writer also suggested that Lizzie committed the murders in a fugue state. In contrast, another person implied that her father had sexually abused her, which led to her decision to kill him.
Lizzie Borden Murders Today
To this day, the Lizzie Borden murders are still discussed in the Fall River community, more than a century after they happened. Recently, it was discovered that, according to her lawyer's notes, Lizzie was a woman grieving the loss of her family members when the trial was taking place.
Sadly, the truth about who killed Andrew and Abby has never been revealed. For this reason, the Lizzie Borden murders remain a mystery to this day.
The Lizzie Borden murders have been discussed in the short story, The Fall River Axe Murders, by Angela Carter. Many other publications have also discussed them, with Lizzie often being connected to the murders.
Lizzie's role in the murders has also been discussed in music, radio, film, theater, and television. The general consensus to this day is that Lizzie was responsible for the death of her parents.