Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.
We all remember that little poem, and many of us think we know the macabre story behind it. But do we?
On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were hacked to death with an ax in their Fall River, Massachusetts home. Borden’s 32 year old daughter Lizzie was accused of the crime and tried for murder. Though she was acquitted after a sensational trial, Lizzie was considered a murderess for the rest of her life, and her legend lives on today. That’s the story we all know, but there is a lot more to it than that.
Though he was a wealthy man, with a net worth of almost $10 million in today’s money, Andrew Borden was one of the most unpopular men in town. He ran a bank and had extensive real estate holdings, but he was a miser and domineered his employees and family alike. There were many who resented Borden’s success, and more than a few whom he had allegedly cheated in business dealings over the years.
Life inside the Borden household was unpleasant; he demanded absolute obedience from his wife and two adult daughters, and meted out swift punishment if he didn’t get it. They often were forced to eat spoiled food because Borden would not allow it be thrown away, and despite his wealth, Borden refused to spend a penny on even the most basic conveniences, including indoor plumbing. His relationship with his daughters, Lizzie and her older sister Emma, was strained by his marriage to his second wife, Abby Gray, after the death of their mother. Some historians and sociologists have since speculated that Andrew Borden may have had an ongoing incestuous relationship with one or both of his daughters.
Though there was reason to believe the murders may have been committed by somebody in the Borden household, in the days following the crime there was a lot of speculation that Borden and his wife had been killed as revenge for his shady business dealings. And there were those who believed that the Borden’s maid, an Irish immigrant named Bridget Sullivan, may have been responsible. There were rumors that Bridgett and Lizzie may have been romantically involved, and that she killed her employer to protect her lover from her abusive father.
Nevertheless, it was Lizzie who was charged, and Lizzie who was acquitted, and Lizzie who has borne the title murderer ever since that hot summer day so long ago. Not that it seemed to bother her all that much. Lizzie and her sister inherited their father’s estate and continued to live in Fall River. She purchased a home in a fashionable part of town and traveled frequently between New York and Boston attending theater performances. Shunned by her neighbors and estranged from her sister Emma, who disapproved of Lizzie’s relationship with actress Nance O’Neill, Lizzie made the headlines again in 1897 when she was accused of shoplifting.
Ironically, though they had not spoken to each other in years, Lizzie and Emma died within days of each other, in June, 1927. They are buried beside their parents in the family plot in Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery. It seems that, even in death, Lizzie could not escape her abusive father’s reach.
Today, the Borden family home at 230 2nd Street in Fall River is a bed and breakfast, and visitors can spend a few days in the same house where the gruesome crime took place so long ago. Visitors can also arrange a tour of the Borden home by calling (508) 675-7333. Listen carefully during your tour, you may hear old Andrew Borden whispering a clue about what happened that day he and Abby died here!
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Thought For The Day – Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than at each other. – Ann Landers