Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lizzie Borden

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


Lizzie Borden was born in July of 1860 in Fall River, MA. She lived there with her mother, father and sister, Emma. Lizzie's mother died when she was very young and her sister, Emma promised to take care of her. She acted more as Lizzie's mother than sister. Her father remarried a spinster as he was in need of a wife and mother to his children and the spinster (Abby), in her mid 30's was in need of a husband. Lizzie grew to dislike her stepmother as her father purchased a home for her and gave her nice things. Lizzie's father, Andrew was a successful banker that had plenty of money though he chose not to spend it. Their home was outdated and didn't contain a lot of the modern conveniences of the time though they could easily afford them. Lizzie and her sister were not allowed to attend the lavish parties with their wealthy cousins and were only allowed to attend school and church. As Emma and Lizzie grew older they became spinsters themselves taking up in their home with their father and stepmother. Lizzie and her stepmother continued to clash and word got out about her dislike for her. Lizzie stopped calling her stepmother, mother and started to refer to her only as Mrs. Borden. Emma supposedly did not have the problems Lizzie did and maintained she and her stepmother got along fine.

The day that made Lizzie famous as the murderess accused of killing her father and stepmother with an axe began as a relatively normal one. The only difference was her uncle was visiting. Her father, uncle, and stepmother had breakfast without Lizzie which was usual. Her uncle went on to visit more relatives while Lizzie's father went off to work. Lizzie's sister, Emma was out of town. The family maid was there and was told to clean the windows outside and in by Mrs. Borden. Mrs. Borden then went up to the guest room to make the guest bed. It was there that Mrs. Borden met her demise having been bludgeoned to death suffering from 19 blows to the back of the head with an axe. The maid said she heard Lizzie laugh at the top of the stairs that morning. Lizzie's father returned from work and took a seat on the couch and supposedly fell asleep. Lizzie screamed a short while later up to the maid to come down and that her father had been killed. Lizzie's father, Andrew suffered 10-11 blows to the face leaving a very gruesome site complete with an eyeball cut in half and severed nose. That afternoon the police found Lizzie's stepmother as they searched the home for clues to her father's death.

Once the investigation proceeded Lizzie became the main suspect. As a matter of fact the police immediately suspected Lizzie upon arriving on the scene though searching a woman at that time was not done and Lizzie had no blood on her clothes for someone who had just committed two incredibly messy murders. There was suspect that Lizzie could have had bloody clothes underneath the dress she was wearing and slipped another dress over her after she committed the murders. Or there was the possibility that she could have even been naked when she committed the murders. Days later Lizzie was caught burning a dress saying it had paint stained on it so she was just getting rid of it. You see, Lizzie had much to profit from with her father and stepmother out of the picture. One having her stepmother out of her life and two inheriting her father's incredible wealth. She had a motive and her alibi saying she was in the barn attic during at least one of the murders proved false. The police found no footprints in the dust filled attic space. Another piece of evidence that was not allowed at trial was that Lizzie tried to purchase poison from the pharmacy to kill moths just one day before the murders took place. For some reason they were not allowed to admit that into evidence. So by all accounts it looked like Lizzie did it. However, for a woman and someone of her stature at that time a conviction was unlikely. Women's groups rallied around her. The only woman found guilty and hung at that time proved to be pregnant and caused much backlash on convicting women and sentencing them to death. The evidence in the Borden murder case was all circumstantial and there was no real defining proof Lizzie did do it. They never found a bloody axe but they did find a hatchet at the Borden house with ashes on it that had the handle broken off close to the blade. The ashes possibly from being stuck in a fire to clean. The prosecution even went as far as to exhume the Borden's bodies and remove their heads to show the brutal beatings on the skulls and to show in part how the axe found at the Borden household fit those marks. Lizzie fainted at the site and proceeded to faint one other time during her trial that only consisted of one day. Lizzie's ease to faint at the talk of the grizzly murders seemed almost an act of a great actress since on the day the bloody bodies were discovered she seemed very calm and collected and didn't faint once. During the trial Lizzie and Emma posted a $5000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the murderer of their parents. This was very wise since if Lizzie did do it they would never owe anyone the money and also an incredibly good PR stunt.

It took 10 minutes for the jury to come to a decision though they deliberated an hour so as not come back too quickly with a verdict. The jury had come back in just one hour with a not guilty verdict and Lizzie returned home.

Lizzie's friends and contemporaries ostracized her and thought Lizzie should have left Fall River and started over somewhere else. Lizzie was stubborn however and insisted on staying and living the lavish life she was kept from all of her life. With their father's money now in their possession the Borden sisters sold their family home and moved to where the elite lived on the hill. Lizzie deemed the home Maplecroft and sometimes introduced herself as a Maplecroft to disassociate herself with the Lizzie Borden name. She became the person she had always wanted to be living a rich life visiting the theater, buying books in Boston, and taking in the arts. Emma however was not into living that lifestyle and disapproved of Lizzie's new theater friends and the parties they put on in her honor. At some point it all became too much for Emma and she moved out and away from Fall River for the rest of her days never to speak to Lizzie again. Emma however defended Lizzie and her innocence until her dying day.
Want to visit the home of Lizzie Borden in Fall River, MA? You can. Not only is it still there but the Borden home is a museum and Bed and Breakfast complete with tales of the Borden family ghosts wandering the halls. Book here.

Want to watch the series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles starring Christina Ricci? Check out Lifetime on Demand.