WIHM: Lizzie Borden – Misunderstood Orphan Or Criminal Mastermind?

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.

Not just a popular rhyme to jump rope to, the case of Lizzie Borden is still one of the greatest unsolved murders of all time.

On the 4th August 1892, the bodies of Lizzie Borden’s father, Andrew Borden, and step-mother, Abby Borden, were discovered in the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Both had been bludgeoned to death many, many times with a hatchet. 

Lizzie aged 32 and still unmarried, found her father first, and then a short time later, the body of Abby was found upstairs by a neighbour who had come to see what all the commotion was. 

Even though this type and level of violence was not usually associated with female killers (women often, but not always, prefer poisoning and suffocation for premeditated homicide), Lizzie was arrested and indicted for the crimes.

There was a wealth of evidence pointing towards her being the perpetrator. 

Firstly, there was no visible sign of a break in. Random B and E’s resulting in cold-blooded murder were scarce, unless it was a burglary gone horribly wrong. But there was no evidence of anything having been stolen. Aside from the corpses, the rest of the crime scene remained devoid of destruction.

Only Lizzie and the maid, Brigit Sullivan were present in the house. Of course, if there had been an intruder, the fact that everyone and their daughter came into the property to ‘help’ and see what was going on, meant any potential evidence of a stranger would likely have been compromised anyway.

Lizzie and her sister were the sole beneficiaries of the will. In the event of the deaths of Andrew and Abby, they were set to inherit everything. Many people have killed for way less than a substantial fortune. 

An eyewitness claimed to have seen Lizzie burning a blue dress that was covered in ‘red paint stains’. What she had been painting in such an unusual colour and why she felt the need to burn in rather than try to clean it has never been answered. Although a wealthy family, the Borden’s were also extremely frugal. If she had been unable to satisfactorily clean the dress it would have been at the very least used for rags, not burnt!

There has been one plausible suggestion for a lady having blood on her dress and not wishing to discuss it further however. It could have been menstrual and something that could not possibly have been mentioned in public at the time.

Even more damming evidence came from a shopkeeper who claimed that Lizzie had tried to buy poison from him. She had said that it was to clean a seal-skin cape, but he refused to sell it to her. Maybe if he had, she would have poisoned her parents instead which as all true-crime buffs know, is one of the few preferred female methods of murder. 

Then there was her alibi. Lizzie never denied being at the house, after all it was she who discovered her father’s body. But she claimed that she was in the loft of the barn in the garden, looking for fishing equipment and eating apples before she came back inside the house and made the gruesome discovery.

This was somewhat ‘fishy’ to say the least. When police checked the barn, there was thick dust on the floor and no sign of footprints. No fishing equipment or apple cores were found either. And it was claimed that no one had ever heard of Lizzie fishing before. It seemed that she had concocted the story simply to place her outside of the murder scene.

When she was questioned by the police, it was said that her testimony was inconsistent and vague. Eventually it was decided that she was just acting ‘like a woman’ – who were obviously well known for being frail of mind and prone to vagueness. Of course, it may have been the stress of trying to keep her story straight. It might also have something to do with the fact that she was high as a kite on morphine which had been prescribed by the doctor for her nerves. 

Despite so many facts pointing towards her being the culprit, a well-respected lawyer and the general disbelief that a woman of such prominent standing within society could do this, led to her being acquitted, and Lizzie walked free.

No one was ever brought to justice for this crime. 

As with so many other famous unsolved cases, there have been theories bounced around over the years. Incest, witchcraft, or maybe she was just a true psychopath who killed her parents for kicks and got away with it.

We will never know but one thing is for certain. The obsession with Lizzie is still fresh today – as can be evidenced by the fact that her house is now a B&B and you can stay in the bedroom where Abby was found, if you are into that kind of thing …

Janine Pipe is a Horror lover and writer who was first introduced to the genre at the tender age of 9 by reading ‘Salem’s Lot – and she hasn’t looked back since. She is inspired by Stephen King and cites Glenn Rolfe and Jonathan Janz as her favourite current writers. She likes to shock with her writing, there is usually a lot of gore and plenty of swearing … She is very thankful to her biggest cheerleaders, her husband and daughter and her mentor, Graeme Reynolds. She reviews and chews the fat with fellow authors on her blog – Janine’s Ghost Stories and is a guest reviewer for Gingernuts of Horror and Creature Feature reviewer on Nightworms.

You can find her work at Tales to Terrify, Ghost Stories the podcast and The Horror Tree. Coming this year she has shorts with Kandisha Press, Iron Faerie Publishling and Black Hare Press, as well as a super exciting secret project …

Check her blog here – https://janinesghoststories.wordpress.com/

Follow her on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/disneynine

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