As a young child growing up in New England, I remember singing this song during recess while playing hop scotch or soaring high on the swing sets. Children rarely pay attention to the meaning of nursery rhymes, and that moment in our lives when we learn about the morbidity of those beloved songs is for lack of a better word…SHOCKING!
The actual story of Lizzie Borden, is not one of Fairy Tales…it is a story of murder, that took place in the small city of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Lizzie Andrew Borden was born on July 19, 1860, daughter of Sarah Anthony (Morse) Borden and Andrew Jackson Borden in Fall River, MA. Although her father was a successful business man, he was also known to be frugal, for instance, the Borden house lacked indoor plumbing which was unheard of for such an affluent neighborhood.
Lizzie and her older sister, Emma Lenora Borden (1851–1927), had a relatively religious upbringing and attended Central Congregational Church, and were involved in many church related activities including teaching Sunday school.
In 1863, Lizzie and Emma’s mother, Sarah Anthony (Morse) Borden passed away and in 1866, Andrew married Abby Durfee Gray. It has been stated that Lizzie and her step mother had a less than lukewarm relationship where Lizzie referred to her as Mrs. Borden. She believed that Abby only married her father for his money and tension grew for months before the murders due to Andrew buying gifts of real estate for members of Abby’s family.
The night before the murders, John Vinnicum Morse, brother of their deceased mother, had stopped by for a visit to discuss business matters with Andrew and it has been speculated that the conversation between the 2 about property transfers, may have further aggravated the already tense situation in the family.
On the morning of August 4th 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were found murdered in their Fall River home with their skulls bashed in. Andrew was found sprawled across the sitting room couch, and Abby face down on the floor next to a bed that John Morse had slept in the night before. Police reported that the murder of Abby took place between 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and that the initial blow was just above the ear causing her to turn and fall face down. It is alleged that her killer then sat on her back delivering another 19 blows to the back of her head and that Andrew’s death took place 10:30 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. while he rested on the couch in the downstairs sitting room. He had been struck approximately 11 times in the head.
Lizzie had found her fathers body and called for the maid screaming, “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” When a bloody hatchet was found in the cellar, Lizzie immediately became the main suspect. During questioning by police, Lizzie gave several different accounts of her alibis for the time of the murders.
The trial of Lizzie Borden started on June 5, 1893 and prominent points during trial included:
- The hatchet-head found in the basement was not convincingly shown to be the murder weapon.
- Though no bloody clothing was found, a few days after the murder Lizzie burned a dress in the stove, saying that it had been ruined when she brushed against fresh paint.
- There was a similar axe-murder nearby shortly before the trial, though its perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country when the Borden’s were killed.
- The victims’ heads were removed during autopsy.The skulls were used as evidence during the trial – and Lizzie fainted upon seeing them– the heads were later buried at the foot of each grave.
- Because of the mysterious illness that had struck the household before the murders, the family’s milk and Andrew’s and Abby’s stomachs (removed during autopsies performed in the Borden dining room) were tested for poison; none was found.
On June 20, 1893,after deliberating for only an hour and a half, the jury acquitted Lizzie who moved with her sister to a name house in Fall River and started going by the name Lizbeth A. Borden. Despite the acquittal, Lizzie was ostracized by the citizens of Fall River and once again was brought into the spotlight when she was accused of shoplifting at a store in Providence, RI in 1897.
In 1905, Lizzie had a fallout with her sister Emma over a party that Lizzie threw for actress Nance O’Neil. Emma moved out and Lizzie never saw her again.
Lizzie Borden died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927 at the age of 76 in Fall River, MA. Sadly, funeral details were never published and few attended. The sisters neither of whom were married were buried side by side in Oak Grove Cemetery.
As of today, the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden have remained unsolved.
In 2004 Lizzie Borden’s house was purchased and renovated into “The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum”. To find out more about The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum or make a reservation click here.