Monday, October 10, 2011
Murderous Mondays - Lizzie Borden
Thought I'd add a classic murder story for you today, the unsolved (or rather did she or didn't she) Borden Murders
Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was a New England woman who allegedly killed her father and stepmother with a hatchet on August 4, 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts, in the United States. The murders, subsequent trial, and ensuing trial by media became a cause célèbre. Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted, no one else was ever arrested or tried and she has remained a notorious figure in American folklore. Dispute over the identity of the killer or killers continues to this day. The fame of the incident has endured in American pop culture and criminology.
On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden had gone into Fall River to do his usual rounds at the bank and post office. He returned home at about 10:45 a.m.; Lizzie Borden claimed that she found his body about 30 minutes later.
During the murder trial, the Bordens' twenty-six year old maid, Bridget Sullivan, testified that she was lying down in her room on the third floor of the house shortly after 11:00 a.m. when she heard Lizzie call to her, saying someone had killed her father; his body was found slumped on a couch in the downstairs sitting room. Andrew Borden's face was turned to the right hand side, apparently at ease, as if he was asleep.
Shortly thereafter, while Lizzie was being tended by neighbors and the family doctor, Sullivan discovered the body of Abby Borden in the guest bedroom located upstairs. Both Andrew and Abby Borden had been killed by crushing blows to their skulls from a hatchet. Andrew Borden's left eyeball was cleanly split in two.
The upstairs floor of the house was divided. The front was occupied by the Borden sisters, Lizzie and Emma while the rear was occupied by Andrew and Abby. Meals were seldom eaten together. Andrew was known by family, friends, and business associates as tight-fisted and generally rejected modern conveniences. The family still threw their excrement buckets (slops) onto the backyard. The two daughters, well past marriage age, gladly entered the modern outside world whenever they visited friends.
The Borden house, where the murders took place.Conflict had increased between the two daughters and their father about his decision to divide the valuable properties among relatives before his death. Relatives of their stepmother had been given a house, and the two sisters demanded and received a rental property. They later sold this property to their father for cash. John Morse, brother to the deceased Sarah Borden, had come to visit on the week of the murders. His visit was to facilitate transfer of Swansea farm property, which had been the summer home for the Borden family. Shortly before the murders, a major argument had occurred which resulted in both sisters leaving home on extended "vacations".
The guest room where Abby Borden was murdered.The barn behind the home did not see much use after Andrew sold the horse. Lizzie had some pigeons in cages on the second floor that she fed and watered. She arrived one day to find the pigeons lying on the ground with their heads chopped off. Andrew said he killed them with an axe because the birds were attracting young boys in the neighborhood to the barn, and he felt they might get hurt or start a fire.
Lizzie had attempted to purchase prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) from local druggist Eli Bence, but Bence refused. Lizzie claimed she planned to use it to clean a seal skin cloak; the defense argued that this incident was not admissible evidence.
Shortly before the murders, the entire household became violently ill. As Mr. Borden was not a popular man in Fall River, Abby feared they were being intentionally poisoned. The family doctor, however, diagnosed their illness as food poisoning. Andrew Borden had purchased cheap mutton for the family to eat, and they left it on the stove for days, used for multiple meals. The family believed the milk was being tainted by someone; after the murders, the milk was tested but nothing was found that could be connected to their illness. Both murder victims had their stomachs removed in an autopsy performed in the Borden dining room on the day of their deaths. The stomachs, with their contents, were packaged and sent to Harvard Medical School to be examined for toxins; nothing was found.
Grand Jury IndictmentLizzie Borden was arrested and jailed on August 11, 1892; a grand jury began hearings on November 7, 1892. After evidence was presented, a bill of indictment for murder was delivered on December 2, 1892. Her murder trial at New Bedford, Massachusetts was not until June 1893. She was defended by former Massachusetts governor George D. Robinson, Andrew V. Jennings, and Melvin O. Adams. One of the prosecutors in the trial was William H. Moody, a future United States Attorney General and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
1893 trial juryDuring the police investigation, a hatchet was found in the basement and was assumed to be the murder weapon. Though it was clean, most of its handle was missing and the prosecution stated that it had been broken off because it was covered with blood. Police officer Michael Mullaly testified that he found the head of the hatchet next to a hatchet handle; Deputy Marshall John Fleet contradicted this testimony. Later, a forensics expert said there was no time for the hatchet to be cleaned after the murder. The prosecution was hampered by the fact that the Fall River police did not put credence in the then-new forensic technology of fingerprinting, and refused to take prints from the hatchet.
No blood-soaked clothing was found as evidence by police. A few days after the murder, Lizzie tore apart and burned a blue dress in the kitchen stove, claiming she had brushed against fresh baseboard paint that had smeared on it.
Despite incriminating evidence and testimony presented by the prosecution, Lizzie was acquitted on June 20, 1893, after the jury deliberated only an hour and a half. The fact that no murder weapon was found and no blood evidence was noted just a few minutes after the second murder pointed to reasonable doubt. Her entire original inquest testimony was barred from the trial. Also excluded was testimony regarding her attempt to purchase prussic acid. Adding to the doubt was another axe murder which took place shortly before the trial and was perpetrated by a man named José Correira. While many of the details in both murders were similar, Correira was proven to be out of the country when the Borden murder took place.
After the trial, Lizzie and Emma Borden moved to a new house that Lizzie christened Maplecroft, located on French Street, then a fashionable neighborhood in Fall River. The large home included indoor plumbing and private bathrooms. The sisters settled all claims against them from Abby's side of the family, giving Abby Borden's family members everything they wanted in order to avoid further lawsuits. Because it was proven that Abby died before Andrew, all of her estate legally went to Andrew, with Andrew's estate going to his daughters. The settlement reached between the Borden sisters and Abby's two sisters was substantial.
In June 1905, after twelve years, Lizzie and Emma Borden became estranged over differences in their lifestyles. Shortly after arguing over a party Lizzie had given for Nance O'Neil and her theater friends, Emma moved out of the house to live with her close friend Alice Lydia Buck. After the separation from her sister, Borden began using the name "Lizbeth A. Borden", rather than "Lizzie".
Following the surgical removal of her gallbladder, Lizzie was ill the last year of her life. Her private staff were the sole witnesses to her decline. Borden died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Borden's funeral details were not made public and few people attended her burial. Borden was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery under the name "Lizbeth Andrew Borden", her footstone was inscribed "Lizbeth". Borden had never married, and her will, probated from June 25, 1927 through March 24, 1933, left $30,000 to the Fall River Animal Rescue League. She also left $500 in perpetual trust for the care of her father's grave. Much of her wealth was transferred to her cousin Grace H. Howe, and her closest friend Helen Leighton. The final probate in 1933 gave them almost $6,000 each in the middle of the Great Depression.
Nine days later, on June 10, 1927, her sister Emma died from chronic nephritis in the home she shared with her friend and nurse Annie C. Connor, located in Newmarket, New Hampshire. She moved there due to the infirmities of old age, and to get away from the notoriety brought on by a new book about the murders.
The house on Second Street where the murders were committed is currently a bed and breakfast. Maplecroft, Borden's mansion at 306 French Street, is a privately owned residence, but the owners will conduct tours, by appointment only.