Major Crimes in History

Did Lizzie Borden Kill Her Parents?

Lizzie Borden is one of the most infamous suspected murderers in United States history. She is so infamous in fact that a gruesome rhyming song about her murdering her parents with whacks from an axe is still sung by the local children today. The fact is that she was acquitted of the Fall River, Massachusetts murders and is therefore innocent in the eyes of the law. However, no one else was ever charged with the murders of Mr. and Mrs. Borden and some of the evidence indicates that it could have been Lizzie, after all.

lizzie borden

Lizzie Borden was two-years-old when her mother died. Roughly three years later, her father — Andrew Jackson Borden — married Abby Durfy Borden. Rumor has it that, when she was in her twenties, Lizzie had a falling out with her stepmother that was never resolved. There were also rumors that she was angry with her father regarding property he was bestowing on Abby’s family that Lizzie thought should rightfully belong to her sister Emma and herself. Later, Lizzie would deny that she was on bad terms with her parents, as would the family maid and Emma.

Because of a break-in not long before the murders in question, there was much to-do about the locking of doors in the Borden household. They locked both the outside doors and the inside doors whether they were home or not. More rumors suggested that this was because Lizzie was suspected of being the thief. Whether the rumors were true or not, they painted Lizzie in a bad light. Hannah Gifford also claimed that Lizzie called her stepmother mean. So, there seems to be a motive and a suspicion of bad character on Lizzie’s part. Another suggested motive is that Mr. Borden killed a group of pigeons that Lizzie had been tending in the barn loft.

During the week of the Borden murders, everyone in the house became ill. Abby told her doctor that she suspected she had been poisoned. Lizzie allegedly told a friend that she thought her father had enemies, that she had seen suspicious people near the house and that she feared something “would happen.” Abby’s doctor said the family had been stricken with food poisoning. Interestingly, a local chemist later claimed that Lizzie had attempted to buy poison from him, saying she was going to use it for cleaning. He did not sell it to her.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie came downstairs in the Borden home around 9 a.m., according to her testimony and the testimony of their maid — Bridget Sullivan. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Borden left, Bridget vomited outside of the house and then the three women in the house, Lizzie, Bridget and Mrs. Borden began going about their chores. Mr. Borden arrived home sometime around 11 a.m. and Bridget let him in the house, as the door is locked and he forgot his key. She later claims she heard Lizzie laugh from upstairs at that time. Lizzie claims that she was downstairs in the kitchen when her father came home.

Shortly after Mr. Borden came home, Lizzie shouted to Bridget, who was trying to take a nap in her upstairs room. She told her that her father was murdered. He had, in fact, been struck with a hatchet 11 times on a sitting room couch. Bridget was sent to grab a doctor. As the police and others begin to arrive, Bridget was sent upstairs to look for Mrs. Borden, whom Lizzie claimed had said she was going out, but was unsure whether she had or not. Mrs. Borden was found beneath the bed in the spare room upstairs. She was struck with a hatchet 19 times.

Police did a thorough search of the house, but the only evidence they found was a hatchet in the cellar. The hatchet’s handle was broken off, but there was nothing else linking it to the murders. There was no bloody clothing in the house, nor did Bridget note that Lizzie wore bloody clothing. Nonetheless, there were no other suspects. Lizzie was indicted on November 31, 1892 and the case goes to trial in June of the following year.

The trial of Lizzie Borden lasted 15 days. The jury found her not guilty as most of the evidence against her was hearsay and a lack of other evidence pointing to someone else being in the house. Modern suspicions have pointed to the maid and the sister Emma. However, Emma was out of town and it would seem that Bridget was simply ruled out. Lizzie claimed she was in the barn when the murder of her father took place, so, if she is telling the truth, someone else could have entered the house while she was out, but it would seem Mrs. Borden was murdered while she was still in the house. Lizzie Borden will forever be remembered as the girl who killed her parents, simply because there is no way to prove she did not.

Inquest Testimony of Lizzie Borden.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden: Chronology.

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Shelly Barclay writes on a variety of topics from animal facts to mysteries in history. Her main focus is military and political history. She is a writer for the Boston History Examiner, Military History Examiner and the Boston American Revolution History Examiner. She also writes for a local historical society newsletter. Shelly was a professional cook for 10 years and still has a passion for food. She cooks and writes about cooking nearly every day. She produces a wide variety of content, on top of her niches. Shelly is a stepmother, a former military, current veteran wife, sister of four and aunt of seven (so far).

Historic Mysteries