Lizzie was born the youngest child of Andrew Jackson Borden and Sarah Morse Borden. Andrew was a well-to-do banker who owned considerable property in his home town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie's mother died when Lizzie was two years old, and a few years later Andrew married Abby Durfee Grey. It was rumored that Lizzie and her older sister Emma (who was out of town at the time of the murders) never felt warmly towards their stepmother. Both sisters admitted during their testimony that there was considerable ill-feeling when, a few years prior to the crime, Andrew put a piece of property in Abby's name. Prior to the rift, Emma Borden referred to her father's wife as "Abby", while Lizzie politely called her "mother". After Andrew Borden's first transfer of property into his wife's name, his daughters stopped acknowledging Abby altogether. When Andrew tried to smooth the waters by giving an equal amount of property to each daughter, both showed their gratitude by henceforth referring to their stepmother as "Mrs. Borden".
THE MURDER and THE TRIAL
On August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden discovered the body of her father at the home at 92 Second Street in Fall River. She called to the family's maid Bridget Sullivan (who had been resting in her third floor room) to "come downstairs...father is dead...somebody got in and murdered him." After the arrival of family friend Alice Russell and "Dr. Bowen", neighbor Adelaide Churchill asked Lizzie where her mother was. "I don't know," Borden replied, continuing on "but what's she's been killed, too, for I thought I heard her come in." Russell suggested that someone look for Mrs. Borden, and Sullivan and Churchill were sent to the second floor. The two returned shortly thereafter confirming that Lizzie's stepmother was indeed upstairs and dead as well.
Both Bordens had been slain by multiple axe blows. Although the exact weapon was not named, and witnesses saw no trace of blood on Lizzie moments after the murder, a circumstantial case was mounted against her. At the inquest, a local pharmacist claimed that Lizzie attempted to purchase prussic acid from him a day before the crime. Then, at the grand jury hearing, incriminating evidence came from her friend, Alice Russell, who testified that Lizzie burned a stained dress, the defense claiming it was paint-stained, three days after the murders. But the most damning evidence came at the trial, when medical experts appeared to prove that Abby Borden was killed approximately an hour and a half before her husband, making it seem that the perpetrator was more likely to have been a member of the household than an outsider.
The preliminary hearing was held in late August 1892, and the grand jury heard testimony in late November and early December of the same year. The trial of Lizzie Borden began on June 5, 1893 and lasted two weeks. A turning point in the trial was the dramatic unveiling of the victims' rotting skulls; Lizzie fainted and won much sympathy from the all-male jury, who acquitted her on June 20, after only 68 minutes of deliberation.
The trial received a tremendous amount of national publicity, a relatively new phenomenon for the times. It has been compared to the later trials of the Bruno Hauptmann and O.J. Simpson as a landmark in media coverage of legal proceedings.
LATER in LIFE
MaplecroftAfter the trial, Lizzie and Emma split their inheritance and bought a much larger house up on the hill which Lizzie christened Maplecroft. She also changed her name from Lizzie to Lizbeth. Apparently Lizzie was a great lover of the theater, animals, and poetry. Above her fireplace in Maplecroft was emblazoned the following:
And old-time friends & twilight plays,
And starry nights, and sunny days
Come trooping up the misty ways
When my fire burns low.
Many Fall River residents still believed in her guilt. As a result, she was ostracized to some degree. More than a dozen years after the murders, she and her sister became estranged, and after Emma left Maplecroft in 1905, the two lived apart until their deaths in 1927.
Lizzie had an intense relationship with Nance O'Neil, an actress. While it has never been proven that the two were intimate—O'Neil was married at the time—the termination of the relationship was a significant loss to Borden.
Lizzie Borden died of complications from gall bladder surgery on June 1, 1927, at the age of sixty-six. Emma died nine days later. One-seventh of Lizzie's considerable estate was left to the Animal Rescue League of Fall River and the remainder to those friends and servants who stayed loyal to her over the years.
Despite her acquittal, Lizzie Borden remains in popular imagination as a brutal murderess. This is due in part to the following:
The murders were never solved.
For a number of years, on the anniversary of the murders, the more sensational press re-accused her of the crime.
The infamous doggerel endured, insinuating her guilt into the public mind thereafter.
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