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Lizzie Borden

Also Known As: "Lizbeth"
Birthplace: Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: June 01, 1927 (66)
Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States (Pneumonia)
Place of Burial: Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Andrew Jackson Borden and Sarah Anthony Jane Borden
Sister of Emma Lenora Borden; Alice Esther Borden and Private User
Half sister of Private

Occupation: Alleged axe murderer (and acquitted) Spinster
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was a New England spinster who was the central figure in the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother 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. The fame of the incident has endured in American pop culture and criminology. Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted, no one else was ever arrested or tried, and she has remained a notorious figure in American folklore. The dispute over the identity of the killer or killers continues to this day.


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 found his body about 30 minutes later.

During the murder trial, the Borden's 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.[3]

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.[4]

Motive and methods

The upstairs floor of the house was divided. The front was occupied by the Borden sisters, 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. Lizzie and her sister Emma had no marketable skills, and their father did not seem concerned about their future.

The conflict had increased between the two daughters and their father about his decision to divide the valuable properties among relatives before his death. His plan to sell the farm in Swansea was seen as the beginning of the end.[citation needed] 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.[2][5] John Morse, brother to the deceased Sarah Borden, had come to visit on the week of the murders. His visit was to facilitate the 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". Lizzie, however, decided to end her trip early and returned home.

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 ax because the birds were attracting young boys in the neighborhood to the barn, and he felt they might get hurt or start a fire.[5]

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 sealskin cloak;[6] 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 on the Borden dining room table 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.[7]

The trial

Lizzie Borden was arrested and jailed on August 11, 1892. Her stories proved to be inconsistent, and her behavior suspicious. 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 in New Bedford, Massachusetts was not until June 1893.[7] She was defended by former Massachusetts Governor George D. Robinson and Andrew V. Jennings.[8] 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.

During the police investigation, a hatchet was found in the basement and was assumed to be the murder weapon.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

No blood-soaked clothing was found as evidence by the 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 which had smeared on it.[8]

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.[8] 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[2] was barred from the trial. Also excluded was testimony regarding her attempt to purchase prussic acid.[6] Adding to the doubt was another ax 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.[11]

After the trial, Lizzie and Emma Borden moved to a new house that Lizzie christened Maplecroft,[8] 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 estates legally went to Andrew, with Andrew's estate going to his daughters. The settlement reached between the Borden sisters and Abby's two sisters were 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,[13] 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 was the sole witnesses to her decline. Borden died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927, in Fall River, Massachusetts.[14] Borden's funeral details were not made public and few people attended her burial.[15] Borden was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery under the name "Lizbeth Andrew Borden", her footstone was inscribed "Lizbeth".[16] Borden had never married, and her will, probated from June 25, 1927, through March 24, 1933, leaving $30,000 to the Fall River Animal Rescue League.[17][18] 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 $6000 each in the middle of the Great Depression.[1]

Nine days later, on June 10, 1927,[16] her sister Emma died from chronic nephritis[19] 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.[20] Maplecroft, Borden's mansion at 306 French Street, is a privately-owned residence, but the owners will conduct tours, by appointment only.[21]


Several theories have been presented over the years suggesting Lizzie Borden may not have committed the murders, and that other suspect may have had motives. One theory is that the Borden's maid, Bridget Sullivan, actually committed the murders. This theory suggests that Sullivan was angry with the Bordens for being asked to clean the windows, a taxing job on a hot day, and just one day after having suffered from food poisoning.[22] Another potential suspect was suggested by Arnold R. Brown in his work, Lizzie Borden: The Legend, The Truth, The Final Chapter. In his book, Brown theorizes that the murderer was William Borden, Andrew Borden's illegitimate son and the half-brother of the Borden sisters. Brown believes that Lizzies's half brother committed the murders out of revenge following his failed efforts to extort money from his father.

Yet another theory is that Lizzie suffered petit mal seizures during her menstrual cycle. During these seizures, Lizzie was known to enter a fugue state which, as this theory suggests, would have allowed her to unknowingly commit the murders.[23]

Nance O'Neil

Two Borden biographers, Evan Hunter, and David Rehak, contend that she had an intimate relationship with actress Nance O'Neil, whom she met in Boston in 1904.[5] The pair got along well, despite Lizzie's notoriety.[13] The friendship was cited as the cause of Emma's final separation from her sister.[13]

O'Neil was later portrayed as a character in a musical about Borden, entitled Lizzie Borden: A Musical Tragedy in Two Axe. Actress Suellen Vance originated the role.[24]

Public reaction

The trial received a tremendous amount of national publicity. It has been compared to the later trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel, and Julius Rosenberg and O.J. Simpson as a landmark in media coverage of legal proceedings.

The case was memorialized in a popular skipping-rope rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done She gave her father forty-one.

Folklore says the rhyme was made up by an anonymous writer as a tune to sell newspapers. Others attribute it to the ubiquitous, but anonymous "Mother Goose".[32][33] In reality, Lizzie's stepmother suffered 18[34] or 19[9] blows and her father just 11 blows. Even though she was acquitted, Lizzie was ostracized by neighbors after the trial.[9] Lizzie Borden's name was again brought into the public eye when she was accused of shoplifting in 1897.[16]


Andrew Jackson Borden married Sarah Anthony Morse on December 25, 1845. They had three children: Emma Lenora 1851, Alice Esther 1856, and Lizzie Andrew 1860. Alice Esther died in 1858. Sarah Anthony Borden died in 1863. Andrew's second wife was Abby Durfee Gray, and they were married on June 6, 1865. Andrew and Abby Borden died in 1892, and Emma and Lizzie died in 1927. They are all buried in the Borden Family Plot in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Lizzie was a distant relative of the American milk processor Gail Borden (1801–1874) and Robert Borden (1854–1937), Canada's Prime Minister during World War I.[35]

Lizzie Borden and actress Elizabeth Montgomery, who coincidentally portrayed Lizzie in a television movie about the murders and trial, were sixth cousins once removed. Both women descended from 17th-century Massachusetts resident John Luther. Rhonda McClure, the genealogist who documented the Montgomery-Borden connection, said, "I wonder how Elizabeth would have felt if she knew she was playing her own cousin."[36]

Borden and culture


A regularly published newsletter: The Lizzie Borden Quarterly featured a comic strip titled Princess Maplecroft.


The radio anthology series Suspense aired adaptations of the Borden story twice, once as "The Fall River Tragedy" on January 14, 1952,[citation needed] and once as "Goodbye, Miss Lizzie Borden" on October 4, 1955.[citation needed] Other radio adaptations include "Crime Classics: The Bloody Bloody Banks Of Fall River" from 1953, CBS radio's "Second Look At Murder", and "Unsolved Mysteries: Lizzie Borden".

Television and film

An episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled "The Older Sister" retold the Borden story, in which Emma Borden had murdered her parents due to a mental illness she was suffering from, while Lizzie Borden covered for her.[citation needed]

Armstrong Circle Theatre, Season 12, Episode 1, "Legend of Murder – The Untold Story of Lizzie Borden" (first aired October 11, 1961), was a dramatization of Edward D. Radin's book Lizzie Borden: The Untold Story (Simon and Schuster, 1961), which put forth the theory that Bridget Sullivan was the actual murderer. Borden was portrayed by Clarice Blackburn and Bridget by Mary Doyle.[citation needed]

Elizabeth Montgomery depicted Borden in William Bast's two-hour television movie, The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975). In the movie, Borden performs the murders in the nude, thus explaining the lack of bloodstained clothing.[citation needed]

The Sci-Fi Channel Ghost Hunters "TAPS" team investigated the Borden house for paranormal activity in episode 12 of season 2.

On January 23, 2007, the Crime & Investigation Network aired a documentary on the Borden murders.

In 2004, the Discovery Channel aired an investigative documentary called Lizzie Borden Had an Axe. In the episode, a pair of detectives used modern forensics to exonerate Sullivan and prove Borden could have been the killer.[citation needed]

In 2008, The History Channel's series MonsterQuest visited the Borden home looking for ghosts.[citation needed]

The Travel Channel's show Scariest Places on Earth featured the Borden home as the #1 most scary place on earth.


The choreographer Agnes de Mille created a ballet based on the life of Borden in 1948, entitled Fall River Legend.[37]

The anthology of short plays, "Sepia and Song", contained a play called "A Memory of Lizzie," with scenes from Borden's childhood interspersed with quotes from her trial.[38]

Blood Relations by Sharon Pollock premiered at Theatre Tree, Edmonton Canada in 1980. The play is set in 1902, with its "dream thesis" set in 1892, at Fall River, Massachusetts. It explores the events leading up to the trial.[citation needed]

The Testimony of Lizzie Borden by Eric Stedman, a docudrama staged in an accurate reproduction of the Borden sitting room which re-created much of Borden's actual inquest testimony, premiered at Theatre on the Towpath in New Hope, Pa. in 1994 and was presented in Fall River in 1995.[citation needed]

Lizzie Borden's Tempest by Brendan Byrnes played the New York International Fringe Festival in 1998. As Borden reads the role of Miranda in The Tempest with her local theatre club, Shakespeare's storm resurrects and reunites the Borden Family. The play's central idea is based on an actual program displayed at the Fall River Historical Society that lists a "Miss Borden" playing the role of Miranda in The Tempest.[39]

Lizzie Andrew Borden[1] (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was a New England spinster who was the central figure in the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother on August 4, 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts in the United States. The slayings, subsequent trial, and the following trial by media became a cause célèbre, and the fame of the incident has endured in American pop culture and criminology. Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted, no one else was ever arrested or tried, and she has remained notorious in American folklore. The dispute over the identity of the killer or killers continues to this day.

famous Lizzie BORDEN, who was charged with killing her father and step-mother with an ax in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Lizzie Borden

Borden was distantly related to the American milk processor Gail Borden (1801–1874) and Robert Borden (1854–1937), Canada's Prime Minister during World War I.[28]


An American woman who was the main suspect on August 4, 1892, ax murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. Borden was tried and acquitted of the murders.

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Lizzie Borden's Timeline

July 19, 1860
Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
June 1, 1927
Age 66
Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States
June 4, 1927
Age 66
Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States