Abstract 'Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.' Actually the Bordens received only 29 whacks, not the 81 suggested by the famous ditty, but the popularity of the poem is a testament to the public's fascination with the 1893 murder trial of Lizzie Borden.
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- TV film Lizzie Borden Took An Ax (2014) summarises the whole Borden story although some elements are fictionalized, and the mini-series ‘The Lizzie Borden Chronicles (2015) continues the journey of Lizzie Borden ‘after her controversial acquittal of the double murder’ (IMdb) by presenting a completely new story of Lizzie Borden.
- This crime shocked the nation as Lizzie Borden, a 32-year-old Sunday school teacher, went on trial for the murder of her father and her.
- This crime shocked the nation as Lizzie Borden, a 32-year-old Sunday school teacher, went on trial for the murder of her father and her.
Andgave her motherforty whacks,
Whenshe saw what shehad done,
Shegave her fatherforty-one.
Actually,theBordens received only 29whacks, not the 81 suggested by the famous ditty, but the popularity ofthe above poem is a testament to the public's fascination with the 1893murder trial of Lizzie Borden. The source of that fascinationmight lie in the almost unimaginably brutal nature of the crime--giventhe sex, background, and age of the defendant--or in the jury'sacquittal of Lizziein the face of prosecution evidence that most historians today findcompelling.
On a hotAugust 4, 1892 at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts,Bridget ('Maggie') Sullivan, the maid in the Borden family residencerested in her bed after having washed the outside windows. Sheheard the bell at City Hall ring and looked at her clock: it waseleven o'clock. A cry from Lizzie Borden, the younger of two Bordendaughters broke the silence: 'Maggie, come down! Come down quick;Father's dead; somebody came in and killed him.' A half hour orso later, after the body--'hackedalmost beyond recognition'--ofAndrew Borden had been covered and the downstairs searched by policefor evidence of an intruder, a neighbor who had come to comfort Lizzie,Adelaide Churchill, made a grisly discovery on the second floor of theBorden home: the body of Abby Borden, Lizzie's step-mother. Investigators found Abby's body cold, while Andrew's had beendiscovered warm, indicating that Abby was killed earlier--probably atleast ninety minutes earlier--than her husband.
Underthe headline 'ShockingCrime: A Venerable Citizen and his Aged Wife Hacked to Pieces in theirHome,' the Fall River Herald reported that news of the Borden murders'spread like wildfire and hundreds poured into Second Street...wherefor years Andrew J. Borden and his wife had lived in happiness.' The Herald reporter who visited the crime scene described the face ofthe dead man as 'sickening': 'Over the left temple a wound six by fourhad been made as if it had been pounded with the dull edge of anaxe. The left eye had been dug out and a cut extended the lengthof the nose. The face was hacked to pieced and the blood hadcovered the man's shirt.' Despite the gore, 'the room was inorder and there were no signs of a scuffle of any kind.' Initialspeculation as to the identity of the murderer, the Fall River Heraldreported, centered on a 'Portuguese laborer' who had visited the Bordenhome earlier in the morning and 'asked for the wages due him,' only tobe told by Andrew Borden that he had no money and 'to calllater.' The story added that medical evidence suggested that AbbyBorden was killed 'by a tall man, who struck the woman from behind.'
Two days afterthe murder, papers began reporting evidence that thirty-three-year-oldLizzie Borden might have had something to do with her parents'murders. Most significantly, Eli Bence, a clerk at S. R. Smith'sdrug store in Fall River, told police that Lizzie visited the store theday before the murder and attempted to purchase prussic acid, a deadlypoison. A story in the Boston Daily Globe reported rumors that'Lizzie and her stepmother never got along together peacefully, andthat for a considerable time back they have not spoken,' butnoted also that family members insisted relations between the two womenwere quite normal. The Boston Herald, meanwhile, viewed Lizzie asabove suspicion: 'From the consensus of opinion it can be said: InLizzie Borden's life there is not one unmaidenly nor a singledeliberately unkind act.'
Police came tothe conclusion that the murders must have been committed by someonewithin the Borden home, but were puzzled by the lack of blood anywhereexcept on the bodies of the victims and their inability to uncover anyobvious murder weapon. Increasingly, suspicion turned towardLizzie, since her older sister, Emma, was out of the home at the timeof the murders. Investigators found it odd that Lizzie knew solittle of her mother's whereabouts after 9 A.M. when, according toLizzie, she had gone 'upstairs to put shams on the pillows.' Theyalso found unconvincing her story that, during the fifteen minutes inwhich Andrew Borden was murdered in the living room, Lizzie was out inthe backyard barn 'looking for irons' (lead sinkers) for an upcomingfishing excursion. The barn loft where she said she lookedrevealed no footprints on the dusty floor and the stifling heat in theloft seemed likely to discourage anyone from spending more than a fewminutes searching for equipment that would not be used for days. Theories about a tall male intruder were reconsidered, and one 'leadingphysician' explained that 'hacking is almost a positive sign of a deedby a woman who is unconscious of what she is doing.'
On August 9,an inquest into the Borden murders was held in the court room overpolice headquarters. Before criminal magistrate Josiah Blaisdell,District Attorney Hosea Knowlton questioned Lizzie Borden, BridgetSullivan, household guest John Morse, and others. During her fourhours examination, Lizzie gave confused and contradictoryanswers. Two days later, the inquest adjourned and Police ChiefHilliard arrested Lizzie Borden. The next day , Lizzieentered a plea of 'Not Guilty' to the charges of murder and wastransported by rail car to the jail in Taunton, eight miles to thenorth of Fall River. On August 22, Lizzie returned to a FallRiver courtroom for her preliminary hearing, at the end of which JudgeJosiah Blaisdell pronounced her 'probably guilty' and ordered her toface a grand jury and possible charges for the murder of herparents. In November, the grand jury met. After firstrefusing to issue an indictment, the jury reconvened and heard newevidence from Alice Russell, a family friend who stayed with the twoBorden sisters in the days following the murders. Russell toldgrand jurors that she had witnessed Lizzie Borden burning a blue dressin a kitchen fire allegedly because, as Lizzie explained her action, itwas covered with 'old paint.' Coupled with the earlier testimonyfrom Bridget Sullivan that Lizzie was wearing a blue dress on themorning of the murders, the evidence was enough to convince grandjurors to indict Lizzie for the murders of her parents. (Russell's testimony was also enough to convince the Borden sisters tosever all ties with their old friend forever.)
The trial ofLizzie Borden opened on June 5, 1893 in the New Bedford Courthousebefore a panel of three judges. A high-powered defense team,including Andrew Jennings and George Robinson (the former governor ofMassachusetts), represented the defendant, while District AttorneyKnowlton and Thomas Moody argued the case for the prosecution.
Before a juryof twelve men, Moody opened the state's case. When Moodycarelessly threw Lizzie's blue frock on the prosecution table duringhis speech, it revealed the skulls of Andrew and Abby Borden. Thesight of her parents' skulls, according to a newspaper account, causedLizzie to fall 'into a feint that lasted for several minutes, sending athrill of excitement through awe-struck spectators and causingunfeigned embarrassment and discomfiture to penetrate the ranks ofcounsel.' For most of the two hours of Moody's speech, Lizziewatched from behind a fan as the prosecutor described Lizzie has theonly person having both the motive and opportunity to commit the doublemurders, and then pulled from a bag the head of the axe that he claimedLizzie used to kill her parents.
The firstseveral witnesses for the state testified concerning events in andaround the Borden home on the morning of August 4, 1892. The mostimportant of these witnesses, twenty-six-year-old Bridget Sullivan,testified that Lizzie was the only person she saw in the home at thetime her parents were murdered, though she provided some consolation tothe defense when she said that she had not witnessed, duringher over two years of service to the family, signs of the rumored ugly relationshipbetween Lizzie and her stepmother. 'Everything was pleasant,' shesaid. 'Lizzie and her mother always spoke to each other.' (Otherprosecution witnesses disputed Sullivan's assertion that all was finebetween Lizzie and her stepmother. For example, Hannah H.Gifford, who made a garment for Lizzie a few months before the murders,described a conversation in which Lizzie called her stepmother 'a meangood-for nothing thing' and said 'I don't have much to do withher; I stay in my room most of the time.') Sullivan alsotestified that Andrew and Abby Borden experienced stomach pains on the daybefore the murder and told jurors that at the presumed time ofAbby's Borden she was washing outside windows. Shetestified that she opened the door for Andrew Borden after he returnedhome from his walk about town, and then described hearing Lizzie's cryfor help a few minutes after eleven o'clock. Severalwitnesses described seeing Andrew Borden at various points in town inthe two hours before he returned home to his death. Householdguest John Morse, age sixty, described having breakfast in the Bordenhome on the morning of the murders and then leaving the house toperform chores.
The next setof witnesses described events and conversations after discovery of themurders. Dr. Seabury Bowen, the Borden family physician summonedto the home by Lizzie in the late morning of August 4, recountedLizzie's story about looking for lead sinkers in the barn and hercontention that her father's troubles with his tenants probably had something to do with the murders. Oncross-examination, Seabury agreed with the defense's suggestion thatthe morphine he prescribed for Lizzie might account for some of theconfused and contradictory testimony she gave at the inquest followingthe murders. Adelaide Churchill, a Borden neighbor and anotherimportant witness, remembered Lizzie wearing a light blue dress with adiamond figure on it, but did not recall seeing any blood spotsit. John Fleet, the Assistant Marshal of Fall River, recalled hisinterview with Lizzie shortly after the murders. Lizzie correctedhim, he testified, when he called Abby Borden her 'mother.' 'Shewas not my mother, sir,' Lizzie replied, 'She was my stepmother: mymother died when I was a child.'
The mostcompelling testimony came again from Alice Russell. Russelldescribed a visit from Lizzie the night before the murders in which sheannounced that she would soon be going on a vacation and felt 'thatsomething is hanging over me--I cannot tell what it is.' Then,according to Russell, after describing her parents' severe stomachsickness (which she attributed to bad 'baker's bread'), Lizzierevealed, 'I feel afraid something is going to happen.' Explaining her feeling, Lizzie told Russell that 'she wanted to go tosleep with one eye open half the time for fear somebody might burn thehouse down or hurt her father because he was so discourteous topeople.' Turning his questioning to the Sunday after themurders, District Attorney Moody asked Russell about the dress burningincident. Russell recounted that when she asked Lizzie what shewas doing with the blue dress, she replied, 'I am going to burn thisold thing up; it is covered with paint.' On cross-examination,defense attorney George Robinson attempted through his questions tosuggest that a guilty person seeking to destroy incriminating evidencewould be unlikely to do it in so open a fashion as Lizzie allegedlydid. Russell also recounted a conversation with Lizzie about anote, which according to Lizzie's account, she received from amessenger on the morning of the murders summoning her to visit a sickfriend. (Lizzie used the note to explain why she thought hermother had left the home and therefore didn't think to look for herbody after discovering her father's. Despite a thorough search ofthe Borden home, the alleged note never was found.) Russell saidshe sarcastically suggested to Lizzie that her mother might have burnedthe note. Lizzie, according to Russell, replied, 'Yes, she musthave.'
A newspaperaccount of the prosecution case likened it to 'a pigeon shooting matchin which District Attorney Moody kept flinging up the birds and defyinghis antagonist to hit them, while the ex-Governor (defense attorneyRobinson) constantly fired and often, but by no mean always, wounded orbrought them down. Robinson's performance impressed reporters,with one writing that the ex-Governor 'is certainly without equal inNew York City as a cross-examiner.' Robinson seemed any to 'turnmore or less to his own account' nearly every government witness,according to one trial account.
The defensemade its case using, for the most part, the state's ownwitnesses. 'There has never been a trial so full of surprises,'wrote one reporter covering the trial, 'with such marvelouscontradictions given by witnesses called for a common purpose.' The defense kept hammering at the contradictory testimony of keyprosecution witnesses. The defense also explored holes in theprosecution case: Where, the defense asked, is the handle thatsupposedly broke off from the axe head that the state hauled into courtand claimed was part of the murder weapon? The state had noanswer. The defense also exploited the government's owntimeline, which allowed from eight to thirteen minutes between AndrewBorden's murder and Lizzie's call to Bridget Sullivan, Robinson triedto suggest the difficulty of washing blood off one's person, clothes,and murder weapon of blood, and then hiding the murder weapon, allwithin that short span of time.
The decisivemoment in the trial might have come when the three-judge panel ruledthat Lizzie Borden's inquest testimony, full of contradictions andimplausible claims, could not be submitted into evidence by theprosecution. The judges concluded that Lizzie, at the time of thecoroner's inquest, was for all practical purposes a prisoner chargedwith two murders, and that her testimony at the inquest, made in theabsence of her attorney, was not voluntary. Lizzie should havebeen warned, the judges said, that she had a right under the FifthAmendment of the Constitution to remain silent. The judgesrejected the state's argument that Lizzie was only a suspect, not aprisoner, at the time of the inquest, and that anyway her statementshould be admitted because it was in the nature of a denial rather thana confession.
Theprosecution rested its case on June 14 after one final defeat. The state wanted to have druggist Eli Bence recount for the jury hisstory of Lizzie Borden visiting a Fall River drug store on the daybefore the murders and asking for ten cents worth of prussic acid, apoison. With the jurors excused, each leaving the courtroom witha palm leaf fan and ice water, the state tried to establish throughmedical experts, druggists, furriers, and chemists, the qualities,properties, and uses of prussic acid. The judges, after listeningto the state's foundational case, concluded that the evidence should beexcluded.
The defensepresented only a handful of witnesses. Charles Gifford and UriahKirby reported seeing a strange man near the Borden house around eleveno'clock on the night before the murders. Dr. Benjamin Handfytestified that he saw a pale-faced young man on the sidewalk near 92Second Street around 10:30 on August 4. A plumber and a gasfittertestified that in the day or two before the murders they had been inthe Borden's barn loft, casting doubt on police assertions thatLizzie's alibi was suspect because dust in the loft appearedundisturbed.
Emma Borden,the older sister of Lizzie, was the defense's most anticipatedwitness. Emma testified that Lizzie and her father enjoyed a goodrelationship. She told jurors that the gold ring found on thelittle finger of Andrew Borden's body was given to him ten or fifteenyears ago by Lizzie and he prized it highly. Emma also insistedthat relations between Lizzie and her stepmother were cordial, even asshe admitted to lingering resentment herself over the transfer by herfather of a Fall River home (which Emma called 'grandfather's house')to Abby and her sister. The defense had also hoped that Emma mighttestify that the Borden's had a custom of disposing of remnants andpieces of dresses by burning, but the court ruled the evidenceinadmissible.
Summing up forthe defense, A. V. Jennings argued 'there is not one particle of directevidence in this case from beginning to end against Lizzie A.Borden. There is not a spot of blood, there is not a weapon thatthey have connected with her in any way, shape or fashion.' Following Jennings, Governor Robinson, in his closing speech for thedefense, insisted that the crime must have been committed by a maniacor a devil--not by someone with the respectable background of hisclient. He said the state had failed to meet its burden ofproving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that it was physicallyimpossible for Lizzie, without the help of a confederate, to havecommitted the crime within the timeline suggested by theprosecution. Robinson ridiculed the theory that Lizzie might haveavoided getting blood spots on her clothes by killing her parents while'stark naked,' and argued that the murders might well have beencommitted by an intruder who passed out of the house undetected.
After HosiahKnowlton's able summing up of the prosecution's evidence, Justice Deweycharged the jury. According to one newspaper report, had thejudge 'been the senior counsel for the defense, making the closing pleain behalf of the defendant, he could not have more absolutely pointedout the folly of depending upon circumstantial evidence alone.' It was, the newspaper said, a 'remarkable' charge--'a plea for theinnocent.' Justice Dewey told jurors they should take intoaccount Lizzie's exceptional Christian character, which entitled her toevery inference in her favor.
The jurydeliberated an hour and a half before returning with its verdict. The clerk asked the foreman of the jury, 'What is your verdict?' 'Not guilty,' the foreman replied simply. Lizzie let out a yell,sank into her chair, rested her hands on a courtroom rail, put her facein her hands, and then let out a second cry of joy. Soon, Emma,her counsel, and courtroom spectators were rushing to congratulateLizzie. She hid her face in her sister's arms and announced, 'Nowtake me home. I want to go to the old place and go at oncetonight.'
Papers generally praised the jury'sverdict. The New York Times,for example, editorialized: 'It will be a certain relief to everyright-minded man or woman who has followed the case to learn that thejury at New Bedford has not only acquitted Miss Lizzie Borden of theatrocious crime with which she was charged, but has done so with apromptness that was very significant. The Times added that it considered theverdict 'a condemnation of the police authorities of Fall River whosecured the indictment and have conducted the trial.' Notstopping there, the Timeseditorialist blasted the 'vanity of ignorant and untrained men chargedwith the detection of crime' in smaller cities--the police in FallRiver, the editorial concluded, are 'the usual inept and stupid andmuddle-headed sort that such towns manage to get for themselves.'
It is probably fair to say that, howeverlikely it might be that Lizzie did murder her parents, the prosecutionfailed to meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonabledoubt. The state's case rested largely on the argument that itwas impossible for anyone else to have committed the crime. Forthe Borden jury that, and a few other suspicious actions on Lizzie'spart (such as burning a dress), turned out not to be enough for aconviction. Had the defendant been a male, some speculate, thejury might have been more inclined to convict. One of thedefense's great advantages was that most persons in 1893 found it hardto believe that a woman of Lizzie's background could have pulled offsuch brutal killings.
After the trial, LizzieBorden returned to Fall River where she and her sister Emma purchasedan impressive home on 'the Hill' which they called 'Maplecroft.' Lizzie took an interest in theatre, frequently attending plays andoften associating with actors, artists, and 'bohemian types.' Emma moved out of Maplecroft in 1905. Lizzie continued to live inMaplecroft until her death at age 67 in 1927. She was buried bythe graves of her parents in Fall River's Oak Grove Cemetery.
The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century. Sarah Miller
ISBN: 9780553498097 304 pages 8 Mb
- The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century
- Sarah Miller
- Page: 304
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- ISBN: 9780553498097
- Publisher: Random House Children's Books
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