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A Hack by Another Name: Lizzie Borden
By: Marlayna Freitas, Staff Writer
My last article was about poison being a woman's weapon and some of the gruesome female serial killers using arsenic as their weapon of choice. But one of the most infamous female killers is Lizzie Borden and her weapon of choice: hatchet.
The Borden family consisted of Andrew Borden, seventy, and his second wife Abby, sixty-four. They lived downtown on Second Street with their unmarried daughters Emma, forty-two, and Lizzie, thirty-two.
Andrew Borden was very wealthy and had high status in Fall River, Massachusetts. Despite this wealth the Borden family did not live in the wealthier and nicer part of the town, “The Hill.” Lizzie lived with her parents and desperately desired to live on the coveted street of wealth and to get away from their street full of Catholic immigrants.
Lizzie was an active member of her society, volunteering in town and teaching in Sunday school. She was much less secluded compared to her stepmother and sister.
On the morning of August 4, 1892 the Borden family had a visiting relative, John Morse. After Mr. and Mrs. Borden had breakfast at about 9am, with their guest, Morse and Mr. Borden left to attend to their own errands. Mrs. Borden cleaned the guest room where she was murdered at 9:30a.m. Mr. Borden returned home and was killed around 11a.m. taking a nap in the parlor. Lizzie found her father shortly after 11 and called Bridgett (the house servant) for help. Mrs. Borden’s body was found soon after.
Mr. Borden was beaten 29 times with the hatchet and Mrs. Borden was beaten 19 times. The gruesome circumstances are not the only reason this case is so well known. The infamy will come from the town of Fall River Massachusetts the cultural, religious, and ethnic tension in the town will play a big role in the battle of Lizzie’s innocence.
Lizzie’s innocence is still debated to this day.
There were no witnesses to the murders, no neighbors saw anyone leave or enter the house, and no noises were heard. As a result of no witnesses this led to quick speculation all over the town as police didn’t know who they were searching for. But there were many suspects, an unhappy tenant who held a grudge against Mr. Borden, a once employed Portuguese farmer, a poorly dressed man seen fleeing down the street shortly after the murders carrying possibly a hatchet wrapped in newspaper. But these suspects never led anywhere.
The Borden sisters offered a reward for any information but no theories were presented that could not be refuted. But evidence of Mr. and Mrs. Borden experiencing symptoms of poisoning (Lizzie was true to the feminine poisoning stereotype but was unsuccessful) and Lizzie’s inability to keep a straight story of her actions that morning made her a prime suspect. Lizzie was the only person in the house at the time of Mrs. Borden’s murder but claimed to not hear any noises despite the violence of the murder that would not be silent. And it was clear Lizzie did not get along with her step-mother, even going to the extent of refusing to eat in the same room as her. Jewelry and other expensive items had been stolen, Lizzie had been accused before of stealing adding to police’s suspicions.
Overall the process of convicting Lizzie was a long one. Many believed her to be guilty as she did not have a very convincing story. But many members of her community supported her as she had a good reputation for her good work in the town. She had the support of many suffragette women, who could not vote or be on a jury. This lack of representation gave Lizzie an unfair trial. But a jury of all men may have worked in Lizzies favor in the end. Lizzie did not have to be a grieving maiden but just appeared to be one to gain the sympathy of her jury. Lizzie successfully appeared to be petite and coy in court, convincing the jury she could not have even committed the murders as they were too brutal for such a delicate person to commit. With her father’s money Lizzie had an expensive and phenomenal legal team working in her favor. In the end the jury of protestant farmers, tradesmen, and one Irishman acquitted Lizzie.
But Lizzie’s life was not sunshine and roses. Lizzie and her sister moved to the coveted street “The Hill” but Lizzie was mostly shunned and tormented by neighborhood children. Only four years later she was charged with shoplifting. Lizzie and Emma and a falling out in 1904 and went their separate ways to die nine days apart in 1927.
Lizzie is an example of how the justice system can be manipulated, there are many reasons she was obviously guilty but still emerged deemed as innocent. Whether convicted innocent or guilty, Lizzie would still make history. Had Lizzie been convicted as guilty she would be the first woman to be executed in Massachusetts since 1778. The infamy of Lizzie Borden is memorialized in the haunting 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.