Today in History: Lizzie Borden is Acquitted of Double Homicide (1893)

Today in History: Lizzie Borden is Acquitted of Double Homicide (1893)

Matthew Weber - June 20, 2017

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.” Is one of the most gruesome folk rhymes ever created to be sure, but it speaks of an actual event (though not accurately).

No one knows for sure who murdered Abby and Andrew Borden on the morning of August 4, 1892. The murder, once it was announced to the public, almost instantly became a national sensation, with people following the investigation much like they would today. The Bordens were exceptionally wealthy and well-known, so when their daughter was arrested for their murder, everyone who was following the case was shocked.

Abby Borden was found in the guest bedroom of the Borden House, where she was supposedly cleaning up after a guest who had left earlier that morning. She was struck 19 times with a hatchet or ax of some kind, all of them to the face and neck.

Her husband, Andrew Borden, was found in the downstairs living room. He had seen their guest out of the house, then returned, and tried to take a nap on the couch, where he would later be found. He was struck 10 or 11 times with an ax or a hatchet, presumably the same weapon that killed his wife earlier that morning.

Nobody really knows what happened to the Bordens. Their live-in housekeeper, Bridget Sullivan was in the home at the time of the murders but was never suspected of being complicit in the crime. Nobody knows if she heard anything while in the house. Lizzie Borden was supposedly in the barn when the murders happened, which she did have evidence for (two witnesses who saw her exit the barn after the murders).

Today in History: Lizzie Borden is Acquitted of Double Homicide (1893)
Illustration of the Trial of Lizzie Borden 1893. Lizzie Borden Museum.

The trial took place on June 5, 1893 (Lizzie Borden had been arrested on August 11 of the previous year). There were three key pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution: The fact that Lizzie Borden had burned a dress three days after the murder; a hatchet found with out its handle (which they argued had been removed because it was bloody); and the testimony of the housekeeper, who said that she had heard Lizzie laughing in the house at the time of the murder. The prosecution argued that Lizzie Borden’s motive was money, specifically the money she would inherit if her stepmother (Abby) and her father died.

Lizzie Borden’s story about being in the barn was put into question, because she wasn’t consistent when she was talking to police. Her answers were contradictory. At first, she testified that she had heard a groan from the house, but two hours later she claimed that she had heard no sound at all, and simply returned to the house after being in the barn for a half-hour.

Today in History: Lizzie Borden is Acquitted of Double Homicide (1893)
The jury acquitted Lizzie Borden. Wikipedia

On June 20, 1893, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murders and set free. To this day, nobody knows if she was actually guilty of the crime, and if she wasn’t, it is unknown who actually killed Andrew and Abby Borden. While she still remains the prime suspect, the housekeeper has also come under suspicion in recent times. It seems odd that she didn’t hear anything (the sound of an ax striking something or in this case someone, is unique).

Like the OJ Simpson Trial and that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, there is a lot of theory and speculation on the trial of Lizzie Borden. It remains one of America’s most macabre fascinations.

Some Sources For Further Reading:

History – Lizzie Borden: Murderess or Media Sensation?

Gizmodo – All the Evidence Against Lizzie Borden—And Why She Was Acquitted

CBS News – Lizzie Borden case: Images from one of the most notorious crime scenes in history

Famous Trails – Fourteen Reasons to Believe Lizzie Murdered Her Parents

Smithsonian Magazine – Why 19th-Century ax-murderer Lizzie Borden Was Found Not Guilty