Lizzie Borden may have been a number of things; she may, as far as we know, have even been a killer. But there was one thing Lizzie was not that we know for certain: she was no serial killer. That is, a serial killer must, by definition, kill three or more victims over an extended period time, out of a need for personal gratification or to satisfy some unknown inner-drive that seems to compel them forward. Lizzie is more correctly labeled as a multiple murderer, in that all of her victims were dispatched in a single, blinding stroke of unmitigated rage and fury. And, to be quite honest, some are not altogether sure she was even that.
Lizzie is included amongst the other august personages in this little tome chiefly because, to do otherwise, would deprive the reader of a thorough and complete portrait of Victorian murder. The Borden case is one of history’s great unsolved crimes, Lizzie having been acquitted of the foul deed after a revealing trial that left little doubt, at least in the public’s mind, as to the guilt of the accused party.
It was a bitterly hot day, August 4th , 1892, when Andrew Borden, a prominent local businessman, was found with his head chopped inward, one eye slit open, reclining on the sofa of his own comfortable home. The resultant crime scene photos are still, to this very day, gruesome and shocking stuff: blood spattered the wall in heavy washes, and whoever the killer was, the individual had surprised Mr. Borden while resting, and dispatched him with merciless fury. His body was discovered, by Lizzie Borden, no less, at eleven o’clock. According to testimony, the maid Bridget Sullivan had been upstairs napping when Lizzie had called to her from below, “Bridget! Bridget, come quick! Someone’s killed father!” It was no long amount of time before the body of Lizzie’s stepmother, Abby Durfee Borden, was discovered in an upstairs bedroom. She had apparently died while bending over to make the bed in the guest room. Her head was nearly decapitated; the suspected murder weapon, in both cases, an axe or the smaller hatchet.
Quickly the police were summoned to the appalling scene, and photographs were taken, while investigators pondered the sordid mess before them. The initial suspects were, unremarkably, the Irish-born maid Sullivan, and an uncle that had been staying with the Bordens at the time. However, since both of these individuals were full-equipped with airtight alibis, and neither had any particular motive for slaying either of the unfortunate Bordens, the aura of suspicion soon fell on Lizzie herself. Her sister, Emma, having been away visiting friends, escaped inquiry, although it was not always to remain so. A spectacular and highly-publicized trial followed, and revealed the roots of tension that many felt must surely implicate the stoic Lizzie Borden as being the perpetrator of the foul deed of parricide.
That Lizzie was not well-disposed toward her stepmother, that she feared a possible disinheriting, that she had, oftentimes, borne the brunt of her father’s stern, disapproving temperament, seemed to suggest that she might be holding some smoldering passion for revenge. One of the most bizarre incidents in the Borden case involved the consuming, over several days, of a mutton stew, the likes of which had become, after sitting in the hot cupboard, a rather noxious and thick paste that the family found to be indigestible. It mattered little to Mr. Borden, who always insisted that waste brought want. The bitter feud over this forced meal was one of the incidents pointed to as a growing bone of contention between the Borden sisters and their parents. Another striking incident was the revelation that, only a short time before the murders, Lizzie Borden consulted a local Fall Creek pharmacist in the hopes of obtaining a supply of deadly prussic acid, ostensibly to clean a damaged dress. With the revelation, during that Lizzie had been actively trying to obtain poison, the prosecution’s case against her seemed, for a time, dead set. But there were even further revelations to come. Lizzie had, apparently, been seen only a short time after the murders, attempting to burn a dress that had become stained by brown paint, or so she claimed. When consulted about this, she had little in the way of any justification for such an extreme method of ridding herself of an undesirable piece of clothing. After all, the dress could have been repaired by some other means, or could have been dismembered to use as scrap cloth. There was no reason to burn even a badly-damaged dress; no reason, of course, unless Lizzie thought the dress could, eventually, be used as evidence against her.
The strange lack of a murder weapon was soon solved by the discovery, in the barn in back of the house, of an ash-covered hatchet, the handle of which had apparently been destroyed. The head of the hatchet fitted perfectly into the gaping wound on Mr. Borden’s skull, and it seemed, at least, that whoever the murderer was, they had taken the time to even dispose of the weapon by hiding it at the scene of the crime! This seemed a most curious, and telling development.
It was all to no end, however. The jury, unable to convince themselves that the pretty, chubby former Sunday School teacher had managed to cave in her father’s head with an axe, and nearly decapitate her stepmother, voted for acquittal. Lizzie walked out of the courtroom a free woman, and walked into the pages of history and folklore, “guilty as charged.” There have been numerous accounts of the Borden case , and dozens of books written about, or partly about, the great “unsolved” double murder of Fall Creek, Massachusetts. Most of them point out the obvious: Lizzie Borden was a disturbed young woman from a stern, loveless household that decided to, one day, unburden herself of her anger and grief in a wild passion of murder.
As for Lizzie herself, she took her inheritance and invested well, living out the remainder of her days in a posh house in Fall Creek. She maintained a stoical silence to the end of her days, living out her role as a legend and curiosity as best she could. In a final, hilarious twist (one that, perhaps Lizzie herself might have gleaned a chuckle from), the former Borden home in Fall Creek was turned , after the passage of a hundred years, into a successful “Bed and Breakfast” establishment. It is reportedly haunted.
Visitors the to the establishment have reported hearing strange wailing and moaning at night, have reported the sound of two women arguing, and have even claimed to see a ghostly woman walking about in the creeping darkness of the old Victorian manse. One incident even had a ghost climbing into bed with a luckless couple! And, on that note, we can leave Lizzie to rest in peace, for the remainder of this book.