When the grisly murder of a wealthy businessman and his wife in their own home in an affluent neighborhood made the news, the media and the people couldn’t just keep quiet and pretend an air of indifference. As the investigation progressed, new discoveries got the people’s attention hooked, more so when the daughter of the diseased was arrested and was accused if committing the crime. Lizzie Borden, daughter to Andrew Borden, was suspected of killing her own father and stepmother in their own home by striking them with an axe on their head.
The crime occurred on August 4, 1892 in Andrew Broden’s house in Fall River, Massachussettes. His younger daughter, Lizzie, was heard crying and calling for their maid, Bridget “ Maggie” Sullivan. She was in the parlor and when Maggie arrived, she was arrested by the sight of Andrew Borden’s lifeless body on the couch, his face covered with blood. It was such a high-profile case for so many reasons. First was because the murderer was a woman, and in 1892, this was nearly unheard of (Maranzani). Back in the days, people were under the idea that women were the “ weaker” sex and were incapable of committing a crime, especially something as brutal as that of Andrew Borden’s and his wife. People from the media and other critics who kept track of the case stated that the not guilty verdict after her trial following her ten-month imprisonment was clouded by several factors, one of which was that the jury and Justice Dewey have taken into account Lizzie’s “ exceptional Christian character,” which reinforced the idea that she was not capable of committing such a heinous crime (Linder).
Another factor that brought the case into the spotlight was because it was a family tragedy. Many speculations about the relationship of the father and daughter, as well as the stepmother and her stepdaughter, emerged. Some witnesses called to stand, such as Hannah Gifford, described an event which showed that everything was not well between Lizzie and her stepmother. This also true between Lizzie and her father, with Lizzie’s older sister Emma, admitting on the stand that she and her sister had lingering resentment over the fact that their father transferred a certain “ grandfather’s house” to their stepmother and her sister (Linder). It was also common knowledge to everyone who knows the family that Andrew, a self-made man, was rather tight-fisted and this he extended to his own daughter. Reports said that despite being wealthy, the house lacked even the most basic convenience such as indoor plumbing (Maranzani). However, a new discovery of journals belonging to Lizzie Borden’s attorney, Jackson Jennings, showed a new light of the infamous trial. The journals included some of the evidence during the trial which were all given to Jennings for safekeeping after Lizzie was acquitted, including the hatchet which was purportedly used in the murder (Katrandjian). Several letter written by Lizzie during her imprisonment were also found, and in the letters were evidence that Lizzie cared deeply for her father, that her grief over his passing was “ overwhelming” (Katrandjian). Despite the mixed portrayal of the press and the people about Lizzie, with some saying that she was “ a hard and hideous fright” (Boston Daily Globe), while the others flattered her, the letters revealed that she was a sensitive woman saddened by the tragedy that struck her family.
In today’s view, the case would be considered sensational as the real culprit was never caught. Perhaps more than the death of a father and his wife, and the imprisonment and public humiliation it brought to the daughter, the real tragedy of the case was in not able to bring justice to these events. People interviewed about the crime gave different accounts of what they say before Andrew Borden was murdered. Charles Gifford, Uriah Kirby, and Dr. Benjamin Handfy, all of whom testified for the defense, claimed that they saw a “ strange man” standing outside the house of the Bordens the night before the murder and a day or two before the murder (Linder). The Fall River Herald reported during initial speculation regarding the identity of the murderer that a “ Portuguese laborer” who came to the house reportedly asking for his wages was driven away by Andrew and was instead asked to come back later. This situation described what people in the neighborhood confessed about Andrew. People were concensus in saying that there were a lot of people who may have motive in killing him as he was said to have made many enemies in his business (Maranzani). Apparently, Andrew Borden was popularly known both in the business world and in the neighborhood for being frugal and dour. There some who speculated that the murder was perhaps an act of revenge for something unjust Andrew did on someone. However, it was also not discounted that there are many people who would gain from his death, and Lizzie was one of them. According to reports, Andrew Borden was worth almost $10 million in today’s money when he died. With such large amount, speculation about Lizzie murdering her own father and stepmother persisted.
It was also highlighted that the initial interview conducted on Lizzie proved inconsistent and was then used by the prosecutors in the trial. There were no further details provided regarding this evidence. There was also the account of the doctor working in the pharmac about Lizzie’s attempt to buy prussic acid, a poison that according to them, Lizzie must have thought of using in poisoning her father and his wife. However, like other evidence gathered, this was also excluded as evidence. Another account from a witness, stating that Lizzie was seen burning a blu dress, reportedly because it was “ stained with paint” (Linder) would have been a good opportunity to either press her of admitting the crime, but like all other evidence, it went unnoticed and buried under numerous suppositions and theories that never bore any fruit. In later years, some writers would even see this act as a proof that Lizzie was mentally ill and that it was probably what triggered her to murder her father and stepmother. All of these, however, remained as theories and were sadly never proven true or wrong.
There were several evidence that would have pointed to the identity of the real killer, but police investigation were inept to follow any lead that would helped solve the case. In one speculation in an attempt to implicate Lizzie, the prosecution even suggested that the reason behind the absence of blood on Lizzie’s clothes was becaus she was “ stark naked” (Linder) when she committed the crime. Although fingerprinting was still at its infancy during that time, there were several evidence that would have shown the truth. However, “ the usual inept and stupid and muddle-headed” police that the small city of Fall River was able to get for itself was unable to fulfill the duty charged to them. The New York Times stated that the speedy verdict was in a way ” a condemnation of the police authorities of Fall River who secured the indictment and have conducted the trial” (qtd. in Linder). The first indictment in December 2, 1892, as indicated in the document titled “ Indictment of Lizzie Borden for Murder” had Lizzie found guilty of the murder, but despite the long and tedious investigation, which lasted for 10 months, that came after it, the police were still unable to prove her guilt.
Lizzie may have killed her father and her stepmother, or perhaps it was someone else who did it. 120 years later after the trial, it would be more than difficult to determine who the real culprit was. Lizzie got out of prison and chose to live in Fall River, where she and her sister bought a rather impressive house from their inheritance. However, there was nothing that would have taken away the social humiliation that Lizzie suffered due to the crime. In a famous rope jumping rhyme that was inspired by the case, Lizzie’s legacy as a murderer continues to live, and in an exaggerated image. The song indicates that it took 40 blows to kill Abby, and 41 to kill Andrew, but the coroner’s report stated that instead of 40, Abby was killed with 19 blows, and Andrew with 10 or 11. The gruesome deaths were now reduced to a rhyme that children sing when jumping rope, and Lizzie despite proven not guilty and above all, despite being dead for more than 50 years, was still known as a murderer.
The trial was interesting to view in today’s modern world, wherein suspects are already apprehended in just hours after the crime was committed. Modern technology has done a great deal in modernizing crime solving methods that would help avoid the case of Lizzie Borden. However, despite the lack of modern technology, solving the said crime would have been possible if the police and the justice system were strict enough to stick to the implemented method of solving crimes. The amount of media attention that the case got is similar to how media today conduct interviews and reports regarding high profile cases. There were some who reported without any bias, while there were some who delivered the news as it was. Perhaps it will always be like this, but analyzing the case and its outcome, it is a relief that forensic science has improved considerably over time. There is nothing more saddening in an evolved society than not being able to bring to justice perpetrators of crimes, regardless of its gravity and the victim. Nevertheless, things can be learned from this trial so as to avoid history from repeating itself.
Borden Jury Found: Miss Lizzie Sat Calmly Through It All. law2. umkc. edu. Web.
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Katrandjian, Olivia. “ Lizie Borden Murder Case Gets New Look with Discovery of Her
Lawyer’s Journals.” abcnews. 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Linder, Doug. “ The Trial of Lizzie Borden.” law2. umkc. edu. 2004. Web.
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Maranzani, Barbara. “ 9 Things You May Not Know About Lizzie Borden.” History.
3 Aug. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
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