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Famous American Murder Case
Lizzie Andrew Borden was born in 1860. Her mother died when she was a young girl, and her father Andrew Borden, a bank president and successful businessman, married Abby Gray in 1865, who assisted in raising Lizzie and her older sister Emma.
Andrew was reputedly dour and frugal, as well as eminently wealthy, and Lizzie and her elder sister Emma were constantly at odds with him and their stepmother, often over money.
Lizzie stood trial for the murders of her father and stepmother. Although she was acquitted, no one else was charged, and she is still known for their murders.
Lizzie allegedly did not get along with her stepmother and had a falling out years before the murder occurred. Lizzie and her sister, Emma Borden, were both known to have disagreements with their father. They disagreed with his decisions on how to divide their family's property. Her father was also responsible for the death of her pigeons, which were kept in the family barn.
The entire family became ill just before the murders. Mrs. Borden suspected foul play because Mr. Borden was not well-liked in town. Mrs. Borden believed they were poisoned, but it was later discovered that they had eaten contaminated meat and contracted food poisoning. Following their deaths, the contents of their stomach were examined for toxins, but no conclusions were reached.
On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden left their house in Fall River, Massachusetts in the morning to conduct business, leaving behind the family maid Bridget Sullivan and Lizzie; Emma was out of town. When Andrew returned, he sat down on the couch for a nap. Lizzie discovered her father dead around 11:15 a.m., having been repeatedly struck in the head with a sharp instrument, according to her testimony.
His wife's body was discovered upstairs, even more brutally mutilated; examination revealed that her death had occurred an hour or so before her husband's. Lizzie was discovered to have attempted to purchase the poison prussic acid on August 3rd, and a few days later she was accused of burning a dress on a stove.
Lizzie claimed she found her father's body about 30 minutes after he got home from his morning errands. The maid, Bridget Sullivan, soon discovered Lizzie's stepmother's body. Both victims were killed by hatchet blows to the head.
On August 11, 1892, Lizzie was arrested. A grand jury indicted her, but the trial did not begin until June 1893. Fall River police discovered the hatchet, but it appeared to have been cleaned of any evidence. The prosecution suffered a setback when the Fall River police failed to properly collect the newly discovered forensic fingerprint evidence.
As a result, no potential prints were extracted from the murder weapon. Although no bloodstained clothing was discovered as evidence, Lizzie was said to have torn apart and burned a blue dress on the kitchen stove a few days after the murder because it was covered in baseboard paint. Based on a lack of evidence and a few excluded witness statements, Lizzie Borden was found not guilty of her father and stepmother's murders.
Police concluded that the murders had to have been committed by someone inside the Borden home, but they were perplexed by the lack of blood anywhere other than on the bodies of the victims and their inability to find any obvious murder weapon.
Lizzie was suspected because her older sister Emma was not at home at the time of the murders. Lizzie's lack of knowledge of her mother's whereabouts after 9 a.m. puzzled investigators, when she went upstairs "to put shams on the pillows," according to Lizzie.
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They also found Lizzie's other story unconvincing: during the 15 minutes that Andrew Borden was murdered in the living room, she was out in the backyard barn "looking for irons"—lead sinkers for an upcoming fishing trip.
The barn loft where she claimed to have looked revealed no footprints on the dusty floor, and the suffocating heat in the loft appeared to discourage anyone from spending more than a few minutes looking for equipment that would not be used for days.
Theories about a tall male intruder were challenged, and one "leading physician" stated that "hacking is almost a positive sign of a deed by a woman who is unaware of what she is doing."
The Prosecution Suffers a Setback
Regardless of how likely it is that Lizzie murdered her parents, the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The state's case was based largely on the claim that no one else could have committed the crime. That, along with a few other suspicious actions of Lizzie, such as burning a dress, was insufficient for the Borden jury to convict her.
Some speculate that if the defendant had been male, the jury might have been more inclined to convict. One of the defense's major advantages was that most people in 1893 couldn't believe a woman of Lizzie's background could have pulled off such brutal killings.
Her attorneys emphasized that the prosecution provided no murder weapon and no bloody clothes. They claimed Lizzie was a victim of misidentification when it came to the prussic acid. Lizzie Borden was charged based on a lack of evidence and a few excluded testimonies.
Their maid Bridget Sullivan, who was also suspected, reportedly left the house later that evening with an unopened parcel. Although no weapon was discovered, an axe discovered in the basement was suspected.
The evidence presented by the prosecution against Borden was circumstantial. She allegedly tried to buy poison the day before the murders and burned one of her dresses several days later. And despite the fact that fingerprint testing was becoming more common in Europe at the time, Fall River police were skeptical of its accuracy and refused to test for prints on the potential murder weapon—a hatchet—found in the Bordens' basement.
Lizzie's lack of blood, combined with her well-bred Christian persona, convinced the all-male jury that she was incapable of the heinous crime, and they quickly acquitted her.
After the Trial
Lizzie and her sister Emma lived together in a home for several years after the trial. She was no longer referred to as Lizzie Borden after she and Emma her sister divorced, but as Lizbeth A. Borden. Lizzie never married and lived the rest of her life as a recluse, alone with her dogs, until she died in 1927.
She remained silent and never talked to the press after the verdict. Lizzie spent the last year of her life ill. When she died, the announcement was not made public, and only a few people came to her funeral.
There are numerous plausible theories as to whether Lizzie committed the murders or not. The stories range from the maid murdering to Lizzie having fugue state seizures. Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, briefly returned to the house but soon purchased Maplecroft, a 14-room Queen-Anne style home. The newly wealthy sisters lived the life Lizzie had always desired, complete with a large staff of servants and all modern conveniences. Lizzie became interested in theatre, frequently attending plays and associating with actors, artists, and "bohemian types."
Emma moved out of Maplecroft in 1905. Lizzie remained in Maplecroft until her death in 1927, at the age of 67. She was buried in Fall River's Oak Grove Cemetery, near her parents' graves. Emma, who was living in New Hampshire, died nine days after Lizzie.
Lizzie Borden's case remains shrouded in mystery. Despite the fact that the crime of the century occurred years ago, people remain intrigued by the story. Even though she was tried and acquitted of the double murder, popular culture forever portrayed her as one of America's most notorious killers.
The infamous Borden house was converted into a tourist attraction bed and breakfast in 1996. The location has been restored in the style of the time period, and it includes actual crime scene photos and displays. A replica of Andrew Borden's skull can be found in the dining room.
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