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Lizzie Borden: Murderess, Victim, or Both?

Fascinated by Lizzie Borden, unsolved crimes and female murderers throughout history.

An artist's interpretation of Lizzie Borden.

An artist's interpretation of Lizzie Borden.

The Murders

Let's go back in time for a second. The year is 1892: This corset is too tight, but these boots are fantastic. And why did we wear layers of heavy clothes back then?

Anyway, the morning of August 4th in Fall River, Massachusetts, started out just like any other for the well-to-do Bordens. Lizzie, a Sunday school teacher, slept in while her father and stepmother, Andrew and Abby, had breakfast. Lizzie's sister, Emma, was out of town. The maid, Bridget Sullivan, was cooking breakfast.

After breakfast, Andrew headed to downtown Fall River. Abby went up to the guest room to make the bed. That's where she was found—right beside the bed. She was killed between the hours of 9:00 am and 10:30 am. She had been struck with an axe several times in the back of the head. The killer had snuck up behind her.

In the meantime, Andrew returned home. Lizzie told him that Abby left the house to visit a sick friend. Interesting. Andrew then went to his room, and he then came downstairs to nap on a sofa.

Bridget, who had been sick and throwing up, decided to retire to her room to rest. She heard a scream. It was Lizzie.

Andrew had been murdered on the sofa. He was murdered with an axe, similarly to Abby, and his face was unrecognizable. One of his eyeballs was cut cleanly in half. It was determined that Andrew had been murdered between 10:30 am and 11:10 am.

These are the facts that are generally agreed upon.

Room where Abby was murdered.

Room where Abby was murdered.

The Aftermath

When the police came, Lizzie told the same story that she told her father. The police had no reason to suspect her. After all, she didn't fit the "ideal" profile of a murderer: She was a teacher, a spinster, and their family already had money. And women back then were considered too delicate to murder.

Lizzie was, however, noted to be completely calm—perhaps strangely calm, considering how her parents were just murdered. The police didn't like her aloof attitude. At the same time, no other suspects seemed to hold. Lizzie and Bridget were the only ones in the house and/or on the property at the time.

When Lizzie was later questioned, it was obvious that she couldn't keep her story straight and had several inconsistencies in her story. Even so, Lizzie was acquitted due to so-called lack of evidence. I don't agree with this verdict—the fact that she was on the property during the murders and that she had a possible motive leads me to believe that Lizzie is indeed guilty. I have researched this case quite a bit, and there are no other viable suspects. She's definitely a murderess, in my opinion.

The house where it all took place.

The house where it all took place.

Why Did She Do It?

We've discussed that I think Lizzie is quite guilty. But why would she do it? According to my past research, there are three viable motives for the murders:

  • money
  • abuse
  • both

Money

Let's talk about the money aspect. This does seem strange as they were already a wealthy family, but Andrew had a reputation for being stingy. In fact, the Borden family didn't have the usual luxuries—or even basic utilities, such as indoor plumbing—that wealthy families typically had at the time. That could make someone resentful, but would this be enough for murder?

It may lend more credibility to this theory to know that the Borden sisters inherited a handsome sum after the murders. Did Lizzie and her sisters want to enjoy the money away from their parents?

Abuse

Another theory is that Lizzie was abused by her father. The first time that I heard this theory was actually on the show The Dead Files.

Before you roll your eyes, if you've seen the show, you know that Amy Allan claims to have been a medium since the age of four, when she supposedly saw her dead grandmother. To spare you my past research regarding mediums, let's just say that her story of being a medium matches up with what I've found.

The Dead Files: Lizzie Borden Episode

In this episode, Amy spoke from inside the disturbed mind of Lizzie Borden, and reported seeing beatings, rape, and incest take place in the house. She also saw Andrew as a "miserable man" who took out his stress on the family.

Is this proof positive of abuse? Absolutely not, but this does make me wonder—and, actually, it makes more sense. Whoever struck the Bordens at least ten times had to have harbored some intense rage. That kind of anger doesn't come from a misunderstanding; it's been building up for years until finally spilling over into savage violence.

Let's also talk about Mr. Borden. A former New York Police Department police officer, Steve DiSchiavi, delved into Andrew's personality a bit more. He surmised that if the abuse theory is true, then Lizzie could have destroyed Andrew's face "so he didn't have to see the monster that Lizzie had become". Back then, when domestic abuse occurred, it was rarely spoken about, so it's very possible that no one knew it was taking place.

Abby, Lizzie's mother, could have very well known about the abuse and overlooked it. Perhaps this was the motive for her murder.

Responses to Trauma

The abuse theory was seconded by writer Marcia R. Carlisle, who stated that Lizzie may have committed the murders because of "battered-woman syndrome". Battered-woman syndrome is where a mental disorder develops in cases of ongoing abuse. This disorder can push women to commit extreme acts of violence against their perpetrators.

A notorious example of this was the case of Cheryl Pierson, who had been abused by her father since she was eleven and eventually hired someone to kill him. The family was noted as being in a fairly well-off, middle-class family, who was 'generally indistinguishable from the rest of us'. Sound familiar?

Dr. Denise Gelinas, who is a trauma therapist in Massachusetts, also believes that if the mother is not present, the father may turn on his children as another 'parent'. In Lizzie and Emma's case, this theory could also be true as their mother died when they were children. Emma was 13 at the time, and she may have been the first victim.

At some point, Lizzie became close with her father and gave him a ring. If abuse was taking place, Ms. Carlisle suggests in her article, Lizzie could have felt a confusion on par with Stockholm Syndrome, a state in which abuse victims may trust or feel affectionate towards their perpetrators.

Again, the ring may not mean anything, but it does seem strange considering Mr. Borden wasn't exactly known for his warm affections. It just doesn't make sense.

Dr. Gelinas also describes a 'time-bomb quality' where some women that have experienced abuse have amnesia and may not realize what has happened until they get old enough to process these experiences. Another doctor, Dr. Judith Herman, guided a group of women through these process. Most of the women were "white, educated, and unmarried", while the average age was thirty-two. This was Lizzie's age at the time of the murders. Coincidence?

The case made national headlines for its brutality and curiosity.

The case made national headlines for its brutality and curiosity.

The Verdict: Murderess, Victim, or Both?

Both.

We've established that I think she's a murderess.

As for victim, I believe that it's entirely possible that she was. Based on reports after the murder, as well as court documents, Lizzie's psychological patterns hint at a psychiatric disorder. Since she taught at Sunday school once a week and wasn't married, the only people that she was around on a regular basis were her family members. An extended tragic event within her family could have absolutely caused her mental disorder. Sadly, this line of logic does lend credence to the abuse theory.

One more note: Abby was struck nine more times than Andrew. Could she have known about the abuse and did nothing about it? Was that where part of the rage came from? We may never know.

What's most interesting to me is that, after the murders, the Borden sisters completely turned over a new leaf. They bought a house in a fashionable district of Fall River, and Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth. In her later years, she had a fairly peaceful existence. Whatever the dark cloud was that had hung over her head seemed to clear in the aftermath of her violence.

Sleep tight. Love, Liz.

Sleep tight. Love, Liz.

Sources

"What Made Lizzie Borden Kill"

"Lizzie Border"

"Lizzie Borden: Why a 19th Century Murder Still Fascinates Us"

"Lizzie Borden Didn't Kill Her Parents (Maybe)"

What Do You Think?

© 2017 Lauren Sutton