Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Tragedy of Lizzie Borden

It's a jump rope ditty surviving over 110 years: “Lizzy Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. And when the job was nicely done, she gave her father forty-one."
Lizzy Borden entered the world of infamy on August 4, 1892 when her father, Andrew Borden, and stepmother Abby were killed in savage axe attacks. Lizzy, then 32, lived in the back of the upstairs part of her father's house with Emma, her older spinster sister. The house was also occupied by the family's maid, Bridget "Maggie" Sullivan.

The Fall River, Massachusetts, murder case became an immediate "whodunit" national obsession. Emma had been out-of-town, Maggie in her bed from a migraine headache, and Lizzy in the barn looking for fishing sinkers when the crime occurred. Because Lizzy was the only person readily available to commit the murders, she was the target of investigations.

Some little-known facts of the case:

  • The District Attorney begged several times to not pursue the case against Lizzie, citing a tremendous lack of evidence.
  •  Police officers were caught in several lies during court testimony, specifically concerning the presentation of the would-be weapon (which was proven to be the wrong size hatchet blade with no trace of blood) and the absence of footprints in the barn (when several others had already been there).
  •  The assailant was left-handed, the opposite of Lizzie.
  • The jury took only 10 minutes to acquit Lizzie.
  • There was no blood evidence incriminating Lizzie. None of her clothes were blood-spattered.
  • Abby Borden was killed 60 - 90 minutes before Andrew. She was murdered in the upstairs guest bedroom; Andrew was murdered while taking a daytime nap on the sofa.
  • The house was only 20 feet wide with no hallways. How 200-lb. Abby Borden fell with no one hearing has always been part of the mystery.
  • Andrew Borden had once been a coffin maker.
  • Lizzie had a dream team for a defense including former Massachusetts Governor George D. Robinson.

Although acquitted, Lizzie Borden remained a virtual prisoner the rest of her life in Fall River. She purchased a large, 3-story Queen Anne home christened "Maplecroft," and became a social pariah to the end of her life 34 years later:  never married, shunned by her church, and reclusive to avoid the perpetual staring and pointing when she was in public. She changed her name from Lizzie to Lizbeth, dying of pneumonia in 1927 at 67 years. Her sister, Emma, died 10 days later.

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