On this day in 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden are found hacked to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts, home. Andrew was discovered in a pool of blood on the living room couch, his face nearly split in two. Abby was upstairs, her head smashed to pieces; it was later determined that she was killed first. Suspicion soon fell on one of the Bordens’ two daughters, Lizzie, age 32 and single, who lived with her wealthy father and stepmother and was the only other person besides their maid, Bridget Sullivan, who was home when the bodies were found. Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged with the double homicide. As a result of the crime’s sensational nature, her trial attracted national attention.
Lizzie Andrew Borden was born on July 19, 1860. Her mother died when Lizzie was a young girl and her father, who became a bank president and successful businessman, married Abby Gray, who helped raise Lizzie and her older sister Emma. The sisters reportedly despised their stepmother and, as adults, argued with their father over money matters. Lizzie claimed she was in the barn at the time of the murders and entered the house later that morning to find her father dead in the living room.
The evidence that the prosecution presented against Borden was circumstantial. It was alleged that she tried to buy poison the day before the murders and that she burned one of her dresses several days afterward. And, although fingerprint testing was becoming commonplace in Europe at the time, the Fall River police were wary of its reliability, and refused to test for prints on the potential murder weapon–a hatchet–found in the Bordens’ basement. The fact that no blood was found on Lizzie coupled with her well-bred Christian persona convinced the all-male jury that she was incapable of the gruesome crime and they quickly acquitted her.
Lizzie, who inherited a substantial sum after her father’s death, moved from the murder site into a different home, where she lived until her death on June 1, 1927. Today, the house where the Borden murders occurred is a bed and breakfast. Despite Lizzie Borden’s acquittal, the cloud of suspicion that hung over her never disappeared. She is immortalized in a famous rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe, And gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.