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Becky G
Becky G
April 15, 2024

Lizzie Borden: She Gave Her Mother 40 Whacks

Lizzie Borden: She Gave Her Mother 40 Whacks

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“When she had realized what she’d done, she gave her father 41” is the nursery rhyme referring to the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, allegedly committed by Lizzie Borden. Lizzie Andrew Borden was born on July 19th, 1860 to Sarah Anthony Borden and Andrew Jackson Borden. Lizzie and her sister, Emma, had a very religious childhood and attended church. Three years after the death of Borden’s mother, Andrew married Abby Durfee Gray, whom Lizzie called “Mrs. Borden” and believed married her father for money. The Borden family had a live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, also known as Maggie to them. Abby and Lizzie’s relationship was very rocky, and years before the murder took place, they had a donny brook. 

After Abby’s sister was given real estate as a gift, Lizzie and Emma demanded that they get one too and in turn paid $1 for the home they had lived in until their mother died. A couple weeks before the murder of Andrew and Abby, the sisters sold the rental property back to their dad for $5,000. Suspiciously, during the days leading up to the murders, the entire Borden family had gotten very sick. A friend of the family theorized that mutton that was left on the stove to make food with over the week may have caused it. John Vinnicum Morse, Lizzie and Emma’s uncle, arrived on August 3rd and discussed business matters with Andrew the night before the murders, which caused people nowadays to believe that their conversation may have made tensions higher between the Borden family. It had been two years since Morse had come to visit and the next morning, Andrew and Abby would be found dead. On August 4th, 1892, Morse left at 8:48 am, planning to return at 12. Andrew left at some point after 9 for his morning walk. Cleaning the guest room was one of the Borden sisters’ chores, but for some reason that morning, Abby walked upstairs and began making the bed between 9 am and 10:30 am. Based on the forensic investigation, Abby had been facing her killer when the attack took place. Using a hatchet, Mrs. Borden was struck upside the face, which cut just above her ear and caused her to fall face-first onto the floor. Her killer hit her 17 more times back to back after she fell, which would end up being fatal. Andrew came back from his morning walk at about 10:30 but his key wouldn’t open the door, so he knocked. Sullivan went to open it for him but found that it was jammed. Bridget testified that at the top of the stairs, after she failed to open the door, Lizzie stood laughing. Abby was dead in the guest room and would then be visible to anybody on the second floor, making this behavior strange. 

Lizzie denied ever being upstairs at the time of her stepmother’s murder. Sullivan mentioned that afterward she took Andrew’s shoes off and helped him into his slippers so he could take a nap, but it was later revealed that Andrew was wearing boots at the time of his death, proven by crime scene photos. She testified that she was in her room resting from cleaning the windows when a little before 11:10 am, when she heard Lizzie yell while downstairs “Maggie, come quick! Father’s dead. Somebody came in and killed him.” Andrew was lying on their couch after being hit 10-11 times. One of his eyes was split in two, implying that he’d been sleeping at the time of the attack. His wounds were still bleeding at this point, suggesting that the attack had happened very recently. The family’s doctor, Dr. Bowen, arrived from across the street and pronounced the couple deceased. Lizzie’s responses to any questions that officers had for her were contradictory and peculiar. She mentioned that before she entered the house, she heard groaning, a scraping sound. However, later she told officers that she didn’t hear anything and walked in without realizing anything was wrong. Despite her being too calm and changing alibis, no officers checked her for any bloodstains. They did check her room, but at the trial, it was revealed that no one conducted a proper search because Lizzie wasn’t feeling well.  Hatchets were found in the basement, but none of them were removed from the house for investigation. 

The household milk and victims’ stomachs were tested for poison because of the suspicious illness prior, but none was found. Others around Lizzie mentioned that she had purchased some hydrocyanic acid (cyanide), which she said she was going to use for cleaning furs despite the medical examiner stating that it didn’t have any cleaning properties. On August 6th, police organized another, more thorough search of the property, where they looked at the sisters’ clothes and took the broken hatchet for investigation. Later that day, a police officer and the mayor came to the Borden house to tell Lizzie that she was officially a suspect in the murders of her father and stepmother. The morning of the 7th, Alice Russell, the sisters’ friend, wandered into the kitchen only to find Borden ripping a dress. Lizzie said that she was planning to burn it because it had paint on it. It was never proven that the dress was worn on the day of the murders. On August 8th, an inquest hearing took place. She was prescribed regular morphine doses and this may have affected her testimony. She was very inconsistent with answering questions, refusing to answer even if it would have benefited her. She also contradicted herself on multiple occasions, for instance when asked to recall the morning of the murders, she said she was reading in the kitchen when Andrew came home, then that she was ironing clothes in the dining room, and finally that she was coming down the stairs. On August 11, Lizzie had a warrant out for her arrest and was placed in jail. The testimony at the inquest hearing was considered inadmissible in 1893. Apparently, the inquest testimony also caused some of Lizzie’s friends who refused to believe she was guilty to change their opinion. Lizzie was found not guilty and acquitted on June 20th, 1893 and despite this, people now still believe she had something to do with the murder of her parents. John Vinnicum Morse, Lizzie’s uncle, was also considered a suspect by police at one point.

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About the Contributor
Kaeden Wise, Writer
Kaeden Wise is a sophomore in high school at Forest Grove High School. They have two cats, Olivia and Koda and two older siblings. Their goal is to be a social or health worker.

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