Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 wacks and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41. The popular children s rhyme may be entertaining and catchy, but the fact remains that no one really knows whether or not Lizzie was the grand murderess that killed her father and step mother. On August 4 th, 1892, one of the most said murder mysteries took place in Fall River, Massachusetts. Now, when the evidence is reviewed, the facts are not that vague and doubts are melted away. Elizabeth Anne Borden, suspected of killing her step mother and her birth father was let go due to her class in high society, and the fact that she was a female in a time that people could not believe that a lady would do such a monstrous thing. The story is as follows.
On a summer day in Fall River two bodies were discovered. Both were brutally struck with the blunt edge of an object which was speculated to be an axe or hatchet. Mrs. Borden was found slumped over on the floor.
As opposed to 40 wacks, as the song suggests, Abbey Borden, was struck by 19 blows of an axe or hatchet to the back of her head and neck (Toney, Dark Rose Cellar).
On Mr. Borden, the axe was rained on him 11 times to the face so that his close friend and physician Dr. Bowen, deemed him unrecognizable (Toney, Dark Rose Cellar).
When all was investigated and Lizzie as the primary suspect was brought to trial many of the aspects of the trial were shady. The Prosecution included Hosea M.
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Knowlton and William H. Moody. Hosea was forced into the role by the politically timid Arthur Pillsbury, Attorney General of Massachusetts (Russel, Crime Library).
The Defense included Andrew J. Jennings, George D.
Robinson and Melvin O. Adams. For the most part the defense called witnesses to verify the presence of a mysterious young man in the vicinity of the Borden home, and Emma Borden to verify the absence of a motive for Lizzie as the murderer (Russel, Crime Library) Before the trial Lizzie was brought to in to give an informal testimony. Because of the fact that neither lawyers from either side notified her of her rights, the testimony which would have damaged her defense immensely was never heard by the jury since Lizzie s rights had been violated (Boz and Glozier, Law Buzz).
Lizzie s answers were inconsistent and nervous. When asked a simple question like Where were you when your father came home Lizzie at first said In the Kitchen reading a magazine, when asked again she said I m not sure there, or in the dining room.
When the Prosecution asked the same question in a different way she said my room upstairs then changed again to say she was on the stairs (Boz and Glozier, Law Buzz).
Lizzie s inquest testimony was enough to get her charged with murder, but the jury never heard it and she was acquitted. In the 1800 s a women to commit a heinous act as this was virtually unheard of. Especially a lady who was the daughter of a wealthy man and an upstanding citizen.
The masses were divided about the trial. The acquittal of Lizzie Borden could only be described by a couple of things. The main factor was her sex. If Lizzie were to have been a man, there would have been no question about the evidence such as the fact that only two people including herself and the maid Bridget were in a locked house during the crime. Lizzie would have been hung without question. Her class in high society is an important factor in her release.
Why would a lovely upstanding lady like herself want to commit such a brutal act upon her parents There are many speculations as to why. Some say that she never got along with her step mother, and her father was a rigid old man that was strict with her, despite the fact that she was a grown woman. From the trial standpoint, her class in society came to her advantage indefinitely. Pillsbury felt the pressure building from Lizzie s supporter, particularly women s groups and religious organizations (Russel, Crime Library).
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Another factor was that the jurors, there were 12 jurors…
farmers and tradesmen, all of which were high class citizens that must have known Lizzie and her father because Fall River really wasn’t a big town. Many people often discuss the motives for not just Lizzie, but others who were suspected of the murders. For Lizzie, it was said to be rumors of a new will. The new will, according to Uncle John, would leave Emma and Lizzie each with $25, 000, with the remainder of Mr. Borden s half million dollar estate-well over ten million in present-day dollars-going to Abbey. (Russel, Crime Library).
If it not for the fact the her testimony was inadmissible, the appearance of a motive, and evidence that she had bought poison from a local pharmacy a few days before the murders would have been enough to convict her right away. Other suspects included Uncle John, that arrived in Fall River to stay with the family just the night before the murders. Uncle John was later dismissed as a suspect because his niece proved his alibi, that he was with her at that time of the day. Another suspect was the young man that the defense was so intent on verifying the existence of. Very simply Andrew Borden had not fathered only two children. In addition to a third daughter who was dead, he had, by a woman name Phebe Hathaway, fathered an illegitimate son whose existence was whispered on The Hill and was more than common knowledge within the Borden clan (Brown 116).
The name of this young man was William. If the rumors of arguments between the father and son do exist, why would William have any reason to kill Abbey Even if William Borden was the murderer, Brown concedes that Lizzie must have known and was no doubt involved in arranging the visit, if not the hatchet job (116).
Other suspects were noted, such as Mr. Borden’s ex wife, Lizzie s secret lover and Emma Borden, all who were dismissed due to lack of motive. In the last ten years or so, there have been many critics who believe that the trails were fixed and there is always new evidence being presented.
One of the most controversial of these new findings is the Knowlton Papers. These documents were kept by the lead prosecutor Hosea Knowlton. There are several accounts that he did not disclose in the trial that are now published in a book. Some of these accounts are that of Bridget Sullivan, the maid in the Borden home. Bridget claimed that she, Mr. Borden and Mrs.
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Borden had been sick because of some food that they had eaten. If reviewed, Lizzie was said to have been buying poison at a pharmacy; a fact that was never allowed to be considered in court. After the trial had ended and Lizzie was acquitted, she changed her name to Lisbeth. Miss Borden returned to Fall River only to face the life sentence inflicted upon her by her contemporaries, that of being ostracized (Knowlton, Knowlton Papers).
She named the house Maple croft, which her neighbors scorned her for because no one on The Hill named their houses. Many things have appeared throughout the years after the infamous trial. There have been numerous rumors such as a lesbian relationship with a popular stage actress of that time and alleged confessions (Toney, Dark Rose Cellar).
The sad thing about this trial is that there was so much incriminating evidence to convict Lizzie of the murder, but people were too naive or ignorant to see and acknowledge it. It happened over 100 years ago, but the Fall River murders will always be a stain on the judicial system of the United States.