America’s Most Famous Axe Murderer


New England’s hatchet wielding bachelorette

The most famous resident of the small town of Falls River, Massachusetts is one Elizabeth Andrews Borden, 1860-1927.  The woman lived her entire life in the town and lived primarily off her family’s wealth, often socializing and volunteering for charities.  She died, unmarried and alone at the age of 66 after contracting pneumonia.

What made “Lizzie” Borden a nationally known name is the events that occurred in her home on August 4, 1892.  There had been some animosity in the home as Lizzie didn’t get along with her stepmother, Abby Durfee Gray.  She also bridled at the stinginess of her father, Andrew Borden, who was a businessman whose estate would have been valued at over $10 million in today’s dollars.  Andrew spent money on his new wife but was cheap in seemingly all other matters. 

On the morning of August 4, Abby Gray was in her room.  Andrew was out for a walk and only Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan, the maid, were home.  At about 9 am someone entered Abby’s room and struck her in the face with a hatchet, knocking her to the ground with a serious wound.  17 hatchet blows followed, brutally killing the woman. 

Andrew Borden returned home at approximately 10:30 am and sat on the living room sofa.  He was also attacked, struck 11 times with a hatchet, and died where he sat. 

Police were called and started an immediate “investigation”.  To say the investigation was lacking would be an understatement.   Lizzie claimed that she was not feeling well, and investigators left her alone after a few poorly answered questions.  She was allowed to wash up and was left unsupervised in the unsecured crime scene. 

At a formal interview days later, Lizzie Borden was erratic and contradictory.  She changed her story and alibi several times.  Based on the evidence, interview, and the fact that she appeared to have exclusive opportunity, she was arrested and charged with the double homicide. 

At trial, all the police miscues and inconsistencies came to light.  Evidence not processed, questions not asked, and alibies not vetted were some of the many investigative mistakes.  Bridget Sullivan gave testimony that seemed to support Lizzie’s accounting of events and possible alibi. 

The jury was out for only an hour and a half before they came back with a not guilty verdict.  Lizzie was free and called herself “the happiest woman in the world”, which is kind of a weird thing to say. 

Although free, most people in town were pretty sure she was guilty.  She was never truly accepted in society as she always had the stain of the murders hanging over her.  Bridget Sullivan allegedly made a deathbed confession stating that she lied to protect Lizzie Borden. 

Borden’s name remains today associated with the famous axe murders.  Her perceived guilt remains well past her own death. 

Lizzie Borden took an axe

and gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

she gave her father forty-one.

Andrew Borden now is dead,

Lizzie hit him on the head.

Up in heaven he will sing,

on the gallows she will swing.

               –schoolyard limerick

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