Lizzie Borden: Murderess, Victim, or Both?

Updated on November 21, 2017
LaurenSutton12 profile image

Fascinated by Lizzie Borden, unsolved crimes and female murderers throughout history.

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The Murders

Let's go back in time for a second.

The year is 1892: this corset is too tight...but these boots are fantastic. And why did we wear layers of heavy clothes back then?

Anyway, the morning of August 4th in Fall River, Massachusetts started out just like any other for the well-to-do Bordens. Lizzie, a Sunday school teacher slept in while her father and stepmother, Andrew and Abby had breakfast. Lizzie's sister Emma was out-of-town. The maid, Bridget Sullivan, was cooking breakfast.

After breakfast, Andrew headed to downtown Fall River. Abby went up to the guest room to make the bed. That's where she was found--right beside the bed. She was killed between the hours of 9:00 am and 10:30 am. She had been struck with an axe several times in the back of the head. The killer had snuck up behind her.

In the meantime, Andrew returned home. Lizzie told him that Abby left the house to visit a sick friend. Interesting. Andrew then went to his room, and then came downstairs to nap on a sofa.

Bridget, who had been sick and throwing up, decided to retire to her room to rest. She heard a scream. It was Lizzie.

Andrew had been murdered on the sofa. He was murdered with an axe, similarly to Abby and his face was unrecognizable. One of his eyeballs was cut cleanly in half. It was determined that Andrew had been murdered between 10:30 am and 11:10 am.

These are the facts that are generally agreed upon.

Room where Abby was murdered.
Room where Abby was murdered. | Source

The Aftermath

When the police came, Lizzie told the same story that she told her father. The police had no reason to suspect her. After all, she didn't fit the "ideal" profile of a murderer: she was a teacher, a spinster, and their family already had money. And women back then were considered too delicate to murder.

Lizzie was, however, noted to be completely calm--perhaps strangely calm, considering how her parents were just murdered. The police didn't like her aloof attitude. At the same time, no other suspects seem to hold. Lizzie and Bridget were the only ones in the house and/or on the property at the time.

When Lizzie was later questioned, it was obvious that she couldn't keep her story straight and had several inconsistencies in her story. (I've addressed the inconsistencies in another article.) Even so, Lizzie was acquitted due to so-called lack of evidence. I don't agree with this verdict--the fact that she was on the property during the murders, and that she had a possible motive leads me to believe that Lizzie is indeed guilty. I have researched this case quite a bit, and there are no other viable suspects. She's definitely a murderess.

The house where it all took place.
The house where it all took place. | Source

Why Did She Do It?

We've discussed that I think Lizzie is quite guilty. But; why would she do it? According to my past research, there are three viable motives for the murders:

  • money
  • abuse
  • both

Let's talk about the money aspect. This does seem strange as they were already a wealthy family, but Andrew had a reputation for being stingy. In fact, the Borden family didn't have usual things that wealthy families would have back then, including indoor plumbing. That could make someone resentful, but would this be enough for murder? It may lend more credibility to this theory to know that the Borden sisters inherited a handsome sum after the murders. Did the sisters want to enjoy the money away from their parents?

Abuse

Another theory is that Lizzie was abused by her father. The first time that I heard this theory was actually on the show "The Dead Files".

Before you roll your eyes, if you've seen the show, you know that Amy Allan is a medium and has been one unknowingly since age four, when she saw her dead grandmother. In lieu of sparing you with my past research regarding mediums, let's just say that her story of being a medium has matched up with up with what I've found, okay?

The Dead Files--Lizzie Borden episode

In this episode, Amy talks about how Lizzie is mentally disturbed, and how she is seeing beatings, rape, and incest take place in the house. She also saw Andrew as a "miserable man" who took out his stress on the family. Is this proof positive of abuse? Absolutely not, but this does make me wonder--and, actually, it makes more sense. Someone that struck the Bordens at least ten times had to have some rage. That kind of rage just doesn't come from a misunderstanding--this rage is something that has been building up and spilling over.

Let's also talk about Mr. Borden. A former New York Police Department police officer, Steve DiSchiavi delves into Andrew's personality a bit more. He surmises that if this abuse theory is true, then Lizzie could have destroyed Andrew's face "so he didn't have to see the monster that Lizzie had become". Back then, if domestic abuse was taking place, it was not something that was spoken about, so it's very possible that no one knew it was taking place. Abby could have very well knew about the abuse and chose to overlook it. That's why she was possibly murdered.

The abuse theory is seconded by American Heritage writer, Marcia R. Carlisle, who states that she may have committed the murders because of "battered-woman syndrome". Battered-woman syndrome is where a mental disorder develops in cases of ongoing abuse. This disorder can push women to commit extreme acts of violence against their perpetrators. One of these cases was Cheryl Pierson, who had been abused by her father since she was eleven and eventually hired someone to kill him. The family was noted as being in a fairly-well off, middle-class family, who was 'generally indistinguishable from the rest of us'. Sound familiar?

Dr. Denise Gelinas, who is a trauma therapist in Massachusetts also believes that if the mother is not present, the father may turn on his children as another 'parent'. In Lizzie and Emma's case, this theory could also be true as their mother died when they were children. Emma was thirteen at the time, and she may have been the first victim.

At some point, Lizzie became close with her father and gave him a ring. Ms. Carlisle suggests that if abuse was taking place, Lizzie could have been feeling confused and goes onto describe something similar to Stockholm Syndrome--where you start to trust or feel affectionate towards your perpetrator. Again; the ring may not mean anything, but it does seem strange considering Mr. Borden wasn't exactly known for his warm affections. It just doesn't make sense.

Dr. Gelinas also describes a 'time-bomb quality where some women that have experienced abuse may have amnesia and may not realize what has happened until they get old enough to process these experiences. Another doctor, Dr. Judith Herman guided a group of women through these process. Most of the women were "white, educated, and unmarried", while the average age was thirty-two. This was Lizzie's age at the time of the murders. Coincidence?

The case made national headlines for its' brutality and curiosity.
The case made national headlines for its' brutality and curiosity. | Source

The Verdict: Murderess, Victim, or Both?

Both.

We've established that I think she's a murderess.

As for victim, I believe that it's entirely possible that she was. Lizzie's psychological patterns from reports after the murder as well as court documents hint to a mental disorder. Since she taught at Sunday school once a week, and wasn't married, the only people that she was around on a regular basis was her family. An extended tragic event within her family could have absolutely caused her mental disorder. This surmising does lend a bit of credence to the abuse theory, sadly.

One more note: Abby was struck nine more times than Andrew. Could she have known about the abuse and did nothing about it? Was that where part of the rage came from? We may never know.

What's most interesting to me is that after the murders, the Borden sisters completely turned a new leaf. They bought a house in a fashionable district of Fall River and Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth. In her later years, she had a fairly peaceful existence. Whatever matter was hanging over her head had finally resolved...possibly violently.

Sleep tight. Love, Liz.
Sleep tight. Love, Liz. | Source

Sources

https://www.americanheritage.com/content/what-made-lizzie-borden-kill

https://www.biography.com/people/lizzie-borden-9219858

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/lizzie-borden-why-a-19th-century-murder-still-fascinates-us-w432670

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/lizzie-borden-didnt-kill-her-parents-maybe-180963721/

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    © 2017 Lauren Sutton

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