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Who is Lizzie Borden?

M. Dee Dubroff
M. Dee Dubroff

Born in 1860, Lizzie Andrew Borden was the younger of two daughters of the richest man in Fall River, Massachusetts, Andrew Borden. Her mother died when she was just a child, and a stepmother they both despised raised Lizzie Borden and her sister, Emma. The New England spinster, who lived with her father and stepmother, Abby, at 92 Second Street, appeared respectable from the exterior, even working as a Sunday School teacher. It is likely that if not for the horrible axe-murder forever associated with her name, Borden would have lived and died a life of total obscurity.

Many believe that Lizzie Borden was oppressed by the harsh, dispassionate New England mindset that she knew from birth. Borden had an unusually close relationship with her father, Andrew Borden. The fact that she was never romantically involved with other men have led many to believe that Borden may have been sexually abused, sparking rumors of incest. In her later life, Borden also maintained a lesbian affair with an actress named Nance O’ Neill. Questions remain as to what happened to Borden in her father's bedroom, which remains locked, even today, as part of the somewhat morbid Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum.

Lizzie Borden murdered her step-mother.
Lizzie Borden murdered her step-mother.

On 4 August 1892, Andrew Borden and his wife Abby, were hacked to death in such horrific fashion as to be deemed by the press as the victims of “the crime of the century.” Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted of all wrongdoing, there is little doubt that the courtrooms of today would have found her innocent. Whether the murders were committed in collusion with her older sister, Emma, is a question lost to the mists of another time and place, but there is little doubt that Lizzie Andrew Borden murdered her father and step-mother in cold blood.

The Lizzie Borden crimes took place in Massachusetts.
The Lizzie Borden crimes took place in Massachusetts.

Motives for the double homicide concern Andrew Borden’s estate. He died without a will, as he was in the process of transferring some property to relatives on his wife’s side that had originally been designated for Lizzie and her sister. This more than likely angered the two sisters whose resentment toward their father’s second wife had already reached a boiling point.

Some theorize that Andrew Borden was killed because he returned home too soon and Lizzie knew she could not conceal the murder of her stepmother. And thus she killed him while he napped on a sofa. Lizzie Borden was the only one at home in the two-story, railroad-flat type house. No intruder could have entered and missed seeing her. Why wouldn’t she too have been killed? According to the court transcripts, Lizzie Borden claims to have been in three different places when her father was killed: in the back, outside in the yard and upstairs.

Discussion Comments


The relationship to Nance O'Neill is interesting.


I believe you got that backward, as there seems little doubt that Abby was killed first - "Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done she gave her father 41"

As for if she was guilty or not - that, like Jack the Ripper, may never be known unless something comes to light that the killer wrote a confession.


Yes, the question remains: If Lizzie didn't do it, who did? The fact is, 12 graybearded farmers just couldn't conceive of the idea that a gently bred young lady could hack her parents to death with a hatchet. If she had poisoned them, they would have convicted her. Poison being a woman's weapon, according to the thinking of the time. In any case, one of the very best sources on the murders is "A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight" by Victoria Lincoln. Lincoln grew up in Fall River, and her parents knew Lizzie. She presents the best theories for the murders, and in a readable, informative way. Highly recommended reading for any serious student of the case.

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    • Lizzie Borden murdered her step-mother.
      By: stokkete
      Lizzie Borden murdered her step-mother.
    • The Lizzie Borden crimes took place in Massachusetts.
      By: Floki Fotos
      The Lizzie Borden crimes took place in Massachusetts.