“Lizzie Borden took an axe,
and gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one!”
– anonymous schoolyard rhyme
On a hot August morning in 1892, the brutal double murder of Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby in the New England mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts shocked the nation. Andrew’s 32-year-old spinster daughter Lizzie Borden was accused of the ghastly crimes and brought to trial. The sensational headline-producing trial lasted thirteen days, and she was acquitted by a jury of her peers. To this day, the killings remain unsolved, with speculation still running rampant among true crime buffs. Did Lizzie Borden really hack her father and stepmother to death?
There are plenty of other suspects in the case, as I learned while taking the guided tour of The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum (yes, it’s a real B&B, and you can stay overnight – if you dare!!). Fall River is just a hop, skip, and a jump down the highway from where I live and, since I’m familiar with the city (I spent five years working there), I decided to make the pilgrimage to the site of 19th Century America’s most horrific murders. Our friendly tour guide James did a splendid job walking about twenty of us through the refurbished home, as we walked where Lizzie once trod and stood in the exact spots the gruesome killings occurred 126 years ago.
Lizzie’s older sister Emma was supposedly still in New Bedford (my hometown), where she and Lizzie had gone in June after a heated family argument (Lizzie had returned alone). A 25-year-old Irish immigrant named Bridget Sullivan, called ‘Maggie’ by the family and employed as a house maid, was in the house that day. And John Vinnicum Morse, Andrew’s brother-in-law from his first marriage, had arrived the night before the murders occurred, allegedly to discuss some business matters with Andrew. There were also reports of two strange men hanging around the neighborhood in the days prior to the murders. Yet it was Lizzie who was arrested and tried, her story fluctuating and contradictory during the coroner’s inquest, possibly due to the copious amounts of morphine she was getting from her doctor to calm her down. Did one or more of these people do the dastardly deed – after all, sister Emma inherited Andrew’s $350,000 fortune (worth about 12 million today) and generously split it with Lizzie. Did she return early from New Bedford that fateful day? What exactly was this ‘business’ Morse had with Andrew? Were Lizzie and Bridget in more than an employer-employee relationship? And who were these strangers prowling around Second Street? The world may never know, but it’s sure fun to speculate!
(By the way, that old rhyme isn’t true – Andrew received about 10 blows to the skull, while Abby got 18)
Behind the Borden House is a gift shop in the family barn (actually a reproduction; the original barn was demolished in 2005), where the 1975 TV-Movie THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN starring Elizabeth Montgomery plays continuously. There are books, DVD’s, bobbleheads, t-shirts, even golf balls (for you weekend “hackers” out there!). The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum is located at 230 Second Street in Fall River, MA (about a half-block from the courthouse), and if you spend the night you get an extended tour complete with information about some paranormal activities that’ve allegedly happened in this real-life house of horrors. Definitely worth your time if you’re in the area. Just make sure you sleep with one eye open!!
(All text and photos by me, your morbid Cracked Rear Viewer!)