Tonight is the world premiere of Lifetime’s much-anticipated movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax inspired by the world’s most infamous female ax murderer and starring Christina Ricci in the title role. Despite her infamy, however, Lizzie Borden was actually acquitted of the brutal slaying of her father and stepmother after her headline-grabbing trial in 1893. Even so, many still believe she did the dirty deed that captivated a nation and inspired perhaps the most gothic nursery rhyme of all time:
Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
* In reality, Lizzie’s stepmother Abby Borden reportedly suffered 18 or 19 “whacks” while her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, received 11.
So the question remains: Did Lizzie Borden actually kill her parents or not? Here are some bullet points from the trial and the events preceding the murder:
• The Borden family was under a great deal of tension due in large part to Lizzie’s father Andrew Borden giving large gifts such as real estate to extended members of the family.
• In May 1892, there was an incident in which Andrew, believing that pigeons Lizzie kept in the barn were attracting intruders, killed the pigeons with a hatchet.
• Lizzie referred to her stepmother as “Mrs. Borden” and not “mother” or “mom” etc.
• While searching the Borden home after the murder police found a hatchet in the basement with most of the handle gone.
• The prosecution argued that the handle had been removed by the killer as an attempt to cover up blood evidence, but there were conflicting reports from two officers about whether or not the handle had actually been located near the hatchet head. As a result, prosecutors were unable to demonstrate convincingly that the hatchet found in the basement was the murder weapon.
• A few days after the murder, Lizzie Borden burned a dress in a stove claiming that it was ruined after she got paint on it. Some speculate she burned the dress because of blood stains.
• Just before Lizzie’s parents were killed with an ax, there was another, similar ax murder in a nearby town. Later it was determined that the person found guilty of that crime was out of the country at the time of Lizzie’s parents’ murder.
• The family all became seriously ill the day before the murders. The family doctor attributed the illness to spoiled food, but some (including Abby) suspected poisoning. (It is unclear if Lizzie was violently ill, too, but I assume so or else it would be noted in reports about the case.) There was testimony that Lizzie attempted to purchase hydrogen cyanide (or prussic acid), which is a lethal poison, the day before the murders. Lizzie claimed it was to clean a sealskin cloak. That testimony was excluded from the trial. Investigators tested the Borden’s milk as well as Andrew and Abby’s stomachs for evidence of poison but none was found.
So if Lizzie Borden didn’t kill Andrew and Abby Borden, then who did? Wikipedia compiled this list of alternate theories and suspects:
• Lizzie herself, despite her acquittal—one writer proposing that she killed while in a fugue state.
• Bridget Sullivan, perhaps in rage at being ordered to clean windows on a hot day—the day of the murders was unusually hot—and while still recovering from the mystery illness that had struck the household.
• A “William Borden” (who was Andrew Borden’s illegitimate son) after (according to this theory) failing to extort money from his father.
• Emma Borden, having established an alibi at Fairhaven, Massachusetts (about 15 miles away from Fall River, Massachusetts) comes secretly to Fall River to commit the murders and returns to Fairhaven to receive the telegram informing her of the murders.
The Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took An Ax takes a definite stance on Lizzie’s guilt or innocence, but I don’t want to reveal anything in case you haven’t seen the movie. 🙂
Lizzie Borden Took An Ax premieres Saturday, January 25 at 8/7c on Lifetime.
Lizzie Borden information source: Wikipedia