August 4, 1892 began with the promise of a warm summer Thursday. No one in Fall River, Massachusetts, suspected that a horrible double murder would occur before lunchtime.
Later that day, the bodies of Andrew J. Borden and his wife Abby D. Borden were found at the home at 92 Second Street. Each had been bludgeoned with an axe. The key suspect was their daughter, Lizzie Borden.
Andrew Borden was the descendent of wealthy and influential residents of the area, but he was raised in modest surroundings and then struggled financially as a young man. Eventually, he was successful through the manufacture and sale of furniture and caskets, and then he became a successful property developer while also managing several textile mills.
At the time of his murder, Borden owned considerable commercial property. He was the president of the Union Savings Bank and a director of the Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust. Despite this wealth, he continued to live modestly. Sections of his home lacked indoor plumbing. Rather than living in the more fashionable and wealthy neighborhood, he preferred to be located close to his mills in the industrial area of the city.
Abby Borden was Lizzie’s stepmother. According to the family’s live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, rarely ate meals with the parents. During the investigation of the murders, Sullivan said that Lizzie indicated that she did not call her stepmother "Mother" but rather "Mrs. Borden."
The police also learned that a few months earlier Andrew, believing that the pigeons that Lizzie Borden kept in the barn were attracting intruders, killed the birds with a hatchet. Then, a family argument during July prompted both sisters to take extended "vacations." Tension within the family also was attributed to the gifts that Andrew provided to various branches of the family, including a house for Abby's relatives. On the night before the murders, Andrew had a meeting about the transferring of property with the brother of his first wife. Any and all of these situations may have aggravated an already tense household.
The next morning, Andrew was found slumped on a couch in the downstairs sitting room, struck multiple times with a hatchet-like weapon. Abby was discovered in the upstairs guest bedroom, her skull crushed by a larger number of blows.
Police found a hatchet in the basement. Though free of blood, it was missing most of its handle. Lizzie was arrested on August 11. A grand jury began hearing evidence on November 7. She was indicted on December 2. After a sensational 13-day trail, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the crimes. But, many people then and many now feel she was the murderer.
Bed And Breakfast And Museum
Today, the Greek Revival style house on Second Street (now numbered 230), is known as the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. Guests have their choice of eight bedrooms, including the one where Abby’s body was found beside the bed.
Besides the house and its tales and secrets, a folk rhyme from those days in Fall River still can be heard as children skip rope elsewhere in the country: "Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done she gave her father 41."
According to folklore, the rhyme was created by an anonymous writer as a tune to sell newspapers. Others attribute it to the anonymous “Mother Goose.” Whomever created it, the rhyme stretched the truth a bit. Abby actually suffered 18 or 19 blows. Andrew received 10 or 11 blows from the axe.