15 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About the Lizzie Borden Hatchet Murders
We all know that Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks -- but did she? First of all, it wasn’t her mother but her stepmother, but we’re not here to quibble over minor details. Crucial facts of the case got warped over the decades and even at the time, resulting in Lizzie probably getting done majorly dirty.
Mr. Borden Wasn’t Cheap
The tension of Andrew Borden’s wad is often cited as Lizzie’s motive for murder, but that seems to be a product of true crime retcon. In reality, he wasn’t nearly as rich as people today think, but even so, he gave his daughters a hefty allowance and let them live in his big, fancy home into their thirties. Sure, they were known to want to move to a more fashionable part of town, but who kills family for a slightly better address?
She Didn’t Need the Money
It’s also often brought up that the Borden sisters were pissed that their father had given a house to their stepmother, which was true enough, which is why they demanded rental properties for themselves -- and got them. Lizzie and Emma Borden both testified that, in the weeks leading up to the murder, their father paid them each $5,000 ($150,000 today) for property he’d previously given them. If anything, it kinda sounds like they were downright spoiled.
There’s No Evidence She Was Sexually Abused
Another theory is that Lizzie Borden killed her father because he sexually abused her, but there’s no evidence that he did. It’s certainly possible, but plenty of sexual abuse victims manage to not ax-murder their abusers.
She Didn’t Have an Unusually Bad Relationship WIth Her Parents
In fact, Lizzie seemed to have a better relationship with her father than most people you’d find on the streets, living their non-murderous lives. Was she her stepmother’s biggest fan? No, but that’s also not unusual, and they also seemed to keep it civil better than most. Family members and the household maid reported that they seemed to get along fine; at most, she maybe didn’t seek out her stepmother’s company and talked shit behind her back. Who doesn’t?
She Probably Wasn’t Gay With the Maid
Entire movies have been made out of rumors that Lizzie Borden’s parents found out she had an illicit relationship with the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, and although Lizzie was probably gay, there’s no evidence Sullivan was or that the women were close at all. Sullivan testified that both Borden daughters often called her the wrong name and placed Lizzie in a location that looked pretty bad for her around the time of the murders, which would be a cold-ass thing to do to your lover who just murdered for you.
That Pigeon Thing
Another rumor was that Lizzie was so angry at her father for killing her beloved pet pigeons that she killed him with the same hatchet he’d used, but the whole pigeon thing was just a weird tangent. Prosecutors asked her if she could think of any reason a bloody hatchet may or may not have been in the cellar, she said no, he asked her if maybe any animals had been killed on the property recently, and then she mentioned her father had recently strangled some pigeons and possibly ripped their heads off but she didn’t think he used a hatchet. She didn’t express any attachment to the pigeons and, in fact, seemed weirdly nonchalant about the presence of headless pigeons in the house.
She Had No History of Violence or Crime
After Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murders, local gossips insisted she had a long history of mental instability including everything from seizures to crazed kleptomania. She may have had epilepsy, but if she flew into a murderous rage during a seizure or some kind of fugue state, it was the only such documented incident. As for the kleptomania, that rumor seemed to arise from a single disputed set of porcelain five years after the murders. In fact, according to the local newspaper at the time, “In Lizzie Borden's life, there is not one unmaidenly nor a single deliberately unkind act."
There’s No Evidence She Tried Poison First
The Borden family got a nightmare case of the squirts in the days leading up to the murders, and a druggist testified that Lizzie tried to buy prussic acid the day before, so investigators concluded she’d tried first to poison her parents, but no poison was found in their stomachs. They probably got sick from bad swordfish or mutton.
Police Botched the Investigation
For all the attention they soon focused on Lizzie, the police performed only a “cursory inspection” of her bedroom after the murders, and the hatchet they insisted was the murder weapon was broken, with its handle snapped off. One officer said they’d found the handle nearby, but another said they didn’t. According to their own timeline, Lizzie had no time to clean herself up and ditch the hatchet before Sullivan saw her. Their primary reason for suspecting her seemed to be her “attitude,” which was “too calm, too collected.”
It Wasn’t the Hottest Day of the Year
Prosecutors famously described the day of the murders as “one of the hottest days on record, nearly 100 degrees,” which was relevant because it would have been too hot for a person to withstand 20–30 minutes in the barn loft, where Lizzie said she was when the murders took place, but it was actually only 83 degrees. Police also claimed they’d found no footprints in the dust in the loft, but a plumber and a gas fitter said they were also there a day or two before.
She Was On Morphine
Police pointed to Lizzie’s confused and inconsistent testimony and calm demeanor as evidence of her guilt, but in the immediate aftermath of the murders, she was so freaked out that her doctor prescribed her morphine for her nerves. Of course, she was weirdly chill and couldn’t keep anything straight -- she was on the nod, rambling about dead pigeons.
She Didn’t Burn a Bloody Dress
Lizzie Borden did burn a dress a few days after the murders, which is admittedly shady, but she did it openly in front of a friend, explaining that it was covered in paint. The friend, Alice Russell, testified that she saw no blood on the dress, and Emma Borden testified that the family often burned clothes. In fact, Lizzie seemed to think nothing of it until Russell suggested it was probably a bad look. Russell also testified that Lizzie told her she was worried about a disgruntled tenant or someone else attacking her father in the days before the murders, which might be someone setting up an alternative scenario, or it might just, you know, be an alternative scenario.
There Were Several Other Suspects
In fact, there were plenty of alternative scenarios. Police suspected John Morse, the first Mrs. Borden’s brother, who was visiting the family at the time after a long absence and remembered an unusual number of details about where he was when the murders occurred, but he had little reason to kill the Bordens. Others suspected include Sullivan, who was treated pretty badly by the Bordens, and a man named William Borden who may have believed he was Andrew Borden’s illegitimate son. He wasn’t, but a witness later reported seeing a scary-looking dude in the Bordens’ yard at the time and another claimed to overhear him confess to the murder to his ax, so. Maybe take another look at the guy who talks to his ax.
She Never Confessed
Lizzie, on the other hand, never confessed, even though hoaxsters in the 20th century produced a confession they claimed was typed by Borden after employees of the store involved in the possible shoplifting incident blackmailed it out of her, promising to keep it locked in a safe until after her death. Handwriting experts proved the signature wasn’t Borden’s, but we didn’t have Snopes at the time, so people kept believing it.
It Was Considerably Less Than 40 Whacks
Andrew Borden received about 11 blows to the head and his wife about 19, not 41 and 40, as the song describes. Yes, this one’s an insignificant technicality, but facts are facts, and whacks are whacks.
Top image: Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons