When Lizzie Borden axed her stepmother and father to death in 1892 it was unthinkable that a woman of such upbringing could commit such vicious crimes. The savagery of the murders set her free.
by Denise M. Clark
The New York Times headline for Aug. 5th, 1892 read: "BUTCHERED IN THEIR HOME: Mr. Borden and His Wife Killed in Broad Daylight." The first paragraph of the stunning article read:
FALL RIVER, Mass, Aug. 4 -- Andrew J. Borden and wife, two of the oldest, wealthiest, and most highly respected persons in the city, were brutally murdered with an ax at 11 o'clock this morning in their home on Second Street, within a few minutes' walk of the City Hall. The Borden family consisted of the father, mother, two daughters, and a servant. The older daughter has been in Fair Haven for some days. The rest of the family has been ill for three or four days, and Dr. Bowen, the attending physician, thought they had been poisoned.
The horrific axe murders of Andrew Borden and his third wife, Abby, would have been shocking in any age, but in the early 1890s they were unthinkable. Equally unthinkable was who wielded the axe that butchered them an hour or so apart in their own home. The idea that the murderer could possibly be Borden's 32-year-old daughter Lizzie took days to register with the police – despite overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence that pointed only at her. Nine months later a jury, unable to fathom that a woman could commit such vicious crimes, would find a way to ignore the evidence and set Lizzie free.
By no means had Lizzie Borden committed the perfect crime. The police were quickly able to dispense with the possibility of an outside intruder carrying out the murders. Lizzie – her alibi fraught with inconsistencies – was the only suspect. She alone had both the motive and the opportunity. What would end up saving her was the remarkable violence of the murders: The murders were simply too grisly to have been committed by a woman of her upbringing.
The Borden mystery is captured within a web of falsified statements, suppositions, assumptions and public opinion, all of which revolve around a missing weapon that actually never was missing, a blood-stained dress that was never found, and a young woman's previously impeccable character.