The True Story Behind Lizzie Borden And The Infamous Borden Murders

Published June 20, 2016
Updated July 23, 2018
Published June 20, 2016
Updated July 23, 2018

Was Lizzie Borden just a sweet Sunday School teacher, unfairly blamed for her parents' deaths? Or did she brutally and methodically murder her parents — and get away with it?

Lizzie Borden Photo

Wikimedia CommonsLizzie Borden in 1892.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, the Borden house awoke early.

The maid, a respectable Irish immigrant named Bridget Sullivan, served breakfast to the patriarch, Andrew, and his wife, Abby, as usual. The eldest Borden daughter, Emma, was away visiting friends.

And the younger daughter, Lizzie Borden, an unmarried 32-year-old Sunday school teacher, slept in.

She came downstairs after her uncle, John Morse, who had arrived unexpectedly for a visit the day before, left the house. Lizzie decided against eating breakfast.

Andrew decided to go downtown to Fall River, Massachusetts where the family lived at around nine in the morning. The Bordens were prosperous and, their patriarch served on the boards of several banks while working as a commercial landlord.

In her husband’s absence, Abby went upstairs to make the bed Morse had slept in the night before. She left that room only one more time, looking for fresh pillowcases.

Meanwhile, Andrew had returned home. The maid let him in and Lizzie came downstairs, claiming that “Mrs. Borden” had left the house after receiving a note saying that a friend was sick. Lizzie and Emma always referred to Abby, their stepmother with whom they had an unfriendly relationship, as “Mrs. Borden.”

Her father believed the story and retreated to his room, where he would remain for only a few minutes, before coming back downstairs and settling on a sofa in the sitting room.

Sullivan, who was not feeling well — she reported throwing up that morning, perhaps from the flu that had traveled around the house days prior — went to rest in her room where she fell asleep.

According to Sullivan’s testimony during Lizzie Borden’s trial, she only awoke when she heard Lizzie screaming that her father was dead.

The Murders Of The Bordens

Murder Scene Of Andrew Borden

Wikimedia CommonsCrime scene photo showing the covered corpse of Andrew Borden.

Lizzie Borden later said that she found her father dead, sprawled out on the couch and covered in blood, his face so badly disfigured that he was unrecognizable.

After the screaming, Sullivan ran to fetch the doctor and a neighborhood friend of Lizzie’s, but the commotion had attracted the attention of neighbors who summoned the police.

At this point, Abby’s whereabouts were still unknown. Lizzie Borden told the gathering crowd of concerned neighbors the same story she’d told her father: that her stepmother had received a note asking her to leave the house.

Lizzie also mentioned that her parents had been ill in the previous days and that she suspected their milk had been poisoned.

After returning with a local doctor named Seabury Bowen, Bridget checked for Abby upstairs, where she found her limp body lying face down in a pool of her own blood.

Abby Borden had been struck 19 times with a hatchet; Andrew had been hit 11 times with the same weapon. One of Andrew’s eyes had been cut in half and his nose had been completely severed from his face. Abby’s blood was dark and congealed, leading Bowen to believe that she had been killed first.

The county medical examiner, Dr. Dolan, looked at the bodies after Bowen. Later, Dolan would have the Bordens’ stomachs removed and tested. No evidence that the couple had been poisoned was ever found.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.