By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
A Massachusetts house that Lizzie Borden lived in after her murder trial is on sale, People reported. The seven-bedroom home was restored, though an attempt to turn it into a bed and breakfast fell through. Her story goes far beyond when she “took an axe.”
According to People, a house once owned by the famously accused murderer, Lizzie Borden, has recently gone on sale. “Currently owned by Donald Woods and Leeann Wilber, the Fall River, Massachusetts, Queen Anne house that was recently sold in 2018 is now up for grabs for $890,000,” the article said. “Borden lived there with her sister [Emma] from 1893 to 1927, after purchasing the house following her acquittal for the 1892 murders of her [father] and stepmother, which were committed with an axe.
“Much, much more recently, current owner Woods tried to convert the place into a spooky bed and breakfast after purchasing it for $500,000.”
Most people have heard the macabre rhyme “Lizzie Borden took an axe / And gave her mother 40 whacks.” However, common knowledge of the murders ends there. For example, the woman Lizzie Borden allegedly killed wasn’t her birth mother. Nor was the murder weapon actually an axe.
The murders and the ensuing investigation led to a surprising acquittal at trial.
Burying the Hatchet
According to Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at Mt. Saint Joseph University, Lizzie Borden’s birth mother died in 1862, when Lizzie was two years old. Her father Andrew, who remarried in 1865, was a successful businessman—a bank president and landlord. Neither Lizzie nor her sister Emma—10 years Lizzie’s senior—ever married. They both continued to live at home until Lizzie was in her thirties.
“Lizzie kept pigeons in the loft of the family’s barn; she was quite the animal lover,” Dr. Murray said. “But sometime in either May or June of 1892, Mr. Borden got fed up with Lizzie’s hobby, saying it was drawing neighborhood boys who shot at the birds, so Mr. Borden beheaded Lizzie’s pigeons with an axe.”
In early August, Lizzie’s stepmother ran to the house of the Bordens’ neighbor, a local doctor, claiming her family had been sick for several days and possibly poisoned. The doctor told her it was more likely something they ate. Lizzie told a friend that she thought one of her father’s enemies had poisoned them.
The next day, August 4, Emma was at a friend’s house when Lizzie told their live-in maid Bridget to get the doctor because her father had been killed.
“Although there was no sign of a struggle, Andrew’s body was on the sofa in the family’s sitting room, with his feet still on the ground and his face smashed in by a sharp weapon,” Dr. Murray said. “A short time later, Mrs. Borden was found on the floor in an upstairs guest room with blows to the back of her head.”
Police searched the property and found two axes, a claw-hammer hatchet, a regular hatchet, and the head of a standard hatchet with its handle broken off. It was eventually determined that a hatchet, not an axe, had taken the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Borden. No bloody clothes were found aside from the ones the victims wore.
Nor Was It 40 Whacks
“Autopsies were conducted, believe it or not, right there on the family’s dining room table at 3:00 that afternoon,” Dr. Murray said. “The funeral was held two days after the Bordens’ deaths, but police delayed the actual burial, because they wanted another, more thorough, autopsy. So a second examination occurred a week after the couple’s deaths in the receiving vault of the Oak Grove Cemetery by the Medical Examiner, who was named Dolan.”
Dr. Dolan removed the heads from the bodies and “defleshed” them. He examined Andrew’s head and found it had suffered 10 distinct blows from a hatchet, while his wife sustained 18 or so blows to the back of the skull. The heads were not returned to the bodies for burial, but kept and preserved as evidence in case of a trial.
During questioning, Lizzie lied repeatedly to officers. She told falsehoods regarding her whereabouts during the murders as well as an intent to buy cyanide at the local pharmacy. She was arrested and charged, and at a Grand Jury hearing in November, a friend of Lizzie’s confessed to seeing Lizzie burning a blue dress in the kitchen stove three days after the murders. Lizzie told her friend it was stained with paint. Their maid, Bridget, had mentioned during questioning that Lizzie had worn a blue dress before the murders and a different dress afterward.
The prosecution spent 10 days presenting their case at Lizzie’s trial, while the defense only spent one day.
“Emma testified that her sister and stepmother had a fairly cordial relationship, and that Emma herself had been the one who told Lizzie to burn that blue dress that was stained with paint,” Dr. Murray said. “The defense also tried to poke holes in the prosecutor’s timeline, and they brought on witnesses who said they had seen strangers in the area on the day of the murders.
“When both sides had rested, the judges delivered a jury charge that some have called nothing more than ‘directions to acquit.'”
According to Dr. Murray, it’s been said that jurors took just 10 minutes to agree on Lizzie’s verdict, but they waited an hour in the room afterward so it wouldn’t seem like they’d acted in haste. Lizzie and Emma sold the house, bought a mansion, hired servants, and lived together for 34 years.
That mansion may soon have a new owner.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray contributed to this article. Dr. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University, where she teaches doctoral-level human gross anatomy and undergraduate-level anatomy and physiology, as well as forensic science. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Mount St. Joseph University and her master’s degree in anthropology and PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Biology from the University of Cincinnati.