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In our series of 19th century murderers, we must not let the women get away with it either. The she-devils are equally capable as her male counter parts. During the Victorian era women were still seen as “angels in the house” and it was beyond shocking (and frightening!) that a mere woman was capable of such rage or actions. Of course, we Moderns, know better. Let us delve a little into the Lizzie Borden case . . .

Direct from the book 100 Most Infamous Criminals by Jo Durden Smith (p.62-64):

Lizzie Borden, so the old rhyme goes, took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. The truth is , though, that the number of whacks which dispatched Abbey Borden and her rich husband Andrew in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892, numbered nineteen and ten respectively–and daughter Lizzie, much to the delight of the courtroom which tried her, was finally acquitted.

But was she really guilty? She certainly had a motive. For Abbey was in fact thirty two-year old Lizzie’s step-mother, and she resent her deeply, particularly after her father, usually very tight with his money, bought Abbey’s sister a house and gave the deeds to his wife. Lizzie was also given to what her family had come to call “funny turns.” One day, for example, she announced to her father that Abbey’s bedroom had been ransacked by a burglar. He reported it to the police, who soon established that Lizzie had done the ransacking herself.

As for her father, whom she loved, the repressed spinster may even have had a motive to his murder too, apart from his meanness with money and the fact that, with both him and her step-mother dead, she would finally inherit it. For three months before his death in August, when outhouses in the garden were twice broken into, he’d convinced himself that whoever was responsible had been after Lizzie’s pet pigeons. So he’d decapitated them–yes, with an axe.

Andrew Borden

Suffice it to say that about 9:30 am on August 4th, while dusting the spare room, Abbey Borden was struck from behind with an axe and then brutally hacked at even after she was dead. There were only two people in the house at the time, Lizzie and the maid Bridget who was cleaning the downstairs windows. Slightly less than an hour and a half later, Andrew Borden returned, to be told by his daughter that is wife was out. A few minutes later, after Bridget had gone upstairs to her room in the attic, he too was struck down while dozing on a settee in the living room.

It was Lizzie who “found” the body of her father, and the neighbors she immediately called in, found the body of his wife upstairs. They did their best to comfort her. But she seemed curiously calm, and she was happy enough to talk to the police as soon as they arrived. Trouble was that, both then and subsequently, she began giving conflicting accounts of her whereabouts during the morning; and it wasn’t long before the police who found a recently cleaned axehead in the basement, came to regard her as the chief suspect. Only the day before the murders she tried to buy prussic acid in Fall River, they discovered; and when that had failed, she’d told a neighbor she was worried that he rather had made many, potentially vengeful enemies, because of his brusque manner.

Step-mother Abbey Borden

After the inquest she was arrested–and vilified as a murderess in the newspapers. But by the time her trial took place in New Bedford in 1893, the tide had begun to turn. Bridget and her sister played down her hatred for her step-mother; and though Bridget had confessed that Lizzie had burned one of her dresses on the day after her parents’ funeral she said that there had been no bloodstains on it. Lizzie herself was demure and ladylike in the dock–she even fainted halfway through the proceedings. And in the end the jury agreed with her lawyer, an ex-governor of the State, that she could not be both a lady and a fiend.

After the trial, now rich, she returned to Fall River and bought a large house, in which she died alone in 1927. Bridget the maid returned to Ireland–with, it’s said, a good deal of money from poor Andrew Borden’s coffers. There’s since been a suggestion that Lizzie became a killer during one of her “funny turns”–cause by temporal-lobe epilepsy.

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