Lizzie Borden - Atlas Obscura

Lizbeth Andrews Borden is a folk legend, notorious for killing her father and stepmother, despite being acquitted by a jury.

The date was August 4th, 1892. It was a horrible sweltering day in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew Borden, Lizzie’s father, a successful yet notoriously stingy banker, had just returned home from town and retired to the sitting room to take a nap. Abby, his wife and Lizzie’s stepmother, was supposed to be out visiting a neighbor (at least according to Lizzie). There was also a maid, Bridget Sullivan, who was in her room in the attic, resting after washing the windows whilst overcoming a bout of food poisoning (the Bordens were so frugal that they were often sick from recycling leftovers).

Ten minutes after Bridget headed upstairs, Lizzie, who had supposedly been busy with some ironing, screamed for her. Lizzie had found her father sprawled out on the couch with his face smashed in. The maid ran out to get the family physician and when she returned Lizzie told her to go upstairs to check if Abby had come home. Abby was upstairs all right, but lying facedown with the back of her skull in pieces.

Lizzie Borden- Atlas Obscura

Lizzie’s mother, on the floor

A week later, Lizzie was arrested. Even though the maid was present in the home, the blame fell on poor old Lizzie, who was known to dislike her stepmother. Her trial took place ten months later, in June of 1893, but there was not much evidence to convict her. The police had recovered a hatchet blade, but there were no traces of blood or human hair. Also, they did not perform any fingerprint testing since that type of science was considered too new and untrustworthy. Lizzie’s own testimony was thrown out because she contradicted herself. As was the testimony of a local pharmacist who claimed that she was in his shop the day before the murders, trying to buy prussic acid. She had told him that she needed it to clean a sealskin cape, but he refused to sell her the toxin.

Lizzie Borden - Atlas Obscura

Andrew’s body on the couch where he was found 

The jury deliberated for a mere 90 minutes, finding her innocent. If she had been found guilty, the charges would have necessitated the death penalty, something no Massachusetts woman had been sentenced to for a couple hundred years.

Lizzie Borden - Atlas Obscura   Lizzie Borden - Atlas Obscura

Abby & Andrew’s skulls are among the less disturbing pictures we could have chosen.

Lizzie moved out of her parents’ house, and upgraded to a far grander property that she dubbed “Maplecroft.” She remained a spinster, living with her older sister, Emma, for several years. She passed away from pneumonia on June 1st, 1927 at the age of 66.

The case is so utterly iconic that it has led to all sorts of theories. Some think that it was Emma, as she was supposedly out of town. Some think that it was Bridget, the maid, who was irate with the family for making her clean the windows when she had been so ill. Others claim that it was Lizzie’s uncle, John Morse, who had visited the house earlier in the day. There are even claims that she had an illegtimate half-brother, who was seeking revenge. No matter what people speculate, no one has ever been convicted of John and Abby’s murders.


Lizzie Borden House - Atlas Obscura

Fall River, Massachusetts

The Borden house on 92 Second street is now a bed an breakfast and museum that is open to the public year round.


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