Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden Took An Ax

The day is stiflingly hot, over one hundred degrees, even though it is not yet noon. The elderly man, still in his heavy morning coat, reclines on a mohair-covered sofa, his boots on the floor so as not to soil the upholstery. As he naps in the August heat, his wife is on the floor of the guestroom upstairs, dead for the past hour and a half, killed by the same hand, with the same weapon, that is about to strike him, as he sleeps.

"... one of the most dastardly and diabolical crimes that was ever committed in Massachusetts... Who could have done such an act? In the quiet of the home, in the broad daylight of an August day, on the street of a popular city, with houses within a stone's throw, nay, almost touching, who could have done it?

"Inspection of the victims discloses that Mrs. Borden had been slain by the use of some sharp and terrible instrument, inflicting upon her head eighteen blows, thirteen of them crushing through the skull; and below stairs, lying upon the sofa, was Mr. Borden's dead and mutilated body, with eleven strokes upon the head, four of them crushing the skull."

(From the closing arguments for the defense of Lizzie Borden, made by her principal attorney, George D. Robinson.)

Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden

The Lizzie Borden case has mystified and fascinated those interested in crime for over one hundred years. Very few cases in American history have attracted as much attention as the hatchet murders of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby Borden. The bloodiness of the acts in an otherwise respectable late nineteenth century domestic setting is startling. Along with the gruesome nature of the crimes is the unexpected character of the accused, not a hatchet-wielding maniac, but a church-going, Sunday-school-teaching, respectable, spinster-daughter, charged with parricide, the murder of parents, a crime worthy of Classical Greek tragedy. This is a murder case in which the accused is found not guilty for the violent and bloody murders of two people. There were the unusual circumstances considering that it was an era of swift justice, of vast newspaper coverage, evidence that was almost entirely circumstantial, passionately divided public opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, incompetent prosecution, and acquittal.

Lizzie Borden as a young girl
Lizzie as a young girl

However little one might know about Lizzie Borden, she is forever immortalized in the playground verse:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

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