The city of Fall River, Massachusetts has a long history, and was in fact an early outgrowth of the original Plymouth Colony. The river itself known to the Native American Wampanoag Tribe as Quequschan (or falling/leaping river,) gave the city its name and reason-for-being for most of its life. Water power brought grist and lumber mills and later electric power to feed a developing textile industry that supported a growing population well into the 20th century. One of the pioneering families was that of Richard Borden, a name that would be prominent in the community over the years, along with that of another family line bearing the Durfee name.
These facts become a matter of passing interest when in 1865 Andrew Borden a widower, married a spinster named Abby Durfee Gray and moved her into the family house at 92 Second Street in Fall River. By 1892, to his two spinster daughters – Lizzie age 32 and Emma 10 years older – this was not seen as a marriage made in heaven, but yet another move by their “Scrooge-like” father to further reduce the financial legacy which ought by right to be theirs’.
Andrew, a bank president, renter of properties and entrepreneur was not well-liked and despite his considerable wealth refused to light his house with gas or install an indoor toilet. To his live-in daughters he was a “tight wad” and worse. They felt socially awkward around their neighbor friends who always appeared better dressed and more “up-to-date” than they could. To make matters worse, now they had to bow and scrape to a stepmother they hated (although there is no sign they were mistreated by the new Mrs. Borden.)
In the early days of August, 1892 a series of strange events took place in and around the Borden home, including complaints of strangers wandering the premises and the effects of what the two daughters reported as attempts at poisonings. Emma in fact left to stay with a friend, leaving at home the remainder of the family and the maid Bridget who roomed in the attic.
On the morning of August 4, 1892 Lizzie called for Bridget to run for the doctor, saying that her father lay dead from wounds to his face in his sitting room where he had gone for a nap. Soon afterward Abby was also found dead in an upstairs bedroom, her head crushed in from in back by a heavy sharp object. Thus began a murder mystery which over the years would take on all the aspects of a tragic piece of American mythology.
Forensic professionals looking back on the one hundred-year-old case have praise for those investigators who – even after the first autopsies performed right on the scene – continued their examination of the de-fleshed skulls, identifying 10 strikes with a hatchet to Borden’s head while that of his wife sustained 18 whacks. Investigators found one axe and two hatchets on the premises, one of the latter with a broken handle and a thin coating of dust which appeared to have been artfully applied. There was an abundance of circumstantial evidence pointing to Lizzie as the murderer, but in the end a jury of 12 men took only ten minutes to vote for acquittal following instructions from the judge which seem to have encouraged no other option.
Lizzie Borden, a respected Sunday school teacher enjoyed practically no other social life. Her one great love was the world of animals and she kept a flight of much-loved pigeons in the family’s barn loft. Her father disapproved, so on a summer day just prior to the murders he disposed of them all by cutting their heads off with an axe. On the day after the events of August 4th, Lizzie’s friend Alice Russell who was staying with the Borden sisters found her burning a blue dress in the stove, supposedly because of a paint stain. It was known that Lizzie had been wearing a blue dress at the time of the murders. I cannot find that these facts were presented adequately to the jury. Or that it would have made any difference.
When I was a kid, girls were still playing jump rope to the (inaccurate) ditty:
Lizzie Borden took an axe, / And gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done, / She gave her father forty-one.