Thursday, August 04, 2005

40 whacks

On today's date, August 4, 1892, at about 11 in the morning, Bridget Sullivan, the hired girl in the household of Dr. Andrew J. Borden, of Fall River, Massachusetts heard Lizzie Borden, Andrew's daughter, cry out, "Come down quick! Father's dead! Somebody's come in and killed him!"

In fact, both the doctor and his wife had been murdered. Borden's body was on a sofa, his feet still resting on the floor. His face had been cut by eleven blows. One eye had been cut in half and was protruding from his face, his nose had been severed. It appeared that he had been attacked from above and behind him as he slept.

Mrs. Borden was lying on the floor of the guestroom. She had been struck more than a dozen times, from the back. The autopsy later revealed that there had been nineteen blows. Her head had been crushed by the same hatchet or axe that had presumably killed Mr. Borden, with one misdirected blow striking the back of her scalp, almost at the neck.

A few days later, Lizzie was discovered burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She said it was stained with paint. Lizzie was charged with the murders, and her trial lasted two weeks. At one point during the trial, the skulls of the victims, hidden under tissue paper at the prosecution desk, were uncovered. Lizzie fainted dead away, possibly a turning point in her trial, as she was said to have won much sympathy from the all-male jury.

In a little over an hour of deliberations, the jury returned with its verdict. Lizzie was found not guilty on all charges.

Five weeks after the trial, Lizzie and her sister Emma purchased and moved into a thirteen-room, gray stone Victorian house a in a fashionable residential area of Fall River. Lizzie named the house "Maplecroft," and had the name carved into the top stone step leading up to the front door. Lizzie also began to refer to herself as "Lizbeth." In 1904, Emma moved out of Maplecroft, apparently offended by Lizzie's relationship with a young actress she had become infatuated with.

Lizzie died on June 1, 1927, at age 67, from complications following gall bladder surgery. Her sister Emma died nine days later from a fall down the back stairs of her home. The two sisters were buried together in the family plot. One-seventh of Lizzie's considerable estate was left to the Animal Rescue League of Fall River.

The Borden murders - and an ever-growing variety of theories as to whether Lizzie actually committed them - is still a favorite of amateur detectives and crime aficionados around the world. The Borden home where the murders took place is now a Bed and Breakfast.

The infamous rhyme...

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.

....was originally sung to the tune of Ta-Rah-Rah-Boom-de-yay. It can still occasionally be heard chanted at playgrounds in New England, usually at Halloween.

Primary sources: Wikipedia; Court TV Crime Library

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And on a lighter note...today is also the 104th anniversary of Louis Armstrong's birth. Happy B-day, Satchmo.

:-)