By 1892, Andrew Borden had established himself as a man of wealth and means in the community of Fall River, Massachusetts. A furniture and casket maker, he had restored the wealth of his aristocratic family, a wealth that his own father had squandered when Andrew was young. His first wife, Sarah (Morse) Borden, had given him three daughters before her passing at age 31. After her death, Andrew remarried, taking Abby Durfee Gray as his spouse. The family was hardly a model of bliss: the live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, had noticed that the two daughters rarely ate with their father and stepmother. Money seemed to be at the root of much of the tension in the household, as Andrew was rather frugal, giving his own children very little from his considerable wealth. However, nothing prepared the Fall River community, and indeed the larger world, for the events that would follow on a hot August day, when Andrew and Abby were murdered in their own home by repeated blows from a hatchet. The prime suspect? Andrew’s youngest daughter: Lizzie Borden.
An attacker had struck Abby Borden 19 times in the head with a hatchet some time between 9:00 am and 10:30 am on the morning of August 4, 1892. Abby was cleaning one of the guest rooms at the time, the family having hosted Lizzie’s uncle (her late mother’s brother) the previous night. Andrew returned to the house around 10:30 am after visiting a nearby relative, and was murdered while taking a mid-morning nap, receiving 11 blows from a hatchet while in the first-floor sitting room. A little after 11:00 am, Lizzie called for the maid: “Maggie! Come quick! Father’s dead! Someone came in and killed him!” (via Wikipedia).
The ensuing investigation focused heavily on Lizzie, who had been home at the time, although the detective’s sloppy investigation was less than thorough. However, Lizzie’s story had numerous contradictions and inaccuracies. She had three separate explanations for where she was in the home when her father returned home. She claimed to have removed her father’s boots when he took a nap, but he is clearly still wearing them in the crime scene photographs. In addition, a hatchet found in the basement had its handle broken and it was covered in ash, perhaps to obscure evidence. Lizzie was witnessed the day after the murders tearing up one of her dresses and burning it in the kitchen stove. No other prime suspects emerged, as her older sister Emma was in another town at the time, and her uncle had an alibi for his whereabouts. Lizzie Borden was tried beginning in June of 1863 in a trial that captivated the nation. The idea of a sordid murder in an elite family during the Victorian era was headline news, let alone that the prime suspect was a woman, at a time when women were generally considered incapable of murder. Yet, given the poor investigative methods (even for that time period), the largely circumstantial evidence, and the view that a woman would be incapable of such a crime, the all-male jury found Lizzie innocent. Lizzie lived the rest of her life in Fall River, although largely excluded from society, until dying in 1927 (via Wikipedia).
On Saturday morning, I set off for Fall River, to tour the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. The house that was once home to a notorious murder is now a destination for tourists to learn about this horrific crime. The house was a private home for many years until 1996, when it opened as both a museum and a bed & breakfast. Guests who are adventurous enough can choose to stay the night in this home, where the museum staff will share further stories of the house, including those of the paranormal, as stories of hauntings in the home abound. While the Voyage of DH does not often delve into Dark Tourism, today’s adventure was definitely an exploration of the macabre.
The murder of Andrew and Abby Borden was never solved, and despite occurring almost 125 years ago, the case continues to have a hold on the imagination of many people. The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum tour was fascinating The tour guide, Danielle, did an excellent job of telling the history of the house and the story of the murders, while also striking a balance between humor and gravity. The tour takes approximately 50 minutes, and occurs on the hour every day from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm. The tour costs $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students with a valid ID, and $10 for children ages 7-12 (children under 7 are free). For the more… adventurous… among you who wish to stay overnight, reservations can be made online through the museum’s website, and all room reservations include breakfast. I would highly recommend this museum for anyone interested in American history, crime, or perhaps even an exploration of the paranormal.
Thanks for coming along on another Voyage of DH!
‘Til next time.