Lizzie Borden is perhaps the most famous female murderer in history. But the legend of her gruesome crimes–and the subsequent haunting of her family home–has evolved over the years. Truth is wrapped up with myth–and, to be honest, a fair amount of misogyny.
Here’s what we know for sure.
Lizzie Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1860. Her father, Andrew, was a prosperous investor in property, textiles, and manufacturing–including caskets. The Bordens were comfortably wealthy, the equivalent of millionaires today.
However, Andrew Borden was by all accounts a humorless miser who refused to install indoor plumbing or electricity in his family home. Lizzie and her sister, Emma, were not close with their father. Their mother died when Lizzie was a toddler, and he remarried a woman whom the girls referred to as “Mrs. Borden.”
By the time the year of the murders arrived, Lizzie stayed away from home as often as possible. She was active at her church and with charity groups. She was literally the last person you’d expect to brutally murder two people with a hatchet.
On August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, were found brutally murdered. They had been struck multiple times with an ax. Abby died first, and when Andrew arrived home later that morning, he met the same fate.
The investigation was bungled from the start. Despite Lizzie’s conflicting statements and unreliable alibis, police failed to compile conclusive evidence. There was a rumor she’d burned a dress that might have been covered in blood. She might have bought a hatchet just before the murders, but no one ever fingerprinted the one found in the basement.
Ultimately, the jury acquitted her after just 90 minutes. And Lizzie perversely insisted on living out the rest of her days in Fall River, despite the fact that literally everyone else thought she was guilty.
The townsfolk weren’t alone in that belief. The media frenzy surrounding the crime and trial trained a spotlight on Lizzie Borden. It spawned the infamous rhyme:
Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
We’ve been fascinated with the unsolved crime ever since. But most people believe that Lizzie did, in fact, kill her father and stepmother. They just don’t know why.
In 2018, a “reimagining” of Lizzie Borden’s life arrived at theaters. Produced by and starring Chloe Sevigny, alongside Kristen Stewart, the film positions the heroine as a traumatized young woman who only wanted to be free.
In the film, Lizzie and the household maid, Bridget, are revealed to be secret lovers. They planned the murders together to save themselves from the cruel and abusive Andrew.
Is there any truth to it? Although the sisters were popular in the small New England town where they lived, Lizzie and Emma never married. Historians and true crime buffs have plenty of theories as to why the wealthy, well-liked young women could not find husbands.
The most likely explanation is that Andrew simply did not permit them. It’s also possible that he withheld money for suitable dowries for his daughters. And frankly, there weren’t that many eligible young men to go around in the aftermath of the Civil War. For whatever reason, she remained single her entire life.
The legend of Lizzie Borden looms large. But plenty of people believe that the house where her parents died is haunted by more literal spirits.
The house in Fall River has been restored to look as close to the 1892 version as possible. (Although it has indoor plumbing and electricity now.) The decor includes a sinister black velvet sofa–a reproduction of the one where Andrew was found dead. The house serves as a bed and breakfast, with daily tours and a gift shop available for the many tourists who want a peek at the infamous murder scene.
Dozens of paranormal investigators have stayed there, including the Ghost Adventures team for the Travel Channel. Guests report strange sensations, such as a hand grabbing at their clothing. Others claim to have seen Abby Borden or heard her screaming.
If ghosts are, as many people believe, more like psychic impressions following traumatic events, then the home could very well be haunted. I certainly wouldn’t spend the night there–would you?