On This Day: August 4th

On August 4th 1892 the father and stepmother of Lizzie Borden were found murdered in their Massachusetts home. Abby Borden was struck on the side of the head with a hatchet which cut her just above the ear, this caused her to turn and fall facedown on the floor, which created contusions on her nose and forehead. Her killer is then assumed to have sat on her back delivering 19 direct hits to the back of her head. Andrew was found slumped on a couch in the downstairs sitting room, struck 10 or 11 times with a hatchet-like weapon. One of his eyeballs had been split cleanly in two, suggesting that he had been asleep when attacked. His still bleeding wounds suggested a quite recent attack, with Lizzie the one alerting her family of his death. 

Lizzie was charged and brought to trial over the murders, some key points from the trial include:

  • The hatchet-head found in the basement was not convincingly shown to be the murder weapon. Prosecutors argued that the killer had removed the handle because it was bloody. One officer testified that a hatchet handle was found near the hatchet-head, but another officer contradicted this.
  • Though no bloody clothing was found, a few days after the murder Lizzie burned a dress in the stove, saying that it had been ruined when she brushed against fresh paint.
  • According to testimony, the maid, Bridget, went upstairs at around 10:58 a.m. and left Lizzie and her father downstairs. Lizzie told many people that at this time, she went into the barn and was not in the house for “20 minutes or possibly a half an hour”. Hyman Lubinsky testified for the defense that he saw Lizzie leaving the barn at 11:03 a.m. and Charles Gardner confirmed the time. At 11:10 a.m., Lizzie called the maid downstairs, told her Mr. Borden had been murdered, and told her not to go into the room where he died. Instead, Lizzie sent the maid to fetch a doctor.
  • There was a similar axe-murder nearby shortly before the trial, though its perpetrator was shown to have been out of the country when the Bordens were killed.
  • Evidence was excluded that Lizzie had sought to purchase prussic acid (for cleaning a sealskin cloak, she said) from a local druggist on the day before the murders when the judge ruled that the incident was too remote in time to have any connection.
  • Because of the mysterious illness that had struck the household before the murders, the family’s milk and Andrew’s and Abby’s stomachs (removed during autopsies performed in the Borden dining room) were tested for poison; none was found.
  • The victims’ heads were removed during autopsy. The skulls were used as evidence during the trial – and Lizzie fainted upon seeing them – the heads were later buried at the foot of each grave.
  • The presiding Associate Justice, Justin Dewey (who had been appointed by Robinson when he was governor), delivered a lengthy summary that supported the defense as his charge to the jury before it was sent to deliberate.

On June 20, after deliberating an hour and a half, the jury acquitted Lizzie.

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