Everyone knows that Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks—and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.
That old jump rope rhyme has a few factual errors, actually: Abby Borden was Lizzie’s stepmother, not her mother, and she was on the receiving end of 18 or 19 blows, while her father received about 11. And, not least of all, Lizzie was acquitted of the horrific murders in Fall River, Massachusetts.
After winning the trial of the century, in which a jury of 12 heavily mustachioed men (picture below) deliberated for 90 minutes, Borden chose to stay in Fall River. She quickly learned that though she had been acquitted in a court of law, not everyone was willing to let her off the hook.
She bought a new house, which she deemed “Maplecroft,” in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. And, perhaps to fit into her swanky new digs, she started going by “Lizbeth” instead of Lizzie. Two years after the murder, she and her sister Emma even spent more than $2000 to purchase a 10-foot-tall blue granite monument for their famously deceased relatives.
But if Borden thought she was going to get a fresh start in town, she was dead wrong. All of her friends abandoned her. People refused to sit near her at church. And children, probably daring each other to tempt the murderess, would ring her doorbell in the middle of the night and pelt her house with gravel and eggs.
It’s not surprising that the court of public opinion turned against Borden. Had the citizens of Fall River not already made their minds up for themselves, their opinions may have been swayed when Judge Josiah Blaisdell pronounced her “probably guilty” at her preliminary hearing.
In 1905, even her sister turned on her. Lizzie often traveled to Boston and New York to go to the theater and had developed a relationship with actress Nance O’Neil. Emma disapproved, and a party Lizzie threw for O’Neil at Maplecroft ended up being the last straw. Emma moved out of the house, and though she refused to discuss the matter, she told the Boston Sunday Herald that “I did not go until conditions became absolutely unbearable.” The sisters remained estranged for the rest of their lives.
Lizzie may have gotten one final dig in at the residents of Fall River who had condemned her. After a year of illness, Lizzie died on June 1, 1927—and no one was invited to her burial.
This story has been updated for 2019.