Fall River murder continues to intrigue us in 2021. What's fact and what's fiction?

Kelly E.

A historical murder that continues to baffle

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Photo credit: IMDb official trailer of "Lizze Borden Took an Axe"

Lizzie Borden from Fall River, Massachusetts provided us with one of the most famous murder mysteries of the century. Arrested and then aquitted of the August 4, 1892 brutal murders of her father and step mother, Lizzie's story now inspires musicals, plays, tv shows, songs, and movies.

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March 2021, "Lizzie" a rock musical, Australasian Premiere performed in Greymouth, New Zealand. Author's own photo.

The case has been fictionalized, reexamined, and reenacted in numerous ways over the years. Most recently "Lizzie the musical" which has played in over 6 countries and 66 cities, showcases an all women cast, backed by a rock band and powerful musical score. Investigative show 48 Hours, examined the Borden case in "Lizzie Borden Took an Axe" in 2014 and "Lizzie", a 2018 film, cast Chloë Sevigny in the lead and offered a love affair between Lizzie and the family maid as an added element to the Fall River story.

The true history of Lizzie Borden

But how much of the real story appears in the films and plays? That's hard to say. There are many more rumors than solid evidence around the Borden case.

What we do know is Andrew Borden, a high society and wealthy businessman, was the father to three daughters: Lizzie and Emma and a third child, Alice who died in infancy. Two years after his first wife, Sarah Morse passed away Andrew remarried, chosing 37-year-old Abby as his bride. Abby was of lower social status than Andrew, but her relationship with her husband and step daughters remains a mystery.

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Photo credit: Lizzie Borden FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Lizzie, the youngest Borden child, was 32 years old when her father and stepmother were murdered. Her older sister, Emma was away at the time, although there are differing stories as to where she was exactly. After her parents deaths Emma became a very wealthy woman but, unlike her father, was also incredibly generous with her fortune.

The only other person at the Borden Fall River home on the day of the murders was Bridget Sullivan, the family's live-in maid. As many of the musicals and movies show, she was in fact washing windows at the time of the murders.

A famous children's rhyme (used at the start of Lizzie the musical) says:

"Lizzie Borden took an axe; And gave her mother forty whacks;When she saw what she had done,She gave her father forty-one"

But the truth was a little different. Abby Borden, murdered first in an upstairs bedroom, was hit 19 times with a hatchet rather than an axe. Andrew was struck multiple times (possibly 10 or 11) while sleeping on a couch.

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Trial Exhibit Number 7 (HB038). Plan of Andrew J. Borden residence, 1892. Cyanotype on paper; Thomas Kieran, Civil Engineer, Fall River, Massachusetts. Fall River Historical Society

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