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Out of the Ordinary

Lizzie Borden letters shed new light on 120 year old murder trial

Brittney Elkins

Lizzie Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother.

What was her involvement in the unsolved double murder of her father and stepmother?

Lizzie Borden is the notorious Sunday school teacher who was accused of butchering her parents with an ax.

Lizzie Borden took an ax, gave her mother 40 whacks and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.

But did she?

Lizzie Borden was acquitted in the murder trial, but 120 years later her lawyer’s handwritten journals have been discovered.

Andrew Jackson Jennings, who represented Lizzie Borden in the murder trial, kept meticulous records in journals about the main characters involved in the story— Lizzie Borden, her father Andrew Borden and her stepmother Abby.

Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the charges, she went down in history as a cold-hearted individual and most people today believe she did kill her parents.

Andrew Borden was painted as a strict man who didn’t provide for his daughters. But letters written by Lizzie Borden herself while she was held in prison pending trial show her grief and love for her father.

Curator Michael Martins published 40 letters written by Lizzie Borden.

“You have to create villains in order to justify the murders, and Andrew Borden is portrayed as evil,” Martins said, “but he gave his daughters a lot more than some other fathers were giving theirs.”

The letters do not reveal whether or not Lizzie Borden did kill her parents, though.

In 1892, the Bordens’ maid Maggie Sullivan woke up from a nap to the sound of Lizzie Borden screaming. She had found her father, hacked to death, on a couch in the living room. Later, Abby’s body was discovered in the guest room upstairs.

Lizzie Borden and her sister had been upset with their father, and Lizzie Borden had a tumultuous relationship with her stepmother. The sisters had also been upset with their father for a vindictive incident in which he chopped the heads off Lizzie’s pet pigeons with an ax.

Eli Bence, a local druggist, claimed that Lizzie Borden had tried to by cyanide from him around the time of the murders, but was unsuccessful.

The entire family became ill soon after.

The high-profile murders remain unsolved.

“Most of what is known about Lizzie Borden is based on legend, innuendo and outright lies,” Martins said, “Fact has been suppressed by fiction, and the fiction is much more interesting to a lot of people.”

The image of a quiet 32 year-old woman living at home with her family one day and brutally hacking them to death with an ax the next will not easily fade from folklore. But the journals have the potential to paint Lizzie Borden in a new light.

For those who are more interested in the pop culture version of the Lizzie Borden story, the family’s home has been turned into the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. Guests can spend the night in Lizzie Borden’s bedroom, and the sofa, in which her father was found murdered is still in the house.

The bed and breakfast serves under the morbid slogan, “Where we treat everyone like family.”

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