By Jeff Belanger
Lizzie Borden took an ax,
And gave her mother 40 whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father 41.
It was seventeen (not forty) whacks that did in Abby Borden, and eleven (not forty-one) whacks with the same ax that killed her husband, Andrew. Regardless of the whack count, the horrific crimes captured America’s attention and have held it ever since the jury acquitted Lizzie Borden of killing her father and stepmother more than a century ago. Today, the Fall River, Massachusetts, house draws fans of the macabre and the supernatural. Not only will you find pictures of the Borden family and crime scene inside, by some accounts you may find ghosts, too.
On August 4, 1892, the temperature soared to nearly 100 degrees. It was roughly eleven AM on this maddeningly hot day when family patriarch Andrew Borden lay down on the sofa in his frolic sitting room to take a nap. Moments later, someone took an ax and delivered eleven blows, leaving Mr. Borden slumped over dead.
The killer then ascended the staircase to the second-floor guest room, where Mrs. Abby Borden was standing beside the bed. Before she could turn around, the Assailant took an ax to her head. Seventeen blows later, Abby Borden lay in a pool of her own blood.
The victims most likely knew their killer, because there was no sign of struggle or break-in and nothing was stolen. Also, there were two other people home during the murders: daughter Lizzie and the housekeeper, Bridget Sullivan, whom the Bordens called Maggie, since that was the name of their previous maid. Evidence later implicated both young women in the murders.
Lizzie Borden claimed that around eleven AM she went into the backyard to pick some pears before heading to the second floor of their barn to get some sinkers for a fishing trip she was planning for the following week. Never more than fifty or sixty feet from the house, Lizzie estimated she was outside for about fifteen minutes and that the killer must have snuck in, murdered Abby and Andrew, and left during this short period. Lizzie and Bridget claimed they didn’t hear or see anything while the murders were taking place.
The Borden house is a good-sized home, but one would hardly call it a mansion. How two people could be hacked to death without the other people in and around the house seeing or hearing anything would have been nearly impossible. All signs pointed to Lizzie, with Bridget as a possible co-conspirator. Lizzie’s motive? She and her sister Emma stood to inherit the Borden fortune, and she may have been worried that her father would change his will and leave everything to her stepmother, Abby, with whom Lizzie didn’t get along all that well.
|The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892 (A Treasury of Victorian Murder)|
What ensued was the trial of the century. Everyone believed that Lizzie was culpable, but the evidence was entirely circumstantial. Investigators found an ax head in the basement that may have been the murder weapon, and Lizzie burned one of her dresses in the oven on the day of the murder because she claimed she spilled some paint on it. Despite the obvious signs, the jury dismissed all the evidence as inconclusive and Lizzie was acquitted.
Many paranormal enthusiasts believe the murder and the events surrounding the Borden family left a permanent mark on the property at 92 Second Street in Fall River. The address is still infamous, and Lizzie’s horrific legacy is recalled in the name of what is now a bed-and-breakfast. Eager to satisfy their curiosity about the legendary murders, visitors to this star-crossed residence often seek more than a cozy place to sleep and warm breakfast rolls, but an unlucky few have come away with more than they bargained for.
Lee-Ann Wilber, who has managed the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast since 2004, has noticed that some of her repeat customers seem to be a magnet for paranormal activity, which includes windows slamming up and down on their own, voices, and disembodied footsteps. Audio recording devices have captured electronic voice Phenomena (EVP), including a disembodied voice in the basement that repeats, “Get out!”
The basement is also where a former owner claimed to see a misty apparition, and where Lee-Ann herself experienced a ghostly encounter she will not soon forget: “My first experience was my first week here,” Wilber said. “I had gone down to the basement to switch some laundry over, and when you come down the basement stairs, you step off the bottom step and you turn left to head toward the laundry room. As soon as I took a step forward, it felt like I had stepped into a walk-in freezer. I took two steps farther and walked out the other side of it [the cold], and as soon as I reached the door to the laundry area, it felt like somebody ran two fingers down my back. I stopped dead in my tracks, I turned around, and I went trotting right back up the stairs.”
Strange noises and ghostly phenomena have become almost commonplace for Lee-Ann. “While we were renovating and building the barn, mu office was in the basement of the house in a little cubby-hole – right below Mr. Borden’s sofa,” she said. “I was in the house one night, all alone on the computer, it had to be one or two in the morning. I’m down there tapping away and I clearly hear someone walk across the floor above me. And I’m alone in the house. It didn’t sit well with me, but after a while you get used to it.”
Matt Moniz, a paranormal investigator with Spooky Southcoast, a southeastern Massachusetts-based radio program and investigative team, has witnessed a number of spooky phenomena there as well. In 2007 he was walking through the house on a tour when he saw an old framed photograph lift into the air, flip the house on a tour when he saw an old framed photograph lit into the air, flip over multiple times, and then travel halfway across the room, as if tossed by an unseen force. On another occasion, he was filming the empty Hosea Knowlton Room when the camera turned itself about 45 degrees. An investigator came in to return the camera to its original position, and before he could leave the room, the camera turned itself 90 degrees.
During his many visits to the haunted bed-and-breakfast, Matt has also heard the guttural sounds of a disembodied male voice, as well as the voices of children.
In fact, the children may be the most omnipresent spirits in the house – and those children would be Andrew Borden’s ill-fated cousins. As recounted in the August 5, 1892, Fall River Daily Globe, “Another horrible tragedy had been enacted in the vicinity of the Borden residence. In the yard of the house occupied now by Dr. Kelly . . . Between 39 or 40 . . . a woman named Borden had thrown her three young children into a cistern to drown and afterward jumped in and died with them.”
The whispers, strange voices, and footfalls that haunt the former Borden house will continue to tempt our curiosity; and though we can’t be sure of who or what are causing the occurrences, one can’t help but think back to that hot August day in 1892 and wonder if the Bordens may still be lurking, demanding that justice be served.
Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast/Museum, 92 Second Street, Fall River, Massachusetts 02721