What Made Lizzie Borden Kill?


Why did she kill Abby too? Perhaps because her stepmother had known about the incest and had been unable to stop it, or worse, had blamed Lizzie for it. What about Emma? She must have known Lizzie had committed the murders and why. Otherwise her eerie calm in the face of violent death is almost inexplicable. The day of the murders both Emma and Lizzie stayed in the house with the bodies laid out on the dining-room table. They stayed there until the funeral, which was held in the room where Mr. Borden was killed. Is it possible that either woman would have done so if she thought some unknown killer had entered the house and committed the crimes?

In the months and years following the trial, Lizzie changed. She began calling herself Lisbeth; she moved to a stately new house she named Maplecroft. She began buying things for herself and living the life she felt she had been denied. She struck up a close friendship with a Boston actress. Lisbeth’s new way of life wore on her sister. In time Emma left Maplecroft and Fall River, where children were still chanting the insidious rhyme. The two sisters never saw each other again.

In a rare interview twenty years after the crime, Emma defended Lizzie and stressed the duty she felt toward her sister. She had promised her mother that she would take care of Lizzie. “I am still the little mother,” the old, graying woman said, “and though we must live as strangers, I will defend ‘Baby Lizzie’ against merciless tongues.”

Today the Borden double murder is remembered as bloody hatchet work. We all nod in recognition when a television anchor reports that a Senate committee did a “Lizzie Borden” on a piece of legislation. But if that same newscaster were reporting the Borden murders today, it is far from inconceivable that he or she would, a few days later, return to the subject with an even darker side to the story.