Lizzie Borden Exonerated – my thesis
(I have been interviewed on several radio shows regarding this thesis. Audio available at end of thesis below.)
I like Lizzie Borden.
She was a woman of unimaginable fortitude, intellect, and goodness. My perception of her is based both on study of her life before she was accused and acquitted of the murder of her father and stepmother, during the trial, and thereafter.
With the common person, generally void of independent thought and rationality, even a children’s rhyme carries weight. Say her name, and most I’ve spoken to reply with something like, “The woman who murdered her parents” or “she got away with murder.” Really? This in itself shows how far rumor, myth, and societal prejudice can become “fact” in many people’s minds. It seems most people’s opinions, the general public perception, of this woman is based on taking a sordid rhyme as a statement of fact…such is the degree of intelligence of public perception on anything. Those far from critical thought need only hear an individual is charged with a crime to assume guilt…then and now.
The following is but a brief summary of my opinion based upon countless hours of research of and my discernment of Lizbeth Borden (the name she used and was known by for most of her adult life).
Amidst the common misconceptions of Lizzie Borden today, few now or then possess the objectivity to question the common hyperbole of gossip or false assumptions which have become somehow ingrained as “fact” (which is what most people’s opinions when asked about her emanate from) nor are they aware of the downright despicable hounding of the young woman by the prosecutor prior to coming before a court. Due to that inquest (without her lawyer present), that testimony (which I’ve read) was stricken from admissibility in the trial.
Based upon my extensive research, and in particular my reading of the inquest of Ms. Borden and the inquests of others related to the case, it is my opinion that Lizzie Borden’s fate to be actually charged with the murders was a result of over-zealousness. Of course, prosecutors and judges must make a judgment call in every case, however in my judgment there was just no compelling reason (due to lack of evidence) to indict her.
The atrocious line of questioning and her answers during the inquest, reflects not upon Lizzie Borden who was suffering from the tragic loss of her father (along with physical stress of the time of her menstrual period which was known to be particularly difficult for her) as well her receipt from her doctor of high doses of morphine to assist her, but upon a prosecutor who in my opinion went far beyond merely truth-seeking in his questioning, but rather turned the inquest into what would better be referred to as an inquisition. Ridiculous is the word which comes to mind upon reading said transcript(s) of Ms. Borden’s inquest and that of others he questioned at that time.
An inquest should be an objective investigation, a hearing of testimonies of interested parties, it should simply be the evidence gathering to be provided a judge to make his decision as to whether an arrest/indictment is justified. This interrogation, under physical and emotional duress and without the counsel requested, appears to me more an attempt to break her than simply extract the truth (consider Knowlton’s explicit description of her father Andrew’s face and injuries – completely unnecessary, in my opinion, in his questioning of her at that point. It seems to me more a point of shock value meant to disturb her, versus mere questioning.)
Inquest Testimony Supports Her Innocence
Thus, after having read that transcript, knowing the circumstances upon which she was interrogated, I find the few minor inconsistencies in her answers a likely and understandable result of the stress she was under, as well as giving the ring of truth to her answers.
One who can fluently recollect their behavior down to the slightest trivial matters on what (as far as they knew at the time) was to be an ordinary day is far more suspicious than one who may be unable to, for certain, give accurate details on matters such as what they ate, time-frames between mundane activities such as reading/ironing/carrying laundry upstairs, etc. and remembrances of the order upon one which entered various rooms in one’s home.
Think about it, if I were to begin questioning you in minute detail as to your every action on a a day one week ago, you would be able to give me generalities, based on mostly vague recall, along with a few certainties that stand out. You would not, it having been a normal average day in your life, be able to provide extremely accurate answers to the precise order in which you clothed, ate, did laundry, or whatever activities you performed. This is because you had no reason to remember relatively mundane activities. In general, I feel it is liars, one who have a rehearsed story to rely on, who provide accurate down to the detail accounts, not ordinary people living their lives who have no reason to remember a day’s activities…until something happens on that day…and from such a time (not prior), recall, becomes more accurate.
Lizzy’s answers have the ring of truth to them, and I found nothing she was asked and replied to during the inquest amounted to anything substantial against her. Actually, considering the extreme duress she was under, I found much of what she said articulate, thoughtful, and well-spoken. I was impressed by her relative composure and lack of emotionalism (the very attributes some listening to her apparently found disturbing), and I identify with the personality and qualities of mind she evinced. She spoke as I would speak -calmly-deliberately-and strongly- when truth must be said amidst those who one has rational cause to assume are hostile interrogators.
The inquest testimony was not allowed into trial due to the absence of her lawyer and the circumstances of pressure placed upon her. Though I find nothing disturbing in that testimony considering the circumstances of duress she was under, the prosecution, without this weak attempt to discredit her, had nothing else but more incredibly weak circumstantial evidence – in my opinion, more supposition than anything else (the same “arguments” used by those who today base their opinion of guilt upon – the same “arguments” which a bit of research easily dispels.) Despite the relentless and often nonsensical questioning of what seems a frustrated Knowlton, Lizzie Borden never allowed him to provoke her into anger or hysteria.
Reading the inquest, I interpret him as an attorney with a big ego, one who seems to have no intellectual appreciation for a woman who answers his repetitive annoying (and to me, often nonsensical) pedantic questioning so relatively consistently despite his attempts seemingly to provoke her into emotionalism; it is as if he cannot understand (or does not want to understand) logical, rational answers. Listening and interpreting certainly do not appear high on his list of priorities when interrogating Lizzie Borden; judgment, however, seemed to be. (Reading the trial transcripts produced the identical view for me prosecutor Knowlton, and I cite his June 15, 1893 cross-examination of the ice cream man, Hyman Lubinsky, as another clear example of why I have little respect for Knowlton’s performance as an attorney during this case.) He seems a man more controlled by emotionalism than logic or rationality.
Men at the time based on numerous accounts I’ve read, seemed to expect a female to either be somewhat hysterical or at least possess some politically/socially correct expression of “love” for a stepmother, while in Lizzie we find a calm, collected, woman who simply speaks the truth of her relationship with the woman (Abby, wife of Lizzy’s father) as she always had to friends and others who knew her – without malice, but with objectivity, and no false (non-heartfelt) emotionalism which many women are prone to.
She could easily have feigned love for the dead woman, but rather simply objectively described the precise relationship, such as it was. Again, the ring of truth.
“The Calmness of Innocence”
My interpretation/opinion of the inquest: it depicts an aggressive questioner becoming embarrassed as a woman with greater intelligence and emotional maturity simply states answers which, reflect not negatively upon her, but upon the questioner. In my opinion, the severe questioning, and her earnest answers sans counsel, was a negative reflection upon Hosea M. Knowlton (District Attorney), not Lizzie Borden. (The prosecution during her trial was comprised of Hosea Knowlton as lead prosecutor and his co-counsel of William Moody. Shortly after the trial, Knowlton became Attorney General of Massachusetts.)
Indeed, her counsel (the Borden family attorney), Mr. Jennings, argued of what he viewed as the violation of her constitutional rights concerning the process thereto presented to the judge who would decide whether a prosecution would take place, stating she had a right to appear before “a court of unprejudiced opinion,” since what the judge had to consider was the testimony in the questionable inquest to which he was barred from attending (despite his making it clear he was to be present at such proceedings) thus stating it was his concern the current proceeding was not before “an impartial magistrate.” He argued it appeared they had decided who was guilty long ago and rather than arrest her attempted their own pseudo-trial (my term) in private versus a public trial where she would be defended.
District Attorney Knowlton, however, successfully argued all was done in accordance with the law which allowed him to give witnesses the choice between three possibilities: to tell what they knew, go to jail for contempt, or give a plea of exemption on grounds it would incriminate them.
A grand jury followed by indictment and trial proceeded making her name forever infamous among true crime in the United States.
I consider her subsequent indictment more a reflection upon a legal decision with which I disagree than anything else, as I see no evidence warranting being charged for the crime. Such decisions are subjective judgment calls, and the judge made his based on his perception of what he had been given.
The inability to be disturbed to any self-implication during the inquest, and her general demeanor throughout the ordeal, I view as did her pastor, Rev. Buck, who said, “…her calmness is the calmness of innocence.” (The Fall River Herald, “Taken to Taunton” article at the time).
What most people, due to their emotionalism, fail to understand is that those of us who are intellectually and emotionally developed simply speak the truth without resorting to shows of wild feelings. The difference, strange and thus incomprehensible to emotionally controlled people, makes us unemotional when others in same situation would become wild in their physical and emotional demeanor. I’ll give you a simple example: If someone calls someone you love a name…you either get angry and want to get back at them OR you consider the source and think how pathetic they are and you remain calm, void of reaction. That difference is the chasm between emotionalism and rationality. And that, in my opinion, is what is witnessed in Lizzy Borden’s calmness despite the outrageous line of questioning versus what how your average woman and many average men would behave when confronted with an unpleasant or irrational question/statement.
Lizzie Borden’s defense counsel consisted of George Robinson (lead counsel), the Massachusetts’ Governor 1884-1886, and her family’s attorney Andrew Jennings.
Upon reading the transcript of those who testified at the trial (in addition to the inquest testimonies of the many called to give testimony then as well as during the trial), one with any degree of legal understanding as to “guilty” versus “not guilty” must conclude the jury certainly provided a correct verdict under jurisprudence. This, alone, however, does not for innocence make, although in legal consideration I view it was a correct verdict per the rule of law.
Although the actual events of that fateful day of August 4, 1892 will never be known, I firmly believe she to be innocent of the crimes she was put on trial for. Further, I view her as a compassionate, creative, and loving individual…and a remarkable one compared to most of my sisters considering her high degree of rational fortitude.
The Heinousness of Women Who Murder
This personal view of Lizbeth Borden’s favorable character emanates not at all from any degree of naivety about the evil women are capable of committing, but from someone who actually thinks women who choose to murder often do it in a more grotesque and heinous manner than men. Women are capable of a spiritual insanity which makes their violent crimes not only on par but frequently even more sickening than some of the most notorious male murderers in history.
The evil of a woman takes a very different form of maliciousness and cruelty and thus a different form of vile manifestation (particularly when directed against family members including their children). Though violence perpetrated by women is more uncommon when contrasted with that of men, when it occurs it seems to be committed in particularly horrific manners. Whether this be due to longtime suppression of aggression due to societal expectations and/or their biological nature, I know not – I simply have observed that throughout history and in modern time, incidents of serious violence committed by women often consist of actions I rarely associate men with perpetrating – even at their worst.
When researching the murders of Andrew Borden and his wife Abby for which Lizzie Borden stood trial, I approached it objectively, with complete awareness that no matter how heinous a crime, both men and women are certainly capable of such.
I learned of Lizzie Borden’s character and personal activities as can be surmised from reports of friends and family, and found her to be a most interesting individual. She was an avid reader (prose, poetry and nonfiction), as well as a lover of the arts/theater. Numerous newspaper accounts of what friends of the time said of her paint a portrait of a woman people trusted. Friends spoke very well of her, with some completely standing behind her character as a woman of peace, a woman who had never shown inclination of any sort to condone violence, but on the contrary expressed compassion through various selfless activities for others. There were friends who stood by her innocence then and through years thereafter. Indeed, her own sister, maintained belief in her innocence, and they made a life together in a home for several years after the trial until they went their separate ways.
This was her countenance and known character prior to that fateful day in August as well as thereafter and unto death in her home of Maplecroft on June 1, 1927. Her will, like her life, generously gave to friends, associates/servants, and family, and toward the care of animals she bequeathed $30,000 and her stock holdings in the Stevens Manufacturing company to the Animal Rescue League of Fall River and $2,000 to the Animal Rescue League of Washington, DC. Such generosity as shown to many in her will was characteristic of her entire life, as she was it was later learned responsible for years of numerous anonymous deliveries of of food and other provisions (including college scholarships) for the residents of Fall River who were in need.
“Evidence” of “guilt” easily refuted
It would require a treatise, if not a book, to systematically address the many oft repeated claims of evidence frequently cited in the case against her, and it is neither I choose to write at this time. Suffice to say, every popularly purported “evidence” I’ve encountered in my study, with deeper research, is either easily and adequately explained or falls well within areas that are unconvincing and at times vacuous. Of all the commonly cited “evidences,” I have found not one which I was not able to dismiss as having any bearing based on my research, logic and rationality.
All “evidence” used to suggest guilt I can easily refute (and I will and am gladly doing so in the media interviews I am granting concerning this thesis).
This essay’s purpose, however, is to raise the overall consciousness and thus perception toward Lizzie Borden of the many people who hear her name and knee-jerkily believe her guilty of the crimes of which she was accused but acquitted of. I write this to exonerate Lizzie Borden in the public eye. To pause, think objectively, and withhold judgment based on herd mentality in this and any other controversy/mystery is a significant maturing step-up from the majority of people who let their opinions and decisions in life be determined by conforming to the group’s judgment of which they seek social approval.
Re-examine and approach as a classic whodunit
Let’s simply view the gruesome murders for what it is and will likely always remain – a mystery. A classic whodunit. From the legal and investigative standpoint, it seems obvious to me that no indictment should have been issued against the woman as there was no direct evidence to speak of whatsoever and the circumstantial (such as it was) weak, or if an indictment was deemed appropriate, why against only one of the two occupants of that house on that day?
The question bears asking and pondering: If a capital case was adjudged to be brought, as it was against Ms. Borden who faced the sentence of death by hanging if found guilty, why was the other individual who was at the house all day not likewise indicted?
Bridget Sullivan, the maid, was an Irish immigrant approximately in her early twenties (many teen females immigrated to the States at that time) who was without any familial connection to the deceased, whose was the only inquest testimony lost, never to be found to this day, and who had an apparent meeting with prosecutor Knowlton the night prior to the preliminary hearing (as Attorney Adams brought in his questioning of Bridget).
I also find the apparent break-in(s) and valuable items reported to have been stolen (thefts during daytime and while Bridget was in the house) a point worth thinking about…again examples of incidents for which either woman could be suspected.
Per common attributions of opportunity to commit the crime as well as to reasons: If Lizzie Borden had opportunity, likewise did Bridget during her various housecleaning rounds that day upstairs and downstairs. Likewise, to the degree anyone (as many do) feels Borden could have reason for motive (which I find a ludicrous assertion), likewise could the maid.
Putting motive evaluation aside for a moment (as it is but supposition), logically, if one accepts Lizzie Borden had opportunity, likewise did Sullivan. So, why would an investigation not pursue this possibility with just as much zeal as they did Borden? Again, the zealousness of the prosecution against one of the women, and not the other, seems irrational, though I see nothing of substance evidential against either woman justifying an indictment.
First: Consider the culprit being an intruder, unbeknownst by either of the two women, who has murdered Abby and lays in wait for escape. A stranger upstairs would be unable to have any inkling as to a best exit time downstairs. Abby being murdered first by an intruder who must wait a couple hours within the home for an unknown time to have an opportunity to escape, coupled with the strangeness of why a stranger would eliminate the woman (after-all it was Andrew the businessman who apparently had both known friend and foe), not knowing if any opportunity to murder the husband would occur. The entire scenario reeks of implausibility (though in life, anything is possible).
Investigating equally the two women is a logical approach, and one I would (had I been involved in such investigation) focused upon. Yet one woman, maid Bridget Sullivan, escaped indictment and apparently even investigative suspicion to any considerable degree. Seems both women would have been immediately, that day/night, investigated thoroughly. (From accounts, the maid apparently spent the night following the day of the murders at a neighbor’s house and returned the next day to get her belongings then left.)
Bridget was indeed a stranger, hired as a servant. She had opportunity (consider her cleaning activities, never discovering the body of Abby, and her rest time during which time Lizzy indicates she was in the barn and her father lay vulnerable in the downstairs room).
Motive is often discussed (though it is far less to be regarded, as it is merely other people’s subjective interpretations of unknown circumstances and feelings) in regards to the women. It is here I’ve seen some of the most absurd assertions against Lizzie Borden, and in total disregard from what is known in regards to her character and her relationship to her family (in my opinion, such aptness of assumption of greed as a motive of the daughter is more a reflection upon the heart and mind of those making said accusation than anything to be considered seriously.) It is also here where I’ve seen illogical dismissal of Sullivan from being capable of having any possible motive simply because she was a maid. Both approaches to the subject of motive are irrational.
Only one motive (not the reason for its formation) is clear in the Borden murders: rage. Whomever committed the bloody attacks was filled with the powerful feeling of rage.
In researching this case, I have frequently seen people simply dismiss the idea a maid could have any motive, and that seems a strange assumption to make. Why make an assumption that only one woman was capable of such rage?
It is interesting to note that murders by maids is not a far-fetched fictional scenario, but one with a significant number of cases which illustrate it is not at all unprecedented…indeed it is unusual but not uncommon. I found such cases from the 1800’s to 2014 worldwide.
For example: sisters Christine Papin and Léa Papin who were convicted of brutally murdering their employer’s wife and daughter; Irish maid Kate Webster who was convicted of the 1879 murder of her employer (55 year-old Julia Martha Thomas) by attacking her/strangulation/cutting up of the body/decapitating it/and boiling and feeding it to local children. In 2014, there were three cases brought against maids- separate cases- accused of murdering their employers in Indonesia. Researching the topic of maids who have been accused and/or convicted of murder, I found many such examples of which I share but a few below. (citation 1)
Thus, motive (again mere speculation on anyone’s part in this case), cannot be attributable to only one of the women…but possible in either…and no one knows what led someone on that day to such rage, but what is apparent is that either women could have done it.
Psychologically, violent crime scenes tell us much. Suppressed anger is often characteristic of violence exhibited attack upon the faces of victims, while as it has been seen that those with conflicted feelings of relationship with the victim often results in victim bodies which are covered (as to show respect for the deceased – even though the perpetrator committed the killing) – not mutilation.
The savagery of the attacks upon the Borden couple seems to me characteristic of suppressed rage, not emotional ambivalence often reflected in crimes between family members. Crime scene profiling is just that – profiling – not guessing and not knowing…but based on rational deduction based on behavior at similar crimes, and is utilized particularly in cases where there is little actual concrete evidence to form a picture of the personality/social standing of the culprit. It will not identify someone specifically, but will provide general characteristics thought to be likely associated with whomever is responsible.
From my personal study of such analysis (albeit as it related to serial killing), it would appear that their murders were at the hand of what could be called a disorganized killer – one who is acting on impulse, of low social order, and commits an act of sudden violence. Though the idea of “organized” versus “disorganized” killers is examined for killers with multiple and continual victims and applies to many aspects seen in their lives, I speculate that some of the characteristics may perhaps apply equally to the perpetrators of one-time acts of murder as well.
Certainly, forensic psychology should be applied to this case, yet I’ve never become aware of this approach to it being implemented. Questions as to what, based upon the crime scene, would be the most likely feelings of the perpetrator at the time of the murders, the motivations, what do the bodies themselves tell us?
As a layman with an intense interest, and thus personal research, into law and psychology, I would find a forensic psychologist’ examination of the scene most welcome. Based on my understanding of such a psychological approach, the bodies themselves (the fatal injuries as well as the positioning) would indicate to me that a non-family individual would more likely be the perpetrator.
On the day of the murders, Sullivan was required to wash the windows indoor and outside on that, a severely hot day while already very sick (having vomited in the yard during the morning after preparing breakfast for everyone). She maintained she went upstairs to rest (upstairs where Abby’s dead body was) after Mr. Borden came home.
Lizzie Borden, despite the distance between herself and Abby, maintained a good relationship with her father. (Never did he take the ring from his hand she had given him as a gift.) She tucked him in on the sofa, as he needed a nap and was feeling unwell (perhaps a result of the apparently spoiled mutton or other food the family was consuming that week due to a non-functional icebox), and she maintained she proceeded to go to their barn to look for fishing lures for an upcoming trip in their cool loft. (The time she would have been returning from the barn to inside her home corroborated by Hyman Lubinsky’s testimony describing the woman he saw doing just that as he rode by in the ice cream truck.)
Objectivity, in this case, in my opinion, would have necessitated just as much scrutiny on the other woman in the house that day, as well as also considering the possibility of an outside intruder. The fixation (as seen in the inquest questioning) on Lizzy Borden by the prosecutor seems odd to me.
And that same fixation against Ms. Borden appears to have continued to this day with the assumptions in most people’s minds when they hear her name.
Innuendo, rumor, gossip, and maintaining a false sense of security when “closure” (aka conviction) is reached in murder cases are the priorities of many, if not most people. Thus, the perverted assumption of many – then and now – that if one is accused, they must be guilty.
Though the truth may likely never be known, the objective intense search for the perpetrator – whoever that might have been- family-friend-stranger – needed to take place then. There is no way truth can be derived from the virtual void of evidence cited. The time was then for investigation, and what happened then, leaves us with nothing.
I see no evidence ever produced which could be used in a court of law against anyone strong enough to justify an indictment (much less a conviction) – not of Lizzy Borden, not of Bridget Sullivan, and not of any of the other names which have then and over the years been brought up as possible suspects. Thus, far better to have left it unprosecuted.
Fortunately, justice (never really obtained in any murder case) prevailed…not for the victims, but for Lizbeth Borden, when she was pronounced not guilty on June 20, 1893.
This piece is based on my research of the Borden case, including extensive study of the life of Lizbeth Borden, as well as my priority to endeavor to remain objective no matter the sensationalism.
Rest in peace Lizbeth Borden
“I know I am innocent, and I have made up my mind that no matter what happens, I will try to bear it bravely and make the best of it,” she told Kate McGuirk in a piece appearing in the September 20, 1892 New York Recorder. And it is that she did.
Who did it? No one knows. But certainly, to assume and automatically associate the name of Lizzie Borden with being a killer of her father and step-mother, is the height of disregard for truth. Far superior to simply view it for the mystery it is, and admit – none of us will ever know who committed the murders.
As for me, I firmly believe Lizbeth Borden was more than “not guilty” as she was found in the court of law…Lizbeth Borden was innocent.
(1) Just a few of the many examples of murdering maids:
public domain photograph of Lizzie Borden
By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons