The Sensational Trial of Lizzie Borden

Brandeis University

Daniel Breen is Senior Lecturer in Legal Studies at Brandeis University, and a recipient of the Louis Brandeis Award for Excellence in Teaching. While his primary academic interests lay in the law and politics of the Early Republic, he also holds a Ph.D. in American History and enjoys lecturing on a wide variety of subjects. Professor Breen is currently working on an article about the secession movement in New England during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.

 

Overview

In August of 1892, Andrew and Abigail Borden were murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Substantial evidence pointed to Andrew’s daughter Lizzie as the likely murderer; and yet at the time, many simply refused to believe that she could have done it. How could Lizzie Borden have been acquitted, despite the lack of any credible alternative to the prosecution’s theory of her guilt? 130 years later, the question remains puzzling. In this presentation, we will look again at the evidence, and try to pose some answers.

 

Recommended Reading:

Lizzie Borden on Trial, by Joseph A. Conforti

The Trial of Lizzie Borden, by Cara Robertson

 

Discussion Questions:

1) The Bordens were probably killed by someone wielding a hatchet. How does the particularly violent nature of that assault help explain why so many residents of Fall River had trouble believing that someone like Lizzie could have been the assailant?

2) Consider Lizzie Borden’s social status: a middle-class, Protestant woman. Is there reason to think that the outcome of the trial might have been different if she had been a servant, or of different ancestry?

 

Reviews

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Joyce Dudash

The Trial of Lizzie Borden

I had heard of Lizzie Borden but never knew the details of the murders. I found the lecture very informative and entertaining.

1 year ago
cvbrown

Lizzie Borden

Daniel Breen did an extraordinary work of presenting this story, I kept wondering if Lizzie liked he father and what that family did to those children when they were little. It would be of interest to read what psychiatrists and psychoanalysts might have to say about what might be told of her childhood. A really excellent presentation. Many thanks.

1 year ago
Kathryn Carter

Very interesting.

1 year ago
barbara ann.fields

Circumstantial Evidence

It is interesting to see how the rich were handled in court the same way they are today. How to get away with murder is nothing new.
I enjoyed your presentation

1 year ago
Jonathon Woolery

Enjoyed it very much!

1 year ago
bob.christofk

Great presentation!

The story was put together very well. Even the speculation as to how Lizzie was acquitted. No motivation evidence seemed to have surfaced. Hard to imagine that she did not commit the murders for whatever reason (or no reason).

10 months ago
Judy Cobb

I’m concerned about the evidence both admitted and what wasn’t admitted or even brought up: The dress being burned-what woman would burn a dress they’d killed their parents in would then in the summer do it in a furnace in front of a witness? They could have cut the dress up and burned it piece by piece or thrown away pieces at a time. I would have burned it in the wood stove that was being used to cook meals-in front of no one. Certainly not lit a FURNACE to do it in.
I have at my grandmother’s stayed in a hot barn a lot more than 20 minutes just messing around. Barns had everything in them. I certainly wouldn’t have heard anything going on in the house and we never locked our door during the day never up thru the 1980’s. I don’t believe the Borden’s had theirs locked all the time in 1892.
Mr Borden surely had a will. (That’s where I’ve found many of my ancestors because of their wills.) Everyone in those times with any sense and money left a will. I also know that life portions were usually left to a wife but the majority of the property and money was divided between the children. So there’s no motive there only speculation and was that even brought up at trial? Her father was 70 and for the time a wealthy man. He wasn’t going to live that much longer. I can’t believe she would have hastened her father’s death by a few years. The father had already provided a home for the stepmother so I’m assuming he, in his will, had left her money to live on and the rest to his children. No evidence there either-strange.
I always believed she did it until this lecture. But when there are so many questions left unanswered I’ve changed my mind. And believe me I understand how single adult siblings can love each other but not live in the same town or the same house even in 1905.

9 months ago
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