Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Most everyone knows the above poem and its relationship to Lizzie Andrew Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927), who was believed by many people in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts to have viciously and violently axed her father and stepmother to death back in August 1892.
Lizzie was the prime suspect in the murder of her stepmother, Abby Durfee Gray between 9:30 and 10 a.m., and her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, at approximately 11 a.m. at 92 Second Street more than a century ago. Although acquitted, she was not viewed as innocent in the eyes of a stunned and wary public then and even today.
Now her life will be scrutinized again in six one-hour episodes in a series entitled Lizzie Borden: The Fall River Chronicles, which will be shown on Lifetime starting on January 25, 2015 at 8 p.m. EST.
“This series will take viewers further down Lizzie Borden’s dark path, revealing what many people suspected about her mysterious life,” said executive vice president of Lifetime, Rob Sharenow. He added that it is “an intense but fictionalized account of actual events and people surrounding Lizzie’s life after her controversial acquittal of the horrific double murder of her father and stepmother in 1892, when the exonerated figure lives a life awash in new found celebrity.”
The series, which stars “Golden Globe® and Emmy® Award nominee Christina Ricci” as Lizzie, takes a closer look into the young woman’s life after she was acquitted. Ricci’s career has been full of the strange and unusual beginning with her role as Wednesday on The Addams Family in 1991 when she was 11 years old. From there, she creatively portrayed many odd characters in a variety of morbid movies.
“I think I’ve always been interested in playing people who are judged very harshly, Ricci noted in a 2008 New York Magazine. “I think that’s why I get those parts when I audition for them. I hate when people are judged and misunderstood.”
Sharenow notes the extent to which the world was and still is “captivated” by the story of Lizzie Borden. “But no one has captured her enigmatic menace as well as Christina Ricci,” he said adding that this series reveals, “what many people suspected” all along – that despite her pious and innocent outside appearance, she was a cold blooded killer inside.
Lifetime’s 1975 movie entitled Lizzie Borden Took An Ax starring Elizabeth Montgomery captured about 4.4 million viewers. In this series, which is expected to draw that many viewers and more, Lizzie becomes the prime suspect in a number of murders within her circle of family and friends including her half brother William, Broadway stars and even “the head of the criminal underworld…” They are all murdered under “brutal and strange circumstances.”
Cole Hauser of Good Will Hunting portrays Carlie Siringo, a Pinkerton detective who believes Lizzie is the culprit while Billy Campbell plays lawyer Andrew Jennings who defends her in court. “Screen Actors Guild Award® winner Clea DuVall” plays Emma, John Heard of The Sopranos fame assumes the role of her fathers business partner, William Almy and Andrew Howard www.imdb.com/name/nm0397110 (Hatfields & McCoys) portrays Lizzie’s half brother.
In 1892, the residents of Fall River, Massachusetts were horrified by the brutal nature of the killings. The Bordens lived in a well-to-do neighborhood and Lizzie’s father made good living as a property developer selling and owned some property himself. He also sold furniture and caskets. As well, he was president of the Union Savings Bank and “director of Durfee Safe Deposit and Trust Co.” After his death, his estate was worth $300,000, which would amount to about $7.8 million today.
But the Bordens certainly did not live the life of a wealthy family. Their home had no running water in most of the house with the toilets and sinks on the first two floors not working. The family did have “hired help to tend to household chores,” but Lizzie and her sister had regular chores to do. Legend has it that the Borden girls hardly ever ate at the same table as their parents. No one knows why but if that is true, it is likely that the sisters felt somewhat neglected and perhaps even unwanted.
Lizzie and Emma attended the Central Congregational Church every Sunday. Lizzie went on to volunteer at the church as well as teach Sunday school. She was also active in “a number of social, Christian and women’s rights groups.”
It has been said that tensions were high during the months preceding the murders. Apparently Mr. Borden had gifted land to members of Ms. Borden’s family. The sister of Lizzie’s stepmother was given a house, which prompted them to demand the home of their mother who had passed away. Mr. Borden sold it to them for $1 but they ended up selling it back to him for $5,000.
However, the brother of Mr. Borden’s first wife, Sarah Anthony Borden (who died in 1863), arrived to discuss business with him the night before the murders. It has been speculated that John Vinnicum Morse, who was Lizzie’s maternal uncle, was not happy with a recent property transaction. Mr. Borden had purchased a property on Spring Street in town and deeded it to Abby’s half-sister, Sarah Bertha Whitehead.
It has been said that the entire Borden family was quite ill at that time as well, likely due to “mutton left on the stove” that was used in several meals and might have poisoned them. The family did own an icebox so it was likely not the cause. As for Mrs. Borden, she feared her husband’s controversial business dealings might have lead to the poisonings.
The legend of Lizzie, who was a Sunday school teacher and the youngest daughter in the Borden family, came back to life in Lizzie Borden Took An Ax. The movie covered the “inquest and trial” making use of actual testimony. Her lawyer, Andrew Jennings stressed her innocence by arguing that such nice and upstanding young woman simply could not have committed such a heinous crime.
When Lizzie heard the verdict, not guilty, the movie depicts her having flashbacks of murdering her father and stepmother as if she had actually committed the crimes. Strangely, the flashbacks also include her axing them to death while in the nude and bathing after each one was killed, which was offered as an explanation as to why there was no blood on Lizzie’s clothes.
However given even passing consideration that explanation appears to be more than a little odd and even quite lame. In order to leave the audience thinking that Lizzie actually did commit the murders, the movie ended with Emma asking her sister if she kill her parents but Lizzie did not reply. As well, the epilogue noted that the case was never solved.
Not a lot is known about Lizzie’s life after her acquittal. But we do know that after she was released from prison where she was held during her trial, she chose to continue to live in Fall River. The sisters moved into another affluent neighborhood – The Hill – but as one would expect, many of the residents ostracized them.
They had a number of hired staff to care for them and did not appear to be deterred by what others thought. In fact, they seemed to think they could live the lives of community socialites. Lizzie went so far as to change her name to Lizbeth and along with her sister they tried to fit at local social gatherings.
It is also known that in 1897, Lizzie was “accused of shoplifting” in Providence, Rhode Island. Then following a major argument with Emma in 1905, her sister left Fall River and never came back. Neither sister ever married and both died in 1927 “within days of each other.”
See Part 2: Did Lizzie Borden brutally murder her parents?
Christina Ricci to return as Lizzie Borden in miniseries
Lifetime green lights limited series about Lizzie Borden
Lifetime Orders ‘Lizzie Borden’ Limited Series Starring Christina Ricci
The Creepy Faces of Christina Ricci
The 1975 movie Lizzie Borden took an axe