Correspondingand “48 Hours” investigate a double homicide that captured the nation and take a fresh look at a very cold case that yields startling results in “Lizzie Borden Took An Ax” airs Saturday, July 31 at 9 / 9c on CBS.
It is a fact. Many people are squeamish when it comes to talking about bodily functions like a woman’s monthly. So, did a young suspect take advantage of this discomfort to get away with two murders? Did she clean up a trail of blood and vent the evidence, knowing the male investigators wouldn’t look closer? This could explain why a case that took place over a century ago continues to confuse crime experts to this day.
The suspect in question is Lizzie Borden. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie’s father Andrew Borden and stepmother Abby were found murdered in the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts. They had both been clubbed to death with a sharp object, believed to be a hatchet.
Lizzie, 32, quickly became the prime suspect, with both a motive and an opportunity. She hated her stepmother and inherited today’s millions of dollars from her father’s death. Plus, while her older sister Emma was miles away visiting friends at the time of the murders, Lizzie Borden was at home without a credible alibi. The inquest found that, the day before the murders, a woman identified as Lizzie attempted to purchase prussic acid to repair, she said, a sealskin cape. A suspicious pharmacist refused to sell it to him.
Circumstantial evidence pointed to Lizzie. And yet, where was the blood? Investigators were baffled by the lack of blood evidence linking Lizzie to the murders. Abby Borden, who was first murdered in an upstairs bedroom, had been beaten up to 19 times. Andrew, struck while sleeping on a sofa, was shot several times in the head. If Lizzie was the killer, wouldn’t she be covered in blood spatter? Wouldn’t she have left a trail of blood? A neighbor next door, who came to the house shortly after Andrew’s death, saw no blood on Lizzie or her clothes. Two days after the murders, cops searched the house and found no clothing soaked in blood. The only blood found on Lizzie Borden was a tiny dot on a petticoat.
In fact, evidence of a clean-up may have been in front of officers from the start and they ignored it. When investigators searched the house, they found what appeared to be bloody rags or rags in a bucket in the basement. When Lizzie indicated that she was having her period, a fact confirmed by the family doctor, investigators took her at her word and moved on, never actually examining the contents of the bucket. Later, the family’s housekeeper Bridget Sullivan – who had done the family laundry earlier in the week – wondered why she hadn’t seen the bucket by then, but it was too late.
If, in fact, this bucket contained evidence of a crime scene clean-up, then the person who put those rags in it had clearly planned the murders, betting on the well-known reluctance of men to deal with female bodily functions. . Perhaps it was a brilliant plan that not only helped rid Lizzie Borden of the murder, but still mesmerized us all with a crime that will never truly be solved.