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"Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
Gave her father forty-one"

You've probably heard this schoolyard rhyme at some point in your life. Actually, Lizzie Borden's (step)mother was hacked nineteen times and her father eleven. Also, Lizzie was acquitted of murdering her parents, though Convicted by Public Opinion. And the murder weapon was probably a hatchet rather than an axe. Other than that, the rhyme is very accurate. Or probably not. We'll never know.

What we do know is that in the late 19th century, Lizzie Andrews Borden (July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927) was a grown woman living in Fall River, Massachusetts with her father Andrew, her stepmother Abby, and her elder sister Emma. Andrew was a successful banker, but he lived well below his means. Normally, a woman of Lizzie's age and class would have gotten married, but her father's miserly ways stifled her social life and severely limited her marriage prospects. Lizzie also had a difficult relationship with Abby, whom she regarded as something of a Wicked Stepmother and would only refer to as "Mrs. Borden".

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Abby Borden was hacked to death in an upstairs room of the Borden house. Later, Andrew returned home from his morning walk and fell asleep on the sofa, where the murderer hacked him to death too. The horrific incident quickly became a national scandal. When the murder happened, Emma had been visiting friends in Fairhaven and the only people known to have been in the vicinity of the house at the time were Lizzie and housekeeper Bridget Sullivan. The housekeeper had no apparent motive, so Lizzie emerged as the primary suspect. The public was enthralled. To Victorian sensibilities, the idea of a woman committing such a violent, physical crime was shocking. After all, everyone knows the Proper Lady only murders with poison.

To those who believe Lizzie was guilty, the trial was a farce and totally stacked in favor of the defense. It's alleged that she played the part of the innocent Victorian lady to the hilt, properly swooning at the sight of her parents' skulls and eliciting sympathy from the all-male jury. In any case, she was legally acquitted, but was never able to shake the reputation of being a murderer. Of course, it didn't help any that the murder was never solved and no one else was ever tried for it.

For what it's worth, neither Lizzie nor Emma ever committed another crime on that level. After the trial, she and her sister moved in together and Lizzie became close to the theater scene. Thanks to their substantial inheritance, Lizzie –- now going by Lizbeth –- would frequently patronize various actresses. This, plus the fact neither sister ever married, has led some scholars to speculate both were lesbians, though there was never any solid evidence of that. Sadly, in 1905 the two had a falling-out during a party Lizzie threw for actress Nance O'Neil and Emma moved away, never to see her sister again. In 1927, both sisters died, only nine days apart.

Over the years, Lizzie Borden has become Shrouded in Myth and has been featured in various works of media. In fiction, she's usually portrayed as being guilty. In more pulpy or comedic works, she's also typically a Card-Carrying Villain, an over-the-top Halloween character with her trusty hatchet ever-ready for a new murder spree. In more serious depictions, she tends to be played as a Sympathetic Murderer, which necessarily involves portraying Andrew and Abby as Abusive Parents who deserved it. There are also various fantasy works that put a Beethoven Was an Alien Spy spin on Lizzie's story, often providing a supernatural justification for her actions, effectively side-stepping the real-life issues of the case. Whatever the truth is, there is certainly no shortage of theories.

A common trope in fictional depictions is to portray Lizzie as having committed the murders in the nude so that she wouldn't get incriminating blood stains on her clothes. Incidentally, the real Lizzie is known to have burned one of her dresses shortly after the murders. At her trial, she claimed that she burned the dress because it was stained with paint, but the prosecution obviously suspected that it was stained with something else. You'd think that if you were going to portray Lizzie as guilty, you'd just go with the prosecution's actual story, but fiction clearly prefers the explanation that involves nudity because of course it does. Not only does it promise to draw in more viewers, it's something that can be played for all kinds of symbolism. Plus, it makes the story that much more entertainingly lurid.

"Shut the door, and lock and latch it!
Here comes Lizzie with a brand-new hatchet!"

Lizzie Borden in fiction

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The manga Dolls Fall paints Lizzie Borden as guilty and adds a supernatural reason to her act. This then serves as the backstory to the events in the present of the manga.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Film — Live Action 

  • The rhyming quatrain at the top of this page probably deserves its own listing here. It's so iconic that it'll be referenced in pretty much any fictional work about the Lizzie Borden case. If the fictional work in question is a movie, expect it to be delivered by Creepy Children Singing. The origins of this rhyme are as mysterious as the murders themselves. It was first recorded in print in 1907, but it is probably older. Most sources believe it came about sometime in the early 1890s, when the Lizzie Borden case was sufficiently topical, but the question of who actually wrote it is a mystery for the ages. Incidentally, Theodore Roosevelt is said to have gotten a real kick out of this rhyme.
  • Lizzie is referenced in And Then There Were None, though not by name — however, it is unmistakably her crime that gets mentioned by one of the characters, seeing as it's described as a young American woman hacking her father and stepmother to death with a hatchet.
  • According to The Borden Dispatches, Lizzie killed her parents because they were possessed by an Eldritch Abomination.
  • In Avram Davidson's story "The Deed of the Deft-Footed Dragon", Lizzie Borden is the only local person to help an elderly Chinese immigrant struggling to make sense of life in the new unfamiliar world that is America. He decides to do something to repay her; trouble is, he's really not clear on what kind of thing would be appropriate, and as a retired Triad hitman his default method of helping out his friends is taking up a hatchet and dealing with whoever happens to be giving them grief. The rest is history.
  • Hercule Poirot:
    • In After the Funeral, when Susan says the murderer must be a certain type of person, to attack an old lady with a hatchet, Mr Entwhistle quotes the rhyme. Susan protests that Borden was acquitted, and he concedes the point.
    • Lily Gamboll, one of the four "tragic women of murder" who could be connected to the death of Mrs McGinty in Mrs McGinty's Dead, appears to be loosely inspired by Lizzie Borden, except she killed her aunt with a cleaver. (The others may also be based on historic figures; one seems to be based on Ethel Neave, the other woman in the Dr Crippen case.)
  • John Saul's In The Dark of the Night doesn't feature Lizzie herself, but her hatchet is one of the artifacts found in the shack by Eric and his friends.
  • "Lizzie Borden Took an Ax" is the title of a Robert Bloch story about the case.

  • The Otherworld: Lizzie Borden is revealed in the book Haunted to have been possessed by the evil chaos demon known as the Nix when she was killing her father and stepmother. In the novel, Lizzie herself also appears to act as an information guide about the Nix that the heroine Eve Levine is trying to capture and imprison.
  • The novel See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt focuses on the Bordens, displaying Lizzie as somewhat emotionally stunted and weird, but not evil.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Older Sister" is set a year after the case. It's revealed that it was Emma who committed the murders and Lizzie was covering for her.
  • In a crossover episode of Ally McBeal and The Practice, the defendant is a woman accused of killing her husband. Her psychiatrist testified that, under hypnosis, she claimed to be the reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. Many times during the crossover, the lawyers discuss reincarnation and the details of Lizzie's life and her own trial. In the end, it turns out that it was the psychiatrist who committed the murder, having fallen in love with his patient. He may have even planted the idea in her head that she was Lizzie in a past life so that she'd think she was the murderer.
  • Angel:
    • In the episode "I've Got You Under My Skin", Wesley claims Lizzie performed her crime because she was being possessed by an Ethros Demon.
    • Season 4 references the case - when Jasmine possessing Cordelia commits a murder, they wonder why they found no bloody clothes. Wesley exclaims "Lizzie Borden", and they theorize the murderer must have done so naked.
  • She's also the subject of an episode of The Dead Files.
  • She has been profiled in a segment of the Investigation Discovery series Deadly Women, which has the decency to acknowledge her acquittal and the doubts about her guilt.
  • The Lizzie Borden house is investigated on Ghost Adventures. It's implied that Lizzie's father was sexually abusing her.
  • The Supernatural episode "Thin Lizzie" starts with an ax murder at a Lizzie Borden museum/inn in Fall River that initially looks like it could be committed by her ghost. As it turns out this is a hoax, and the ancient being known as Amara is responsible.
  • Her compact mirror shows up in Warehouse 13. It's an Artifact of Doom that forces whoever looks into it to murder their loved ones with an axe that appears out of nowhere while also reciting a limerick of what Lizzie did.

  • Folk-singing group The Chad Mitchell Trio had a minor hit in 1961 with their song "Lizzie Borden", which puts something of a Black Comedy spin on the story.
    'Cause you can't chop your Poppa up in Massachusetts
    Not even if it's planned as a surprise (a surprise)
    No, you can't chop your Poppa up in Massachusetts
    You know how neighbors love to criticize

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One early Garfield strip has him showing anxiety before one of Jon's aged relatives comes to visit, claiming that she used to double-date with Lizzie.

  • Agnes de Mille's ballet Fall River Legend, which rewrites history by having Lizzie found guilty.
  • Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights:
    • The scarezone Horrorwood 1994-95 featured The Lizzie Borden Band and Axe Corps, two groups of women one carrying instruments (led by Lizzie herself), the other one carrying axes.
    • The haunted house Universal's House of Horror had Lizzie as one of many wax statues who were brought to life by a lightning strike.
  • There's a rock musical called Lizzie which features an all-female cast — Lizzie, her sister Emma, the housekeeper Bridget (nicknamed "Maggie"), and the neighbor, Alice. Here, Lizzie is portrayed as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds; she's a closeted lesbian in a world that will never accept that, more than a little mentally unstable, and is being sexually abused by her father to boot. Alice is also portrayed as harboring a childhood crush for Lizzie.
  • In The Man Who Came to Dinner, Mr. Stanley's sister isn't Lizzie Borden.

  • Lizzie is one of the Living Dead Dolls characters, making her first appearance in Series 2.

    Video Games 
  • CarnEvil: Evil Marie was clearly based on Lizzie, being a Victorian woman with a battle-axe.

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation