Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lizzie Borden

The First Murder

At about 11:10 a.m., on Thursday, August 4, 1892, a heavy, hot summer day, at No. 92 Second Street, Fall River, Massachusetts, Bridget Sullivan, the hired girl in the household of Andrew J. Borden, resting in her attic room, was startled to hear Lizzie Borden, Andrew's daughter, cry out, "Maggie, come down!"

Portrait of Andrew Borden
Portrait of Andrew Borden

"What's the matter?" Bridget (called "Maggie" by the Borden sisters) asked.

"Come down quick! Father's dead! Somebody's come in and killed him!"

Andrew Borden, 70, was one of the richest men in Fall River, a director on the boards of several banks, a commercial landlord whose holdings were considerable. He was a tall, thin, white-haired dour man, known for his thrift and admired for his business abilities. He chose to live with his second wife and his two grown spinster daughters in a small house in an unfashionable part of town, close to his business interests. He was not particularly likable, but, despite the frugal nature of their daily lives, moderately generous to his wife and daughters.

Andrew Borden, reclining on a couch in the sitting room of the house at 92 Second Street, with his head hacked and bleeding
Andrew Borden, reclining on a couch in the sitting room of the house at 92 Second Street, with his head hacked and bleeding

When Bridget hurried downstairs, she found Lizzie standing at the back door. Lizzie stopped her from going into the sitting room, saying, "Don't go in there. Go and get the doctor. Run."

Bridget ran across the street to their neighbor and family physician, Dr. Bowen. He was out, but Bridget told Mrs. Bowen that Mr. Borden had been killed. Bridget ran back to the house, and Lizzie sent her to summon the Borden sisters' friend, Miss Alice Russell, who lived a few blocks away.

Portrait of Bridget Sullivan
Portrait of Bridget Sullivan

The portrait of Bridget, taken in her early twenties, shows a sturdy, vaguely pretty Irish maid, which is exactly what she was. At the time of the murders she was 26 years old, and had been working in the Borden household since 1889. There is no evidence that she was other than an exemplary young woman. She had emigrated from Ireland in 1886, and belonged to a socially discriminated class, the Irish of Massachusetts. Her testimony, which has been published in its entirety in the volume edited by Jeans, was straightforward, consistent, and neither helpful nor damaging to Lizzie. She did not spend the night of the murders in the Borden house, but at a neighbor's, although she spent the next night (Friday) in her third-floor room, leaving the house on Saturday, never to return. One legend is that Bridget was paid off by Lizzie, even to the extent of being given funds to buy a large farm back in Ireland. While it is likely that Lizzie or Emma provided the funds for transport back to Ireland, there is no evidence that more than that had come from Lizzie. The story of her being well-off is unlikely, since she returned to the United States a few years later, marrying and moving to Butte, Montana, where she died in 1948 in very modest circumstances.

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