What Pushed Lizzie Over the Edge?

02 Mar

I’m sorting over some old journals, photos, and newspaper articles about the Gardners of Swansea and Touisset, MA., which have recently come into my possession. These include events that Emma Borden attended after separating from Lizzie in 1906. I’ll be posting about a particular one that illustrates Emma was not so much the recluse thought to have been.

Swansea was an important part of Lizzie & Emma’s lives, not the least of which involved – give or take – the following (recycled from an earlier post):

Most scholars on the Lizzie Borden case believe she was guilty and that money was the motive. But why were the murders done in broad daylight on the very next morning after an unexpected visit from John Morse?

District Attorney Hosea Knowlton was quoted after the Trial as saying if he knew what Andrew Borden and John Morse (uncle to Lizzie and Emma) discussed the afternoon before the murders (August 3, 1892) he “would have convicted somebody.”  We have Lizzie herself  (in her Inquest Testimony) saying she stayed in her room all day that Wednesday because she wasn’t feeling well, and that the voices of her father and uncle “disturbed” her.

The curving staircase in the front hall affords one the ability to linger part way down and not be observed while listening to a conversation in the Sitting Room.

I’ve often said the “Rosetta Stone” to this case is what was said during that Wednesday afternoon conversation between Andrew and John.

If we assume Lizzie guilty and that money was the motive, the following exchange extracted from an old screenplay I wrote could have occurred which Lizzie, indeed, would have found extremely “disturbing”.

(Morse has shown up unexpectedly that afternoon, and after eating in the dining room, he and Andrew and Abby go into the Sitting Room and engage in conversation.  Lizzie is upstairs in her bedroom.)

MORSE reaches over to a small table and picks up a newspaper.

I see in here where Carnegie is selling his yacht.  Might be a good
purchase for you, Andrew.

Ha!  What would I do with such a thing?

I got your letter of the 25th, Andrew, about wanting to talk to me on getting a man for the farm.

I’ll be going upstairs and lay down a while.  This heat has wore me down.  And that stomach sickness we told you about.  I’m just a little poorly.

Abby gets up and leaves the sitting room through the door to the dining room.  Andrew watches Abby leave and waits until Abby is out of hearing distance.

I didn’t want you making arrangements on a man for the farm at Swansea until I talked to you.

That’s what you wrote.

You know, John, I’ve been thinking about making a Will.  When I’m gone Abby is never going to be able to live under the same roof with Lizzie and Emma.  Things have gotten worse than when  you were here two weeks ago.  Emma took off to Fairhaven, staying over at old Moses Delano’s place.  Lizzie went with her, far as New Bedford, but
came back early.

Haven’t seen Lizzie last few times here.  How is she?

Sulks in her room all day.  They can’t live together those three. And I won’t be around forever to keep things together.

Never have taken to Abby, have they?  Maybe they should have separate houses.  How ‘bout Swansea?

No, I won’t be going over there until things get settled here. Time’s not right.  Too much trouble right now.

I meant how about giving the girls the Swansea place in your Will.

I’ll not leave them any property. Abby will get this house and my property.  She wants to live near her sister anyways.  The Swansea place –  well I’ve been thinking of maybe donating it the Old Folks Home.  As for the girls, I’ve settled on $25,000 each.   They can both buy their own house with that and manage to live comfortably.

Lizzie on the staircase, leaning over and listening. She has heard every word. She blanches.  She is deeply shaken by what she has just heard.

(registers surprise)
But no property Andrew?

They can’t manage property.  Made a mess on the rentals of the Ferry Street homestead.  And I took a big loss on it when I bought it back of them just two weeks ago.  You know that, you were here then. Remember the fuss?  No, they can’t be trusted with property.  They haven’t got the heads for it.

And Abby does?

Not much more.  But of the three, she’s the more deserving.  Besides, she’s my wife.  I need the Will to make sure she gets her due. Fact is, I’ll most likely have one drawn up in a day or two.

ANGLE ON Lizzie, almost tottering on the staircase, grips her hand around the railing.


Andrew, don’t you figure this a bit unfair? These are Sarah’s daughters. And your own flesh and blood as well.  Seems with the money you have the girls should get a better share. I’m only suggesting, mind you.

It’s my money.

True.  Your money.  Your daughters.


(raising his voice)
MY money!  Mine!  To do with as I see fit!

(raises voice)
You expect them to be happy with that?

I expect them to be grateful for whatever I choose to give them. They’ve gotten plenty from me.  Plenty. There’s trouble in the house over my money and I aim to set it out, plain and solid, in a Will.

I’ve known you a long time, Andrew.  I know when to end an argument with you.

(Morse rises from the chair.)

I better see about getting a rig and drive over to the farm.  Expect I’ll be back before nine. I’ll get your eggs. Probably take supper at Luther’s.



Lizzie is pacing in her room, then sits at her desk and takes a piece of stationery and begins writing “Dear Emma”.  We don’t see what else she writes, but in a few moments she crumbles up the paper and throws it in her wastebasket.   She is extremely distraught.  Emotionally on edge.    Almost out of control, but not quite. Something inside her steels her nerves.


(quietly to herself)
Alice. I’ll go talk to Alice.


So if Lizzie *did* hear such a conversation and feared her father would write a Will favoring Abby – and that he was going to do it in the next day or two – she would have to act immediately. But the good and evil forces were at bay within her. Her forebodings of “something terrible will happen” to Alice Russell was clearly a cry for help while also setting the stage.

The next morning on August 4, 1892, at the very first opportunity Lizzie had to be alone with Abby, she killed her. An hour and a half later, at the very first opportunity Lizzie had to be alone with her father, she killed him.

Never so much a “who dunnit” as a “how dunnit” to me, the real mystery is what happened to the murder weapon and how could Lizzie be seen within 10 minutes of her father’s murder and no blood found upon her person?

“It was a terrible crime. It was an impossible crime. And yet it happened.” -Hosea Knowlton, 1893.


Posted by on March 2, 2010 in The Borden Family, Time Portals


Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 responses to “What Pushed Lizzie Over the Edge?

  1. Fiz

    January 13, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    Her forebodings of “something terrible will happen” to Alice Russell was clearly a cry for help while also setting the stage.
    That’s always what i have thought, Faye. She wanted to be stopped, I am sure.

  2. inspiring room

    June 15, 2010 at 3:51 AM

    I like and enjoy the way you writing this article. Unique Lizzy.
    Good job. Love it!

  3. Patricia Sliman

    June 1, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I like your senario of Lizzie sitting on the stairs listening to Morse and her father. Since there was little soundproofing in the house, she could have been in her bedroom with her ear to the floor.

    I don’t believe she wanted to be stopped from killing her parents. I think she wanted to tell someone, to talk it over… but knew she shouldn’t.

  4. Anonymous

    October 5, 2015 at 10:54 PM

    Why is there no record of what they discussed that upset Lizzie? Didn’t they ask Morse about it at the trial or before?!?!

    • phayemuss

      October 12, 2015 at 2:53 PM

      I have no idea why there is no record other than so many questions that could have been asked were not.

      No, they did not ask Morse.

  5. Jill Detweiler

    October 5, 2015 at 10:55 PM

    Why is there no record of what they discussed that upset Lizzie? Didn’t anyone ask Morse about that at the trial or before?!?!

    • phayemuss

      October 8, 2015 at 5:12 PM

      Lizzie testified at the Inquest that “their voices” “disturbed” her. Since she didn’t state she could hear every word, they didn’t ask her what they said. They should have. But then, she would have lied, I imagine.


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