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Lizzie Borden

Another Possible Suspect?

But did Lizzie Borden really commit the murders? Arnold R. Brown, in his book Lizzie Borden: The Legend, the Truth, the Final Chapter, presents a different theory on who committed the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. The culprit he names did have a grudge with Andrew Borden and who had close proximity to the victims. William Borden, a person shrouded in a carefully hidden past, was supposedly the illegitimate son of Andrew Borden and his sister-in-law, Phebe Hathaway Borden. He was born in 1856, when Andrew was married to his first wife Sarah, and Phebe was married to his brother Charles L. Borden. There exists no birth record for William as it is believed that the family acknowledged that he was illegitimate and it was common in that day not to issue a public record on such a birth. It is assumed that there were marital problems between the two couples at the time, and in order to prevent scandal in the community, William’s paternity was kept hidden from the public. Charles and Phebe’s marriage did not last much beyond William’s birth and a second wife named Peace shows up in town records later on. Whether Phebe died or they were divorced is unknown. Andrew remained with his wife Sarah until her death and what happened to William in the interim years is largely unknown. It is believed that at the time of the murders William was in contact with Andrew over financial obligations that William felt that Andrew owed him. The Borden family was aware of the familial connection with William and was active in keeping the truth of the paternity under wraps. It is theorized that on the day of the murders William had stopped by the house to meet with Andrew to discuss the inheritance situation. As Brown states: “At the time of the murders, William Borden was making demands of his father. For whatever reason, Uncle John (Lizzie Borden’s maternal uncle) was mediator between Andrew and William, and his presence was required when William insisted on meeting with Andrew. Lizzie, too, was involved in the arrangement as a go-between of some sort.” (Brown, p. 317) It is believed that the cordiality faded quickly between the two men and William murdered both Andrew and Abby in anger. Brown believes that Lizzie may have suspected that William committed the crime but did not want to divulge the circumstances of his being in the home and his family connection. An unknown man was reported lurking around the house at the time of the murders, but was never identified and has gone down in history as some shadowy unknown figure.

So what ever happened to William Borden? It is believed that he spent some time after the murders and before his death in an asylum for mental instability. At the time of his death he was living with his wife, Rebecca, on an apple farm in East Taunton, in Massachusetts. He was found dead of a supposed suicide on April 17, 1901 on his farm. He was found hanging from a tree by a chain after having ingested some poison. He had long been described as a very eccentric man, mainly avoiding any social contact. An eyewitness to his behavior in his latter years, who later related his story to Brown, told of his threats to other individuals by the display of his hatchet. Whether William Borden was the real killer will probably never be known, but he did have a motive, had accessibility to the victims, and seemed physically and mentally capable to have committed the crime. Whether it was Lizzie or William, it seems the murderer may have been a member of a very unhappy and dysfunctional family.

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All content unless otherwise noted is © 2023, Jill Nicholson