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That is the question that Pat Lawrence speculated on during her lecture to the Groton Woman’s Club.

Pat received a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Maryland, and chose as her thesis topic the murders of Lizzie Borden’s parents and the trial that followed.

With great detail, including the floor plan of the Borden house and exact location of each murder in the house, Pat fascinated her audience with facts and conjectures on the topic and showed how the old nursery rhyme about the case was filled with inaccuracies. She also revealed Lizzie’s connection to our area of Massachusetts.

The Bordens’ two-story, railroad-style house (no hallways) was located in the lower section of Fall River, close to town businesses. There was a decided class distinction between that area and the upper level or “Hill” section of the city. Lizzie’s father was a cabinet maker and shrewd property investor who built up a small fortune. Lizzie’s birth mother was a seamstress who died three years after Lizzie was born. Three years later, her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, married Abby Gray. Lizzie and her older sister, Emma, had a tension-filled relationship with their stepmother. This tension increased after Lizzie was suspected of stealing Abby’s jewelry, Lizzie’s pet pigeons were killed by her father, and her father deeded some of his property to Abby’s family.

The day before the murders, Lizzie tried to purchase poisonous prussic acid from the pharmacist. Everyone in the household was sick after breakfast except for Lizzie, who did not eat that morning. Was it another poison or the old mutton broth they ate that morning that caused the illness? The murders took place on the morning of Aug. 4, 1892, while Emma was out of town visiting friends, and the maid, Bridget, was outdoors in the heat of the day washing windows or napping. Abby was killed first, perhaps to make sure that relatives on her side of the family would inherit nothing. Soon after, Mr. Borden met his fate. Only one policeman responded as it was the day of the annual policemen’s picnic.

Lizzie’s trial in June of 1893 resulted in a not-guilty verdict as there was no blood found on Lizzie and no definitive murder weapon. However, a friend who was visiting witnessed Lizzie shoving a dress in the stove that she claimed had been ruined by paint stains before the murder. Lizzie and Emma inherited all of their father’s estate, sold the house, and moved to the “Hill” section of the city.

A curious connection of Lizzie to this area is that after her acquittal she became friends with actress Nance O’Neil, who owned a summer home in Tyngsboro. Lizzie attended at least one house party at this home, which stood on the site of what is now Notre Dame Academy (the house was torn down in 1978).

Pat concluded by noting that numerous books have been written on the subject, shows and movies produced, and there is even a song, “You Can’t Chop Your Poppa up in Massachusetts”!

Currently, there is an HBO mini-series in production.The infamous home in Fall River is now a bed-and-breakfast where Pat and her husband have stayed. Tours of the home are also available. It’s unknown if it was, indeed, Lizzie Borden who took not an axe but a small hatchet and gave her stepmother far fewer than 40 whacks and her father far fewer than 41. What is known is that the case of Lizzie Borden still fascinates historians and the general public to this day.