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Notes For Unsolved: The Murders That Haunt The Lizzie Borden House

Research notes for Supernatural Season 2 Episode 6

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**Research compiled for Ryan & Shane on February 8, 2017 by Kari Koeppel.

General Info/About The Bordens

  • On August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were found “hacked” to death in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts.

  • They lived with their 32-year-old daughter, Lizzie Borden, who was unmarried.

  • Abby Borden was actually Lizzie’s stepmother.

  • Lizzie became the main suspect of the murder, but she was acquitted by a jury, who thought the evidence against her was mainly circumstantial.

  • It was the biggest story in the nation at the time, even bigger than the Chicago World’s Fair, which was going on.

  • There is a schoolyard rhyme that goes:

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
  • Abby Borden had been axed 18 times, while Andrew Borden was axed 11 times.

  • Lizzie had previously been thought of as a good citizen, someone who taught Sunday school and was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

  • Although the jury in her trial acquitted her, the public seemed convinced of her guilt. When she returned to church, everyone refused to sit next to her. Children would throw rocks and rotten eggs against her house, or ring her doorbell in the middle of the night.

  • Lizzie died at the age of 66, and she was buried next to her father and stepmother.

  • Lizzie was younger than Emma. Emma was 41 at the time of the murders.

  • The New York Times claims it was the maid and a neighbor who found Abby Borden’s body upstairs, not Lizzie.

  • Andrew Borden had lived in the home since 1874. His family had lived in southeastern Massachusetts since 1638. Two of his relatives had owned the town of Fall River in 1714.

  • Abby Borden was 63 years old at the time of her death.

  • Both of Andrew Borden’s daughters were from his first wife.

  • Emma was very private, while Lizzie was the more social of the two sisters.

  • Lizzie was described as “tall, stocky, jowly, dressy and unremarkable,” and her eyes were described by a former neighbor as “huge and protruding, their irises an almost colorless ice-blue… I have heard many people speak of them as dead eyes, but the eyes of the dead are dull; Lizzie’s had the shine of beach pebbles.”


What We Know For Sure

Before The Murders

  • The whole family (apart from Emma, who was out of town) had been sick leading up to the day of the murders, including their maid Bridget Sullivan, whom they called Maggie.
  • Mrs. Borden was the only person who had seen the doctor about her sickness, reportedly telling Dr. Seabury W. Bowen the day before that she thought she’d been poisoned. However, he thought it was more likely the “warmed-over fish” that the Bordens commonly ate. He did not inspect any other family members.

What Was Known Immediately After

It is supposed that an axe was the instrument used, as the bodies of the victims are hacked almost beyond recognition. Since the discovery of the deed the street in front of the house has been blocked by an anxious throng, eagerly waiting for the news of the awful tragedy and vowing vengeance on the assassin.”
  • The Bordens’ next-door neighbor, Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, heard Lizzie cry out, “Father is stabbed; run for the police!”
  • Mrs. Churchill ran to the livery stable across the way. John Cunningham was passing by, and called the police. Officer Allen was sent over to investigate.
  • While the police were still on their way, a crowd gathered outside the house. A Fall River Herald reporter entered the house. He saw the body of Andrew Borden, who was laying on a lounge in the sitting room on the first floor of the house.
  • Over Andrew’s left temple was a wound that looked as though it had been made by the dull edge of an axe.
  • His left eye had been dug out of its socket.
  • There was a cut the length of the nose.
  • From this article: “The face was hacked to pieces and the blood had covered the man’s shirt and soaked into his clothing.
  • There was apparently no sign of a struggle, and everything in the sitting room looked to be in order.
  • The body of Abby Borden was discovered in her bedroom, in the northwest corner of the house.
  • She was found lying on the floor between the bed and the dresser. One of her arms was reaching out, and she was face-down on this arm.
  • Her skull was fractured above the left temple, and contained at least 7 different wounds.
  • Her blood stained the carpet.
  • A Dr. Bowen was the first to arrive on the scene, but each of the victims were dead, thought to have suffered only a very short time due to the extent of the injuries.
  • Lizzie was “so overcome by the awful circumstances” that her friends took her away from the scene.
  • Police arrived, and searched the property for clues about the murderer.
  • No murder weapon was found.
  • There were no other clues around the house as to the identity of the murderer.
  • However, a story spread about a Portuguese man who had been recently employed by Mr. Borden on one of the Swansey farms.
  • Apparently, at about 9 a.m. the day of the murder, this man had come to the Borden house asking Mr. Borden for the wages he was owed. Mr. Borden apparently told the man that he did not have money with him at the time, but if the man came back to the house later, he would have it.
  • About a half an hour later, at 9:30 a.m., Mr. Borden went into town to get a shave at Peter Leduc’s barber shop.
  • It’s thought that Mr. Borden went immediately back home, where he took a nap on the lounge. It’s thought that this is when Mr. Borden was attacked and killed.
  • It was thought that Mrs. Borden was in the same room as Mr. Borden at the time of the attack, but that she was so shocked that she couldn’t cry out, instead just running upstairs. However, it seems that the murderer just followed her upstairs and killed her there.
  • Reportedly, a “heavy fall and a subdued groaning” are the sounds that finally called Lizzie Borden’s attention to what had transpired. She apparently was not inside the house at the time of the murder.
  • She went inside, and this is when she saw the bodies of her father and stepmother, reportedly crying out for help.
  • She called to a servant who was washing a third-floor window. The servant had also not noticed that anything had occurred.
  • Lizzie told police that she had been working in the barn at around 10 a.m. When she went inside, she immediately saw her father dead in the lounge chair. She then ran upstairs and found her stepmother.
  • This newspaper article from the time (presumably before Lizzie was accused) puts forth this theory:
  • “It appeared as though Mrs. Borden had seen the man enter, and the man, knowing his dastardly crime would be discovered, had followed her upstairs and finished his fiendish work. It was a well known fact that Mrs. Borden left the room when her husband was talking business with anyone. A person knowing this fact could easily spring upon his victim without giving her a chance to make an outcry.”
  • Lizzie did not see anyone enter or leave the house.
  • She had no recollection of who this Portuguese man might be.
  • Lizzie told police that two weeks prior, she had overheard her father discussing a property in town with a potential tenant. She heard him say loudly, “I will not let it for that purpose.” She then later heard him say, “When you come to town next time I will let you know.”
  • She believed the person had wanted to use the property to sell liquor.
  • She did not see who this man was.
  • By 12:45 p.m. on the day of the murder, police headed to Swansey Farm, where this Portuguese man had reportedly worked for Mr. Borden.
  • There they found that the only Portuguese man who was employed by the farm had been taken sick to his bed that day.
  • The medical examiner called to the scene concluded that each of the victims had died instantaneously from their wounds, which were thought to have been made by “a heavy, sharp weapon like an axe or hatchet.”
  • The medical examiner believed, based on the angle of Mrs. Borden’s injuries, that she had been killed by a tall man.
  • It was also reported that Lizzie had received a letter on the morning of the murders, claiming that one of her close friends was sick, and asking that Lizzie visit.
  • However, the letter turned out to be fake, apparently intending to take Lizzie away from the scene. This makes the murder look planned.
  • At the time of his death, Andrew Borden was a very wealthy farmer as well as president of the Union saving’s bank and director in the Durfee bank, Globe yarn, Merchants and Troy mill. He also “was interested in” several big real estate deals. He was 69 years old.
  • Abby Borden was his second wife.
  • Lizzie had a sister, Emma, who was out of town at the time of the murders.
  • It’s possible that Andrew and Abby Borden had been sick leading up to the murder, with poisoning even being mentioned (though thought unlikely).
Aug. 4, 1892. Was sent for at my residence #13 Park St. at about 1135 to go to 92 Second St. Got there five minutes later went in the house and found Dr. Dolan over and [unreadable] the wounds on the head of Andrew J. Borden, went up stairs and found Mrs. Borden dead in the north west bedroom laying partly on her face. Both Mr. & Mrs. Borden were terribly cut about the head and face and looked as though it had been done with an axe or hatchet. I made inquiries of whose in the house at the time the murders took place, and was informed that Miss Lizzie was in the next room, and would be able to tell me something about it. I [unreadable] saw Lizzie who was sitting with Mr. Buck on a lounge in her bedroom. I asked if she knew who had committed the murders or if she had see anyone around the premises whom she would suspect. She said that she did not see anyone around the premises that morning but Maggie and Mr. John G. Morse who stopped in the room where Mrs. Abby Borden was found dead. But Mr. Morse went away from the house before 9 o’clock [unreadable] when the murders was committed L was in the barn. What do you mean by up in the barn? I mean that I was on the second story. Where was Maggie at this time? She had gone up stairs to make her bed. How long was you in barn and away from the house? About a half an hour. Did you see any one while in the barn going in or leaving the house? No I did not.
Aug. 4, 1892. Went to the Borden house 92 Second Street at about 12. M found Mr. Borden dead on the lounge head badly cut. Dr. Dolan standing over him. Went up stairs found Mrs. Borden dead on the floor between the bed and dressing case. Head badly smashed face downward. Saw Lizzie A. Borden in bedroom on same floor. Was sitting with Minister Buck on lounge asked her what she knew nothing further than her father came in about 1030 or or 1045 and that he seemed to be quite feible and she helped him and advised him to lay down on the lounge which he did. I was [unreadable] in the dining room which I left, and went in the barn up stairs and remained there for half an hour, Bridget had gone up stairs and when I came back I found father dead on the lounge, and went to the back stair and called Bridget (servant) down stairs told her that some one had killed father and told her to get Dr. Bowen. Did you see anyone around here? No I had not seen anyone in the house or yard. Who is this Mr. Morse? He is my uncle he came here last night and slept here but went away before 9 o’clock a.m. and did not get back until after the murder & he could not know anything about the murder

What Else Is Known

According to the Chicago Tribune:

  • All the doors to the Borden house were reportedly locked on the day of the murders, with the only opening a screen door opened while LIzzie was in the barn.
  • Lizzie reportedly burned a dress of hers after the murders. She claimed there was paint on it, but in those days, it was unusual to not use old clothing as rags or give it to servants.
  • There were rumors that Lizzie had been violent towards animals, including a rumor that she had beheaded Abby Borden’s cat.
  • The day of the murders, Maggie was told to wash the windows. She washed them from the outside, then went indoors to wash them from the inside. She did not see either of the Bordens when she went inside.

  • When she was washing the indoors windows, she heard Andrew Borden having a hard time unlocking the front door. She went to help him. At this point, she heard Lizzie laugh from the top of the front-hall stairs, seemingly coming from either her bedroom or the guest room.

  • Andrew Borden went to nap in the sitting room. Lizzie reportedly went to iron her handkerchiefs in the dining room.

  • Maggie went to take a nap in her bedroom in the attic.

  • About 10 minutes later, Lizzie cried out for Maggie that her father had been killed.

  • Reportedly, Mrs. Borden was still at the doctor at this time.

  • Maggie then ran to get Mrs. Borden from the doctor.

  • Instead of accompanying Mrs. Borden back home, Maggie instead went to get Alice Russell, one of Emma and Lizzie’s friends.

  • The Bordens’ neighbor, Mrs. Churchill, heard the commotion and went over to the Bordens’ house. She sent her handyman to go get help.

  • Maggie and Dr. Bowen arrived at the Borden house. She asked Lizzie if Mrs. Borden had gone over to her sister’s house.

  • Lizzie told Maggie that she thought she had heard Mrs. Borden come in through the door.

  • Maggie and Mrs. Churchill went upstairs, and found the body of Mrs. Borden laying on the floor of her bedroom.

  • Lizzie Borden was arrested on August 11, 1892, accused of the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden.

  • http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/LizzieBorden/bordenindictment.html: Copy of Lizzie Borden’s indictment.

  • According to assistant curator of the Fall River Historical Society, Dennis Binette, Lizzie was sedated with morphine by her doctor immediately following the murders, throughout her 10 months in jail, and for the duration of the trial.

Inquest Testimony

http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/PROJECTS/FTRIALS/LizzieBorden/bordeninquest.html: full transcript of Lizzie Borden’s inquest testimony, which was excluded from court during her trial

  • Given to police on August 9-11, 1892

  • She said she did not know if her father had a will or not, but had heard Mr. Morse mention it previously.

  • Lizzie heard her father have trouble with a man at their front door about two weeks prior to his death.

  • He wanted to rent property from Andrew Borden, but Borden said “I am not willing to let your business go in there.”

  • Lizzie said her family had hired a detective to find this man but had not heard anything.

  • Lizzie told police that the only man she knew who didn’t like her father was his sister’s husband, Mr. Hiram C. Harrington.

  • She did not know of anyone on bad terms with her stepmother.

  • She said she never had any trouble with her stepmother, and had not “had words with her” for at least five years.

  • However, she then said that the fight she had with her five years previous had been enough for Lizzie to go from calling Abby “Mother” to “Mrs. Borden.”

  • Emma had always called her “Abby.”

  • The fight with her stepmother was about Abby’s father’s house. Mr. Borden bought it after he passed away, and Lizzie believed Mrs. Borden had persuaded Mr. Borden to buy it for Mrs. Borden’s half-sister, whose husband was not doing well financially. Lizzie thought it wasn’t fair, and thought that if her father had bought her stepmother this house, then he should buy Lizzie and Emma something equal. He ended up giving Lizzie and Emma their grandfather’s house, which he later bought back from them for $5,000. (To be clear: they paid nothing for the house, but their father paid them $5,000 to buy it back.)

  • Lizzie said she saw her sister Emma more as a mother figure, since she was ten years older than Lizzie and had taken care of her after their mother had died.

  • They questioned Lizzie about John Morse, and how often he had visited the house.

  • She told the police she actually never saw John Morse in the house before the murder, but had only heard his voice.

  • She had been sick the day before the murder and had not felt well enough to eat dinner.

  • Emma had been in Fairhaven on the day of the murder. It was a two week long trip.

  • Lizzie wrote Emma a letter to let her know of the Bordens’ murders, but it was sent back, and instead they telegraphed for her.

  • Lizzie began to iron her handkerchiefs while her father went downtown, but the iron wasn’t hot enough, so she paused, waiting for the iron to heat up.

  • She was in the kitchen reading a Harper’s magazine when he came back.

  • Her father had forgotten his key, so he rang the doorbell and Maggie let him in.

  • Originally Lizzie tells police that she was downstairs when her father got home, but then says she was actually upstairs when Maggie let him in, but then changes her story again and says she was downstairs. She goes back and forth on this point many times throughout the interview

  • The police kept trying to get her story straight, and calm her down.

  • At one point, Lizzie said:

I don't know what I have said. I have answered so many questions and I am so confused I don't know one thing from another. I am telling you just as nearly as I know how.
  • Lizzie was not sure where Mrs. Borden was at this time but thought she was in the guest room, getting things ready for a guest she was expecting the next week.

  • After Lizzie found her father dead, she did not see her stepmother. She asked the people who entered her home to find her.

  • Lizzie told police she believed the front door had been locked the whole time, even after her father returned from downtown.

  • Lizzie said she did not immediately know her father was dead. She noticed the cuts on his face and that’s what got her concerned, but she did not “see his eye-ball hanging out.”

  • The police officer told Lizzie that an axe and a hatchet were found on the foot of the stairs.

  • She said she did not know how they would have gotten there.

  • Lizzie seems to have given her skirts worn on the day of the murder to the police for inspection, and says there would not be blood on them. I do wonder what this means for the dress she supposedly burned? This was not mentioned in the testimony.

The Trial

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/careers/sns-mass-lizzieborden-story.html

  • According to assistant curator of the Fall River Historical Society, Dennis Binette, Lizzie was sedated with morphine by her doctor immediately following the murders, throughout her 10 months in jail, and for the duration of the trial.

  • The trial lasted for 15 days.

  • Lizzie Borden’s trial began 10 months after her arrest. It took place in New Bedford, MA.

  • The jury only deliberated for an hour before she was declared not guilty.

  • The New York Times wrote at the time:

“It will be with a certain relief to every right-minded man or woman who has followed the case that the jury at New Bedford has not only acquitted Miss Lizzie Borden of the atrocious crime with which she was charged, but has done so with a promptness that was very significant.”

  • Lizzie’s inquest testimony had been excluded from the trial because it had been filled with contradictions.

  • Inquest testimony is the testimony given by the accused either when arrested or charged.

  • A pharmacist testified at Lizzie’s trial that she had tried to buy a poison called prussic acid from him the day before her father and stepmother were killed. However, this testimony was also dismissed.

  • Maggie, the Borden’s maid, testified at Lizzie’s trial.

  • She said that although Andrew Borden was a wealthy man, the Bordens lived frugally and ate a mutton-based diet.

  • Lizzie reportedly smiled as this was being described.

  • Maggie confirmed that she had let Mr. Borden into his house.

  • Mr. Morse, in his testimony, confirmed that he had not seen Lizzie, despite staying at her home, until after the murders had taken place.

After The Trial

  • After she was acquitted, Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth.
  • She continued to live with her sister Emma for 11 years - but then Emma left her, and never saw Lizzie again.
  • However, they died in the same year (1927) and were buried together next to their father and stepmother in the Fall River cemetery.
  • For years after the murder, one of the local newspapers, the Fall River Globe, published a remembrance of the murder on its anniversary.
  • After the trial, Lizzie and Emma did not move back to their parents home, but instead bought a house on the Hill, a wealthy neighborhood in Fall River, with four bathrooms.
  • Lizzie’s home on the Hill was called Maplecroft.

  • The Fall River Historical Society has a photograph of Lizzie at Maplecroft, as well as a photograph of her cat Blackie inside Maplecroft.

  • At some point after the trial, Lizzie was accused of shoplifting by a jewelry store in nearby Providence, Rhode Island.

  • She apparently had a crush on an actress named Nance O’Neil, and threw a party for her theatre troupe.

  • Emma reportedly moved out not long after.

  • Mrs. George Brigham had been a close friend and supporter of both Emma and Lizzie Borden, but cut ties with Lizzie after Emma stopped speaking to her in 1905.

  • She refused to discuss the case publicly.

  • Edwin H. Porter, a police reporter for the Fall River Globe at the time of the Borden murders, reportedly published a book on the topic in 1893 called The Fall River Tragedy: A History of the Borden Murders.

  • Reportedly, Lizzie bought and destroyed most of the copies of the book when it came out, with only 2-3 copies surviving that printing.

  • The book was reprinted in 1985.

  • Lizzie died on June 1, 1927, and was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery. Reportedly, only the undertaker’s assistants were present.

  • Lizzie is buried under the name Lizbeth, which she tried to reinvent herself as in her later years.

  • After the trial, her lawyer Andrew J. Jennings put all of his related documents and mementos into a hip bath (a small bath in which a person sits in water up to the hips), and covered it with an awning.

  • 75 years later, his daughter donated it to the Fall River Historical Society.

  • Upon opening it, they found Jennings’ personal notebooks on the trial, the minutes from Lizzie’s inquest, Abby Borden’s dustcap and switch, locks of the victims’ hair, a bedspread and pillow shams splattered with Abby Borden’s blood, two paper bags labeled “Mr. Borden’s stomach” and “Mrs. Borden’s stomach,” and a handleless hatchet.

The hip bath collection donated to the Fall River Historical Society by the descendants of Andrew Jennings contains, among other things:

  • An envelope labeled “Hair taken from Hatchet” containing a microscope slide with a mounted hair sample, labeled “Borden Case Hair from Hatchet”

  • Dr. Edward Stickney Wood testified of the hair:

...It is animal hair, no question of that, and probably cow’s hair… that hair (pointing to the cow hair) is the only hair I have had as coming from the hatchet.
  • A clipping of hair from Abby Borden’s head
  • A clipping of hair from Andrew Borden’s head
  • Microscope slide & specimen vial with mounted sample of stomach contents of Abby Borden
  • Journal of defense team notes
  • Notebook of clippings about defense team
  • Two scrap albums with clippings
  • Photographs of the crime scene, depicting, among other things: body of Abby Borden on the floor of the guest bedroom between the bed and bureau, body of Andrew Borden on sofa, the autopsies of Abby and Andrew Borden, the Borden property, Skulls of Abby and Andrew Borden, bedspread from the Borden guest bedroom where Abby Borden was murdered


Other Possible Suspects

Unknown Portuguese Man Owed Wages By Andrew Borden: According to the issue of the Fall River Herald from the day after the murder, a story spread about a Portuguese man who had been recently employed by Mr. Borden on one of the Swansey farms.

  • Apparently, at about 9 a.m. the day of the murder, this man had come to the Borden house asking Mr. Borden for the wages he was owed. Mr. Borden apparently told the man that he did not have money with him at the time, but if the man came back to the house later, he would have it.
  • This newspaper article from the time (presumably before Lizzie was accused) puts forth this theory:
  • “It appeared as though Mrs. Borden had seen the man enter, and the man, knowing his dastardly crime would be discovered, had followed her upstairs and finished his fiendish work. It was a well known fact that Mrs. Borden left the room when her husband was talking business with anyone. A person knowing this fact could easily spring upon his victim without giving her a chance to make an outcry.”
  • Lizzie did not see anyone enter or leave the house.
  • She had no recollection of who this Portuguese man might be.
  • By 12:45 p.m. on the day of the murder, police headed to Swansey Farm, where this Portuguese man had reportedly worked for Mr. Borden.
  • There they found that the only Portuguese man who was employed by the farm had been taken sick to his bed that day.
  • The medical examiner called to the scene concluded that each of the victims had died instantaneously from their wounds, which were thought to have been made by “a heavy, sharp weapon like an axe or hatchet.”
  • The medical examiner believed, based on the angle of Mrs. Borden’s injuries, that she had been killed by a tall man.

Unknown Man Refused Property By Andrew Borden: According to the issue of the Fall River Herald from the day after the murder:

  • Lizzie told police that two weeks prior, she had overheard her father discussing a property in town with a potential tenant. She heard him say loudly, “I will not let it for that purpose.” She then later heard him say, “When you come to town next time I will let you know.”
  • She believed the person had wanted to use the property to sell liquor.
  • She did not see who this man was.

Anonymous Confession: The Fall River Historical Society contains the personal files of City Marshall Rufus Bassett Hilliard, including an anonymous confession to the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden:

[unreadable] of Police Fall River
don’t push the girl for she want to blame i fixed the old man and my [unreadable] did the old woman we went out when the gal fixed the midle window i know what it was for and you don’t and i will [unreadable] you can’t find me to morow [unreadable] folks must [unreadable] to then own stuf don’t forget what I sayOther suspect Bridget/Maggie, an illegitimate son of Andrew Borden’s, Emma, John Vinnicum Morse, or a stranger who happened to be walking past.


Other theories

  • Other theories suspect Bridget/Maggie, an illegitimate son of Andrew Borden’s, Emma, John Vinnicum Morse, or a stranger who happened to be walking past.
  • Lizzie Was Guilty, But The Jury Didn’t Want To Hang A Woman
  • In 1992, John C. Corrigan Jr., a lawyer from Fall River, told the New York Times that he believed that if Lizzie had been convicted, she would’ve been hanged, and the jury didn’t want to hang a woman.

Other Documents

Legacy

http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/08/05/why-were-fascinated-by-lizzie-borden-and-other-female-murderers/

https://journals.ku.edu/index.php/amerstud/article/view/2852/2811

  • Lizzie Borden has, in a way, become a pop culture icon.

  • There have been numerous books, movies, and plays about the story, either fictionalizing it or attempting to keep it close to fact.

  • In many fictionalized versions, Lizzie is having an affair with their maid, Maggie, when she is discovered by her stepmother. This is when, and why, Lizzie kills her stepmother. She then kills her father to cover it up.

http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20150717/NEWS/150716918

  • A Fall River couple met at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, reenacting the events of the murder on its anniversary in 2012. Carol Ann Simone played Lizzie, while Michael Shogi played Detective George Seaver.

  • The couple married in 2015 and cut the cake with a hatchet.

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/lizzie-borden-why-a-19th-century-murder-still-fascinates-us-w432670

http://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-lizzie-borden

  • there was no physical evidence linking her to the murders. A hatchet had been discovered in the basement of the Borden home, but its blade was clean and the handle had been broken off—by Lizzie, according to police. (direct quote from article)