“Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” The gruesome lyrics of a children’s song about one of the most infamous murders which took place in 19th-century America have perpetuated in time the story of Lizzie Borden, a well-to-do middle-class spinster from Fall River, Massachusetts, who allegedly killed her father and stepmother in August 1892. To this day, no one knows for sure what happened on that hot summer morning, when the dead bodies of Andrew J. Borden and his second wife, Abby, were found hacked to death with an axe or hatchet, in their large house in an otherwise peaceful neighbourhood of New England.
Lizzie Borden was the only real suspect ever to come forward, as there were very few other people who could have materially been responsible for the two deaths. She was put on trial for the double murder, but was found not guilty, despite the many contradictions of her testimony and the many gaps in her movements on the fateful day. Lizzie had a love-hate relationship with her father, whom she truly adored for many good and unsurprising reasons, but also grew to despise him for being a known skinflint and, more importantly, for taking as a new wife the unattractive, unappealing and unpleasant Abbey Durfee Gray. Lizzie and her only surviving sister, Emma, both loathed their stepmother, and the nature of the coldness between them was well-known to everyone who was acquainted with them.
But like many people involved in the investigation, the Bordens had relatives populating almost every street in Fall River, Massachusetts. Perhaps today there are more people connected to the would-be murderess than we think. It is no wonder that this is so, for the Borden family are an old family originally from the English county of Kent who settled in New England in the 1600’s.
The large family stemmed into many branches, some of which still live in the area today. Many became important and famous personalities in their lifetime in their own right, and it is possible that in some cases they were unaware of their link with the family embroiled in the 1892 murder.
Among the illustrious cousins of Lizzie Borden, one can encounter inventors, entertainers and politicians alike. Gail Borden, who invented condensed milk in the 1850’s and founded the Borden Milk Company, was Lizzie’s distant cousin; the town of Gail (in Borden County, Texas) is named after him. Another famous cousin was Simeon Borden, was also an inventor and pioneering engineer in Fall River, where he died in 1856. His brother, Nathaniel Briggs Borden, turned to politics and became the US representative for Massachusetts; he was also mayor of Fall River on two occasions.
But Lizzie’s cousins didn’t only live in Massachusetts. Odd as it may sound (but then again, genealogy always hides dark secrets and reveals interesting links), British PM Winston Churchill was also related to Lizzie through his American-born mother, Jenny Jerome, whose maternal family came from New England. Even the legendary Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jean Baker) can claim some sort of distant kinship to the infamous murderess, for she is a direct descendant of Richard Borden (d.1671), who happens to be Lizzie’s ancestor as well. Sir Robert Laird Borden, Canada’s 8th Prime Minister, also figures in the Borden family tree, as do actress Olive Borden and Canadian minister Frederick Borden, whose son Harold died in the Second Boer War. But perhaps the biggest irony in the Borden family tree is that the late Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress who played the role of Lizzie Borden in a TV biopic, was actually Lizzie’s sixth cousin once removed.
In all, one can probably count hundreds if not thousands of both famous and anonymous individuals who are somehow related to Lizzie Borden and her family. Though no descendants of her immediate family survive (neither Lizzie nor her sister Emma had any children of their own), their story and their blood are unknowingly perpetuated in the world of today through their numerous distant cousins.
Watch the biopic about the Borden murders on the following link (part 1):