We Dare You

Would You Stay in Lizzie Borden’s Ax-Murder House?

Lizzie Borden was never convicted of murdering her father and stepmother with an ax. But a stay at the crime scene-turned-hotel may convince you of her guilt.

Ron Koeberer/Getty Images

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast has a tendency to lose its guests in the middle of the night.

Last weekend a family slipped out at four in the morning, packing their bags and leaving out the side door without a word.

“We have guests run away all the time,” says manager Lee-Ann Wilber, who purchased the house 11 years ago. “Some people don’t even make it to their rooms.”

So far this year, at least 10 people have been unable to stomach the Fall River, Massachusetts, lodgings. A century before the Borden’s home was a comfortable B&B, it was a crime scene of shocking brutality.

On August 4, 1892, the house was the site of a gruesome double-murder that would scandalize and obsess the nation. The case is still unsolved to this day.

Andrew Borden, his two daughters, Lizzie and Emma, and his wife, Abby, lived in the stately abode at 92 Second Street. Andrew was a wealthy man, but not particularly generous with his family. This was said to have created tension between his two grown daughters and their stepmother, who were known not to get along.

Then, one warm summer day, Andrew and Abby were found hacked to death more than a dozen times with an ax. The crime drew widespread attention not just for the brutality of the murders, but also for the mysterious woman at its center: 31-year-old, church-going Lizzie, who, other than the maid, was the only one home at the time.

She was arrested, but trial proceedings were confused. Many of the testimonies offered conflicting details on what happened that day, including Lizzie’s own statements, which were later blamed on prescription morphine.

“There has never been a trial so full of surprises with such marvelous contradictions given by witnesses called for a common purpose,” wrote a reporter in the Providence Journal.

After 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury found that the evidence was insufficient and acquitted Lizzie. No one else was ever charged with the crime and, despite the lack of a conviction, Lizzie was forever painted as a murderess. Her infamy was immortalized in a macabre nursery rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axAnd gave her mother forty whacks.When she saw what she had done,She gave her father forty-one.

Over the years, operas, songs, plays, academic works, and innumerous films and books have used Lizzie’s bloody story as inspiration. And travelers fascinated by true crime and unsolved mysteries have been drawn to Fall River to check out the scene of the crime for themselves. Wilber says her guests have come from as far as Turkey, Russia, Japan, and Australia.

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Halloween weekend is sold-out, but the busiest time of the year is actually early August when the bed and breakfast hosts a reenactment of the crime. Distant cousins of the Bordens are on hand to assist the cast of 20 people, some of whom are very dedicated guests.

While the house has served as a museum and B&B for more than 20 years, Wilber purchased it in 2003 and set about restoring it to its historically accurate condition. A Victorian-style couch now stands in the spot where Mr. Borden was killed while he napped. It’s a convincing enough replica that visitors are given the opportunity to do a photo shoot, imitating the dead man’s position with someone else playing Lizzie, wielding an ax above him. On the piano is a portrait of Lizzie, and replica skulls of the Bordens are displayed in the dining room. Greeting incoming guests are pictures of the corpses at the crime scene and the rumored murder weapon.

There are eight rooms available to overnight guests, including Lizzie’s, but the most popular is the one where Mrs. Borden was found dead between the bed and dresser.

It was also host to the most memorable guest evacuation. About two years ago, a woman claimed to be pestered by a spirit throughout the night. In an attempt to comfort her, her husband promised they’d leave once the next strange occurrence happened, Wilber says. That’s when the door handle of the room turned, and the door opened. They fled immediately, but came back the next morning for breakfast.

On TripAdvisor, visitors gush about the tour and the supernatural experiences encountered during their stay. One woman describes spotting a Victorian-dressed figure in a mirror, others felt something sitting on their beds, and there are reports of items in the room mysteriously falling during the night. “We didn’t sleep much,” one reviewer wrote.

“A door was slamming by it self [sic] with the knob shaking quite violently for about 20 seconds, while there was Nobody else in the house,” another posted. “I totally recommend it!” Some guests were disappointed that they didn’t have any ghostly interactions.

But others are unable to stomach the scene, and it’s not just fearful guests: a local health inspector was so shaken by a mysteriously opening drawer during his review of the house that he has refused to return since.

After a decade of managing the Borden home, Wilber is chock-full of stories of hauntings and paranormal sightings. She says the strange hauntings don’t scare her—but they have gotten so severe on two occasions that she slept outside in her car.

One night she was outside the house when she noticed a light had been left on in the third floor. The house was empty and she thought they’d all been turned off. She went back in, switched it off, and locked the door behind her. When she returned an hour later, the lights were again ablaze. She repeated the process three times.

“You get used to it,” she says. While she was never a non-believer, her conviction about the afterlife has solidified with each year she spends at Lizzie Borden’s home—a place that has surely persuaded dubious guests.

Did Wilber believe in ghosts before? “Not like this,” she says.