You know the rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother 40 whacks/When she saw what she had done/She gave her father 41.” But do you know the real story behind it? Yes, Lizzie Borden, a young woman born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1860, was accused of slaughtering her father and stepmother on August 4, 1892, in the house she grew up in.
What many people don’t know to this day was that she was acquitted of the murders, despite heaps of circumstantial evidence against her, and that they remain unsolved to this day, 91 years after Lizzie herself passed beyond the realm of human understanding.
You can read much more about the case and Lizzie herself in Tony Sokol’s excellent retrospective, but you can also see a new interpretation of the Borden story right now in theaters in the form of Lizzie, a new film from director Craig William Macneill starring Chloe Sevigny in the title role and Kristen Stewart as Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan, the Bordens’ maid and a possible accessory to the killings.
Little is known about Sullivan, but the movie — which Sevigny herself developed for years — explores the back stories of both women, how they may have interacted, and how their relationship could have intersected with both Borden’s monstrous father (Jamey Sheridan) and the infamous murders.
“I’ve read every book and play and newspaper article, and watched all the bad shows and the good shows and just kind of like fully immersed myself over the past 10 years or so,” says Sevigny about getting inside the enigmatic and unknowable mind of Borden herself. “But then we had to make it our own, you know. Lizzie Borden aficionados will be like, ‘Well that’s not right and that’s not right!’ We had to own our story and the story that we wanted to tell and how we wanted to tell it.”
The Borden case made headlines around the world in its day (long before we had this thing called the Internet) and has been cited as one of the first truly sensationalistic murder trials, paving the way for later cases like those of Bruno Hauptmann and O.J. Simpson that gripped the nation and the world. Kristen Stewart speculated on why the story of Lizzie Borden remains fascinating and relevant to this day:
“Just the fact that it’s still a mystery and we’re not exactly sure if it was her or not,” cites Stewart as some of the reasons for the continued interest. “And the fact that a woman could be capable of such a heinous crime, and how that was such a shock to people. The people that were (Borden and Sullivan’s) oppressors are so shocked that they would have anything to react to, because they’re so unaware of the oppression.”
Lizzie is out in theaters today (Friday, Sept. 14).
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye