Who was Emma Borden?
Emma Borden was the elder sister of the prime suspect of the infamous 1892 murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. On August 4, 1892, Emma’s father and stepmother were found murdered at their home in Fall River. Emma’s father was an eighth-generation elite-society man. Her biological mother had died when she was 12. Emma and Lizzie had a tumultuous relationship with their father and stepmother. Their regular arguments over property inheritance were regarded as the prime reason for the murders. Along with Lizzie, Emma, too, was suspected of the murders. However, she supported Lizzie during the trial. Both the sisters never married and lived a reclusive life until their deaths. Emma died a few days after Lizzie’s death.
Birth & Early Life
Emma was born Emma Lenore Borden, on March 1, 1851, in Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, to Sarah Morse and Andrew Borden. She was of English and Welsh descent from her father’s side. Emma was the oldest of her three siblings. One of her younger sisters, Alice, died at 2 years of age. Emma’s other younger sister, Lizzie, later became the prime suspect of her father and stepmother's murders. Their father was the president of a major bank in Fall River and the director of three cloth mills. Emma belonged to a wealthy family, and her father owned a considerable number of properties.
Emma was raised in a religious environment and was a true follower of Christianity. She attended the 'Central Congregational Church.'
Emma lost her mother when she was just 12 years old. Their mother’s death had a huge impact on Lizzie. Following this, Emma became her only friend and transformed into a mother-figure to her.
Emma’s father then married Abby Borden. Their live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, gave a statement that mentioned the cold relationship between Abby and the sisters. She stated that Lizzie and Emma seldom had meals with their parents.
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The Murders & the Trial
Emma and Lizzie’s tumultuous relationship with Abby and Andrew was suspected to be the prime reason of the murders. Reportedly, they often had arguments with their parents over property inheritance. According to sources, months before the murders, Andrew had gifted a portion of his real estate to various branches of Abby's family. Later, Emma and Lizzie, too, demanded their share. They, however, received the home they were living in until Sarah died. A few weeks before the murders, the Borden sisters bought the rental property from their father for just a dollar. They later sold the property back to him for $5,000.
After a family argument in July 1892, Emma and Lizzie went on an extended vacation to New Bedford. Emma returned to Fall River a week before the fateful incident. Lizzie, however, stayed at a local rooming house for 4 days before returning.
A night before the murders, Emma and Lizzie’s biological maternal uncle, John Vinnicum Morse, visited their home. He was invited by Andrew to discuss business matters. It is speculated that they may have had an argument regarding property transfer.
Although Lizzie was the prime suspect of the murders, there were some accounts that indicated that Emma was the real murderer. However, there is no evidence in support of this theory. Unlike Lizzie, Emma never displayed discontentment in her life. She always seemed happy. Emma was reportedly not at home at the time of the murders. However, there are several accounts that contradict this. The real story was later revealed. It was found out that Emma had visited some of her friends that day. She was informed of the tragedy by a family friend through telegram. Another fact that was revealed during the trial was that Emma was in love with a man who was of a much lower status than hers. Her father had opposed their marriage. This fact was also considered as one of the reasons for Emma’s hatred for her parents. According to the 1984 book 'Lizzie,' authored by crime writer Frank Spiering, although Emma had an alibi, she could have been the murderer. The book suggests that she was at Fairhaven, which is about 15 miles away from Fall River. She may have secretly visited the residence later to murder her parents and then returned to Fairhaven.
Emma supported Lizzie throughout the trials. When Lizzie was accused of the murders, Emma became the sole inheritor of the Borden fortune. She spent the fortune to prove Lizzie’s innocence. Lizzie was finally given a clean chit. Despite this, she was rejected by the Fall River society. Thus, Emma moved out of the Fall River neighborhood and never saw Lizzie again.
Emma lived an isolated life in Newmarket, Merrimack, New Hampshire. Lizzie died of pneumonia on June 1, 1927, in Fall River. The day Lizzie died, Emma had an accident and broke her hip. She died due to chronic nephritis, 9 days later, on June 10, 1927. The Borden sisters, along with the rest of the family, are buried side by side at the family plot in ‘Oak Grove Cemetery,’ Fall River.
At the time of her death, Emma’s net worth was $450,000. She had donated most her property to charity.
The brutal murder of Emma’s parents was the subject of 1975 'ABC' TV film 'The Legend of Lizzie Borden.' Actor Elizabeth Montgomery played Lizzie, while Emma’s role was played by Katherine Helmond.