José Correira never set out to help Lizzie Borden. He was neither friend nor acquaintance; indeed, he never even met her. He was not a witness at the trial nor in any way related to the defense team.
Nevertheless, he was instrumental in securing her acquittal.
Ten months after the Borden slayings, another axe murder was committed in Fall River, Massachusetts. The victim was a twenty-two year old woman named Bertha Manchester who worked on her father’s dairy farm.
She had been in her kitchen when the murderer struck. Even though she was axed from the back, with multiple wounds to her head and neck — like Abby Borden — her ripped clothing led investigators to believe that, unlike Mrs. Borden, Manchester had put up a furious although ultimately futile fight for her life.
The body of Bertha Manchester was autopsied by the very same Dr. William Dolan who had autopsied Mr. and Mrs. Borden. He found that Manchester had been struck twenty-three times with an axe on the back of her head.
A headline ran in the Boston Globe that could not have been of more benefit to the jailed Lizzie: STARTLING PARALLELISMS — MANY POINTS OF RESEMBLANCE FOUND BETWEEN BORDEN AND MANCHESTER MURDERS. The article pointed out the uncanny similarities of Manchester’s wounds to those of Abby, both in number and place, and it said that, as at the 92nd Street Borden house, nothing seemed to have been stolen from the Manchester. Furthermore, the assassin appeared to have spent a long time at the crime scene after finishing his brutal work. The finger of suspicion had pointed at Lizzie, in large part, because it seemed so improbable that an outsider could have murdered Abby and then dallied around the residence for an hour and a half until Andrew came home. Finally, the Manchester murder was committed at 9:30 AM, a busy time at the Manchester dairy farm. Again, people have always wondered how a stranger could have exited onto a well-frequented street after slaying the Bordens but here was a murderer with a similarly reckless modus operandi.
One of Lizzie’s defense attorney’s, the talented Andrew Jennings, made the most of these similarities when he asked a group of reporters: “Are they going to claim that Lizzie Borden did this too?”
Of course, the joke was that that was impossible since Lizzie had been in jail at the time.
On June 5th, a suspect was apprehended in the Manchester slaying. He was José Correira and he was later tried and convicted of the crime. A Portuguese immigrant and farm laborer, Correira had worked for Stephen Manchester and been fired by him. During his employment, Bertha Manchester had served codfish, a dish Correira disliked, to the young laborer on a daily basis.
When the elder Manchester discharged Correira, the two men quarreled bitterly over Correira’s severance pay. Their argument must have been made especially difficult by the reality that Manchester could not speak Portuguese and Correira did not know English. During the heated and probably fairly incoherent exchange, Mr. Manchester slapped the fired farm worker.
A few days later Correira came back to the farm seeking revenge. He couldn’t find the father so he took his rage out on the daughter.
Luckily for Lizzie, the Borden jury went to trial knowing that Fall River had an axe murderer who could not be her and who fit the stereotype of a brutal murderer far better than she did for José Correira was no refined, upper-class “lady” but, as Ann Jones points out in Women Who Kill, exactly the type of person expected to commit brutal violence: young (twenty-two at the time), male, lower-class, a manual laborer, and an immigrant.
What the Borden jury did not know was that José Correira could not possibly have been the murderer of Abby and Andrew Borden because he was not in the United States when they were committed. He was in his native land, the Azores, the Portuguese-held islands that are almost midway between Europe and North America. Correira arrived in the US in April of 1893, a full eight months after the Borden slayings.
Robert Sullivan in Goodbye Lizzie Borden speculates that Correira’s homicide may have been inspired by the Borden axe murders since he probably heard of them from other Portuguese-speaking people and any dreadful crime usually inspires copycats. However, there is no way to know for certain if this is true or not.
Correira was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Bertha Manchester. He served twenty-six years, then had his sentence commuted by the Massachusetts governor on condition that he leave this country for the Azores.
At the point the forty-eight-year-old Portuguese laborer and axe murderer disappears from history, perhaps neither knowing nor caring about the part he played in aiding Lizzie Borden.
“The Murderer Who Inadvertently Helped Miss Lizzie” was originally published on page 8 of the October, 1999 issue of The Lizzie Borden Quarterly, © 1999. Article reproduced courtesy of the “Lizzie Borden Quarterly,” Maynard F. Bertolet, editor.