You know what would suck? I’ll tell you what would suck. If you were born second after Jesus. Jesus of Bethlehem, as He is known. Then there’s the second baby. Whats-his-name of Bethlehem. No glory for you. That would suck. You know what else would suck? If the most sensational hatchet murder in America happened and went to trial with everyone jumping on the headlines, then just before the trial began, you were murdered with a hatchet and nobody especially noticed or cared in particular. That would suck. Some people are just born losers. And die losers.
Meet Bertha May Manchester. Just five days before the start of Lizzie Borden’s trial for the murder of her father and step-mother in Fall River, Massachusetts, the town was shocked by another brutal axe murder. The mutilated body of Bertha Manchester was found in of her home. The “startling parallelism” between this case and the Borden murders—the excessive number of wounds in each case, that both incidents occurred in daylight, the lack of any apparent motive—threatened to open a new line of defense in Lizzie’s trial. It would certainly challenge many of the prosecution’s stated assumptions. And although Bertha’s killer had no intention of assisting Lizzie during her trial, that was precisely what he did.
It wasn’t that the second hatchet murder was unnoticed at the time. It’s the unfortunate aftermath in history, that of being notoriously ignored after dying such a brutal death, that rather tickles my funny bone. Poor Bertha. It was a victory for the prosecutor that Bertha’s murderer was caught, otherwise Lizzie might have been set free without even going to trial. A serial killer (then known as a homicidal maniac) in quiet, unassuming Fall River? Why not? Serial killers (and homicidal maniacs) seem to pop up everywhere in history. Such a nuisance. One of Lizzie’s defense attorney’s, 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 this was impossible since Lizzie had been in jail at the time.
A newspaper article stated that Jose Carreiro was a Portuguese man and the second notorious hatchet murderer in Fall River. Carreiro worked for a time for Mr. Manchester on his farm. Although young, around 21, he was known in the town as a drifter, a jack-of-all-trades if you will. The crux of the evidence involved 2 dollars and a woman’s purse. Carreiro attempted to purchase a pair of shoes with a trade dollar, and a half-dollar with a hole in it. The shopkeeper didn’t want them but he accepted two quarter dollars for the shoes and wrapped them up for our transient killer. Let’s think about that. Carreiro finishes murdering Bertha Manchester, cleans himself up then goes shoe-shopping. Well, it worked for the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. In case you’re wondering, a trade dollar was part of a collector’s treasure, not really used for commerce, but notable for its circuit value.
The newspaper also stated it was possible Carreiro didn’t intend to kill Bertha but she had somehow surprised him. He didn’t intend to kill her but he armed himself with a hatchet and bonked her on the head 15 times to shut her up. Yes, that adds up.
Another theory states that when the elder Manchester discharged Correira, the two men quarreled bitterly over Correira’s severance pay. Their argument must have been especially difficult because Manchester could not speak Portuguese and Correira did not know English. During the heated and probably incoherent exchange, Mr. Manchester slapped the fired farm worker. Now that was just silly. Slapping an axe murderer is never a good thing to do. Sure enough, a few days later Correira came back to the farm seeking revenge. He couldn’t find the father so he took his revenge out on the daughter.
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 forty-eight-years the Portuguese laborer and axe murderer disappeared from history, neither knowing nor caring about the part he played in keeping Lizzie Borden out of jail.
Mr. Manchester had a brother who had died and left behind a widow. She refused to allow Bertha to be interred beside her late husband. Interesting. The newspaper article ended with what was meant to be a serious close but had me snickering “This is one of the many indications of the strange family relations that have existed among the Manchesters.” Wonderful. First Manchester is left to grieve over the brutal murder of his daughter and bear up under the townspeople’s stifled whispers whenever they caught sight of him. Then, people speculated about how “strange” the family must be, for no other reason than that it was suggested in the article. Now that’s objective reporting. Almost as brutal as an axe murder, perhaps.