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Stephen Boorn

The Boorn brothers, Stephen and Jesse, were sentenced to death in Manchester, Vermont, in 1819 for the murder of their brother-in-law, Russell Colvin, who had disappeared and presumably been murdered seven years earlier. The Boorns’ innocence was established in 1820 when Colvin was found alive in New Jersey.
 
Although the Boorns had long been suspected of foul play, nothing happened in the case until their uncle allegedly claimed in 1819 that Colvin’s ghost had appeared at his bedside during a recurring dream and confirmed that he had been slain. Although not identifying the killers, the uncle allegedly reported that the ghost had confided that his mortal remains had been put into an old cellar hole in a potato field on the Boorn farm, according to newspaper reports.
 
The cellar hole was excavated, but no remains were found. Shortly thereafter, however, a dog unearthed several bones from beneath a stump nearby. Three local physicians examined the bones and pronounced them human. At this point, officials opened an investigation. Jesse Boorn was taken into custody, as Stephen Boorn no doubt would have been, except that he had moved to New York.
 
Jesse shared a jail cell with one Silas Merrill, a forger, who soon claimed that Jesse had confessed. In return for agreeing to testify, Merrill was released from jail. Then, when Jesse was confronted with the mounting evidence against him, he made a statement to the authorities admitting the murder, although placing principal blame for it on Stephen, whom he may have presumed to have been beyond the reach of local authorities. However, a posse soon arrested Stephen in New York. Shortly after he was returned to Manchester, he confessed as well, although he claimed to have acted in self-defense.
 
After the brothers were charged with Colvin’s murder, the physicians changed their minds about the bones that had been unearthed by the dog, concluding that they were in fact not human, but animal bones. Nonetheless, based on Merrill’s testimony and the defendants’ inculpatory admissions, the prosecution pressed ahead with the case. There was no other proof of corpus delecti. Both brothers were convicted and sentenced to death.
 
The Vermont Legislature commuted Jesse Boorn’s sentence to life in prison, but denied relief to Stephen. Shortly before Stephen was to be hanged in 1820, fortunately, Colvin was discovered working on a farm in New Jersey. His return to Manchester exonerated his brothers-in-law, who were then released and the charges against them dismissed.
 
- Rob Warden
State:VT
County:Manchester
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1812
Convicted:1819
Exonerated:1820
Sentence:Death
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation