Convicted of check forgery in the Howard County Circuit Court of Indiana on November 22, 1934, Nancy Louise Botts was pardoned 13 months later, when the forgeries continued after Botts was incarcerated. Shortly thereafter, the actual culprit, Vivian Dorsett, admitted that she had committed the crimes.
Seven merchants in Kokomo, Indiana, including Montgomery Ward & Co., J.C. Penney Co., and G.R. Kinney Co., had been victimized by a woman passing bad checks. Employees who had witnessed the transactions identified Botts as the perpetrator. Botts, a pregnant housewife, claimed that she had never been to Kokomo and three of her neighbors testified that they saw her at home in her apartment in Brazil, Indiana – 114 miles from Kokomo – on the days of the alleged crimes. Her insurance agent testified that on one of the days in question, he was at her apartment collecting a premium from her.
Despite the alibis presented, Botts was convicted by a jury and given a sentence of 2 to 14 years in the Indiana State Women’s Prison. The stress of the ordeal caused the 28-year-old Botts to miscarry.
After Botts began to serve her sentence, the forgeries continued, forcing authorities to reopen the investigation. They began showing Botts’s photograph to employees at the stores where the forged checks had been passed, but they remained firm in their identification. The authorities then determined that there must be a “double” of Botts passing the forged checks.
Convinced that Botts could not be guilty, C.A. O’Neal, chief of police in Kokomo, advised the State Clemency Commission that Botts was undoubtedly innocent. On the recommendation of the Commission, Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt pardoned Botts on December 14, 1935. Shortly after Botts’s release, 29-year-old Vivian Dorsett, mother of seven children, read an account of Botts’s plight in the newspaper and realized that she had been responsible for sending an innocent woman to prison. She contacted authorities and admitted to all crimes for which Botts had been convicted, and on July 24, 1937, Dorsett and her husband, Fred C. Dorsett, were both arrested in Indianapolis, Indiana and charged with passing hundreds of fraudulent checks in Indiana.
On March 9, 1939, Botts was awarded $4,000 by the State Legislature as compensation for her wrongful imprisonment.
- Adam Long
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.