Guily or Innocent The Boorn Brothers of Vermont Part 1

About the Boorn brothers of Vermont who were sentenced for the murder of a man who hadn't actually died.


Conviction by Gossip--The Fate of the Boorn Brothers

The Boorn brothers' case stands as a classic legal faux pas in American jurisprudence. In Manchester, Vt., Jesse and Stephen Boorn lived with their father Barney, sister Sally, and Sally's husband, the feebleminded Russel Colvin, who frequently disappeared for months at a time with no explanation.

When Colvin vanished in May, 1812, no one paid much attention. But as months turned into years, Manchester tongues began to wag. It was common knowledge that the Boorn brothers and Colvin rarely saw eye to eye. Thomas Johnson remembered the three of them quarreling the day Colvin disappeared. A neighbor said he had heard the boys say that Colvin was dead. Another claimed he had heard them say they had "put him where potatoes would not freeze."

Suspicion grew, but seven years passed before the clincher occurred. In 1819 Uncle Amos Boorn had a dream in which Colvin told him he had been murdered. He then beckoned for Amos to follow him to his tomb, a 4-ft.-square cellar hole. For anyone still in doubt as to the murderous ways of the Boorn brothers, two more occurrences closed the case against them.

First, a mysterious fire destroyed the Boorns' barn, and gossip spreading almost faster than the flames accused Jesse and Stephen of burning the evidence of Colvin's murder. Shortly after the fire, a boy and his dog playing under a tree stump near the Boorns' exhumed a small pile of bones, which were immediately pronounced human. The case had been solved, or so thought the townspeople.

Jesse was arrested and examined for five days while searchers tore open the old cellar described in Uncle Amos's dream and found a large knife, a penknife, and a flower-design button. The button and the penknife were identified as Colvin's.

An amputated leg was compared to the bones found beneath the stump. They were not human after all, but just when this fact looked as if it would end the investigation, Jesse confessed that Stephen had murdered Colvin during an argument. He also mentioned several places where the neighbors might want to look for Colvin's remains.

This fresh evidence drew Sunday crowds to the Boorn place to search for Colvin's bones. They opened holes, overturned stumps, and scoured the surrounding hillsides, but found nothing. Nevertheless, Stephen was arrested.

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