Guily or Innocent The Boorn Brothers of Vermont Part 2

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

Silas Merrill, a cellmate of the Boorns, testified against them before the grand jury. According to Silas, Jesse confessed that Stephen had struck Colvin in a fight but hadn't killed him. Jesse and Barney had then carried Colvin to an old cellar, where Barney had slit his throat. Eighteen months later, Jesse and Stephen had dug up the remains and hidden them in the old barn that had burned. After the barn was destroyed, they had pounded some of the bones into dust and thrown them into the river. Barney had hidden the rest in a hollow stump. The grand jury was impressed with Silas's story. For his testimony, Silas was set free. The Boorn brothers were indicted for murder.

Before the trial, Stephen finally "confessed." His story agreed substantially with Silas's, except that he failed to implicate Barney or Jesse. The false confession was merely a pathetic appeal for mercy, but it became the chief evidence against them. They were found guilty and sentenced to hang on Jan. 28, 1820. Jesse's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but Stephen's petition was denied. As Stephen anguished in his cell awaiting death, he conceived a preposterous plan to prove his innocence. A long shot, but simple. He would advertise for Colvin.

Stephen's plea was published in the Rutland Herald and fired a chain reaction of coincidences even more remarkable than those which had left him at the threshold of the gallows. The notice was picked up by the New York Evening Post and was read aloud in a New York City hotel where a former Manchester resident, James Whelpley, happened to be in the lobby. Whelpley began relating stories about the village idiot Colvin. Tabor Chadwick listened intently, because Colvin's description matched that of a man living with his brother-in-law in Dover, N.J. The boarder knew Manchester and its residents and often spoke of the Boorn brothers. Chadwick wrote a letter to the Post. Luckily, Whelpley saw Chadwick's letter and traveled to Dover to investigate.

In Dover, the very-much-alive Colvin wouldn't admit his identity but finally consented to travel as far as New York with Whelpley. Instead, Whelpley tricked Colvin into taking a boat bound for Troy, N.Y., which was near Manchester. Once in Troy, Colvin relented and returned home.

Russel Colvin, the supposed victim, and Stephen Boorn, the alleged murderer, were brought face-to-face, and Colvin stared at his handcuffed brother-in-law.

"What are those for?" he asked.

"Because they say I murdered you," replied Stephen.

The case was reopened, and the Boorns pleaded not guilty. In 1820 they petitioned the legislature for compensation, but were refused because their own confessions, however desperately made, had led to their convictions.

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