« PreviousContinue »
"May the 10th, 1812, I, about 9 or 10 o'clock, went down to David Glazier's bridge, and fished down below Uncle Nathaniel Boorn's, and then went up across their farms, where Russel and Lewis were, being the nighest way, and sat down and began to talk, and Russel told me how many dollars benefit he had been to father, and I told him he was a damned fool, and he was mad and jumped up, and we sat close together, and I told him to set down you little tory, and there was a piece of beech limb, about two feet long, and he catched it up and struck at my head as I sat down, and I jumped up and it struck me on one shoulder, and I catched it out of his hand and struck him a back handed blow, I being on the north side of him, and there was a knot on it about one inch long. As I struck him I did think I hit him on his back, and he stooped down and that knot was broken off sharp, and it hit him on the back of the neck, close in his hair, and it went in about a half of an inch on that great cord, and he fell down, and then I told the boy to go down and come up with his uncle John, and he asked me if I had killed Russel, and I told him no, but he must not tell that we struck one another. And I told him when he got away down, Russel was gone away, and I went back and he was dead, and then I went and took him and put him in the corner of the fence by the cellar hole, and put briars over him and went home and went down to the barn and got some boards, and when it was dark I went down and took a hoe and boards, and dug a grave as well as I could, and took out of his pocket a little barlow knife, with about a half of a blade, and cut some bushes and put on his face and the boards, and put in the grave, and put him in four boards on the bottom and on the top, and t'other two on the sides, and then covered him up and went home crying along, but I want afraid as I know on. And when I lived at Wm. Boorn's I planted some potatoes, and when I dug them I went there and something, I thought, had been there, and I took up his bones and put them in a basket, and took the boards and put on my potato hole, and when it was night, took the basket and my hoe and went down and pulled a plank in the stable floor, and then dug a hole, and then covered him up, and went in the house and told them I had done with the basket, and took back the shovel, and covered up my potatoes that evening, and then when I lived under the west mountain, Lewis came and told me that father's barn was burnt up, the next day, or the next day but one, I came down and went to the barn and there were a few bones, and when they were at dinner I told them I did not want my dinner, and went and took them, and there were only a few of the biggest of the bones, and throwed them in the river above Wyman's, and then went back, and it was done quick, too, and then was hungry by that time, and then went home, and the next Sunday I came down after the money to pay the boot that I give between oxen, and went out there and scraped up them little things that were under the stump there, and told them I was going out fishing, and went, and there was a hole, and I dropped them in and kicked over the stuff, and that is the first anybody knew
it, either friends or foes, even my wife. All these I acknowledge STEPHEN BOORN."
before the world.
"Manchester, August 27, 1819."
Abel Pettibone. That hat Mr. Johnson's folks found I know
THE EVIDENCE FOR THE PRISONERS.
Mrs. Ferguson. Russel Colvin was at our house about a week or more before he was finally missing. Staid there two hours in the forenoon, and went away home; it was about the 9th or 10th of May. Russel did not use to go about the country without a hat, but was careful of his hat, and did not use to go away without notice and preparation. The time mentioned was the last time I ever saw Russel; am Russel's sister.
Sally Colvin. He used to get up, take the boy on his back, and go off and stay a day or two without saying anything about it. Once I understood he went off and staid eight or nine months; was not then at home, and think he was not in his right mind.
Wm. Wyman. Russel used to go from home, once he carried the boy and staid eight or nine months. We then often heard from him with his boy. Have heard that his father lived in Rhode Island.
to be Russel Colvin's.
Squire Pratt. Russel was once absent to find his father to get a deed, some eight or nine months, and after that a shorter time. Was often heard from, was running around town often. Was a weak man in mind, was small, but smart for business. Was once confined for a night or two for threatening to burn a house.
Truman Hill. Lewis testified before the Magistrate that he
and his father were alone in picking up stones. That his father went throwing rails about, acted strangely, that nobody else was present; that he ran to the house and told of it.
Mr. Wellman. After Jesse had confessed to Merrill, I heard of it. Inquired of Merrill if Jesse had confessed to him. He said he had not made a confession.
Mr. Skinner proposed to show that Merrill, previous to his disclosure before the grand jury, was confined in chains, and afterwards was freed from them, and had been permitted to be about the streets. Objected to by Mr. Sheldon, but admitted by the COURT.
Cyrus Munson. Merrill was in chains in gaol, till the session of the grand jury. The chains were taken off by the officer sent for him by the grand jury, and when Merrill was returned from grand jury, the chains were put on, if I recollect; and the chains since the court have not been on, and he has been laboring with me in the field. Had always been in my view except when intrusted with a brother of mine. I am gaoler, and before the disclosure I took him out of the gaol, but did not take his chains off. Before the session of the grand jury there were a large number of prisoners in gaol, and since then those who remain have been treated with more leniency. I do
not remember of seeing Farnsworth alone with the prisoner, though he was often at the gaol. Stephen was once offended with Farnsworth for inspecting too closely his chains.
Mr. Sheldon offered to prove that the prisoner's wife told Lewis that he must testify as he had been before directed, or her husband would kill him.
The evidence was rejected by the COURT.
Thomas Johnson. I think, but am not positive, that the apple tree, which was not more than three years old, was growing after the barn was burned. The cellar-hole was about four feet square.
Mrs. Ferguson. The barn was burned four years ago last March.
Mr. Johnson. I bargained for the farm in the summer of 1814. In December, 1814, I took the deed; in the fall before I took the deed I ploughed some on the place, and might have discovered the tree in the fall, but my strongest impression is that it was in the spring of 1815 that I saw the tree.
Michael Johnson 2d. Think I saw the apple tree in the spring when we were trimming apple trees. Mr. Vaughn was present.
Squire Pettibone. Jesse's examination begun on Tuesday and ended on Friday. Mr. Pratt, Josiah Burton, and myself, advised Jesse to confess the facts, that it was best for him. The night Stephen returned from the west all who were present advised Jesse to confess the truth and nothing else. Stated that they had got Stephen, and that he might be made a witness if he appeared innocent, but all urged him to state nothing but what
was true. That if he was innocent and did not confess, he might suffer with Stephen on his former confession and denial. Burton once said to Stephen, you are a gone goose and had better state the facts than not.
Samuel C. Raymond. I and Mr. T. Hill went to the westward and brought Stephen to this State. We tried to get facts from him by persuasion, to confess frankly and honestly the whole truth. We told Stephen that the evidence was enough to convict him, but whenever we stated the evidence to him we stated it correctly.
Truman Purdy. Mr. Pratt, Sheldon and others, told Jesse after Stephen's arrival, that it was probably the last chance he I would have to confess the truth. Jesse said, if it is not true shall I confess? They answered him, certainly not. Jesse did not then confess anything. Much the same propositions were made to Stephen the same day. He was told it was the only course he could take. That Jesse had refused to confess, that it might save him (Stephen). Stephen said he had a good bottom to stand upon, and he would not confess anything.
Squire Hickock. I have often talked with the prisoners and heard others; do not remember any encouragement offered them. Jesse was asked, would it not be better to own the truth; he made light of it. Stephen was told what Jesse had stated, and was asked if he did not think it better to own the whole truth. That if he refused there would be no chance for them. Stephen also made light of it.
Sally Colvin. Recognized the button found at the cellar hole
to be a button worn by Colvin the last time I saw him and which he had worn for many years on his clothes.
Thomas Johnson. The apple tree had no leaves on it at any time that I saw it, as I now remember; think I have seen it more than once. When I discovered it to be gone, the ground
about the cellar hole appeared to have been moved, logs were taken from the fence and thrown in various directions, had no suspicion at the time, nor till the winter of 1818.
Michael Johnson, 2d. Do not remember that any leaves were on the apple tree, think there were not.
JUDGE DOOLITTLE charged the Jury on the law of homicide and CHIEF JUSTICE CHASE as to the evidence. The CHIEF JUSTICE told the Jury that no weight should be attached to a confession incited by hope or fear, but left it to them to say whether the confessions in this case were so influenced.9
The Jury, after an absence of one hour, brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree against both Prisoners.
The Prisoners being asked if they had anything to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced against them, both stoutly protested their innocence.
The CHIEF JUSTICE sentenced them to be hanged on the 28th day of January, 1820.
THE RETURN OF THE VICTIM.
Notwithstanding the general feeling against the prisoners, there were many who had doubts on the subject, and a petition was signed and sent to the State Legislature then in session, asking a commutation of the sentence. The Chief Justice made a statement of the evidence from his notes and after a spirited debate the sentence of Jesse Boorn was commuted to imprisonment for life by a vote of 104 to 31, but the appeal of Stephen Boorn was rejected by a vote of 97 to 42.
When Mr. Sargeant returned from the capital and communicated the result of his mission to the prisoners, Jesse was very much elated by the favorable news in his case, and Stephen was correspondingly depressed, and with tearful eyes asked if nothing more could be done. Mr. Sargeant said they had made every effort possible. Then said Stephen, "I suppose I must die," but before Mr. Sargeant left the cell he asked if it might not possibly be of benefit to advertise in the papers for Colvin. Mr. Sargeant replied that if Colvin was murdered of course it would avail nothing, and asked him
Neither the arguments of Counsel nor the charge of the Judges have been preserved in any form.
in plain terms, "Did you murder Colvin as you confessed you did?" Stephen protested his innocence in the strongest language, and Mr. Sargeant promised to do as suggested, and accordingly the following notice was published:
Printers of newspapers throughout the United States are desired to publish that Stephen Boorn, of Manchester, in Vermont, is sentenced to be executed for the murder of Russell Colvin, who has been absent about seven years. Any person who can give information of said Colvin, may save the life of the innocent by making immediate communication. Colvin is about five feet five inches high, light complexion, light colored hair, blue eyes, about forty years of age.
Manchester, Vt., Nov. 26, 1819.
But in the same issue of the newspaper was an editorial maintaining that there was no possibility of a doubt that Colvin was murdered, and ridiculing what it termed a foolish attempt to advertise for information concerning him. The notice was copied into the New York Evening Post of November 29, 1819. The next day it happened that the notice was read aloud in one of the hotels in New York. A gentleman standing near, named Whelpley, listened to it and then remarked that he had formerly lived in Manchester, and was well acquainted with Colvin, and related many anecdotes and peculiarities concerning him. Mr. Tabor Chadwick, of Shrewsbury, N. J., was also standing near and listened to the conversation, which made a deep impression upon his mind. After his return home it occurred to him that a man then living with his brother-in-law, Mr. Wm. Polhemus, of Dover, New Jersey, answered exactly the description of Colvin as given by Mr. Whelpley. The more he considered the matter the more he became convinced that this must be the man, and finally he wrote the following letter to the Evening Post:
"Shrewsbury, Monmouth, N. J., Dec. 6.
"To the Editor of the N. Y. Evening Post:
Sir: Having read in your paper of November 29th last, of the conviction and sentence of Stephen and Jesse Boorn, of Manchester, Vt., charged with the murder of Russell Colvin, and from facts which have fallen within my own knowledge, and not knowing what facts may have been disclosed on their trial, and wishing to serve the cause of humanity, I would state as follows, which may be relied on: Some years past (I think between five and ten), a stranger made his appearance in this county and upon being inquired of, said his name was Russell Colvin-that he came from Manchester, Vermont. He appeared to be in a state of mental derangement, but at times gave considerable account of himself, his connections, acquaintances, etc. He mentions the names of Clarissa, Rufus, etc. Among his relatives he has mentioned the Boorns above, Jesse, as Judge (I think),