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The Boorn family murder mystery

02/07/03 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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In 1812, the Boorn family of Manchester, Vermont consisted of Barney Boorn, his sons Jesse and Stephen, and their sister Sally. Sally married an odd character named Russell Colvin. Russell was disliked - considered lazy, feeble-minded, and given to peculiar antics, like playing with toys and wandering off for months at a time.

One day in May of 1812, he wandered off and didn't return. Some thought he'd joined the War of 1812. Others suspected he'd fled to avoid it. Still others said he was sick of his wife's cooking. Seven years passed and Russell didn't return.

Then something weird happened. Sally's uncle Amos had a series of seemingly supernatural dreams in which Russell's ghost appeared and reported that he'd been murdered. The specter even showed Amos where his remains were buried. Since Uncle Amos was "a man of unimpeachable integrity," a search was launched.

Oddly, remains were discovered in an abandoned potato cellar: a button, a jackknife, a toenail and some bones. Subsequently, Jesse and Stephen Boorn were arrested for the murder of Russell Colvin. Under the pressure of interrogation, Jesse confessed that Stephen had killed Russell. Then Stephen admitted the murder.

Although there was no body, the town went ahead with a trial based mostly on the brothers' confessions. Both were convicted and sentenced to be hanged. In appeal, Jesse's sentence was reduced to life in prison, but Stephen's sentence was upheld. Stephen did an immediate turnaround, loudly proclaiming his innocence.

But if he were innocent, why had he confessed? We just don't know. Perhaps interrogation methods compelled it. Perhaps psychological pressure was just too great. Or perhaps Stephen was led to believe the case was airtight so cooperation would win him a leniency. Stephen said, "But Colvin's alive somewhere. Why don't we advertise for him in the papers?"

They did. And one can imagine everyone's surprise when the resurrected Russell Colvin stepped off a stagecoach in Manchester. Supposedly, he explained, "Why pshaw, I ain't murdered. Jesse threw a shoe at me once, but it didn't hurt me any." The Boorn boys were released. Colvin vanished again, but the mystery still wasn't solved.

What really happened? Did Russell Colvin return home just in the nick of time to save his wronged brothers-in-law? Or did the Boorn family arrange for a clever Colvin look-alike to pose as the murdered man? Or is there a third possibility, one I haven't been able to anticipate? We'll never know for sure. All we can say is that is that we have yet another wonderful Vermont mystery to ponder and perhaps one day to solve.

This is Joe Citro.

2003 Copywright Joseph A. Citro
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