Episode 89: Smollop: Russell Colvin

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You want to talk Poirot? Let’s talk Poirot, motherfucker!


89: newspaperThis case is considered to be the first wrongful conviction case in the United States–that is, if you believe that the man unwillingly brought back to Vermont from New Jersey was really Russell Colvin. It is taught as such in law schools; the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Law has a concise argument written for its students on the Boorn-Colvin case.

As such a landmark case, it influenced one of the very first mystery writers (and one of the best still, I would argue), Wilkie Collins, to write The Dead Alive:

89: Boorn-Clovin
Not actual crime scene photo

But yes, we can also talk Poirot, motherfucker. And his mustaches.

Nonfiction accounts:

The “Counterfeit” Man: The True Story of the Boorn-Colvin Murder Case * Gerald McFarland

The Return of Russell Colvin * John Spargo

Mystery Developed; or, Russell Colvin, (Supposed to be Murdered,) In Full Life; and Stephen and Jesse Boorn, (His Convicted Murderers,) Rescued From Ignominious Death by Wonderful Discoveries * Lemuel Haynes
Subtitle (yes, there’s more): The Making of the Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926

I love 18th and 19th century shove in everything but the kitchen sink book titles. I imagine the books shouting their titles at passerby desperately from booksellers’ stalls, like auctioneer hawkers, trying to squeeze in every word before the potential buyer was out of sight.

Taber Chadwick: found him in genealogical files tracing him by marriage back to Plymouth

I found a transcript (no image) of the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s notice about the arrest of the counterfeiting ring. I love the language; note the use of lust. Also note Russell’s last name is misspelled twice and never spelled correctly.

Description: Important Arrest of Counterfeiters. A Hoary-Headed Murderer and a Hitherto Reputable Physician Among Them. – Discovery of Bogus Coin, Dies, &c. &c.Date: July 27 1860Newspaper published in: Cleveland, OhioThe Western Reserve has for several years been afflicted with a well-organized and adroit gang of counterfeiters. Through the exertions of Deputy U. S. Marshal HACKETT of Ravenna, and other experienced detectives, this gang has been gradually but surely broken up. At Burton, in Geauga County, on Friday last, Mr. HACKETT, assisted by Lambert WHITE and Marshal JOHNSON of this city, arrested H. R. WHITCOMB, Samuel B. WHITCOMB, Jesse BOORN and Josiah DIXON. Only some $300 in base metal was found in their possession, but there is no doubt that they have been ringleaders in the gang and have done much towards flooding in the West with worthless money.

There is a strange history connected with Jesse BOORN, one of the men arrested at Burton. Some forty years ago a cold-blooded murder was perpetrated in the State of Vermont. The murdere4d man was a brother in law of BOORN named COBLEY, and circumstances pointed to BOORN and his brother as the guilty parties. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hung. The execution day came, and large crowds poured into the village to see the murderers swing. They ascended the scaffold, and the noose was placed around their necks, when the supposed dead man appeared in the crowd! The BOORNs were set free, just as they reached death‘s door, and immediately fled the State. Jesse BOORN, now nearly seventy years old, confessed to Mr. HACKETT at Burton that he and his brother did murder CONLEY, the person who appeared before the gallows being a man from New Jersey, who bore a striking resemblance to the deceased, and who was expressly hired to play the villainous part. The affair created a great excitement at the time throughout New England, and lawyers retained for the defence in desperate murder cases have ever since quoted the BOORN case for the benefit of their clients.

It is believed – indeed BOORN confessed as much – that the hardened wretch purposed to still further steep his hands in blood by murdering a Mr. DOOLITTLE of Burton, who has money which the gang have long lusted for.

The parties who were arrested at Burton are now in jail in this city and will probably be tried during the present term of the United States District Court.

On last Wednesday Marshal JOHNSON and Mr. HACKETT made another important arrest at North Washington, in Hardin County, securing the persons of Dr. E. B. HEISTAUD, a hitherto respectable physician, and Hiram HARTZEL. These parties are charged with manufacturing bogus coin, and were brought to the city and lodged in jail.

It is worthy of mention that of the numerous persons arrested for counterfeiting on the Reserve during the past year not one has been caught in Cleveland. They rendezvous in the country – in small, out of the way places, where they outwardly maintain the utmost respectability, and in some cases even affect piety. One company make the coin and another sells it, but none of them hardly ever pass it. When one is arrested the efforts of the entire gang are put in use to secure his acquittal. But their day is about closed on the Western Reserve.

A Hoary-Headed Murderer, y’all! I am adding that to the band names list!
Arguably, this might also be the first case where visitations by the victim’s ghost were given as evidence?

thanks to Murder by Gaslight for the image of the Boorns’ home, and the newspaper article clipping

Bands from this episode:

  • Russell’s Ghost
  • Mystery Hat
  • Drunking Walkabout
  • Boorn Barn
  • Hoaryheaded Murderer

Cultural references from this episode:

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