By Rob Lammle
(Mental Floss) — What do you do when you’ve just hanged someone for murder, and then their “victim” pops up alive and healthy a few towns away?
1. Not the Marion type
William Jackson Marion and Jack Cameron met at a Kansas boarding house in 1872. The two men became fast friends and traveling companions, using Cameron’s team of horses to go from place-to-place to find work.
Along their journey, the two made a brief stop in Beatrice, Nebraska to visit Marion’s in-laws before moving on. After a few days, however, Marion returned solo, sporting clothes that belonged to Cameron and driving Cameron’s horses. Then he left town again.
Weeks later, the body of a man was discovered with three bullet holes in his head. He was also wearing the same outfit that Cameron had worn the day he left town. Marion immediately became the prime suspect and a manhunt began. After 10 years of searching, Marion was finally captured in Kansas.
The trial and conviction of Jack Marion was seriously abbreviated. Marion’s verdict was read after just one hour of deliberation, and he was hanged for his crime on March 25, 1887.
Four years later, Jack Cameron reappeared looking for his old friend. Apparently, he had run to Mexico to avoid a shotgun wedding in Kansas, giving his horses and other possessions to Marion. Now he’d come back to reclaim them.
The story does end on a (slightly) positive note: Thanks to the work of Marion’s grandson, Elbert Marion, Nebraska governor Bob Kerrey granted Jack Marion a posthumous pardon in 1987, 100 years after his execution.
2. The Brothers Boorn
In May of 1812, when Richard Colvin vanished, speculation amongst the townspeople of Manchester, Vermont, was that his brothers-in-law, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, were responsible. Without evidence of foul play, though, no charges were pressed.
Seven years later, the Boorn Brothers’ uncle had a dream in which Richard said he’d been killed and his body buried in an old cellar on the Boorn farm. Upon excavation of the cellar, a penknife and a button were found, both identified as Richard’s. But the “evidence” still wasn’t enough to charge the Boorn Brothers. Soon after, when a barn on the Boorn farm burned to the ground, many believed it was arson to cover more evidence. But, again, no charges were filed.
Things finally came to a head, however, when a boy discovered bones under a tree near the Boorn home. While in custody, Jesse confessed that he and his brother had killed Richard. But before the trial began, a closer examination of the bones revealed they weren’t even human, but those of an animal. The prosecution carried on, however, for they had the damning testimony of Silas Merrill, a forger, who was Jesse’s cellmate.
Merrill said Jesse had implicated himself, Stephen, and their father in Colvin’s murder. His testimony mentioned the suspected locations of the crime — the cellar, the barn, and the tree — all fitting together in a neat little package. For his cooperation in the case, Silas was set free.
As the evidence mounted, Stephen confessed as well, telling the same story as Silas, but without implicating his father. The Boorn Brothers were convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1819. Jesse’s sentence would later be commuted to life in prison, but Stephen was set to hang.
Rather than sit idly by, Stephen placed an ad in different newspapers explaining his predicament. The ad included a description of Richard Colvin. Amazingly, the thing worked! Someone actually tracked Colvin down, who was alive and well in New Jersey.
The Boorn Brothers were released from prison and petitioned for compensation from the state. But because they had both confessed to the crime, they received nothing but their freedom. The Boorn case became the first documented wrongful murder conviction in American history.
3. The servant and the bloody shirt
On August 16, 1660, William Harrison left home in Campden, England, to do business in a nearby town. When he didn’t return, his servant, John Perry, went to look for him. Perry found Harrison’s shirt covered in blood, along with his hat, which had been slashed by a knife. Harrison, however, was nowhere to be found.
Authorities immediately suspected Perry, and likely tortured him for answers. He confessed to a conspiracy involving himself, his mother, and his brother. According to his statement, Perry claimed that it was his brother who had actually killed Harrison while attempting to rob him.
Despite the fact that all of Perry’s relatives proclaimed their innocence, the entire family was convicted and hanged. Mrs. Perry, who’d also been accused of being a witch, was hanged first.
Two years later, however, William Harrison returned to England claiming that he had been abducted, taken to Turkey, and sold into slavery. He escaped when his master died, and his return was publicly lauded.
While Perry’s trial didn’t do John Perry (or his family) much good, it did have an impact on future cases. John Perry’s story set a legal precedent in England – “no body, no crime” – that lasted for nearly 300 years.