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Gerry's Blog

The "Counterfeit" Man: 25 Years Later

2016 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of THE "COUNTERFEIT" MAN. That has prompted me to think about what, if any, changes I would make in my treatment of the Boorn-Colvin mystery. One new angle on the case that came to my attention recently is the work of Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. When Rob first contacted me, he believed that Stephen Boorn's confession in 1819 to having killed Russell Colvin was the earliest-known American example of a false confession made under duress. Although Rob subsequently discovered an earlier case of coerced confession, he included the Boorn-Colvin case in TRUE STORIES OF FALSE CONFESSION, an anthology he edited with Steven A. Drizen in 2009. Rob's use of the case is an example of its continued relevance despite the passage of two centuries.

I agree with Rob's view that Stephen Boorn's acknowledgement of guilt was made under duress. Many elements of his confession reveal that he tailored it to conform to the theory his accusers had developed, and that he did so in hopes of getting off with a charge of manslaughter rather than murder, a capital crime.

But to say that Stephen's confession was coerced and contrived does not by itself prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he was innocent of killing Colvin. That evidence seemingly surfaced in 1819. After Stephen had been declared guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged, a man claiming to be Russell Colvin was located in New Jersey and brought to Manchester for a brief stay, during which he convinced town authorities that he was who he said he was. Stephen and Jesse Boorn were pardoned and their much-earlier assertions that Russell had simply wandered off into the woods, never to be seen again after the fight, seemed borne out. Case closed.

Fair enough, but how to explain what Stephen stated to family members in 1812: that he knew Russell was dead because he and Jesse "had put him where potatoes would not freeze?" Read More 
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