Podcast 346 – The Unsolved Murder or Russell Colvin

In 1812 Russell Colvin of Manchester, Vermont, went missing. Years later he was presumed murdered due to a prophetic dream.

In Episode 346 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger investigate the small town of Manchester, Vermont, to explore the unsolved 1812 murder of Russell Colvin. Years after the murder, Amos Boorn had a dream where Russell’s ghost came to him and told him he’d been murdered, and his remains could be found on the Boorn Farm. After sharing details of his dream, an investigation began, bones were found, and Amos’s nephews Jesse and Stephen Boorn were arrested and convicted of murder. But did they do it?

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Historic image of Manchester, Vermont.

Historic image of Manchester, Vermont.

Colvin Murder trial headline from 1820.

Colvin Murder trial headline from 1820.

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

RAY: The Manchester Police are in a hurry today!
JEFF: They are! I hope everyone is okay. Last week we explored the unsolved axe murder of a cobbler and the haunting that followed in Newtown, Connecticut.
RAY: We did.
JEFF: We touched on the amount of pressure on police to solve crimes… especially a murder.
RAY: Right, no one wants to think a murderer is on the loose in their community.
JEFF: Absolutely. People need to feel safe where they live. This week, we’ve come to the small southern Vermont town of Manchester, to explore another murder…. A murder most foul! A murder with a supernatural element to it! But did the accused do the crime?
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger. Welcome to episode 346 of the New England Legends podcast!
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. So many of our story leads come from you, so please write to us anytime through our Web site. We love hearing from you.
JEFF: Also, this week we’re thrilled to announce a new episode of the New England Legends television series has just dropped on Amazon Prime! In Season 2, Episode 3 we explore the story of the tree that ate Rhode Island founder Roger Williams. This is a strange one for sure! Watch it now on Amazon Prime.
RAY: We’ll explore this intriguing tale of murder and a prophetic dream right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: It wasn’t that long ago that we explored the Dream Pond Murders in Fairfield, Vermont. What is it with Vermont and dreams and murders?
JEFF: Good question. And you’re right, there are some similarities with this wild case in Manchester.
RAY: Manchester is a small town. It was first settled in 1761 with not much here except a few taverns and inns. It was a place to stop while on your way to someplace else. The population a century ago was 423 people, and today it’s about 783 people.
JEFF: Small town.
RAY: Small town.
JEFF: In a town this small, everyone knows everyone, so something like a murder is going to rock the foundation of every home.
RAY: It would big time! In a town this small you’re going to know the victim and those closely affected. I’m sure it would be all that anyone talks about. So let’s head back to the year 1812, and meet the Boorn Family.
RAY: It’s May of 1812 here in the small town of Manchester, Vermont. In national news, there’s a lot of tension brewing with England. There’s concern a second war may be coming, but here in Manchester, they have more pressing problems.
JEFF: And those problems center on the Boorn Family. The Boorn Family have been in town for years. Barney Boorn has three children: brothers Jesse and Stephen, and a daughter name Sally. Life was fine until Sally married an odd duck named Russell Colvin.
RAY: What makes him so odd?
JEFF: He sits around a lot. Folks think he’s lazy. He’s also not very bright. He’s been called “feeble minded.” And sometimes he makes a strange spectacle of himself with odd outbursts.
RAY: Why did she marry him?
JEFF: Though no one can be quite sure, it could come down to there not being many choices around for Sally. And it must be tough on the girl. Folks don’t like her husband, Russell. Especially her brothers. They think he’s a dolt and not good enough for their sister.
RAY: Family dynamics can be so difficult to navigate. There’s nothing worse than family gatherings where someone is NOT wanted. It can make everyone miserable.
JEFF: So true.
JEFF: One May morning, Sally wakes up at first light and heads downstairs to the kitchen to get some food cooking for breakfast.
JEFF: Sally calls to her husband for breakfast, but there’s no answer in the house… only silence.
RAY: She searches the house, but her husband is nowhere to be seen.
RAY: She sees his shoes are gone and figures maybe he left before dawn to run some errand and didn’t tell her.
RAY: By nightfall, Sally is getting worried. Russell hasn’t been seen all day.
JEFF: When Sally awakes, she races to her father’s house. Russell has been gone for a day now with no word on where he was off to.
RAY: Sally’s brothers walk around town with their sister asking folks if they’ve seen Russell. But there’s something a little peculiar about brothers Jesse and Stephen today.
JEFF: How so?
RAY: They almost seem to be laughing about the whole thing. They’re teasing their sister that he must have run off because of her bad cooking. They don’t seem to be taking this seriously.
JEFF: Still, no one around Manchester has seen or heard anything about Russell Colvin. Considering he wasn’t well-liked, he’s not the kind of person people take note of.
RAY: Days go by… then weeks, and still there’s no word from Russell Colvin. Plus, by June, everyone has bigger worries…
RAY: America is once again at war with England.
JEFF: Now some wonder if maybe Russell Colvin ran off to fight in the war… or maybe he ran off to avoid fighting in the war.
RAY: As months pass, it’s becoming clear that Russell Colvin is gone for good.
JEFF: Months turn to years, the war with England comes to an end, and life goes on in Manchester and for the Boorn family. Stephen moves to New York, but Jesse and Sally are still in town. Seasons pass and all is quiet in Manchester… But that is about to change.
RAY: It’s June of 1819. Amos Boorn is fast asleep. He’s the uncle of Sally, Jesse, and Stephen. He’s sleeping, but he’s having frightening dreams…
RAY: It’s morning when Amos Boorn heads to town, still shaken by his vivid dream.
JEFF: Amos tells town officials that in his dream, the ghost of Russell Colvin came to him and claimed he’d been murdered. The ghostly Colvin even showed Amos where his mortal remains could be found—by an old potato cellar on Barney Boorn’s property.
RAY: Manchester officials find this dream intriguing, but it is just a dream…. Right?
JEFF: Night after night, Amos dreams the same dream. The ghost of Russell Colvin comes to him to profess he was murdered, and his remains can be found on the Boorn farm. After another visit with town officials, they’re convinced they should investigate.
JEFF: A group of officials approach the old potato cellar and start to dig.
RAY: They find a button from a garment. They find what looks like a toenail… and pretty soon…
JEFF: What’s that white thing they’re pulling from the ground?
RAY: It looks like a bone! And look! There’s another one.
JEFF: A few bones are pulled from the ground. I mean, they’re clearly bones, but do you think they’re human?
RAY: One of the men run to town to fetch the doctor. I agree, I have no idea. There’s nothing obvious here like a skull.
JEFF: When the doctor examines the bones, he believes they could be human arm bones. And that’s all it takes.
JEFF: Everyone knows the Boorn brothers never liked their brother-in-law, that combined with where the remains were found lead to the arrest of Jesse Boorn. Stephen is also wanted, but he now lives in New York—out of Vermont jurisdiction.
RAY: In jail, Jesse Boorn shares a cell with a man named Silas Merill who was accused of forgery. After a few days of interrogations and claiming his innocence, Jesse is returned to his cell.
JEFF: And that’s when his cellmate, Silas Merill claims Jesse confessed to him that he did murder Russell Colvin. And Merill is willing to testify to that in exchange for his release from jail. So the deal is made, and Merill walks free.
RAY: Under immense pressure from authorities, Jesse cracks, but claims it was his brother, Stephen who did the killing.
JEFF: Since Stephen is in New York, he’s beyond the reach of Vermont law.
JEFF: Though he can’t make any arrests in another state, a Vermont constable finds Stephen Boorn in New York and explains the situation. Pretty soon, Stephen volunteers to return to Vermont to clear his name.
RAY: Meanwhile… those bones that were found?
JEFF: Yeah.
RAY: More doctors have examined them and now believe them to be animal bones.
JEFF: I’m sure this whole thing will be cleared up soon.
RAY: When Stephen Boorn returns to Manchester, Vermont, he’s quickly arrested.
RAY: After days of brutal interrogation, Stephen ultimately confesses to killing Russell Colvin, but claims he did so in self-defense.
JEFF: Okay, but the jury didn’t see it that way. They sentence both Jesse and Stephen to hang. It’s now 1820. The state of Vermont has commuted Jesse’s sentence to life in prison, but they still intend to hang Stephen.
RAY: Even though the doctors said those were animal bones?
JEFF: Yup.
RAY: Even though the brothers recanted their testimony and said they were innocent?
JEFF: Yes.
RAY: Even though there’s no body of the victim?
JEFF: Correct. Stephen has just a few weeks to live.
RAY: I guess it would take a miracle to save him now.
JEFF: A miracle or…
RAY: Who is that rolling into town in that wagon?
JEFF: I don’t…
RAY/JEFF: What?! It can’t be!
JEFF: That’s Russell Colvin! He’s alive!
RAY: Colvin explains to the constable that he’d been living in New Jersey. Eight years ago, he simply walked away from his life here in Manchester. (PAUSE) And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: The Manchester judicial system issued the following apology: Oooops.
RAY: Oooops?
JEFF: I’m kidding, but yeah, both Boorn brothers were put through hell. And we can only speculate that there was some brutal interrogation methods used, otherwise, why would they confess to a crime they clearly didn’t commit?
RAY: And that’s the problem with torture. Eventually the tortured person will confess to anything in order to make the punishment stop. Or police may convince a suspect that they have enough evidence to convict them and if they confess it will all go easier and lighter.
JEFF: Like we said at the beginning, police are under pressure to solve crimes—especially violent crimes—quickly. No one wants a murderer on the loose in their community.
RAY: I’d like to think that the flimsy evidence presented in this 1812 case in Manchester, Vermont, would never hold up today. No body of the victim, no evidence other than a dream?
JEFF: The dream part is most interesting to me. I can understand the local constable taking Uncle Amos’s dream seriously. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, why would an uncle rat out his nephews? The constable may have figured that maybe Uncle Amos overheard some things, or witnessed something peculiar with his nephews, and only put it all together in his dream. It was enough to raise suspicion. Enough suspicion led to an investigation, finding bones, then an arrest and conviction… the only problem was… and it’s a minor one… Russell Colvin was still alive.
RAY: Technicalities. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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To see some pictures of Manchester, Vermont, click on the link in our episode description or go to our Web site and click on episode 346.

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