Mistaken Identities and Executions: 6 Murderers Who Didn't Do It


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

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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.

Silas 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. She Gets Convicted

Zhang Zaiyu disappeared from Hubei Province in 1994.  A few months later, a woman's body was found in a lake and Zhang's family identified it as their missing loved one. Her husband She Zaiyu was arrested for murder.

For 10 days, She was reportedly denied sleep and received severe beatings until he finally confessed to the crime. Once in court, She said the confession had been coerced and that he was not guilty. He was sentenced to death in late 1994, but four years later his sentence was reduced to 15 years because the courts felt there wasn't sufficient evidence for the death penalty.

Then, in March of 2005, Zhang Zaiyu resurfaced in Hubei. Mrs. Zaiyu claimed to have suffered from mental illness and had wandered away from her home in 1994. She wound up in Shandong Province, living there and even marrying another man. Her identity was confirmed through DNA testing and her first husband was released from prison 11 years after he had been convicted. He then sued the government and received 700,000 yuan (about $102,650) in compensation.

But more importantly, She's case - and that of Teng Xingshan "“ helped bring about changes to the Chinese judicial system in 2005. Now, capital punishment cases are the sole authority of the Supreme People's Court, which requires more oversight and investigation before executions are carried out.

4. 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.

5. The Professional Job

In April 1987, the dismembered body of a woman was dragged from the waters of the Mayang River in central Hunan Province. A young woman, Shi Xiaorong, had been declared missing shortly before the body was found, so police believed she was the victim. According to authorities, the dismemberment looked "very professional", so local butcher Teng Xinhshan became a prime suspect. It was speculated that Teng had sex with Shi and killed her when she tried to steal his money. Teng claimed he had never met Shi, but was found guilty and sentenced to death anyway. He was executed in 1989.

Then, in 1993, Shi Xiaorong reappeared saying that she had been tricked and sold into marriage in March 1987. When Teng's relatives learned that Shi was still alive, they sued the judiciary.  After the case was reopened, Shi testified that she had never even met Teng, and that he had obviously not killed her. Teng was posthumously exonerated in 2006.

6. Puppy Love

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In the middle of Fraser's 2003 trial for the murder of four women, including Natasha Ryan, the authorities received a tip that Ryan had been living with her boyfriend, Scott Black, since her disappearance. They raided Black's house, which was less than a half-mile away from her parents' home, and found Natasha hiding in a wardrobe. The charges for Natasha's murder were dropped, though Fraser was sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences for the other three murders.

As for Natasha and her boyfriend, he was sentenced to one year in prison for perjury for claiming he didn't know Natasha's whereabouts. He was also fined $3000 and had to pay $16,740 of the costs accrued by police while searching for Natasha. Natasha only had to pay $1,000 fine for causing a false police investigation, though she sold her story to Australian tabloids for much, much more. The two married in 2008; both of Natasha's parents attended the ceremony.