Murderesses and More: <br>Rare Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
Another not-so-fair lady was Laura Fair. Item 53 is the Official Report of the Trial of Laura D. Fair for the Murder of Alex. P. Crittenden... Ms. Fair had already been married thrice when she took up with Alexander Crittenden, a married man. Crittenden was supposed to have promised to divorce his wife for Fair, but never did. One day, seven years into the relationship, Fair followed Crittenden to a ferry where he was meeting his wife and fatally shot him. The San Francisco trial was a sensation. Fair's lawyers introduced a series of defenses designed to show she was incapable of mal intent. They mostly centered on her suffering from "female malady," something apparently caused by irregular menstrual cycles and being done wrong. She won the support of many suffragists. However, the all-male jury wasn't buying. They convicted Mrs. Fair and sentenced her to hang. She was the first woman sentenced to death in California. But cry not for Laura Fair. The state Supreme Court overturned the verdict because of improperly permitted evidence, and at her retrial, Mrs. Fair was acquitted on the grounds of emotional insanity. It's not clear whether the insanity was hers or the jury's, but she got off. A 1919 newspaper clipping attached to front free endpaper indicates Mrs. Fair lived for almost 50 years after her death sentence was imposed in 1870. Mr. Crittenden would have found that unfair. $750.
Mrs. Fair may have gotten away with murder, but Stephen and Jesse Boorn were two brothers who almost paid dearly for a murder that never happened. In 1812, their brother-in-law, Russell Colvin, of whom they were apparently not fond, disappeared from their farm in Manchester, Vermont. Seven years later, their uncle Amos Boorn had a dream in which Colvin came to him and said he had been murdered, though he named no names. Colvin's ghost told Amos where he had been buried. Though no remains were found, some personal items were, which Mrs. Colvin identified as her husband's. A few bones were later found elsewhere which were dubiously identified by a physician as being human. Jesse Boorn was arrested, but Stephen was out of reach, having moved to New York. While in jail, Jesse supposedly confessed to a cellmate, who conveniently agreed to testify against Boorn in return for his own release. Facing mounting "evidence" against him, Jesse then confessed to authorities, evidently attempting to protect his father and himself by placing most of the blame on brother Stephen, who was safely in New York. However, Stephen chose to return to Vermont to defend his name. Instead, he was arrested, and in time, he too would confess, hoping to escape the death penalty. No matter. Both brothers were convicted and sentenced to die, though Jesse's sentence was commuted to life. Then, barely a month before Stephen was to be executed, an article about the case in the New York Evening Post caught the attention of a New Jersey man who knew of a Russell Colvin in his hometown. Colvin was brought to Vermont, whereupon the good folks of Manchester immediately realized they had made a big mistake. Perhaps the moral here is to be a little wary of confessions of guilt given under trying circumstances. The book is 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. The author of this 1820 book was Rev. Lemuel Haynes, himself a remarkable person. A free black man, Haynes had enlisted as a minuteman in the colonial army in 1775, and in 1776 volunteered for the expedition to Ticonderoga. He first became a minister in his native Litchfield County, Connecticut, but was forced from the pulpit by racial prejudice. He would later have a long and successful ministerial career in Rutland, Vermont. Item 76. $1,250.