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

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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

aWilkieCollins.jpgIn May of 1812, when Richard Colvin vanished, speculation amongst the townspeople of Manchester, Vermont was that his brothers-in-law, Jesse and Stephen, 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.

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

Picture 10.png14-year old Natasha Ryan vanished from her Queensland home in 1999. No body was ever found, and, after years of searching, her family presumed she was dead. Their fears were confirmed in 2002 when incarcerated serial killer, Leonard Fraser, was secretly recorded in his jail cell confessing that Natasha was one of his many victims.

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.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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