Convicted Murderers Whose
Victims Were Found Alive

17 Cases & 1 Related Case

Blount County, AL

Bill Wilson

Late 1908

In 1908, Bill Wilson's wife, Jenny, divorced and left him. She took their 19-month-old child with her. In 1912, the skeletal remains of an adult and child were discovered by the Warrior River. As news of the discovery spread, many area residents, presuming the remains to be ancient, visited the site in the hope of finding Indian relics.
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Lowndes County, AL

Butler & Yelder

Apr 1928

Louise Butler and her paramour, George Yelder, were convicted of murdering Louise's 14-year-old niece, Topsy Warren. Topsy's sister and two of her cousins testified that Louise struck Topsy with an ax, with which George dismembered the corpse. The remains allegedly were put into a sack and then thrown into the Alabama River. Louise had confessed to the murder initially, but the confession was suppressed at trial. Both defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

Less than a week after sentencing, Topsy was discovered alive and well, and residing less than twenty miles away. In June 1928, George and Louise were formally exonerated and released. The children then admitted that they had fabricated the story at the behest of a man who had a grievance against George. It was never explained why they also had implicated Louise, or why she had confessed.  (CWC) (CTI)  [7/05]

Marion County, AR

Charles Hudspeth


Charles Hudspeth was convicted of murder and hanged while his alleged victim was still alive. Hudspeth became romantically involved with Rebecca Watkins, and when the two were questioned on the disappearance of Rebecca's husband, George Watkins, Rebecca told authorities Hudspeth had killed him. Hudspeth was granted a retrial because testimony regarding Rebecca's alleged lack of good character was improperly barred. Hudspeth was convicted again and hanged on December 30, 1892. In June 1893, Hudspeth's lawyer located George Watkins alive and living in Kansas.  (CWC)  [7/05]

 San Bernardino County, CA

Rivera & Walpole

Jan 16, 1965

In 1965 Antonio Rivera and his wife, Merla, were unable to support their seriously ill 3-year-old daughter, Judy Rivera, and abandoned her at a distant San Francisco gas station in the hope that she would receive better care. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the finding of the little girl the next day. In the years following, the couple divorced, and Merla remarried, becoming Mrs. Walpole. In 1973, the body of a little girl was found near Fontana, about ten miles from where the couple had lived. Authorities concluded the found body was Judy Rivera and that her parents must have murdered her. When Rivera and Walpole were brought to trial, the jury did not believe their story and both were convicted of murder. Before sentencing, the judge set aside the verdict and directed the prosecution to investigate the parents' claim. An investigator located the girl mentioned in the newspaper story and after tests were performed, authorities were satisfied that the girl was in all likelihood Judy Rivera.  (CWC) (ISI) (NY Times)  [7/05]

Harlan County, KY 

Condy Dabney

Aug 23, 1925 (Coxton)

Condy Dabney was convicted of murdering Mary Vickery, 14, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Vickery had disappeared on Aug. 23, 1925. A month later a girl's body was found nearby in an abandoned mine shaft. After Mary's father had posted a $500 reward for information, a woman named Marie Jackson came forward and claimed to have witnessed Dabney murder Vickery.

The prosecution's case against Dabney was weak. The found body was too decayed to be dead only a month and witnesses disputed Jackson's whereabouts on the day of the alleged murder. Still Dabney was convicted. Twelve months after Dabney's conviction, a police officer in Williamsburg, KY, 85 miles away, happened to notice the name Mary Vickery on a hotel register. Because the name seemed familiar, he spoke with her and realized that she was the person Dabney was convicted of murdering. Mary said she ran away because she was not getting along with her stepmother. Dabney was released and Jackson was convicted of perjury. The found body was never identified.  (CWC) (CTI)  [10/05]

Gage County, NE 

William Jackson Marion

May 15, 1872

In 1883, a body was found in clothing that witnesses identified as John Cameron's. Cameron had disappeared 11 years before. William Jackson Marion was convicted of murdering him and hanged on Mar. 25, 1887. However, Cameron turned up alive in 1891 and explained that he had absconded to Mexico to avoid a shotgun wedding. Marion was granted a posthumous pardon on the 100th anniversary of his hanging.  (CWC) (Appeals: 1884, 1886)

Bennington County, VT 

Jesse & Stephen Boorn

1812 (Manchester)

When Russel Colvin disappeared in 1812, suspicion of foul play fell on his brothers-in-law, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, who held Colvin in disdain. Seven years later, the uncle of the suspects had a recurring dream in which Colvin appeared to him and said that he had been slain. Colvin did not identify his killers but said that his remains had been put in a cellar hole on the Boorn farm. The cellar hole was excavated but no remains were found. Shortly afterward, a dog unearthed some large bones from beneath a nearby stump. Three local physicians examined the bones and declared them human.

Officials took Jesse Boorn into custody. They would have arrested Stephen Boorn as well, but he had moved to New York. While in custody, Jesse's cellmate, forger Silas Merill, told authorities that Jesse confessed. In return for agreeing to testify against Jesse, Merrill was released from jail. Faced with mounting evidence against him, Jesse admitted to the murder, but placed principal blame on Stephen, who legally was beyond the reach of the local authorities. However, a Vermont constable met up with Stephen, and Stephen agreed to return to Vermont with him to clear his name. After his return to Vermont, Stephen confessed as well, although he claimed to have acted in self-defense.

The local physicians then changed their minds that the found bones were human, and declared them animal. Nevertheless, the prosecution pressed ahead with its case and both of the Boorn brothers were convicted and sentenced to death. The Vermont legislature commuted Jesse's sentence to life in prison, but denied relief to Stephen. Shortly before Stephen was to be hanged in 1820, Colvin was found living in New Jersey. On Colvin's return to Vermont, both brothers were released.  (CWC) (CTI)  [12/05]

Nansemond County, VA 

Ernest Lyons

July 31, 1908 (Reid's Ferry)

Ernest Lyons, the newly elected pastor of small church in Reid's Ferry, got into a quarrel with the old pastor, James Smith, over $45 in church funds. Lyons threatened to kill Smith. Smith soon disappeared from the community. A few months afterwards a decomposed body that seemed to match Smith's description was found near Suffolk. When questioned, Lyons stated he had seen Smith in Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Newport News. These statements were shown to be untrue.

After Lyons' trial and conviction, the judge was willing to grant his lawyer's motion for a hearing for a new trial, but only after the lawyer went to Lyons, told him the motion was denied, and asked what really happened. When the lawyer followed instructions, Lyons stated he had been involved in the murder as part of a conspiracy with church members who had testified for the prosecution. Three years later Smith was located living in North Carolina. He had read newspaper stories about Lyons' trial and conviction, but had done nothing because he feared prosecution for absconding with the $45 over which he and Lyons had quarreled.  (CWC) (CTI)  [7/05]  (Note: Nansemond County became a city in 1972, then merged with the existing City of Suffolk in 1974).


Valero & Sánchez

Aug 21, 1910

On Aug. 21, 1910, in the small town of Osa de la Vega, in the province of Cuenca, José María Grimaldos, known as “Shorty,” was seen for the last time. He was on a road to the nearby village of Tresjuncos. His family feared foul play and reported his disappearance to the Civil Guard (police). During the investigation the family and others expressed their suspicions that two shepherds, Gregorio Valero and León Sánchez had killed him for his money. This investigation was closed in Sept. 1911 without any indictments.

In 1913 a new judge by the name of Isasa arrived. Influenced by the local boss and right-wing politician, the judge reopened the case. The two suspects were arrested by the Civil Guard and, under torture, they confessed they killed Grimaldos, cut his body up, and fed it to pigs. The “fiscal” (DA) asked for the death penalty. The case took its time in the court system, but on May 25, 1918 a popular jury convicted the defendants of murder. They both were sentenced to 18 years in prison. Both were released on account of a general pardon on Feb. 20, 1924 after serving eleven years of imprisonment.

Two years later, the priest of Tresjuncos received a letter from the pastor of Mira, a town about 100 miles distant, requesting the birth certificate of Grimaldos so that the same could marry. The priest had been one of the strongest supporters of the guilt of Valero and Sánchez and decided not to respond. Time passes and Grimaldos, impatient at the lack of a response, traveled to Tresjuncos and marched straight into the village. Grimaldos' presence in the village caused a sensation. Some thought they were seeing a ghost and the local judge had him arrested. However, it became apparent that Grimaldos was who he appeared to be.

With much legal difficulty, the case against Valero and Sanchez was reopened and, after much delay, their convictions were overturned. In 1979, a movie entitled El crimen de Cuenca (The Crime of Cuenca) was made based on the case. The movie was initially banned in Spain because the torture scenes in it are depicted in great detail and crudity. However, in 1981, the movie was allowed to be shown in Spain and became a box office success.  (ECDC) (PE) (EC) (Wiki) (PM)  [11/07]


Perry Family

Aug 16, 1660

William Harrison, the manager of a wealthy estate, went out to collect rent money from tenants. When he did not return at his usual time, his servant, John Perry, was sent to look for him. Harrison's hat and comb were found and had been slashed. Harrison's collar band was also found with bloodstains. Harrison was presumed murdered and searches were made for his body, but it was never found.

For unknown reasons, John Perry confessed to the murder of Harrison and implicated his brother and mother. Perry later retracted his confession and his brother and mother professed their innocence, but all were convicted of the murder and hanged. Two years after the executions, Harrison turned up alive. He told a story of having been kidnapped and held as a slave in Turkey.  (CWP) (CW) (FJDB)  [12/06]


Franz Bratuscha

Apr 16, 1900 (Majsperk)

Franz Bratuscha was convicted of the murder of his 12-year-old daughter, Johanna. On April 16, 1900, she disappeared from her home in Majsperk, Slovenia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bratuscha reported her disappearance to the police. About 9 weeks later he read in a newspaper that the body of a dead girl was found in Spielfeld, Austria, a town 26 miles to the north. Bratuscha went to Spielfeld and when police showed him the dead girl's clothes, he identified them as belonging to his daughter. He told police he had bought the fabric out of which the clothes were made and offered to bring the leftover portion of the fabric. Police were satisfied that the dead girl was his daughter and they gave him the clothes.
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Gawenda & Gallus

1882 (Radgoszcz)

Johann Gawenda was convicted of the murder of his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Katharina Sroka, also known as Katie. Katie's mother died in 1867, leaving her two-year-old daughter an estate consisting of three acres of fields and a cottage. Katie's father, Ignatz Sroka, managed the estate following the death of his wife. He subsequently married Marie Gallus. This marriage did not last long, as Ignatz was convicted of murder and died in prison in 1875. His widow Marie then married Johann Gawenda, who took over the administration of the estate for the still underage Katie and at the same time pledged to provide for her maintenance and upbringing. Gawenda neglected these obligations in a most unscrupulous manner, as he monopolized the land and treated its owner so badly that she had to work as a maid and also to depend on charity.
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Edmary & Masembe


Mpagi Edward Edmary and his cousin Fred Masembe were sentenced to death for the alleged 1981 murder of George William Wandyaka, a neighbor in Masaka, Uganda. Mpagi thought he saw Wandyaka standing at the back of the court during his trial. A few years later, further sightings were made of Wandyaka in Jinja, Uganda. Masembe died in 1985. In 1989, authorities in Masaka confirmed that Wandyaka was alive, and informed the attorney general, though Mpagi remained on death row for a further 11 years. It transpired that Wandyaka's parents had a grudge against Mpagi's parents, and had staged the murder to hurt them. A doctor had received a bribe to testify that he had carried out a post-mortem on the alleged victim's body. Mpagi was pardoned in 2000. Wandyaka died of natural causes in 2002 before Mpagi had the chance to meet him.  (Guardian) (AI) (Video)  [9/09]


Malik Taj Mohammad


Malik Taj Mohammad was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Malkani Bibi. Prosecutors claimed that he killed her over an acrimonious property dispute. Mohammad claimed that he could not have murdered Bibi, as she was still alive. However, he did not present any proof and the trial court relied on testimony of Bibi's relatives who said they had buried Bibi. In 2006, Mohammad's supporters discovered that Bibi was alive and imprisoned in the eastern Pakistan city of Gujarat. She had been imprisoned there on a theft conviction in 2004.

Mohammed petitioned Pakistan's Supreme Court for a new trial based on the new evidence. The Court then summoned Bibi to appear before it. Satisfied that Mohammed had been wrongly convicted, the Court ordered his immediate release. It also ordered a lower court to investigate how Mohammed had been prosecuted and convicted of a crime that never happened.  (JD)  [2/07]


Teng Xingshan

Apr 1987

Teng Xingshan was convicted of the murder of Shi Xiaorong. A chopped up body identified as Shi's was found in Mayang County, Hunan Province in April 1987. Police settled on Teng as the guilty party because he was a butcher and the dismemberment was “very professionally” done. Teng soon confessed to the murder, allegedly after police beat it out of him. However, he protested his innocence all the way to the execution ground. Authorities alleged that Teng had sex with Shi and killed her because he suspected she stole his money. Teng was executed by gunshot in Jan. 1989.

Teng's family had heard reports that Shi was alive in neighboring Guizhou province as early as 1993, but it took years to verify the reports and Teng's family lacked the funds and the courage to sue the government. The case first received publicity in May 2005, when the family formally filed a lawsuit with the Hunan Higher People's Court. News reports of another Chinese murder victim turning up alive in March 2005 may have prompted the decision. Shi denied ever meeting Teng and said she had been sold into marriage to a man in eastern Shandong Province a month before the chopped up body was found. Shi returned to her hometown in Guizhou Province in 1993. Teng was posthumously exonerated in Jan. 2006.  (UPI)  [4/08]


She Xianglin

Convicted 1994

After having an argument with him, She Xianglin's wife, Zhang Zaiyu, went missing. Several weeks later police found the body of an unidentified woman in a local pond. Police interrogated Xianglin for 10 days, during which he was also tortured. Xianglin confessed to murdering his wife and was sentenced to death. His sentence was later reduced to 15 years imprisonment, after a higher court in the province (Hubei) overturned the verdict due to lack of evidence. Several of Xianglin's family members were also jailed for advocating his innocence or claiming that they saw Zhang alive after the authorities alleged she was dead. In March 2005, Zhang turned up alive and had merely run away from her marriage. She had remarried in a remote village in eastern Shandong province, unaware of the fate of her former husband. Xianglin was released. One of the officers who allegedly took part in Xianglin's torture hanged himself when authorities began an investigation into the incident. Xianglin and several family members were awarded 450,000 Yuan ($55,500) for wrongs committed against them.  (FJDB)  [12/06]


Zhao Zuohai

June 1997

Zhao Zuohai was convicted of murdering his neighbor Zhao Zhenshang. In June 1997, the two Zhaos, both about 45, had a hatchet fight in their hometown of Zhaolou village in Zhecheng County, Shangqiu City Prefecture, Henan Province, China. Four months later Zhenshang's nephew reported to police that his uncle was missing. In May 1999, after a headless body was found in a village well, Zuohai was arrested for the murder of Zhenshang and detained without trial for three years.
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Related Case: Found Guilty of Manslaughter

Le Flore County, OK 

Vaught, Stiles, & Bates

Aug 18, 1907

In the fall of 1907, a human skeleton was found in a wooded area, about 3/4 of a mile from the nearest road. The nearest human habitation was the Bates sawmill, about four miles away, near the town of Heavener. Not long before, in August, an employee of the mill named Bud Terry had mysteriously disappeared. Terry was in his early twenties. His aunt, Mrs. Knotts, with whom he lived, had heard nothing from him since his disappearance. Knotts had raised Terry since he was orphaned, and it was Terry's custom to keep her informed whenever he left home for any length of time. There was suspicion that W. L. Bates, the owner of the sawmill, and his employees knew more about the Terry's disappearance than they were willing to admit.
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