After Brown and the other witnesses were transferred to other ships and taken to Boston, Brown was arraigned, pleaded "Not Guilty" and was tried on 13 November 1866. The trial was short and the jury only took seventy-five minutes to find Brown guilty. He was sentenced to death. Brown was transferred from the Suffolk jail to the Charleston State Prison, where he spend the next twenty -two years. On 14 April 1889, he was sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. This transfer could have occurred because the Charleston Prison was being renovated. Two years later on 3 November 1892, Brown was taken the the U.S. Government Insane Asylum in Washington D.C. Most likely he spent the rest of his life there.
The most probable reason that this ordinary crime was made into such a blood-curdling tale was that newspapers in the Gilded Age did not exactly have a reputation for faultless reporting and never embellishing a story. This is sad because so many tales that interest people intrigued by the paranormal and fortean appeared around this time. It also seems that 4 November 1892 was a slow news day. "A Human Vampire" was sandwiched on the front page between the obituary of Wheaton A Welsh, "the well known Local Public School Principal" and a shoot-out in Wyoming. We wonder if someone at the Eagle fell to the temptation to spice up a rather uninteresting news item. It is possible, but unlikely that Brown committed two more murders in prison. If James Brown actually did kill two more men in prison this could have been what 'inspired' the copywriter to retrofit the original account, and could explain why Brown was sent to the insane asylum. The story doesn't say where the murders occurred, but if the were committed in Massachusetts, they should be on Brown's record when he was moved to the Ohio prison, and there is record of just one first degree murder conviction in the Ohio Prison Register. Conceivably, Brown could have killed the two men after coming to Ohio. However, by then he had cataracts in both eyes and was almost 50 years old. There is no evidence so far to prove the newspapers claim. One more theory is the James Brown's story became mixed-up-intentionally or not-with another Brown in the news that year, which may just have been what happened.
A few months before Brown was moved to the asylum there was indeed a 'Brown' vampire case in the news. The family of George T Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island was decimated by consumption. He had lost his wife and two daughters, and by 1892 his son Edwin was seriously ill. Brown was desperate to find a cure and came to the decision to have his dead family members exhumed to look for signs of vampirism! The bodies were exhumed on 17 March 1892. Mr Brown's wife and eldest daughter were in a normal state of decomposition. However, the remains of the youngest daughter, Mercy L Brown looked suspicous. Blood was found in her heart and her liver had not decayed. Mercy Brown had been dead two months and was buried in the middle of a New England winter-so this is really no surprise. Just to ensure Edwin's safety, a fire was lit in the cemetery, and Mercy's heart and liver were burned to ashes. These ashes may have been mixed with water and given to Edwin to drink as a cure. I have two sources on this -one says this as a maybe-and the wiki link says it was a definite. Whatever happened, sadly two months later Edwin also died.
Could the story of James Brown the murderer been combined with that of Mercy Brown the vampire? They both have the surname Brown and New England origins (as far as the story goes anyway) so it is tempting to think this and warrants further research. What we can say for certain-almost 100 percent is that James Brown was not a vampire:-) He definitely didn't commit the two shipboard homicides-19 year old James Foster was the only victim, and evidence for the two other murders attributed to him is almost non-existent. I think it would be interesting to know why President Johnson commuted the sentence. Did our seventeenth president have a commutation fetish like the aforementioned blood fetish? Or did he see the aggravating circumstances in the case and decide to commute to life? If he did this would be both strange yet not so strange. Strange because as he believed in slavery-Johnson appeared to care not a whit for racial equality -and perhaps the epithets that went along with it to boot. Not so strange because being from the south -President Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina -he would have come from a culture where he understood that a man should not ever 'lose face' and stick up for himself when in any sort of conflict, even one where the 'weapon' is an insult. Whatever his reasons for being the only president to save a 'vampire' from the noose hasn't done anything to make his presidency more popular.
Some interesting questions remain. Why was Brown sent to the insane asylum-and could this have anything to do with the two additional murders that there is such scanty evidence for? How did his story become so distorted? If Mr Brown wasn't America's first 'real' vampire -then who was? I decided to do an image of a poster for one of those cheesy films as I couldn't find one I liked-hehe -I bet that movie was a 'winner':-) The Mercy Brown incident was the inspiration for Caitlin R Kiernan's short story, "So Runs the World Away", which mentions the affair, and I wanted to mention this as Caitlin Kiernan is one of my favorite writers of short horror fiction. I may have a bit to add to this as there might be some links worth chasing down, it may take a few days and I am not sure yet if I will find enough. Thanks again as always for everyone's thoughtful and intelligent comments! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercy_Brown_vampire_incident