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Mariann K. COLBY





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Apparently motiveless killing
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 24, 1965
Date of arrest: September 2, 1965
Date of birth: 1925
Victim profile: John Cremer Young Jr., 8 (neighbor's son)
Method of murder: Shooting (.32 caliber pistol)
Location: Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA
Status: Found not guilty  by reason on insanity on March 25, 1966, and committed to the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Released in 1972

Mariann Colby was a Shaker Heights homemaker who had fallen in love with another man. In 1952, the 27-year-old woman obsessively took an interest in a man named John Young, even following him on a date. It got so bad that Young asked Mariannís husband, Robert Colby, to step in and put an end to this unrequited love. He did, and all seemed to be well.

Six years later, the Colbyís moved to a house just down the street from the now-married John Young. The two couplesí sons became buddies. Over time, the Youngs didnít want their son to spend so much time with little Dane Colby. Tension grew as Mariann wanted to remain friends.

On Aug. 24, 1965, Mariann Colby called and spoke to John Young, the man she used to love. She said she believed his sonís jacket was left at her house, so he sent John Cremer Young Jr. to go collect it.

She shot the boy in the head and hid the gun in three pounds of ground beef in her freezer.


The murder of the boy next door

In the opinion of psychiatrist Charles A. deLeon, any adult who murders another person's child, except in connection with a kidnapping or acts of sexual perversion, must be psychotic. Dr. deLeon expressed this conclusion as an expert witness for the defense in the 1966 trial of housewife Mariann K. Colby for the apparently motiveless killing of a neighbor's eight-year-old son, John Cremer Young Jr., in Shaker Heights, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland.

Mrs. Colby had moved to the Cleveland area in 1952 with her husband Robert, a space engineer. Soon after their arrival, Mariann, then 27, formed a compulsive and unrequited attachment to an unmarried man. She called him many times on the telephone and was known to stalk him when he was on a date; she persuaded herself delusionally that the man returned her affection and she could not be shaken in this conviction even after he bluntly rejected her advances at a dinner party.

Finally, her quarry could bear the persecution no longer and made an early morning telephone call to Robert Colby; he asked the complaisant husband to keep Mariann away from him, and Colby, well aware of his wife's infatuation, asked her to end the pursuit. Mariann promised to comply with his request, but in April 1963 she bought a sixty-year-old .32 caliber pistol and a box of fifty cartridges from a gun dealer in Medina, Ohio, providing a false name, "Mrs. Nancy Russell."

In 1958, John and Nancy Young moved into a house on Warrington Road two doors away from the Colbys, and little Dane Colby became a playmate of the Youngs' son Cremer. Over the years the Youngs came to disapprove the two boys' spending so much time together.

Dane Colby was a slow learner and Nancy Young found other faults: "[Dane] was always the aggressor, the boss. He talked a little more in a childish manner than the other boys. His walk was pigeon-toed, with quick steps in an effeminate manner."

In the spring of 1964, Mariann Colby called Nancy Young to express belatedly her annoyance over being omitted from the guest list for the Youngs' previous Christmas party; she also resented Nancy's refusal to baby-sit for Dane. On a number of occasions Mariann slapped the Young children, adding to the tensions between the two families. Somehow Nancy Young was able to mollify her neighbor's anger to a certain extent, but Mariann was convinced that John Young "hated" her; perhaps she sensed that she had been rejected once again by a man down the street.

At 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 24, 1965, Mariann Colby attempted to reach Nancy Young on the telephone. Nancy was laid up in bed with a foot injury so John Young took the call. Mariann told him that a child's jacket had been left at her house and that she thought it was Cremer's; her description seemed to match Cremer's favorite jacket, which he had picked out of a Sears Roebuck catalogue.

John sent Cremer over to the Colbys shortly afterward, and when he did not return immediately he and Nancy assumed that their son had stayed to play with his friend Dane. When, however, several hours passed without Cremer reappearing, the Youngs became concerned. They called Mrs. Colby, who told them that Cremer had left her house some time before.

About noon a college student walking his dogs in the suburb of Gates Mills, ten miles farther east, came upon the body of a boy lying in the woods. A camp label on his sneakers identified the victim as "Cremer the Lion". The Youngs' little son had been found.

In early September, when suspicion focused on her, Mariann Colby gave the police and others conflicting versions of what had happened to Cremer Young. At first she claimed that her son Dane had accidentally shot Cremer when the two boys were at play. Tests of the obsolete weapon proved that Dane would not have had the strength to pull the trigger, which required about sixteen pounds of pressure.

Confronted with this evidence, Mariann admitted that it was she who had fired the gun but maintained that the killing was accidental. She said that when Cremer was playing alone on her basement landing she gathered some clothing and at the same time picked up the gun (which she had unaccountably placed under the laundry) causing the pistol to fire. She was unable, however, to explain away the powder burns indicating that the gun was fired two inches from the back of Cremer's head.

At trial before three judges empanelled after a jury was waived by Mrs. Colby, prosecutor George J. Moscarino, although unable to cite a rational motive for the killing, sought to overcome the preferred defense of insanity by forging a chain of evidence establishing that a clever criminal mind was at work; Moscarino sought to persuade the judges that the shooting was premeditated and that Mrs. Colby had cunningly attempted to conceal her guilt and lead the police investigation along false trails. Mrs. Colby, the prosecutor showed, had first loaded the revolver and then called the Young home about the jacket Cremer had left. The shooting must have occurred shortly after Cremer's arrival at the Colby house because a neighbor testified to having seen the Colbys' blue station wagon backing out of their driveway around 8:30 a.m.; moreover, Mrs. Colby had shot the boy at close range.

To prevent incriminating bloodstains, she wrapped his body in a coat (later burnt) and placed a plastic cover in the station wagon. She drove to the wooded area in Gates Mills, where she carried the body for two hundred yards before depositing it in a secluded spot. Returning home, she selected a hiding place for the murder weapon that was worthy of Alfred Hitchcock; she concealed the gun in three pounds of ground beef that she stored in the bottom of a basement deep freeze. Moreover, after the murder she called the police several times to cast suspicion on neighbors.

Contesting neither the killing by the defendant's hand nor the fact that it had been intentional, Mrs. Colby's attorney, Gerald S. Gold (who had served as Cleveland's public defender until entering the case), relied on the testimony of a clinical psychologist and two psychiatrists to confirm Mrs. Colby's legal insanity under Ohio's version of the M'Naghten Rules. The first expert, Dr. Lily Brunschwig, a clinical psychologist at Cleveland's University Hospitals, diagnosed Mrs. Colby as a paranoid schizophrenic. The witness described Mrs. Colby's sadistic interpretation of a Rorschach ink blot normally viewed as representing circus clowns or dogs: "I see two Scottie dogs; the foot and leg of one and the other are injured and bleeding. . . . Their noses are tied together with a rag, like some person did this deliberately to hurt them."

The next witness, Dr. Arthur L. Rosenbaum, a psychiatrist at University Hospitals, opined that the defendant could not distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the shooting. He concluded that her homicidal tendencies were of long standing and that when she purchased the gun, she did so with the intention of killing the unmarried man who had rejected her advances.

The state's final expert, psychiatrist Charles A. deLeon, pictured Mrs. Colby as aggressive, brutal and remorseless and suffering from a severe psychosis manifesting itself in confused thinking divorced from reality. Even the state's expert witnesses provided substantial support for a finding of legal insanity. Dr. David Sprague, of the psychiatric department at Lakewood Hospital, portrayed Mrs. Colby as a "borderline" person who swung between normal and psychotic behavior. He could not rule out the possibility that "disturbed thinking played a part in her [homicidal] act."

In a tense and heavily guarded courtroom which had been cleared and searched following a telephoned threat that there would be a shooting in the event of a not-guilty verdict, presiding judge Donald F. Lybarger announced the court's decision: not guilty by reason of insanity. In the per curiam decision, the three judges attacked the right-and-wrong insanity test of the M'Naghten Rules for restricting judicial consideration to the effects of mental illness on cognitive or intellectual faculties.

In his closing argument Mrs. Colby's counsel had argued that his client had "lost her battle not only in the court but against psychic disintegration." He continued: "No matter what the court does, Mrs. Colby will be in institutions for a long, long time." Counsel's prediction, however, proved to be inaccurate; after confinement in the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for about four years, Mrs. Colby was released. Since then she has vanished into an obscurity for which everyone is grateful.

This article was previously published in 146 New Law Journal 1754, 1758 (Nov. 29, 1996).

Collected Essays of Albert Borowitz 


State, ex rel. Colby, v. Reshetylo

June 14, 1972.



On March 25, 1966, Mariann Colby, who had been tried for murder in the first degree, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the Lima State Hospital pursuant to R.C. section 2945.39. In July 1971, she filed an original action in habeas corpus in the Common Pleas Court of Allen County. Following hearing thereon, by journal entry filed November 4, 1971, the Common PleasCourt found that she was sane and unlawfully restrained of her liberty and ordered her released forthwith from the Lima State Hospital, which was thereupon done. On November 9, 1971, the respondent Superintendent of the Lima State Hospital filed his notice of appeal to this court and on November 15, 1971, filed his motion in the trial court to stay execution of its order of release pending the appeal. The record before this court does not reveal that a ruling was ever made on that motion.

On the same date, November 15, 1971, the respondent also filed a motion in this court to stay execution of the Common Pleas Court order of release. on November 16, 1971, this court overruled that motion finding that respondent had failed to comply with Appellate Rule 7 and "that the order of the Common Pleas Court having been fully executed by the release of Mariann Colby it is beyond the power of this court to stay execution thereof."

Upon hearing arguments of the appeal on its merits the matter of possible mootness of the appeal was suggested by the court and thereafter briefed by the parties. That issue is the one with which we are now concerned.

In considering same it must be observed that in the eyes of the law Mrs. Colby is not a convicted criminal but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Her status in the Lima State Hospital was merely one of patient who by reason of the statutory presumption of continued insanity is committed there for treatment until restored to sanity, a status essentially the same as that of any patient committed to a civil mental institution.

It also must be emphasized that an action in habeas corpus is a civil action which tests the legality of the restraint of liberty by the respondent of the person who is the subject of the action. Neither that person nor the respondent may have the legality of the restraint determined by the trial court in an action in habeas corpus if the restraint has terminated.

Historically and legally the writ of habeas corpus has been used, and is designed, to give a person restrained of his liberty an immediate hearing to inquire into and determine the legality of the detention. 39 Corpus Juris Secundum 428, Habeas Corpus, Section 4a. It loses its efficacy if the finality of such determination may be indefinitely postponed. Consequently, at common law, no appeal from the determination existed. Appeal therefrom new exists only by virtue of statutory provisions. See, for example, R.C. section 2725.26. These statutory provisions vary from state to state and the right of appeal may, and often does, depend on the nature of the commitment for instance, whether under criminal process, under extradition process, under civil process, etc.

Again there is a variance among states as to whether, where a statute permits appeal from habeas corpus cases generally, such appeal may be had from an order of release as contrasted with an order denying release. In Henderson v. James, Warden, 52 Ohio St. 242, the Supreme Court of Ohio established that "a final order of discharge on habeas corpus, may be reviewed and reversed on error by a higher court." It will be noted, however, that in that case the subject of the action was incarcerated under criminal process and that the court of original habeas corpus jurisdiction stayed execution of its order of discharge pending the appeal of the matter to the Supreme Court.

We must conclude from the Henderson case that the order of discharge before us is reviewable on appeal. However, the issue squarely before us is whether the issues to be determined by such review have become moot by reason of the actual execution of the order of release, resulting here from a failure of the respondent to timely obtain an order from either the Common Pleas Court or from this court staying execution of the discharge order pending appeal.

We have tried without success to find some Ohio case where an appellate court has reviewed a determination of discharge after the subject of the habeas corpus action has actually been released. We referred first to the leading case involving the issue which was before the trial court, specifically Ex Parte Remus, 119 Ohio St. 166, a case appealed from this court. Examination of the record of that case discloses, however, that the order of discharge was stayed by action of both this court and the SupremsCourt. As a consequence Remus was still restrained of his liberty at the time the issue of the legality of such restraint was determined by the Supreme Court. We then refer to the similar case of State ex rel. Leeb v. Wilson, Supt., 27 Ohio App.2d 1, 272 N.E.2d 363, also in this court, but find that the issue of mootness was not raised in that case.

However, we find respectable authority requiring a determination of mootness Sakacsi v. McGettrick, 9 Ohio St.2d 156, wherein the respondents appealed from an order of the Court of Appeals discharging the petitioner from their custody.

The Supreme Court held:

"The records show that appellee has been released from the custody of respondents. The questions presented by this appeal are, therefore, now moot. The appeal is, therefore, dismissed * * *."

Compare, McDonald v. Keiter, 25 Ohio St.2d 281.

Mrs. Colby has long since departed the geographical jurisdiction of both the Common Pleas Court and this court. She is not subject to any coercive criminal process to restore her to the custody of the respondent. She has not escaped from his custody but left same pursuant to court order. She is not subject to any coercive civil process for restoration thereto. A judgment of this court reversing the determination of release by the Common Pleas Court could not be enforced by any process thereon issuing either from this court or from the Common Pleas Court to restore her to the respondent's custody. In its essentials the situation is like that in Ohio Contract Carriers Assn. v. Public Utilities Commission, 140 Ohio St. 160, where it was held:

"* * * Appeals are not allowed for the purpose of settling abstract questions [however interesting or important to the public generally], but only to correct errors injuriously affecting the appellant." (Bracketed phrase added from text of decision.)

See, also, 4 Corpus Juris Secundum 153, Appeal and Error, Section 40b.

We conclude that where a patient committed to the Lima State Hospital under the provisions of R.C. section 2945.39 as being not guilty by reason of insanity of the crimsfor which the patient stood trial is, in an action in habeas corpus filed in the Common Pleas Court, found to be sane and ordered released from the hospital, and is thereupon released without stay of execution of the order of release having been timely applied for and ordered by either the Common Pleas Court or by the Court of Appeals, and an appeal is taken by the Superintendent, Lima State Hospital, to the Court of Appeals from the order of release, notwithstanding that the order of release is reviewable by the Court of Appeals, the issues which would otherwise be presented by the appeal have become moot by reason of the actual release of the patient, and the appeal should be dismissed.

Appeal dismissed.

YOUNGER, P. J., and COLE, J., concur.



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