The Gruesome Parkman-Webster Case

Fans of true crime and American history should keep an eye out for the latest title penned by Paul Collins, Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard. Set to be released this summer (and already available as an eBook) Collins’ exploration into the particularly grisly 19th century murder that stunned the Boston elite is generating major buzz as a non-fiction page-turner.

Just before Thanksgiving 1849, Dr. George Parkman disappeared after visiting the laboratory of his Harvard Medical School colleague Dr. John W. Webster. A stern man and among the wealthiest in town, Parkman had called on Webster to collect an installment payment from the affable, but deeply in debt, chemistry professor. Before it was all said and done, the mystery involved a $3,000 reward, a janitor chiseling through a brick wall in the dark of night, and the gruesome discovery of a partially burned headless torso. It is also believed to be the first time forensic dentistry was used to convict a murderer.

In Rare Books & Manuscripts we are fortunate to possess a print copy of The Trial of Professor John W. Webster for the Murder of Doctor George Parkman: Reported Exclusively for the N.Y. Daily Globe, 1850. A daily chronicle of the sensational trial, the 50 page booklet includes compelling sketches of evidence and transcripts of witness testimony. 

We also own a copy of Webster’s highly regarded textbook, A Manual of Chemistry, published in 1826. Call us at 314-539-0370 if you are interested in viewing these titles or other department holdings.

The Parkman-Webster case has been explored previously by British historian Simon Schama in Dead Certainties and in Murder at Harvard, an episode of The American Experience. Both are available for check out at SLPL. 

Paul Collins has written several fascinating and well-researched books that delve into events of the past including The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World, Duel With the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed up to Take on America's First Sensational Murder Mystery, and The Murder of the Century: The Guilded Age Crime That Scandalized A City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars.

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