Trial Transcripts and Newspaper Reports
The Doctor is Missing
A Boston paper describes the last reported sightings of George Parkman.
Boston Evening Herald
Wednesday, Nov. 28  - 2 P.M.
Affairs About Home.
Dr. George Parkman. The apprehensions for the safety of Dr. Parkman increase as the time since his disappearance increases. No authentic accounts have yet been given of his having been seen since Friday afternoon. Several persons, whose testimony it is difficult to disprove or doubt, state that they saw the Doctor about 3 o'clock, P.M., on that day, one in Tremont street, and one in Merchants Block, which is not altogether inconsistent with his having been seen just previous to that hour at East Cambridge. A man answering in many respects the appearance of the Doctor, entered the refreshment establishment of Mr. Campbell, on the entrance of the village of East Cambridge, at 3 P.M. on Friday, and there asked what time the hourly came along for Boston. He was told that it had just gone over to Boston and would not go again for half an hour, he was then advised by the young man in the shop, to go to the hotel near by, and take the hourly there, as it started.
He then left the shop with a view of going to the Point to take the omnibus for Boston, and was not seen afterwards. Nn [sic] Tuesday it was reported by a drover at Brighton that he had seen a very strange man at Palmer, Mass. Descriptions of the doctor, and an officer of the Police, was sent up to ascertain the truth of the statement, and upon going to the hotel where the man stopped, ascertained that it was a man from Boston about the same age as the doctor, but the man proved to be another person. Yesterday afternoon word was sent to the police that a man resembling the doctor's description was seen to enter a house in Cambridgeport, but the story proved without much foundation. It was also reported that a gentleman of this city had seen the doctor wandering about in the woods at Woburn, but no positive belief can be attached to the thousand rumors concerning the man's having been seen since Friday at 3 P.M.
A Body in the Medical College
Shocking news of a diabolical deed.
The Evening Herald
Boston, Saturday, November 30,  12M.
The Body of Dr. George Parkman Found, Murdered and Cut Up in the Medical College — Arrest of Professor Webster, charged with the Diabolical Deed — Tremendous Excitement — A Riot Anticipated
A rumor has been in circulation for several days past, that there were strong grounds for believing that Dr. Parkman (about whom there has recently been so much agitation in the public mind) had been murdered by a person with whom he was seen in the company on the day of his disappearance, and that his body was then in a pit in one of the hospitals in the city. We endeavored to trace this report to some foundation, but our efforts proved futile, and we were compelled to think of this as of the thousand and one other rumors started since the Doctor's mysterious absence, utterly unworthy of belief.
It seems, however, that there was at least sufficient credence placed upon the rumor by the head of the police, to have a watch established about the suspected place, with instructions to proceed cautiously to take such steps as might tend to unravel the almost impenetrable mystery.
This watch were unable to discover anything unusual about the premises, and were on the point of relinquishing their observations, when a person named Littlefield (who we learn is attached to the college) having his suspicions fully aroused, went to work and began to cut through a brick wall into a vault where he found the lower portion of a human body. This was examined, and pronounced to be a part of the body of Dr. Parkman. The room over this was then broken into, and the legs and abdomen of the Doctor discovered in a water closet. All this took place in the private room of Dr. Webster, or in its immediate vicinity. The flesh from a part of the bones had apparently been cut off, and it is supposed consumed. In the furnace of the laboratory were found a jaw bone, teeth, and other human bones, calcined by the heat. One of the teeth corresponds with that of one of Dr. Parkman's, as it was filled with gold in a peculiar manner around the edges.
Dr. Webster is a Professor of Anatomy in the College, and as far as the examination has at present progressed, there is no way been found by which the remains could have been placed in the position in which it was discovered, except by raising the flooring in the Professor's room.
The facts which appear to implicate Professor Webster as the murderer of Dr. Parkman, are first, that on the Friday of the Dr.'s disappearance, he was seen by several persons to enter the Medical College. 2dly, Professor Webster told the Rev. Dr. Parkman, brother of the deceased, that he (Webster) had paid the defunct the sum of $470 on a mortgage of personal property, on the very day, and about the time he was last seen. But when asked to exhibit the receipt for the money paid, he said that he had taken none. Yesterday the Professor called on Mr. Waterman, tinman, in Court street, and ordered a lead or tin box to be manufactured for him, the top of which he was to sodder on himself. The box was to be sent to Cambridge when it was finished.
It is said also that when Professor Webster was arrested yesterday, he manifested the utmost trepidation, then called for a glass of water, and having by great exertion swallowed a small quantity immediately vomited it up again. His conduct at the jail was that of a maniac.
Dr. Webster is about fifty years of age, has a wife and five children, and has hitherto borne an unblemished character. His family, of course, are in a state of deepest agony.
It has been ascertained that Dr. Parkman, just before going into the college had purchased some articles of food at a provision store, near the college, saying that he would call for them shortly which he did not do.
Suspicion was first directed to the Professor's room on account of the fact that a fire had been kept constantly burning there for the past week, and even, ever since the excitement. Such a circumstance was, in this case unusual, as there had been no fire in that room for a long time previous.
Since the excitement attendant upon the disappearance of Dr. Parkman, Professor Webster has kept his room carefully locked, which occasioned some suspicion on the part of those who have succeeded in partially unraveling this dreadful mystery.
An examination is now going on at the College to ferret out the whole affair. The greatest excitement pervadrs [sic]the public mind on the subject, and it is supposed that the building will be torn down.
The proofs implicating Professor Webster increase with almost every hour. Robert G. Shaw, Esq., and Mr. Dexter, and the friends and relatives of the deceased generally, are using every exertion to the end that the person guilty of this foul and atrocious deed shall be brought to punishment.
The present affair (supposing Professor Webster to be the real murderer) bears a great resemblance in its details, to the murder of Samuel Adams by John C. Colt, in the city of New York, some years since; and which produced an excitement only equaled in intensity, by that which now agitates our community.
A Committee Investigates
Fuller particulars of the murder investigation.
Boston Evening Herald
Saturday, December 1 
The Dreadful Murder Of Dr. Parkman
Later and Fuller Particulars
PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE OF INVESTIGATION
Reported Suicide of Webster Untrue!
The Military Ordered to be in Readiness to Repel any Attack on the College.
On Friday last, between one and two o'clock, Dr. Parkman stopped at a grocery store owned by him in Cambridge street. He there left a small bag of lettuce seed, and ordered sugar and other articles for his family. When he left, he stated to the grocer that he should return in five minutes for the bag, as he was only going to the hospital in Grove Street.
The Dr. was seen to enter the Hospital by several individuals, but no person can be found who saw him come out. His person is well known in that vicinity, and it would have been almost an impossibility for him to leave the Hospital at that time of day, without being seen and recognized by some person.
Attempts have been made to trace the Dr. to Cambridge, immediately after leaving the College, but those who know Dr. Parkman's correct habits, were persuaded that he would not have uudertaken [sic] to go there, so near to his dinner hour and when in the immediate vicinity of his house.
Prof. Webster came into town on Sunday last and visited the college, a circumstance very unusual with him. He stated to parties with whom he conversed, that seeing a notice in the evening papers of Dr. Parkman's disappearance, he came into town for the purpose of notifying the family, where, when, and how he last saw him.
Prof. Webster said that he owed Dr. Parkman a personal mortgage, and that, between the hours of one and two o'clock on Friday he (Professor Webster) paid Dr. Parkman the sum of $483,62, for which he took a receipt. Mr. Webster said that Dr. Parkman appeared as usual, and he noticed nothing particular or singular in his behavior different from his ordinary habits.
From other sources we learn that the mortgage was over due, and had been over due some considerable time; that Dr. Parkman had pressed the Professor for payment, which had been promised several times, but it was not forthcoming.
In this state of facts, it is not unreasonable to suppose that -- as rumor has already asserted -- an altercation took place. What passed within the walls of that private room, no man may ever know, but it is reduced to a certainty, almost absolute, that Dr. Parkman never crossed the threshold of that door.
From many circumstances that have transpired during the week suspicion have been strongly and unceasingly directed towards Prof. Webster. His altered manner, his extreme nervousness, his absent mindedness; all tending to prove some powerful causes operating upon his mind.
His door has been carefully locked during the week, and no person has been permitted to open it. This is contrary to his usual practice and the custom which he has generally followed of allowing free ingress and egress to his rooms, on all proper occasions.
In the College there is a vault, into which the offal arising from dissection is thrown. In Prof. Webster's private room there is another vault used by him to throw the residuum of his laboratory, arising from chemical experiments given in his lectures to students.
This vault was used for that express purpose and no other. Professor Webster was not connected with the department of anatomy. He had nothing to do with it. In that vault, no offal from bodies could possibly get there. It had no right there, much less any distinguishable portion of a human body.
But in this private vault, the lower part of the body of a man has been found.
The circumstances under which this astounding discovery have been made, we have already alluded to. This morning the official authorities, together with the relatives and friends of the deceased assembled at the college and proceeded to extricate the remains so found.
After the closest investigation, the committee and authorities were forcibly led to the painful conclusion that the mangled remnants before them were those of their missing father and friend. A discovery calculated to fill them with profound grief and horror.
The committee of investigation are yet in session. Their proceedings are conducted with the greatest secrecy, and we, of course, are unable to give any idea of their nature or extent or to say what additional evidence has been produced.
The Marshal has ordered all Police to be on the watch for any signal that may be made from Head Quarters , as previously agreed on. There is much excitement among the Irish population on account of the suspicions that were attached to an Irishman, at the same time of Dr. Parkman's first disappearance, and it is reported that many threats of vengeance have been expressed by them. The excitement consequent on these faces is beyond belief, every body is speaking of the subject, and the business seems to have received a paralytic shock.
We learn that a roller has been found in Dr. Webster's room clotted with blood; but in the midst of the intense excitement we hardly know what to credit.
The agitation is as fearful as that which existed in New York on the day the murderer Colt cheated the gallows by stabbing himself to the heart.
P.S. The Mayor has sent word to Col. Andrews, to have his regiment in readiness for any emergency.
It is rumored that Prof. Webster has committed suicide. We learn that report is incorrect.
Suspicions against Littlefield are detailed.
Boston Evening Herald
Tuesday, December 4 
The Parkman Tragedy
The Suspicions Against Littlefield.
A morning paper states that yesterday morning a direct attempt was made to make out a suspicious circumstance against Littlefield. Three students, who are attending the medical lectures at the college, called upon the City Marshal, and represented that on Monday of last week, Littlefield offered to give one of the students $70 for a gold watch, and tendered the money, a part of which was in gold. Some of Dr. Webster's friends thought that Littlefield ought to have been arrested upon the strength of this information. When questioned about the matter by Mr. Parker, County Attorney, Littlefield promptly explained it by saying that it occurred on Monday preceding the disappearance of Dr. Parkman, and that the money was received from the students for fees to be by him paid over to the proper officer, and that having it in his hand he jocosely proposed to buy the watch with it. The ground upon which Dr. Webster's friends wished to have Littlefield arrested was his being in possession of so much money so soon after the disappearance of Dr. Parkman. Mr. Parker replied that as Littlefield was worth some $2000, there was nothing strange in his having $70 in his possession, and the circumstance was not a significant ground for arresting him for murder. This was before Mr. Parker had heard Littlefield's explanation.
A Foreign Report
The London Times writes of the murder and Boston public opinion.
The London Times
Thursday, December 27 
The Boston Murder
The American Papers are making the most of the recent mysterious case of assassination at Boston (Massachusetts). The New York Herald, now before us, has three columns of details on the subject. One of the local papers professes to discover in the evidence since adduced some "developments" rather favourable to Professor Webster, the supposed murderer; but a minute analysis of all the circumstances hitherto brought to light induces us fully to concur in the remark of the Boston Herald that if Professor Webster be innocent of the crime of murder, the conspiracy of which he is made the victim is one of the most hellish on record. The discoveries made leave the fact of the murder of Dr. Parkman within the walls of the Medical College indisputably fixed. How the counsel of the accused can relieve his client from the imputation of having committed the deed, with the accumulated mass of evidence against him, without some most extraordinary and rebutting testimony, is more than we can conjecture. Mr. Webster was still in gaol, whither he had been remanded by the magistrates after a primary examination, at which the prisoner appeared affable and collected, and even "smiled pleasantly."
A curious incident, characteristic of the manners of the people, occurred in Boston on the night of the 3d of December. At 9 o'clock a crowd of about 100 persons assembled in front of the Medical College and commenced singing the "Old Hundred," and never did the words "Be Thou, O God, exalted high," fall with such a solemn accent upon the evening air, echoed by a choir of voices, such as have seldom been heard in unison. The moon shone brightly upon the motley group of choristers, and a number of policemen and watchmen near by, and rendered it a rare and painfully solemn scene. The spontaneous acknowledgement of the hand of the Deity in bringing to light the foul deed which had been committed in the sombre-looking building, before the doors of which they stood, was a subject worthy of a painter's art or a moralist's reflections. Having finished the "Old Hundred," they struck up with admirable taste, "Old Grimes is dead, that good old man," and followed in the same melancholy strain, with "Poor Uncle Ned has gone where the good niggers go." The general, if not the unanimous feeling of the public is decidedly unfavourable to Mr. Webster, against whom the circumstantial evidence is fearfully weighty.
Identifying Evidence: False Teeth
Dental evidence is introduced in an American court for the first time.
Dr. Nathan C. Keep provided dental testimony during the trial of John Webster. It was the first trial in which dental evidence was introduced, and one of the first to use forensics at all. Along with reading Dr. Keep's testimony below, you can take a look at Parkman's dental cast and other 19th century medical items in this site's Gallery.
I am a surgeon-dentist; have been in the practice of my profession, thirty years, in this city; now live, adjoining the residence of Dr. Winslow Lewis, Jr. I have given attention, both to artificial and natural teeth.
I knew the late Dr. George Parkman. I became acquainted with him, as early as 1825, when I was a student of medicine with Dr. John Randall. Dr. Parkman was sick at the time, and was attended by Dr. Randall, and I afterwards called at his house, myself. Our acquaintance began from that period; and since 1825, he had employed me as his family dentist, and called on me, himself, whenever he needed any assistance or advice in the care of his teeth.
Some mineral teeth were shown to me, by Dr. Lewis, on Monday, December 3d, on my return to Boston from Springfield. I recognized them, as the teeth which I had made for Dr. Parkman, in 1846. [The blocks of teeth taken from the furnace, were here exhibited to the witness.] These blocks, now shown to me, are the same which I then recognized as having made for Dr. Parkman.
Dr. Parkman's mouth was a very peculiar one: so marked, in respect to its shape, and the relation of the upper and lower jaws, that the impression of it on my mind was very distinct. I remember the peculiarities of the lower jaw, with great exactness. The circumstances connected with the ordering of these artificial teeth by Dr. Parkman, were somewhat peculiar.
[Mr. Sohier objected to the witness's detailing these circumstances. But the Court thought the statement of them admissible, so far as they went to explain the witness's means of identification.]
When Dr. Parkman ordered the teeth, he inquired how long it would take to prepare them; and, upon my asking his reason for the inquiry, he replied, that the Medical College, (which was then building,) was going to be opened with some inaugural ceremonies, on a given day; and as he was expected to be there, and should perhaps have to make a speech, he wished to have the set finished by that time, or he did not wish to have them at all. The interval named, was rather a short one; but I undertook to fulfil the order. The peculiarities of the mouth made it a very difficult case, requiring the exercise of as much skill and care as could be bestowed upon it. I began the undertaking as soon as possible; gave a large part of my time to it; saw the work frequently, while in progress, under the care of my assistant; and, from the circumstances attending the expedition necessarily used, I remember, very distinctly, the particulars of completing the set; more, than in ordinary cases.
I began, in the usual way, with taking an impression of the Doctor's mouth — an exact fac-smile of his two jaws. This was done by applying soft wax (beeswax) in a piece of metal, to lower the jaw, and then pressing it down, till the wax became cold. After the impression was thus taken, it was oiled, and liquor plaster poured in, which was hardened in about ten minutes, and produced an exact copy of the jaw — of the surface of the jaw, where the teeth were wanting, and of the teeth themselves, or any stump, where such teeth, or stump, still remained. A like process gave an exact fac-smile, or impression of the upper-jaw. [The witness here produced plaster-casts of an upper and lower jaw.] This, is the plaster-cast, [exhibiting it to the Court and jury,] of Dr. Parkman's lower jaw, taken from life. It had in it, as the cast shows, four natural teeth, and three roots, or stumps.
The next step was, to obtain the metallic plate, fitting over the gum, and between the teeth, upon which to insert the artificial teeth. This was done, by first getting up a trial-plate. The trial-plate is usually made of copper, or some soft metal, and is procured by making, what is called, a male and female metallic punch and die, from castings taken from the plaster-cast. These castings are, one, of zinc or brass, and the other, of a softer metal, -- tin, or, tin and lead. The copper, from which the trial-plate is to be made, is put between these castings, and, sufficient pressure being exerted upon them, an impression is produced, exactly corresponding to the shape of the punch, and that of the plaster cast. This trial-plate is then put into the mouth; and if found to correspond exactly with the shape of the jaw, the interstices between the teeth, &c., it shows that the castings are proper to produce the gold plate, ultimately to be used as the basis of the set, or block.
Here, is the trial-plate, accompanying the plaster-cast, which was fitted into Dr. Parkman's mouth, and found to correspond exactly with the shape of his lower jaw, teeth, &c. [Here, the witness produced a thin, indented strip of copper, exactly fitting to the shape of the lower jaw, as represented in the plaster-cast, with interstices for the admission of the natural teeth.]
Dr. Parkman, had no natural teeth remaining in his upper jaw. Here, is the trial-plate, [producing it,] exhibiting the form of his upper jaw, and to which the gold plate, used for setting the teeth, exactly corresponded. Of course, it needed no perforations for the admission of the teeth, when applied to the natural jaw.
After the trial-plates were obtained, the gold plates were then made, and fitted into the Doctor's mouth.
The impressions, or fac-smiles, of the two jaws, separately, being thus obtained, the next step, was to get their relative position, when in connection; or something, which should show, how they fitted together.
For this purpose, wax was again applied to both his upper and lower jaw, and he then closed his mouth, so as to leave an impression of his two jaws upon different sides of the same piece of wax. Plaster was then run into the two impressions, and pains taken, before the moulds separated, to mark their relative position, by means of an articulation, as shown in the moulds exhibited. [The witness here produced a second mould, or cast, of Dr. Parkman's mouth, showing a representation of his upper and lower jaw, as when the two were shut together. It consisted, like the other, of two pieces, representing the upper and lower jaw, but which fitted together by means of articulation, or coupling, spoken of, in one absolute position.]
The relative connection of Dr. Parkman's jaws, (as shown in this model,) was a peculiar one. The receding of the upper jaw, and the projection of the lower one, were strongly marked; showing an unusual length of chin: differing, however, in conformation, from that of others, who have merely a prominent chin.
The next step, afer obtaining a fac-similie of the jaws in the way spoken of, was to fit on the teeth to the plate, of the right length. The teeth, themselves, and what was to constitute an artificial gum, were made of the proper material, in a soft mass, like clay, and put into moulds, to bake or harden. Before baking, we have to make an enlargement, to allow for shrinking. The shape of Dr. Parkman's lower jaw, rendered this difficult. The teeth were then baked in a muffle, not exposed directly to the fire.
The teeth, in the case of the upper jaw, where there were no natural teeth remaining, were, at first, made all in one set; which, before baking, was cut into three blocks, by seperations bhind the eye-teeth. The lower teeth, also, consisted of three blocks, that were not made whole, at first, in concsequence of the natural teeth. Of these lower blocks, the largest, or longest, was that, on the left side; the next largest, that, on the right side; and a smaller block, of two or three teeth, in front, completed the set.
All these three blocks fitted to one plate, and went into the mouth, together. The three upper blocks, were, also, all on one plate. The two sets were connected togehter by spiral springs, which enabled the wearer to open and shut his mouth, with less danger of their being displaced. The teeth were fastened in, with platinum pins. I have another model, shoing the length of the lower teeth. [Produces it, and exhibits it to the Court and jury.]
In baking the front block of the lower jaw, an accident happened to one of the teeth, which rendered it necessary to make a new block. This was so shortly before the time fixed for the completeion of the set, that it was necesary to work all night, to repair the accident; and when we got them done, the next day -- I mean Dr. Noble, my assistant, and myself -- it only wanted thirty minutes, to the time fixed for the commencement of the ceremonies at the College.
[The Court here took a recess, in consequence of an alarm of fire at the lodgings of the Attorney General, who requested leave of abscence, to preserve valuable papers. Mr. Clifford having returned in a few minutes, the trial proceeded.]
Dr. Keep, resumes -- I did not feel certain that all was completed, as I should finally desire it to be, and requested the Doctor to call again, and show me his teeth. When he next called, he remarked, that he did not feel as if he had room enough for his tongue. In order to obviate that difficulty, I ground the inside fo the lower blocks, next to the tongue, so as to make rmore room. This grinding was somewhat difficult, in consequence of the teeth being in the plate, and becuse it had to be done with a very small wheel. The grinding removed the pink color from the gum, and also the enamel from the teeth on the inside, and somewhat defaced their beauty. The shape of the space ground out, was peculiar, from the size of the wheel, which was not larger than a cent.
I saw Dr. Parkman afterwards, occasionally, for the purpose of making such slight alterations, or repairs, upon his teeth, as were needed. The last time that I saw him, to do anything to his teeth, was about two weeks previous to his disappearance. Having broken a spring, he called upon me, late one evening, to repair it. It was as late as ten o'clock, or after; and being unwell, I had retired for the night. The person who went to the door, happening to know Dr. Parkman, asked him in, and came up and told me that it was him. Out of regard for him, I sent word that I would come down and attend to him, and dressed, as soon as possible. The Doctor told me his trouble; and I took out his teeth, both upper and lower set, examined them all over, to see that every part was right, repaired the spring, and spent half an hour doing what was necessary. This was my last professional intercourse with him. He called on me, however, the day before his disappearance, and stayed some fifteen minutes, inquiring about a servant that had lived with me.
I left the city, the Wednesday following, (November 28th,) and went into the country, to Longmeadow, to spend Thanksgiving, and returned the Monday after. I had heard of the Doctor's disappearance before I left. On my return, Dr. Winslow Lewis Jr., presented to me these three portions of mineral-teeth, [referring again to the blocks taken from the furnace,] saying, that he was requested to bring them to me for examination. On looking at them, I recognized them to be the same teeth that I had made for Dr. Parkman. The most perfect portion that remained, was that block, that belonged to the left lower jaw. [holding it in his hand.] I recognized the shape and the outline, as being identical with the impression left on my mind, of those that I had labored on so long. [Here, the witness was strongly agitated.] Several of the other portions had been very much injured by fire. I proceeded to look for the models, by which these teeth were made. On comparing the most perfect block with the model, the resemblance was so striking, that I could no longer have any doubt that they were his. [Here, the witness was so overcome by his feelings, as to be unable, for a moment, to proceed. The prisoner exhibited no signs of emotion.]
There was sufficient left of these blocks, to show where they belonged. This, in my right hand, [holding it up,] belongs to the right upper jaw. This, to the left upper jaw; and this, to the front portion of the upper jaw. The three parts make up the whole of the upper set. The left lower block is nearly entire. The block attached to it, I take to be the right lower block, from exculsion. This last, certainly does not belong elsewhere ; and, as long as we have found places for the others, I infer that this must belong in the place not supplied. There is a piece not identified, which may, or may not be, the small front block, (of two or three teeth,) of the lower jaw. I identify and assign places for five pieces, and there is one other piece not identified. These would, together, make the six pieces of the set. I find the platinum pins remain attached to the teeth.
[The witness here exhibited to the jury, and afterwards to the Court, the blocks of teeth in connection with the plaster-model or cast : calling attention, particularly, to the coincidence between the left lower block, and the model. He also pointed out the place of the grinding, showing a roughening of the inside, with a slight concave perpendicular indentation.]
I found more or less imbedded with these teeth, portions of gold, and also minute portions of the natural bone of the jaw — what is called cancellated bone, from its peculiar- shaped cells.
To a juror. -- I saw the set of teeth in the Doctor's mouth, at the last interview.
Direct, again. -- The presumption is very strong, that they went into the fire in the head, or with some portion of it, or in some way muffled. These mineral-teeth, when worn, inbibe moisture ; and, if suddenly thrown into the fire, or heated with great rapidity, the outside becomes glazed, and the expansive power of the steam which is generated inside, explodes them. If put into the fire, surrounded by flesh, or other muffling substance, on the contrary, the temperature would be raised more gradually, and the moisture would evaporate from them, slowly. I have known such explosions to take place with new teeth, when heated suddenly. In fact, it is always necessary to take great care to heat them gradually ; and, with a set which had been worn, I should expect nothign else, if heated suddenly, then that they would fly into innumerable pieces. Another circumstance seems to indicate that they went into the fire, in the head, or together ; and that is, that the spiral springs would have thrown them apart, if not confined in some way, when thrown into the furnace. When the teeth were brought to me, the two blocks were in one mass as now shown to me.
Dr. Lester Noble, now of Baltimore, was the assistant, whom I have mentioned.
Cross-examined by Mr. Sohier. -- All these teeth came to me, at the same time, from Dr. Lewis, on the Monday after Dr. Webster's arrest. I have used no effort to bring to recollection, these facts, connected with the manufacture of this set of teeth for Dr. Parkman. In reply to your question, "When they first came to mind mind after his disapearance?" I can hardly say, when they were ever out of my mind. They always occured to me, whenever I met the Doctor. They were in my mind, when Dr. Lewis first showed the teeth to me; and I immediately said, "Dr. Parkman is gone: we shall see him no more." [The witness, and many of the audience, were here affected to tears.]
I recognized them at once, without the moulds, and then went to look for the moulds. This name [of Dr. Parkman, on the mould ; shown to the jury, ] was written upon it, at the time it was made. They were kept in my cellar, where I had put them away. I keep my moulds, mainly, to provide against any accident which may happen to the set of teeth, made from them. I had before fitted parts of a set of teeth for Dr. Parkman ; -- a block for this left lower jaw, where the absorption is shown. This absorption occured while he wore that block. This was before he went to Europe. I took a cast of his jaw, at that time.
I first heard of Dr. Parkman's disappearance, Saturday night, November 24th, before going into the country. I read the advertisement in the newspaper.
Direct, again. -- Dr. Parkman wore no single mineral-teeth. The natural teeth, which he had remaining, were one tooth, and two roots, on the left side, and three teeth and one root upon the right side, in the following order : -- beginning from behind, on the left side, two roots, then a tooth, (the eye-tooth,) then a vacancy ; then, upon the other side, three teeth in succession, then a root, or stump. The teeth remaining, upon the right side, are one front tooth, the eye-tooth, the first bi-cuspid, and the root of the second bi-cuspid. Two roots of natural teeth were exhibited to me, said to be found among the ashes. One of them, at the time of the examination before the grand jury, was still adhering to the largest block. [Witness identified it, now seperate from the block.] There was a third block, adhering to the two now connected together, united with them, by means of slag, or some other matter, when the teeth were first shown to me. It has since been broken apart. [It was stated by Mr. Clifford, and acceded to by Mr. Sohier, that this seperation had taken place, when Mr. Sohier, in company with the counsel for the Government, was examining the teeth at the City Marshal's office, previous to the trial.]
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Judge Lemuel Shaw's historic instructions to the jury during the trial of John Webster. He explains how jurors should define guilt -- and sets a legal precedent:
...A few other general remarks occur to me upon this subject, which I will submit to your consideration. Where, for instance, probable proof is brought of a state of facts tending to criminate the accused, the absence of all evidence tending to a contrary conclusion is to be considered, -- though not alone entitled too much weight; because the burden of proof lies on the accuser to make out the whole case by substantive evidence. But when pretty stringent proof of circumstances is produced, tending to support the charge, and it is apparent that the accused is so situated that he could offer evidence of all the facts and circumstances as they existed, and show, if such were the truth, that the suspicious circumstances can be accounted for consistently with his innocence, and he fails to offer such proof, the natural conclusion is, that the proof if produced, instead of rebutting, would tend to sustain the charge. But this is to be cautiously applied, and only in cases where it is manifest that proofs are in the power of the accused, not accessible to the prosecution.
To the same head may be referred all attempts on the part of the accused to suppress evidence, to suggest false and deceptive explanations, and to cast suspicion, without just cause, on other persons: all or any of which tend somewhat to prove consciousness of guilt, and, when proven, to exert an influence against the accused. But this consideration is not to be pressed too urgently; because an innocent man, when placed by circumstances in a condition of suspicion and danger, may resort deception in a hope of avoiding the force of such proofs. Such was the case often mentioned in the books, and cited here yesterday, of a man convicted of the murder of his niece, who had suddenly disappeared under circumstances which created a strong suspicion that she was murdered. He attempted to impose on the Court by presenting another girl as the nice. The deception was discovered and naturally operated against him, though the actual appearance of the niece alive, afterwards, proved conclusively that he was not guilty of the murder.
One other general remark on the subject of circumstantial evidence is this; that inferences drawn from independent sources different from each other, but tending to the same conclusion, not only support each other, but do so with an increased weight. To illustrate this, suppose in the case just mentioned of the wad of a pistol consisting of a part of a ballad, and the other part of the pocket of the accused. It is not absolutely conclusive that the accused loaded and wadded the pistol himself; he might have picked up the piece of paper in the street. But suppose that by another and independent witness it were proven that that individual purchased such a ballad at his shop; and further, from another witness, that he purchased such a pistol at another shop. Here are circumstances from different and independent sources, bearing upon the same conclusion, to wit — that the accused loaded and used the pistol; and they, therefore, have an increased weight in establishing the proof of fact.
I will conclude what I have to say on this subject, by a reference to a few obvious and well-established rules, suggested by experience, to be applied to the reception and effect of circumstantial evidence.
The first is, that the several circumstances upon which the conclusion depends must be fully established by proof. They are facts from which the main fact is to be inferred; and they are to be proven by competent evidence, and by the same weight and force of evidence, as if each one were itself the main fact in issue. Under this rule, every circumstance relied upon as material is to be brought to the test of strict proof; and great care is to be taken in guarding against feigned and pretended circumstances which may be designedly contrived and arranged so as to create or divert suspicion and prevent the discovery of the truth. These, by care and vigilance, may generally be detected, because things are so ordered by Providence, -- events and their incidents are so combined and linked together — that real occurrences leave behind them vestiges, by which, if carefully followed, the true character of the occurrences themselves may be discovered. A familiar instance is, where a person has been slain by the hands of others, and circumstances are so arranged as to make it appear that the deceased committed suicide. In a case recorded as having actually occurred, the print of a bloody hand was discovered on the deceased. On examination, however, it was the print of a left hand upon the left hand of the deceased. It being impossible that this should have been occasioned by the deceased herself, the print proved the presence and agency of a third person, and excluded the supposition of suicide. So where a person found dead, shot by a pistol-ball, and a pistol belonging to himself was found in his hand, apparently just discharged; indicating death by suicide. Upon further examination, it appearing that the ball which caused the mortal wound was too large for that pistol, the conclusion was inevitable that suicide in the mode suggested must have been impossible.
The next rule to which I ask your attention is, that all the facts proven must be consistent with each other, and with the main fact sought to be proved. When a fact has occurred, with a series of circumstances preceding, accompanying, and following it, we know that these must all have been once consistent with each other; otherwise the fact would not have been possible. Therefore, if any one fact necessary to the conclusion is wholly inconsistent with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, it breaks the chain if circumstantial evidence upon which the inference depends; and, however plausible or apparently conclusive the other circumstances may be, the charge must fail.
Of this character is the defense usually called an alibi; that is, that the accused was elsewhere at the time of the offence is alleged to have been committed. If this is true, -- that being impossible that the accused could be in two places at the same time, -- it is a fact inconsistent with that sought to be proved, and excludes its possibility.
This is a defence often attempted by contrivance, subornation, and perjury. The proof, therefore, offered to sustain it, is to be subjected to a rigid scrutiny, because, without attempting to control or rebut the evidence of facts sustaining the charge, it attempts to prove affirmatively another fact wholly inconsistent with it; and this defence is equally available, if satisfactory established, to avoid the force of positive, as of circumstantial evidence. In considering the strength of the evidence necessary to sustain this defence, it is obvious that all testimony tending to show that the accused was in another place at the time of the offence, is in direct conflict with that which tends to prove that he was at the place where the crime was committed, and actually committed it. In this conflict of evidence, whatever tends to support the one, tends in the same degree to rebut and overthrow the other; and it is for the jury to decide where the truth lies.
Another rule is, that circumstances taken together should be of a conclusive nature and tendency, leading on the whole to a satisfactory conclusion, and producing in effect a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused, and no one else, committed the offence charged. It is not sufficient that they create a probability, though a strong one; and if, therefore, assuming all the facts to be true which the evidence tends to establish, they may yet be accounted for upon any hypothesis which does not include the guilt of the accused, the proof fails. It is essential, therefore, that the circumstances taken as a whole, and giving them their reasonable and just weight and no more, should to a moral certainty exclude every other hypothesis. The evidence must establish the corpus delicti, as it is termed, or the offence committed as charged; and, in case of homicide, must not only prove a death by violence, but must, to a reasonable extent, exclude the hypothesis of suicide, and a death by the act of any other person. This is to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Then, what is reasonable doubt? It is a term often used, probably well understood, but not easily defined. It is not mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs and depending on moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case, which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction, to a moral certainty, of the truth of the charge. The burden of proof is upon the prosecutor. All the presumptions of law independent of evidence are in favor of innocence; and every person is presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty. If upon such proof there be reasonable doubt remaining, the accused is entitled to the benefit of it by an acquittal. For it is not sufficient to establish a probability, though a strong one arising from the doctrine of chances, that the fact charged is more likely to be true than contrary; but the evidence must establish the truth of the fact to a reasonable and moral certainty; a certainty that convinces and directs the understanding, and satisfies the reason and judgment, of those who are bound to act conscientiously upon it. This we take to be proof beyond reasonable doubt; because if the law should go further than this, and require absolute certainty, as it mostly depends upon considerations of a moral nature, it would exclude circumstantial evidence altogether.
The Defendant's Confession
Professor Webster's Confessional Statement, as Reported to the Council by Rev. Dr. Putnam.
On Tuesday the 20th of November, I sent the note to Dr. Parkman, which, it appears, was carried by the boy Maxwell. I handed it to Littlefield unsealed. It was to ask Dr. Parkman to call at my rooms on Friday the 23rd, after my lecture. He had become of late very importunate for his pay. He threatened me with a suit, to put an officer into my house, and to drive me from my professorship, if I did not pay him. The purport of my note was simply to ask the conference. I did not tell him in it what I could do, or what I had to say about the payment. I wished to gain, for those few days, a release from his solicitations, to which I was liable every day on occasions and in a manner very disagreeable and alarming to me, and also to avert, for so long a time at least, the fulfillment of recent threats of severe measures. I did not expect to be able to pay him when Friday should arrive. My purpose was, if he should accede to the proposed interview, to state him my embarrassments and utter inability to pay him at present, to apologize for those things in my conduct which had offended him, to throw myself upon his mercy, to beg for further time and indulgence for the sake of my family, if not for my own, and to make as good promises to him as I could have any hope of keeping.
I did not hear from him on that day, nor the next (Wednesday); but I found that on Thursday he had been abroad in pursuit of me, though without finding me. I feared that he had forgotten the appointment, or else did not mean to wait for it. I feared he would come in upon my lecture hour, or while I was preparing my experiments for it. Therefore I called at his house on that morning (Friday), between eight and nine, to remind him of my wish to see him at the College at half-past one, -- my lecture closing at one. I did not stop to talk with him then; for I was expected the conversation would be a long one, and I had my lecture to prepare for. It was necessary for me to save my time, and also to keep my mind free from other exciting matters. Dr. Parkman agreed to call on me, as I proposed.
He came, accordingly, between half-past one and two. He came in at the lecture-room door. I was engaged in removing some glasses from my lecture-room table into the rear, called the upper laboratory. He came rapidly down the steps and followed me into the laboratory. He immediately addressed me with great energy: "Are you ready for me, sir? Have you got the money?" I replied, "No, Dr. Parkman;" and was then beginning to state my condition, and make my appeal to him. He would not listen to me, but interrupted me with much vehemence. He called me "scoundrel" and "liar," and went on heaping upon me the most bitter taunts and opprobrious epithets. While he was talking, he drew a handful of papers from his pocket, and took from among them my two notes, and also an old letter from Dr. Hosack, written many years ago, and congratulating him (Dr. P.) on his success in getting me appointed professor of chemistry. "You see," he said, "I got you into your office, and now I will get you out of it." He put back into his pocket all of the papers, except the letter and the notes. I cannot tell how long the torrent of threats and invectives continued, and I can now recall to memory but a small portion of what he said. At first I kept interposing, trying to pacify him, so that I might obtain the object for which I had sought the interview. But I could not stop him, and soon my own temper was up. I forgot everything. I felt nothing but the string of his words. I was excited to the highest degree of passion; and while he was speaking and gesticulating in the most violent and menacing manner, thrusting the letter and his fist into my face, in my fury I seized whatever thing was handiest — it was a stick of wood — and dealt him an instantaneous blow with all the force that passion could give it. I did not know, nor think, nor care where I should hit him, nor how hard, nor to what the effort would be. It was on the side of his head, and there was nothing to break the force of the blow. He fell instantly upon the pavement. There was no second blow. He did not move. I stooped down over him, and he seemed to be lifeless. Blood flowed from his mouth, and I got a sponge and wiped it away. I got some ammonia and applied it to his nose; but without effect. Perhaps I spent ten minutes in attempts to resuscitate him; but I found that he was absolutely dead. In my horror and consternation I ran instinctively to the doors and bolted them — the doors of the lecture room, and the laboratory below. And then, what was I to do?
It never occurred to me to go out and declare what had been done, and obtain assistance. I saw nothing but the alternative of a successful removal and concealment of the body, on the one hand, and of infamy and destruction on the other. The first thing I did, as soon as I could do anything, was to drag the body into the private room adjoining. There I took off the clothes, and began putting them into the fire which was burning in the upper laboratory. They were all consumed there that afternoon — with papers, pocket-book, or whatever else they may have contained. I did not examine the pockets, nor remove anything except the watch. I saw that, or the chain of it, hanging out; and I took it and threw it over the bridge as I went to Cambridge.
My next move was to get the body into the sink which stands in the small private room. By setting the body partially erect against the corner, and getting up into the sink myself, I succeeded in drawing it up. There it was entirely dismembered. It was quickly done, as a work of terrible and desperate necessity. The only instrument used was the knife found by the officers in the tea chest, and which I kept for cutting corks. I made no use of the Turkish knife, as it was called at the trial. That had long been kept on my parlor mantel-piece in Cambridge, as a curious ornament. My daughters frequently cleaned it: hence the marks of oil and whiting found on it. I had lately brought it into Boston to get the silver sheath repaired.
While dismembering the body, a stream of Cochituate was running through the sink, carrying off the blood in a pipe that passed down through the lower laboratory. There must have been a leak in the pipe, for the ceiling below was stained immediately round it.
There was a fire burning in the furnace of the lower laboratory. Littlefield was mistaken in thinking there had never been a fire there. He had probably never kindled one, but I had done it myself several times. I had done it that day for the purpose of making oxygen gas. The head and viscera were put into the furnace that day, and the fuel heaped on. I did not examine at night to see to what degree they were consumed. Some of the extremities, I believe, were put there on that day.
The pelvis and some of the limbs, perhaps all, were under the lid of the lecture-room table in what is called the well, — a deep sink lined with lead. A stream of Cochituate was turned into it, and kept running through it all Friday night. The thorax was put into a similar well in the lower laboratory, which I filled with water, and threw in a quantity of potash which I found there. This disposition of the remains was not changed till after the visit of the officers on Monday.
When the body had been thus all disposed of, I cleared away all traces of what had been done. I took up the stick with which the fatal blow had been struck. It proved to be the stump of a large grape vine, say two inches in diameter, and two feet long. It was one of two or more pieces which I carried in from Cambridge long before, for the purpose of showing the effect of certain chemical fluids in coloring wood, by being absorbed into the pores. The grape vine, being a very porous wood, was well suited to this purpose. Another longer stick had been used as intended, and exhibited to the students. This one had not been used. I put it into the fire.
I took up the two notes, either from the table or the floor, — I think the table, — close by where Dr. P. had fallen. I seized an old metallic pen lying on the table, dashed it across the face and through the signatures, and put them into my pocket. I do not know why I did this rather than put them into the fire; for I had not considered for a moment what effect either mode of disposing of them would have on the mortgage, or my indebtedness to Dr. P. and the other persons interested; and I had not yet given a single thought to the question as to what account I should give of the objects or results of my interview with Dr. Parkman.
I never saw the sledge-hammer spoken of by Littlefield, and never knew of its existence; at least, I have no recollection of it.
I left the College to go home, as late as six o'clock. I collected myself as well as I could, that I might meet my family and others with composure. On Saturday I visited my rooms at the College, but made no change in the disposition of the remains, and laid no plans as to my future course.
On Saturday evening I read the notice in the Transcript respecting the disappearance. I was then deeply impressed with the necessity of immediately taking some ground as to the character of my interview with Dr. P.: for I saw that it must become known that I had such an interview, as I appointed it, first, by an unsealed note on Tuesday, and on Friday had myself called at his house in open day and ratified the arrangement, and had there been seen and probably overheard by the man-servant; and I knew not by how many persons Dr. P. might have been seen entering my rooms, or how many persons he might have told by the way where he was going. The interview would in all probability be known; and I must be ready to explain it. The question exercised me much; but on Sunday my course was taken. I would go into Boston, and be the first to declare myself the person, as yet unknown, with whom Dr. P. had made the appointment. I would take the ground, that I had invited him to the College to pay him money, and that I had paid him accordingly. I fixed upon the sum by taking the small note and adding interest, which, it appears, I cast erroneously.
If I had thought of this course earlier, I should not have deposited Pettee's check for $90 in the Charles River Bank on Saturday, but should have suppressed it as going far towards making up the sum which I was to profess to have paid the day before, and which Pettee knew I had by me at the hour of the interview. It had not occurred to me that I should ever show the notes cancelled in proof of the payment; if I had, I should have destroyed the large note, and let it be inferred that it was gone with the missing man; and I should only have kept the small one, which was all that I could pretend to have paid. My single thought was concealment and safety. Everything else was incidental to that. I was in no state to consider my ulterior pecuniary interests. Money, though I needed it so much, was of no account with me in that condition of mind.
If I had designed and premeditated the homicide of Dr. P. in order to get possessions of the notes and cancel my debt, I not only should have deposited Pettee's check the next day, but I should have made some show of getting or having the money the morning before. I should have drawn my money from the bank, and taken the occasion to mention to the cashier, that I had a sum to take out that day for Dr. P., and the same to Henchman, when I borrowed the $10. I should have remarked, that I was so much short of a large sum that I was to pay to Parkman. I borrowed the money of Henchman as mere pocket-money for the day.
If I had intended the homicide of Dr. P., I should not have made the appointment with him twice, and each time in so open a manner that other persons would almost certainly know of it. And I should not have invited him to my room at an hour when the College would have been full of students and others; for that was an hour — just after the lecture — at which persons having business with me, or in my rooms, were always directed to call.
I looked into my rooms on Sunday afternoon, but did nothing.
After the first visit of the officers, I took the pelvis and some of the limbs from the upper well, and threw them into the vault under the privy. I took the thorax from the well below, and packed it in the tea-chest, as found. My own impression has been, that this was not done till after the second visit of the officers, which was on Tuesday; but Kingsley's testimony shows that it must have been done sooner. The perforation of the thorax had been made by the knife at the time of removing the viscera.
On Wednesday, I put on kindlings and made a fire in the furnace below, having first poked down the ashes. Some of the limbs — I cannot remember what ones or how many — were consumed at that time. This was the last I had to do with the remains.
The tin box was designed to receive the thorax, though I had not concluded where I should finally put the box. The fish-hooks, tied up as grapples, were to be used for drawing up the parts in the vault, whenever I should determine how to dispose of them. And yet, strange enough, I had a confused double object in ordering the box and making the grapples. I had before intended to get such things to send Fayal; -- the box to hold plants and other articles which I wished to protect from salt water and sea air — and the hooks to be used there in obtaining coraline plants from the sea. It was this previously intended use of them that suggested and mixed itself up with the idea of the other application. I doubt, even now, to which use they would have been applied. I had not used the hooks at the time of the discovery.
The tan put into the tea-chest was taken from a barrel of it that had been in the laboratory some time. The bag of tan brought in on Monday was not used, nor intended to be used. It belonged to a quantity obtained by me a long time ago for experiments in tanning, and was sent by the family to get it out of the way. It being sent just at that time was accidental.
I was not aware that I had put the knife into the tea-chest.
The stick found in the saucer of ink was for making coarse diagrams on cloth.
The bunch of "filed" keys had been long ago picked up by me in Fruit street, and thrown carelessly into a drawer. I never examined them, and do not know whether they would fit any of the locks of the College or not. If there were other keys fitting doors with which I had nothing to do, I suppose they must have been duplicates, or keys of former locks, left there by the mechanics or janitor. I know nothing about them, and should never be likely to notice them amongst the multitude of articles, large and small, and of all kinds, collected in my rooms. The janitor had furnished me a key to the dissecting-room for the admission of medical friends visiting the College; but I had never used it.
The nitric acid on the stairs was not used to remove spots of blood, but dropped by accident.
When the officers called for me no Friday, 30th, I was in doubt whether I was under arrest, or whether a more strict search of my rooms was to be had; the latter hypothesis being hardly less appalling than the former. When I found that we went over Cragie's bridge, I thought arrest was most probable. When I found that the carriage was stopping at the jail, I was sure of my fate; and before leaving the carriage, I took a dose of strychnine from my pocket and swallowed it. I had prepared it in the shape of a pill before I left my laboratory on the 23rd. I thought I could not bear to survive detection. I thought it was a large dose. The state of my nervous system probably defeated its action, partially. The effects of the poison were terrible beyond description. It was in operation at the College, and before I went there; but more severely, afterwards.
I wrote but one of the anonymous letters produced at the trial — the one mailed to East Cambridge.
The "little bundle," referred to in the letter detained by the jailer, contained only a bottle of citric acid, for domestic use. I had seen it stated in a newspaper, that I had purchased a quantity of oxalic acid, which is presumed was to be used in removing blood-stains. I wished the parcel to be kept untouched, that it might be shown, if there should be occasion, what it really was that I had purchased.
I have drawn up in separate papers an explanation of the use I intended to make of the blood sent for on Thursday, the 22nd, and of the conversation with Littlefield about the dissecting vault.
I think that Pettee, in his testimony at the trial, put too strongly my words about having settled with Dr. Parkman. Whatever I did say, of the kind, was predicated on the hope I entertained that I should be able to pacify Dr. Parkman and make some arrangement with him; and was said in order to quiet Pettee, who was becoming restive under the solicitation of Dr. Parkman.