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"A Correct Likeness of Dr. Parkman.
As Last Seen Previous to the Murder." Engraving, 1850.
Published in Trial of Professor John W. Webster,
for the Murder of Doctor George Parkman.
Reported Exclusively for the N.Y. Daily Globe
New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1850, p. 76.


About the Trial

Webster's trial, conducted early in the spring of 1850, received international attention. The grisly details of the murder heightened the public's interest, especially in light of Webster's continued protestations of innocence and the fact that both victim and accused were prominent figures at Harvard and in Boston society. Boston Police estimated that as many as 60,000 people visited the proceedings over the twelve days that court was in session.

Webster's conviction rested largely on the testimony of Ephraim Littlefield, the janitor responsible for finding Parkman's remains, who also reported seeing Webster and Parkman arguing on November 23, the day that Parkman disappeared. The evidence against Webster seemed convincing, and he even prepared a written confession, but many people argued for his innocence, even after he was sentenced to death.

More than 150 years after its conclusion, the case still receives attention. Although it may be impossible to determine now whether Webster was truly guilty, legal scholars agree that irregularities in the court proceedings prevented his receiving a fair trial. Historian Simon Schama revisited the case in his 1991 book Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations), and the PBS television series The American Experience will air a documentary about it in early 2003.



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