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John Webster (Murderer)
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    (May 20, 1793-August 30, 1850)
    Born in Boston, Massachusetts
    Medical doctor
    Professor of chemistry and geology at Harvard Medical College
    Convicted of murdering George Parkman (March 30, 1850)
    Executed by hanging
    He constantly lived beyond his means.
    He borrowed large sums of money from Parkman.
    Shortly before his death, Parkman discovered that Webster had pledged a collection of minerals as collateral for both his loans from Parkman and for a loan from Robert Shaw.
    Shortly before his execution, he admitted he had killed Parkman by clubbing him with a piece of firewood.
    He then dismembered Parkman’s body and began burning it in the furnace in his lab.
    The medical college’s janitor, Ephraim Littlefield, became suspicious when he found the door to Webster’s lab bolted shut and the wall by the furnace red hot.
    Littlefield broke into the lab by chiseling through a wall, saw a pelvis and a leg, and summoned the police.
    A search of the lab turned up additional body parts and bloodstained clothes that belonged to Webster.
    When arrested, he swallowed strychnine in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
    At the trial, Parkman’s dentist identified several false teeth recovered from the lab furnace as ones he had made for Parkman.
    He was a popular lecturer.
    He provided the fireworks for the celebration when Edward Everett was named president of Harvard.
    He claimed that after striking Parkman, he realized what he had done and tried unsuccessfully to revive him.
    Twenty-three people, including such prominent Bostonians as Oliver Wendell Holmes, testified as character witnesses on his behalf.
    The trial was one of the first in which dental evidence was used to establish a murder victim’s identity.
    The case was so famous that when Charles Dickens visited Boston (1867), one of his first requests was to see the room where Webster had killed Parkman.

Credit: C. Fishel

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