Edmund Pearson’s “The Disappearance of Doctor Parkman”

PULP NONFICTION

A reading from the pioneers of True Crime

True crime history is not just about reviving the stories of America’s scandals, scoundrels and scourges, but also about exploring the history of true crime as a genre.

Edmund Pearson was a librarian by trade, but also one of the early writers of true crime, who first came to prominence in his articles about the Lizzie Borden trials in the 1890s. In 1928, he wrote a series of eight true crime articles for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about some of America’s Classic murders.

This case takes place in 1849, a week before Thanksgiving, in a laboratory at the Harvard Medical College while the famed physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes was lecturing in the room directly above. The victim was one of Boston’s wealthy elite on a mission to collect a debt from a geology professor.

The Parkman-Webster murder case, as it came to be known, was notable because it was one of the first murder cases where circumstantial forensic evidence was used in a trial.

Musical direction and theme music by Chuck Wiggins.

Produced by Richard O Jones

CLICK HERE to view or download a pamphlet containing the complete transcripts of John White Webster’s murder trial>

Description of John White Webster’s execution:

The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sat__Aug_31__1850_

The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sat__Aug_31__1850_ (1)

Illustrations from later accounts:

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 31, 1850
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 31, 1850
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1948
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1948
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1948
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1948
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1948
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1948
Detroit Free Press, February 18, 1940
Detroit Free Press, February 18, 1940

The Wicked Working Girl of Fall River: The Trial of the Reverend Ephraim Kingsbury Avery

SOLEMNLY SWORN

Testimony from History’s Sensational Trials

Courtesy of Cornell University Law Library, Trial Pamphlets Collection
Courtesy of Cornell University Law Library, Trial Pamphlets Collection. Click image to access source document.

Some sixty years before the trial of Lizzie Borden brought infamy to the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, the body of Sarah Maria Cornell, a 30 year old mill worker from that town, was found hanging from a haystack pole in the nearby town of Tiverton, just across the Rhode Island border.

The first coroner’s jury ruled the death a suicide, but a note later found in the woman’s boarding house led to the first of two exhumations of the body and the arrest of the Rev. Ephraim Kingsbury Avery for her murder.

It is believed to be one of the first trials of a minister for murder in America, and it was a scandalous one. Newspapers across the country published transcripts on a daily basis, and when it was all over, many booklets—including one by the defendant himself—were published with the complete testimony and arguments of the 27-day trial.

One of several "trial pamphlets" issued on the case.
One of several “trial pamphlets” issued on the case.

The Reverend Avery spent the rest of his life dodging the accusations and his tarnished reputation, in spite of his acquittal. The court of public opinion is not so easily swayed by facts. He embarked on a speaking tour to clear his name, and eventually settled in Lorain County Ohio and lived out his days as a farmer. He died on October 23, 1869.

There were a couple of items of clothing mentioned in this story that had me rushing to the Google. I’d never heard of a surtout or a calash, but here they are:

A surtout, is a military style overcoat. Photo via Pinterest.
A surtout is a military style overcoat. Photo via Pinterest.

[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon D2X 2007/09/21 11:38:35.9 RAW (12-bit) Image Size: Large (4288 x 2848) Lens: 60mm F/2.8 D Focal Length: 60mm Exposure Mode: Manual Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern 1/60 sec - F/16 Exposure Comp.: 0 EV Sensitivity: ISO 100 Optimize Image: White Balance: Preset d-0 AF Mode: Manual Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Color Mode: Mode I (sRGB) Tone Comp.: Normal Hue Adjustment: 0° Saturation: Normal Sharpening: Low Image Comment: Long Exposure NR: Off High ISO NR: Off [#End of Shooting Data Section]
A calash on view at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, also via Pinterest
1024px-A_very_bad_man_-_Ephraim_Kingsbury_Avery

Newspaper Sources:

1833 0327 The_People_s_Press_Wed__Mar_27__1833_
The People’s Press, March 27, 1833
1883 0527 The_Evening_Post_Mon__May_27__1833_
The New York Evening Post, May 27, 1833
Newbern_Spectator_Fri__Jun_14__1833_
The Newbern (South Carolina) Spectator, June 14, 1833
The_Evening_Post_Thu__May_30__1833_
The New York Evening Post, May 30, 1833