I decided to read the book Murder at Harvard because when I was looking more into it, I really wanted to be able to understand what had happened since it was such a big case for its time.
The People Involved
Dr. George Parkman was a well known public figure due to the fact that his family was one of the richest in Boston.
Dr. John Webster was a chemist who worked at Harvard. He had a high social standing in the community but did have to live paycheck to paycheck.
Ephraim Littlefield was a janitor at Harvard and also a well known grave robber.
Lastly, Nathan Keep who was a dentist.
Outline of How the Story Went
It all started when George Parkman went missing. The police didn’t know what to do until out of no where Ephraim Littlefield, the janitor found parts of Parkman’s body in John Webster’s lab. That is when the case became extremely publicized due to the fact that it involved two people of high social standing. But how were those two men connected? Well, Parkman and Webster had apparently known each other because Parkman, being the rich man that he was loaned Webster money. Littlefield said that he saw Parkman going into Webster’s lab that day and he over heard them arguing and then after that, Webster’s lab was locked for a few days. Littlefield was starting wonder if it was Webster and decided to break in. That is when he found some body pieces in the furnace and in a sealed off vault that he managed to get through. But the most important person in this case was Nathan Keep, the dentist. False teeth happened to be found in the furnace of Webster’s lab. Keep was absolutely positive that those belonged to Parkman due to the fact that they were make just for Parkman’s jaw. That was all the evidence needed to have Webster convicted. The case ended with Webster being found guilty and later being hung for the crime.
In the 1800’s, recovery techniques were non-existence. I mean, what do you expect? They had no procedures of collecting evidence. Nobody has ever witnessed a crime like that before, so of course, no one had any idea of how to handle it. I mean, it wasn’t even the police who found the body, it was the janitor. So recovery techniques are pretty much out the window and non-existing.
Identification of the Remains
They had no way of truly identifying who the body belonged too. They didn’t even have a full body to look at, only some body pieces were recovered. They also did not have a head either, which back in those days was probably all they could do to fully identify someone. The only true evidence they possibly could have was the false teeth found in the furnace. Parkman’s dentist was absolutely sure that those were the false teeth he made just for Parkman. That is the only identification the case really had to use against Webster. This was also the first case ever to use dental evidence in a trail.
Interpretation of Case
I’m still not sure if Webster actually did it. I mean after reading the book, I’m actually shock that he was found guilty over such small evidence. They didn’t even have a full body or a head. All they really had were teeth and a possible motive. Also, where’s the murder weapon? The theory was Webster just got so done with arguing with Parkman that he grabbed a piece of wood and hit him across the head with it and killed him. That is just a theory, not at all a fact. I could actually make a better case saying Littlefield did it. He has the access to every room at Harvard. He’s is a grave digger so he also can get bodies as well. He would actually possibly know more on how to disassemble a body more so than Webster. All you would have to do in that time is cut off the head and say it’s someone else than who it actually is. Anyone could frame anyone for a crime. Plus, he knew exactly where to go to find the rest of the body pieces. Also, if Littlefield had heard the two men arguing, wouldn’t he have also heard someone getting struck on the head and a loud thud as the body hit the floor, since that is when everyone thinks it happened. Maybe, since there was a reward out for information on finding Parkman, and since Littlefield would be getting that, maybe he cut out a deal with the dentist to say it was Parkman’s teeth. I mean who knows. There is still much controversy out there over this case.
Relates to Topics in Class
Well, they had to establish if it was all the same body and they were able to pull that off but they never really officially named who the body belonged to until they found the teeth. But whose to say the teeth belonged to the same body? Anyways, today we still use teeth to identify someone.
Is it really a Good Example of Forensic Investigation and Why?
This case did launch the Forensic Sciences, mostly impart of the teeth being used as ID. Everything has a first, and since this was one of the first of any type of forensic work, they did alright. Many of the things they did, we still do today with just better, more effective procedures. Who knows, maybe it would have had a different outcome if it had happened today.