Murder At Harvard

Published on 1st April 2017 by

A 50 minute long 2003 American Experience episode presented by historian Simon Schama which looks back at one of America’s most shocking murder trials, on November 23, 1849, Harvard professor and member of one of Boston’s richest families Dr. George Parkman disappeared. After a long police hunt his body was found a week later by a Harvard janitor, his lifeless body had been dismembered and burnt.

News got out about his murder and the entire city of Boston was gripped by the resulting trial of a well-liked colleague of Parkman’s, the professor of Chemistry and Geology John White Webster. White Webster was found guilty of murder and was hung on August 30th 1850. In modern times there have been reviews of the case by various legal professionals and historians, several have asserted that they believed Parkman was not murdered by White Webster but by somebody else. The first of these was in 1971 when the chief criminal prosecutor for the State of Massachusett, Robert Sullivan, reviewed the records from the case and was convinced that the murder was actually committed by his accuser Ephraim Littlefield.


Schama wrote about the murder in his 1991 book Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations. Available on kindle, paperback, or hardcover formats.

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