Blood & Ivy
by Paul Collins
There have been countless trials of the century. Most have no lasting impact other than to the victim and defendant. In Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard, Paul Collins tackles the 1850 case of Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. John White Webster. Not only did the White case attract enormous public attention, it had a major place in the development of criminal law. Collins recreates the gruesome murder of Dr. George Parkman and the trial that followed. Parkman, a physician, was known not for his medical skills but for his vigor in collecting rents owed to him.
Parkman disappeared in Boston on November 23, 1849. The city and nation followed the search for him, with newspapers competing for every lead and rumor. After a futile search, police received a tip from the janitor of Harvard Medical School, Ephraim Littlefield. The janitor became suspicious of intense heat from the areas of Professor John White Webster and a surprise offer of Professor Webster to buy him a Thanksgiving turkey. Littlefield notified police who found body parts and dentures in Webster's laboratory. Webster was charged with the murder of Dr. Parkman, although there was no definitive way to prove the body parts and dentures were Parkman's.
Collins recreates the trial, and it reads as if you are in the courtroom. Crowds packed every session and newspapers reported each word. It was...