Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George Parkman

A Conflicting Story

Recreation of special notice poster
Recreation of special notice poster
The Parkman family anxiously inquired into the whereabouts of George on Saturday and then contacted the police, who posted a large notice urging people to come forward with information. At the same time, John Webster was telling people his version of a meeting hed had with Parkman on Friday afternoon.

In fact, he admitted that he had been to Parkmans home that morning to arrange it, having finally come up with the money he owed on a debt. Webster, a professor of chemistry and geology, was a short, stocky man with dark hair and glasses. He had higher social aspirations for himself and his family than he could ever afford, but he tried not to let them know that. To deceive his wife and four daughters, he had borrowed money to pay for some of their finery and a nice house, but had been unable to earn that money in the ways that he had planned. That meant continuing to borrow. He would put up his household furniture and his cabinet of valuable mineral specimens as collateral, and he had done as much for the loan of $483.64 from George Parkman. Everything had been agreeable, he said, and he had come up with the money to repay the man. Thats why they were meeting.

At least thats what he told the Parkman family when he came to see them on Sunday afternoon, two days after George was reported missing. Webster had read about the disappearance in the papers and thought that he should come and have his say.

In a strangely businesslike manner, says Thomson, he described the meeting hed had with George at 1:30 on Friday afternoon. Webster had given the money he owed to his benefactor, who had taken it and then walked hurriedly to the door. Parkman had promised over his shoulder that he would go right away to have the payment recorded by the city clerk to clear the debt. Webster had believed it had all been settled. Now he was worried that someone had robbed Parkman and the debt was not clear after all.

Portrait of Professor John Webster (Massachusetts Historical Society)
Portrait of Professor
John Webster
Historical Society)
Then he got to his feet, gave a stiff bow, and left. He failed to inquire how the family was doing or to offer the merest civility. It was an odd manner, and one that the grieving family would have cause to remember later that week. John Webster's very appointment at Harvard was due to George Parkman's intervention on his behalf. Had he nothing more to say to them? Was he even worried about the man who had offered him so much help?

In fact, there were those who wondered where John Webster had come up with the money to pay Parkman back. His stipend at the college was only $1200 a year, and he depended for more on the tickets he sold to his lecturesof which he'd had little success. He lived in a house that must have taken all of his money, and had a wife and four daughters as wellone of them married. George Parkman had even commented that Webster had borrowed from several people and had been unable to keep up interest payments on any of those loans.

Something just didn't add up.

Recreation of the Parkman reward poster
Recreation of the Parkman reward
By November 26, a $3,000 reward was settled upon for finding the man alive, and twenty-eight thousand copies of the notice were printed up, posted, and distributed. A little later, $1,000 was offered for his body.