The Murder Trial of Dr. John White Webster

Casts of the Superior and Inferior Maxillae of George Parkman

Dental Casts of Dr. George Parkman, 1846

The plaster inferior jaw cast and wax mold displayed here were part of the forensic evidence used during the murder trial of Dr. John White Webster in 1850. Dr. George Parkman, a noted Boston physician and Harvard benefactor, disappeared on November 23, 1849, and a subsequent search of the premises of Harvard Medical School revealed parts of a human body—including artificial teeth—in the laboratory of Dr. John White Webster, Harvard’s Erving Professor of Chemistry. Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep, who had fitted Parkman with dentures several years earlier, was called as a trial witness and stated, "The teeth were brought to me, and I at once recognised them as the teeth which I had made for Dr. Parkman and with which I had taken so much pains…. There could be no mistake about them."

John White Webster was convicted of the murder and executed on August 30, 1850.

Plan for Harvard Medical School

Plan of Harvard Medical School, circa 1850

This hand–drawn sketch of the basement of the Harvard Medical School building on North Grove Street may have been used during the John White Webster trial. Dr. Webster’s laboratory is in the upper left–hand corner; the tea–chest, furnace, and privy where the Parkman remains were discovered are all clearly marked.

Legal Medicine and Medical Jurisprudence
The Murder Trial of Dr. John White Webster