The Murder of Marion Parker

Charles Lindbergh was taking his post-victory lap around the world after becoming the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic when he was bumped from his front page, above-the-fold perch by the savage kidnapping and murder of a 12-year-old California girl.
During a brief time around Christmas 1927, the tragic death of Marion Parker generated banner headlines in newspapers across the country because of the brutal nature of how she died. The entire crime and investigation lasted a little over a week, but Marion’s murder has been immortalized in American folk ballads.
Marion was kidnapped and slain by 19-year-old William Edward Hickman, a transplant from Kansas City who later gave several different motives for his crime. At his trial, Hickman was one of the first California defendants to use the state’s new “not guilty by reason of insanity plea” to excuse his behavior. Despite that he admitted committing the atrocities suffered by Marion – which led many people to believe that no one would so such things if he was sane – Hickman was unable to convince a jury that he was crazy.
He died for his crimes on the gallows at San Quentin in October 1928.
The tragedy began on December 15, 1927 when a well-dressed, articulate young man showed up at the school Marion attended with her twin sister in Los Angeles. The man told officials that the girls’ father had been taken seriously ill and that he wanted “the younger daughter” to come quickly to his side. The girls’ teacher was somewhat confused by the request for just one of the twins as well as the man’s request for “the younger daughter.” When queried again, the man corrected himself and asked for “the smaller one.”
He suggested that the teacher contact the bank where Perry Parker worked as assistant cashier to confirm his story, but his good faith suggestion alleviated her concerns. The man, later identified as Hickman, was allowed to take Marion.
Hickman got a good head start on searchers because no one realized the girl had been kidnapped until she failed to arrive at home and a search turned up nothing. Hickman said later that when he told Marion she was being kidnapped and held for ransom, she treated it like some sort of adventure.
“We were driving out in Hollywood Friday night, when my car was stopped by a traffic light,” Hickman undoubtedly lied in a jailhouse interview. “Marion was beside me and the newsboys waved their papers close by us. Marian seemed to be amused by this.”
After Marion’s disappearance was reported to police, the Parker family received a pair of telegrams, one from Pasadena and the other from Alhambra, signed by “George Fox.” The telegrams told the family to expect further communication and ransom demands.
The communiques ominously warned Perry Parker not to interfere with the kidnapper’s plans.
The next day, Parker received the first note from “Fox.” The note began with a header meant to spell the word “Death” using Greek characters.
“Fox is my name, very sly you know,” began the first note. “Get this straight. Your daughter’s life hangs by a thread and I have a Gillette ready and able to handle the situation.”
A second ransom note included the ransom demands and was again headed “Death.”
“Fox” told Parker to get $1,500 in $20 gold certificates and be prepared to deliver them that night. He signed the note “Fox-Fate.”
The kidnapper included a plaintive note from Marion to her parents begging them to comply. She warned that Hickman had already threatened to kill her.
“Please, Daddy, I want to come home tonight,” she added as a postscript to the note she signed “Your loving daughter, Marion Parker.”
Parker gathered the money, worth about $17,000 today, and prepared to meet the man he knew as George Fox. Hickman called Parker on the night of December 16 and gave him instructions on how the exchange would occur. However, he spotted police in the area that night and never revealed himself.
On December 17, he sent a third note, blaming Parker for the failure to complete the exchange.
“I will be two billion times as cautious and clever, as deadly from now on,” Hickman wrote. “You have brought this on yourself and you deserve it and worse. A man who betrays his love for his own daughter is a second Judas Iscariot – many times more wicked than the worst modern criminal.
“If you want aid against me, ask God, not man,” he wrote. He included another note from Marion.
The kidnapper and father met at the corner of 5th Avenue and South Manhattan Street in Los Angeles about 7:30 p.m. on the 17th.
“He pointed a gun at me and said ‘You know what I’m here for. No monkey business,’” Parker recalled later. “I said ‘Can I see my little girl?’”
Hickman pointed to a tightly tied package in the car that revealed only Marion’s head.
“He said she was sleeping,” Parker said. “I assumed she had been chloroformed.”
Parker handed over the 75 $20 gold certificates and as they agreed, Hickman drove a block down the road and pushed Marian out of the car.
Witnesses said Parker ran down to where his little girl was lying and picked her up in his arms. Then he let out a soul-shattering anguished cry of grief.
Marion was dead. The package contained just her head and torso. Her arms and legs had been chopped off where they joined her body. A wire had been wrapped around her head just above her eyes. It cut so deeply into her flesh that it left a gaping wound.
Her body had been disemboweled and her entrails replaced with rags. She had also apparently been flogged to such an extent that the flesh on her back was flayed.
The autopsy revealed that she had been dead about 12 hours and that there were no signs of sexual assault.
The coroner was unable to determine a cause of death – he assumed it was either asphyxiation or loss of blood. Hickman later confessed that although he strangled Marian and slit her throat, he believed she was alive when he began to dismember her.
On Sunday, December 18, newspaper-wrapped packages containing Marion’s arms and legs were found in a nearby park. By that evening the reward for her killer – dead or alive – had topped $50,000.
Quickly, what would become the largest manhunt in the history of the West Coast began as hundreds of police officers and thousands of angry citizens began looking for a young white man, around 25 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 150 pounds. He was smooth shaven with thin features and dark wavy hair. At the time, the kidnapper was driving a dark Ford roadster.
Police got a major break when they traced a laundry mark on a shirt in which Marian was wrapped to an apartment house in Los Angeles.
More than 100 cops descended on the apartment building and conducted a room-by-room search.
In one room police found a dark-haired young man who gave his name as “Donald Evans” asleep in bed. He allowed four officers to search his room and told them he “hoped they would catch the fiend.” After police left without finding any clues, Evans left the building never to be seen there again.
Police found the Ford Roadster – it had been reported stolen weeks before in Kansas City – and made a major breakthrough when fingerprints in the vehicle turned out to match those of a petty thief and forger named Edward Hickman.
Hickman was a former employee of the bank where Perry Parker was assistant cashier. It turned out that Hickman had been fired from the bank for forging checks at the bank and that Parker not only testified at his trial, but opposed a sentencing recommendation of probation. Hickman served a brief jail term.
His mugshot soon graced the front page of dozens of newspapers across the country, prompting sightings as far east as Chicago. After seeing Hickman’s mugshot, Evans’s landlady told the press that he and Hickman were one and the same. The sheriff’s department confirmed this, but Los Angeles detectives disputed the claim. Others said they saw Hickman leaving the apartment around the time of the meeting with Parker carrying newspaper-wrapped bundles. During a second, more complete, search of the flat, criminalists found human blood in the apartment. Hickman denied being Evans.
Despite the unprecedented manhunt – at one point 8,000 local, state and federal officers had made him their top priority – Hickman eluded authorities and headed north from Los Angeles, stealing cars along the way.
On December 21, a man matching Hickman’s description passed one of the marked $20 bills in a store in Seattle. Another turned up in Portland, Oregon, and on December 22, Hickman was arrested by police in Pendleton, Oregon.
(The arresting officers subsequently received dozens of offers to join the Vaudeville circuit.)
Hickman confessed to Oregon officials and was extradited to California within days. He admitted taking the girl, but blamed an accomplice for killing her. No accomplice was ever located, and the man Hickman named had an alibi – he was in jail at the time of the abduction.
“He said she was crying and he tried to stop her or something like that, and he figured that the safest way would be to go ahead and fix it that way,” Hickman told police. “If this fellow had not killed her it would have come out all right as we had planned, because I am sure she didn’t want to die.”
At the time of his arrest, Hickman said he planned the kidnapping because he wanted money for college. Prosecutors speculated that he wanted revenge against the man who sent him to jail. Others believed he simply wanted notoriety.
“Don’t you think I will get as much publicity as Leopold and Loeb?” He asked a newspaperman.
While in custody in Oregon, Hickman began to lay the groundwork for his insanity defense.
“Wonder if I couldn’t pretend that I was crazy,” Hickman said to a jail guard. “How does a fellow act when he is crazy?”
In late January 1928, Hickman went on trial in Los Angeles, and used as his defense a year-old law that allowed a defendant to admit committing a crime, but to excuse his conduct on the grounds that he was mentally ill and not responsible for his actions.
“If the defendant pleads only not guilty by reason of insanity, then the question whether the defendant was sane or insane at the time the offense was committed shall be promptly tried,” the law read. “In such trial the jury shall return a verdict either that the defendant was sane at the time the offense was committed or that he was insane at the time the offense was committed. If the verdict or finding be that the defendant was sane at the time the offense was committed, the court shall sentence the defendant as provided by law.”
The law assumed the sanity of the defendant and placed the burden of proving insanity on the defense.
Numerous alienists, the early name for psychologist, examined Hickman and came up with varying assessments of his state of mind. The majority found that he was sane. The defense put Hickman’s mother on the stand and she recounted that “insanity ran in the family.”
The prosecution put on witnesses who testified to Hickman’s state of mind while behind bars; all of them said he appeared rational to them. One detective told about riding with
Hickman back from Oregon. Hickman asked about the judge who would hear his case.
“He won’t hang me. He doesn’t believe in capital punishment,” Hickman said. “But I guess I’ll throw a fit for him in court anyway.”
Hickman’s comments help contribute to that judge’s decision to disqualify himself from hearing the case. After a 10-day trial, the jury found Hickman was sane and he was sentenced to death by hanging.
A smiling Hickman was asked how he felt about the verdict.
“The state won by a neck,” he quipped.
In the fall of 1928, the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute and Hickman’s conviction.
“The rule relating to the defense of insanity does not shift the burden of proof from the People to the defendant,” the court held. “But only shifts the burden of introducing evidence and declares the amount or quantum of evidence which he must produce to overcome the presumption (of sanity) and show his insanity.”
On October 19, 1928, Hickman mounted the 13 steps to the top of the gallows. He never expressed any remorse for what he did. His main concern was how he would be buried.
“Warden,” said Hickman, “tell me they’re going to bury me here. Honest I don’t want my old man and my mother to spend a lot of money taking me back east.”