A Book of Remarkable Criminals
consequence is--all this!" He denied having told Parkman that he was going to
settle with him that afternoon, and said that he had asked him to come to the
college with the sole object of pleading with him for further indulgence. He
explained his convulsive seizure at the time of his arrest by his having taken a
dose of strychnine, which he had carried in his pocket since the crime. In spite of
these statements and the prayers of the unfortunate man's wife and daughters,
who, until his confession to Dr. Putnam, had believed implicity in his innocence,
the Council decided that the law must take its course, and fixed August 30 as the
day of execution.
The Professor resigned himself to his fate. He sent for Littlefield and his wife, and
expressed his regret for any injustice he had done them: "All you said was true.
You have misrepresented nothing." Asked by the sheriff whether he was to
understand from some of his expressions that he contemplated an attempt at
suicide, "Why should I?" he replied, "all the proceedings in my case have been
just . . . and it is just that I should die upon the scaffold in accordance with that
sentence." "Everybody is right," he said to the keeper of the jail, "and I am wrong.
And I feel that, if the yielding up of my life to the injured law will atone, even in
part, for the crime I have committed, that is a consolation."
In a letter to the Reverend Francis Parkman he expressed deep contrition for his
guilt. He added one sentence which may perhaps fairly express the measure of
premeditation that accompanied his crime. "I had never," he wrote, "until the two
or three last interviews with your brother, felt towards him anything but gratitude
for his many acts of kindness and friendship."
Professor Webster met his death with fortitude and resignation. That he deserved
his fate few will be inclined to deny. The attempt to procure blood, the questions
about the dissecting-room vault, the appointment made with Parkman at the
college, the statement to Pettee, all point to some degree of premeditation, or at
least would make it appear that the murder of Parkman had been considered by
him as a possible eventuality. His accusation of Littlefield deprives him of a good
deal of sympathy. On the other hand, the age and position of Webster, the
aggravating persistency of Parkman, his threats and denunciations, coupled with
his own shortness of temper, make it conceivable that he may have killed his
victim on a sudden and overmastering provocation, in which case he had better
at once have acknowledged his crime instead of making a repulsive attempt to
conceal it. But for the evidence of Dr. Keep he would possibly have escaped
punishment altogether. Save for the portions of his false teeth, there was not
sufficient evidence to identify the remains found in the college as those of
Parkman. Without these teeth the proof of the corpus delicti would have been
incomplete, and so afforded Webster a fair chance of acquittal.