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1930s & Earlier / Marion Parker Murder - 1927
Fair warning: This story is unsettling. One of the most brutal crimes in American history was the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old schoolgirl Marion Parker. On Thursday, December 15, 1927 a young man appeared at Mount Vernon Junior High School in Los Angeles claiming to be an associate of Perry Parker, a prominent local banker. The man coolly told the school's registrar that the banker had been seriously injured in a car accident and had requested to speak to his daughter. There were actually twin Parker sisters enrolled in the school--Marion and Marjorie. By chance the registrar fetched Marion who rode off with the man. He was later identified as 19-year-old William Edward Hickman. The Parker family became alarmed when Marion did not return from school. Shortly thereafter they received a ransom note and phone calls from the kidnapper asking for $1500 in gold certificates in exchange for Marion's safe return. One attempt by Marion's father to pay the ransom was thwarted when Hickman spotted police detectives lurking nearby. Another meeting time was secretly arranged by Hickman and Marion's father on December 17 where the money was given to a man in a parked car. Perry Parker saw his daughter wrapped in a blanket slumped in the back seat with her eyes open. At gunpoint the ransom was paid and the driver pushed the girl onto the street and drove away. Marion's father was horrified to find that his daughter was dead. Her eyelids had been sewn open to give the illusion that she was alive. Worse, her head had been severed, her arms and legs had been cut off and she had been disemboweled. (The missing limbs were found the next day in a city park.) The ghastly crime spawned the largest manhunt in southern California's history, one that included 20,000 volunteers. A reward of $100,000 was offered for the capture of the culprit. Several clues, including the discovery of the stolen car used on the night of the money exchange, led to Hickman being named as the key suspect. He was eventually arrested in Echo, OR after spending some of the gold certificates there. Hickman had been a former employee at Parker's bank and had been fired for embezzlement in a forged check scam. He served prison time for the crime. The fingerprint records from the embezzlement charge were used to match those found on the stolen car from the kidnapping. Hickman willingly told police in graphic detail that he had decided to kill Marion because she had discovered his name. She had only been dead about 12 hours before the money exchange. Hickman said he had choked her with a towel to make her unconscious and then began his dismemberment while she was still alive. Hickman--who said he intended to use the $1500 to pay his tuition to attend a bible college!--hoped to avoid the gallows by claiming insanity. He was one of the first defendants in California to try that ploy after it had become an acceptable legal defense. It failed when a fellow prisoner claimed Hickman had asked his advice on how to appear crazy. A jury rejected Hickman's insanity defense in February 1928. Hickman was executed at San Quentin Prison eight months later on October 19. His hand-written confession is on display at the Los Angeles Police Museum. Marion Parker's ghost is said to occupy her former house.