|The Naked City||May 26 2011|
This May 1973 issue of the true crime magazine Master Detective delves back more than four decades to examine one of the most infamous murders committed in early twentieth century America. The victim was a 12-year old Los Angeles girl named Marion Parker, and on December 15, 1927, she was abducted from her school by a man who used to work for her father. The man—nineteen-year-old William Edward Hickman—came to the school and told the registrar that the girl’s father had been in an accident that morning and wished to see his daughter. It was not policy to release children to anyone other than their parents, but swayed by Hickman’s measured urgency and apparent sincerity, the registrar released Marion Parker into his custody.
Hickman was after money. Marion Parker’s father, a banker named Perry Parker, had it in abundance. For the next few days Hickman sweated Perry Parker, sending pleading notes written by Marion, as well as other notes demanding a ransom. Hickman signed the latter with various pseudonyms, but one in particular stuck with the press—“The Fox.” Eventually, Parker and Hickman agreed on a ransom of $1,500, to be paid in $20 gold certificates. The first attempt at an exchange failed when Hickman noticed a cop near the meeting place. It’s unclear whether the policeman was part of a trap, but Hickman was taking no chances. He bailed, and set up a second meeting for a few nights later.
When Parker reached the rendezvous point he saw Hickman sitting in a parked car. Parker approached the driver side window and saw that the kidnapper was aiming a gun, and he also saw his daughter in the passenger seat, bundled up to her neck in a blanket. She couldn’t move—that was clear. She didn’t speak. Hickman took the ransom and drove quickly away, stopping just long enough to push Marion Parker out of the car at the end of the block. When Parker reached his daughter and lifted her into his arms he screamed in anguish. Marion was dead, and had been for twelve hours. Hickman had cut off her arms and legs, flayed the skin from her back, disemboweled her, and stuffed her with rags. She had been bundled up to conceal the fact that she had no limbs. Her eyes had been wired open so that she would, upon cursory inspection, appear to be alive.
Hickman had escaped, but he had left behind a clue that would lead to his capture. Among the rags he had stuffed into Marion Parker’s empty abdomen was a shirt with a laundry mark that police were able to trace to an address in Los Angeles. Twenty cops descended on a residence that turned out to be occupied by a man named Donald Evans, who wascooperative but said he knew nothing about Hickman. In truth Evans was Hickman, but by the time police figured that out he had fled to the Pacific Northwest. But he hadn’t run far enough. Wanted posters reached every corner of the west coast within days, and just one week after Hickman’s disappearance two police officers in the town of Echo, Oregon recognized him and arrested him.
At trial, Hickman claimed to be guided by voices—one of the first times, if not the first, that this type of insanity defense was attempted in an American courtroom. But the jury wasn’t buying any of it and they convicted Hickman of murder and kidnapping. The judge sentenced him to be executed at San Quentin State Prison, and he climbed the stairs to the gallows on October 19, 1928. Hickman had once been smooth enough to talk a school official into sending Marion Parker to her doom, and had calmly lied about his identity to twenty cops who had burst into his house. In prison he had corresponded with and impressed author Ayn Rand so much that she decided to base a character on him because he embodied her mythical “Nietzschean Superman” ideal. But at the end, all of Hickman’s considerable aplomb deserted him. Just before the hangman sprang the trapdoor that would cast him into oblivion, he collapsed babbling in fear. His last words were, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”