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Parkman's False Teeth and Victim's Jaw Bone

Parkman's False Teeth and Victim's Jaw Bone American History Famous Historical Events Medicine Nineteenth Century Life Social Studies Trials Tragedies and Triumphs

Dr. George Parkman—a mid-19th-century professor at Harvard University—had problems with his teeth.  He received help from his dentist, Dr. Nathan Keep, who fashioned a set of false teeth for his patient.

While searching for evidence, regarding Dr. Parkman's status as a missing person, investigators located a jawbone in the furnace of a Harvard lab. That jawbone had false teeth which were fitted into it.  

The missing-person case then turned into a murder-case. Who was the defendant? The Harvard prof who worked in the lab where the human remains were found in the furnace:  Dr. John Webster.

The case of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts versus Dr. John Webster was more than a sensational event. The prosecutors were proceeding against Webster even though they couldn't confirm that the human remains were Dr. Parkman's.

Why was that? Because no one had found Dr. Parkman's head.

However ... that jaw, and those false teeth, were unique. No one, other than George Parkman, had anything like it. Parkman's jaw was highly unusual in the way that it "jutted out." That peculiarity had caused Dr. Keep to fashion very special teeth for his dental patient.

At the trial—in a move that had never happened before—the prosecutors wanted to introduce the jawbone and the false teeth. The Judge allowed the evidence as exhibits against the Defendant Webster. They would be admitted as exhibits during Dr. Keep's testimony.

In the jury's presence, Dr. Keep examined the evidence. He told the jury that the jaw bone, with the false teeth, had belonged to George Parkman.  

To bolster his conclusions with additional evidence, Dr. Keep showed the jury an impression he had made of Parkman’s jaw (which he still had in his possession). That plaster cast and the jawbone (found in the furnace) were a match.

Investigators had also found loose teeth in the furnace.  Dr. Keep showed the jury that those teeth fit the plates he had created for George Parkman.  

Another bit of Nathan Keep's testimony was particularly troubling for the Defendant, Dr. Webster.  The molds which Dr. Keep had created bore an inscription indicating they had been made especially for George Parkman. The jury also saw that inscription.

Dr. Webster was found guilty of killing Dr. Parkman and was sentenced to death. He never pled temporary insanity (which, perhaps, might have saved him from the hangman's noose) and was executed on August 30, 1850.

This image—from the Trial of Professor John W. Webster, for the Murder of Doctor George Parkman Reported Exclusively for the N.Y. Daily Globe—depicts the jawbone and dental evidence. 

Click on the image for a better view.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 12, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Dec 12, 2016


Media Credits

Illustration from the Trial of Professor John W. Webster, for the Murder of Doctor George Parkman.  Reported Exclusively for the N.Y. Daily Globe.  New York:  Stringer & Townsend, 1850.    

Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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"Parkman's False Teeth and Victim's Jaw Bone" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 12, 2016. Dec 11, 2017.
       <http://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Parkman-s-False-Teeth-and-Victim-s-Jaw-Bone-0>.
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