Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 1768

Edgar Rice Burroughs Reports
on the Notorious 1928 Hickman Trial
13 Columns for the Los Angeles Examiner

Columns 1 - 6

Columns 7 - 13
Featured in ERBzine 1769

But Abnormality Does Not by Any Means Imply Insanity,
Edgar Rice Burroughs Opines, Attending First Session.
Los Angeles Examiner ~ January 27, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
The first session of the Hickman trial was reminiscent of the Dundee-Hudkins affair and an opening of a Grauman theater. It resembled Mr. Hudkins' case against Mr. Dundee in that nothing much happened, while the ceiling and the chandeliers in the new courtroom showed the Graumanian influence on modern interior decoration.

The crowd was there, too -- most of it on Templestreet across the way from the Hall of Justice. Just what it expecdted to see or hear from this strategic vantage is not entirely clear, but at that about the only important thing it missed was the reunion of the Writers Club that opened in Judge Hardy's courtroom at 9:30 in the morning.

Justice Must Triumph
Judging from this initial session of the hearing of the case of the People against William Edward Hickman it is obvious that justice must triumph. All the necessary components that enter into the orerly processes of modern criminal procedure were there -- a presiding judge, four atorneys,a visiting judge, a court reporter, a clerk, several bailiffs and 100 representatives of the press. Oh, yes, we had a defendant also, but he is of minor importance. As a matter of fact, I did not know he was there until after I had left the courtroom.

Walsh's defense of his client is, of course, that of insanity. I have read that he has argued that to hang Hickman would be to indict  every normal American boy, whereas were Hickman to be adjudged insane the heinousness of his abominable crime would become understandable and excusable upon the grounds of irresponsibility.

Hickman Abnormal
But no one should compare Hicman to any normal American boy and it is libelous to suggest that he is in any way representative  of American youth, because Hickman is not normal.

But abnormality does not by any means imply insanity. Hickman is a moral imbecile and moral imbecility is not insanity. The moral imbecile is as well able to differentiate between right and wrong as is any normal man -- the difference between the two lies in the fact that the moral imbecile does not care what the results may be to others so long as he may gratify his abnormal egotism or his perverted inclinations.

What if Walsh is successful in his efforts to prove that Hickman was insane when he kidnapped Marion Parker, that he was insane when he murdered her, that hewas insane when he cut her little body apart? He may succeed in doing so, at that, when one stops to reflect upon the vagueness of the line of demarkation between human responsibility and the lack of it as viewed from one angle, by alienists for the defense of the prisoner and from the opposite angle by alienists for the prosecution.

What May Happen?
What will happen, then, or what may happen. Under our California law, Hickman might, at the end of one year, demand another investigation as to his sanity and if found to be then sane, the authorities would be compelled to free him.

If we hang him we have removed an immediate menace to our peace and happiness and safety and a potential menace to the peace and happiness and safety of countless future generations, for moral imbeciles breed moral imbeciles, criminals breed criminals, murderers breed murderers just as truly as St. Bernards breed St. Bernards and thoroughbreds breed thoroughbreds.

But we should not stop with Hickman; in fact, we need not wait to begin with him. The city whas plenty of moral imbeciles that we might well dispense with.

Yes, I think we are going to have a great trial if it ever gets started. There were a bunch of celebrities occupying ringside seats and society was well represented inside the rail.

It is strange what will attract our best people.


Hickman Will Get Justice, but it May
Not Be What He Wants, Writer Concludes
After Seeing Judge Trabucco in Action
Los Angeles Examiner ~ January 27, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"

We have always been led to feel that there was something stable and enduring in the judge business - that one's position was not as precarious as in many other vocations -- but Mr. Walsh has disillusioned us. He disillusioned Judge Hardy, too. Why, the judge didn't have a chance to show his samples even before Mr. Walsh canned him.

Do you know, I think it was mighty fine of Mr. Walsh to abandon his big practice so unselfishly and come way out here to California  from Kansas City, Mo., and take charge of the adminstration of justice for us and face all this terrible publicity with such seet and simple resignation.

You can see that what happened yesterday has worried Asa a little bit -- he is noticeably quieter and less obtrusive. It is apparent that he feels that if he's not careful Mr. Walsh will fire him, too.

Our new guest conductor is Judge J. J. Trabucco of Mariposa County is, butI'm for it, horse, guns and eversharp, if this is a sample of the men it turns out. My, what a judge he is! About five minutes after court opened this morning -- if that is what courts do -- I felt the same conviction concerning Judge Trabucco that I experienced at the time I sat on a jury in Federal Judge James' court -- that if I had been indicted for a crime and I were innocent I should want to be tried before him without a jury.

There'll Be No Fooling
There ain't goin' to be no foolin' in the trial of the case of the People vs. William Edward Hickman, and Hickman will get justice. Justice may not be what he wants, but he's going to get it.

I saw Hickman today, which makes me believe that I am a natural born newspaper corresondent, as I was in court only two days before discovering the defendant. Tomorrow I am going to point him out to the rest of us journalists, although, at that, it really is of little moment whether one sees him or not. He is nothing to write home about.

As a criminal physiognomist, I shall have to admit to being a total flop. I cannot look at the outside of a man's head and say that he is a murderer, yet, after watching Hickman all day I will venture the assertion that if he is crazy, I am Professor Einstein.

We are now in the throes of selecting a jury, which appears to consist largely of discovering twelve good men and true women who never read a newspaper, never knew anything, and not only never had an opinon, but have not even talkedwith any person who had.

Trial Wasting Money
As I sit up there in that gold-ceiled courtroom watching all the ponderous machinery of the law, listening to volumes and volumes of words, seeing the tremendous economic waste that is represented by the hundreds employed either directly or indirectly in this hearing who might be profitably employed elsewehre, I am moved to wonder if, after all it is not we who are crazy, and if Hickman and his kind may not be in some respects the only sane people.

They know what they want and they brook no interference. They go after it until they get it. And what are we doing?

We know that Hickman abducted and murdered little Marion Parker and I doubt if there is one intelligent person in Los Angeles County who is not absolutely certain that Hickman knew at the time of the commission of his crimes that what he was doing was wrong and yet we are wasting time and money in an unnecessary court procefure that in the end may possibly defeat justice and place us in further jeopardy at the hands of Hickman or some other instructive criminal.

I don not know what we can do about it, but I do know that it would not be considered rational procedure in an individual and I cannot believe that it is the voluntary act of a rational society.

We are the victims of court procedure and of laws that are wrong and they should be righted by those to whom we look, usually in vain, for such relief. Until it comes, every degenerate may rightly feel that he may have his way with our daughters and our lives with reasonable assurance of immunity from punishment.

In the meantime we are trying Hickman . As I have not yet seen tomorrow's papers -- they will not be on the streets until after dinner this evening -- I cannot say which side scored an advantage today, but the defense led yesterday. Hickman and a defense alienist got their pictures in the papers, while I failed to see a single likeness of Asa Keyes.


Hickman Has Only Anatomical Resemblance to Man;
His Type Menaces Society and Should Be Exterminated, Declares Writer
Los Angeles Examiner ~ January 28, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan"  and Author of "The War Chief"

The alienists for the prosecution had a hard day of it yesterday while the talesmen were being interrogated by the attorneys for the defense. It was a bad day for psychiatric superiority complexes in that it revealed the mortifying fact that no one ever had hear do any of the"so-called alienists," as Mr. Wals descdribes them; very few of the prospective jurors had read what they wrote and none could recall what they had said in what they had written.

This examination of talesmen is tremendously interesting (and as long as we are paying for it we may as well drive what satisfaction we can from that fact) in what it reveals, ever so sketchilly, of the customs and home life of what is, presumably, the average American citizen.

One point that impressed me particularly  is the apparent absence of discussion in the home circle of topics of general interest, and I think I may say, without danger of refutation, that for a week or two at least the kidnaping and murder of Marion Parker was a matter of quite general public interest. The majority of the talesmen had not discussed the case with any members of their families, some had "talked" aboiut it briefly, but only one admitted to any more than cursory mention. Visualize, if you can, a home without discussion, which would necessarily imply a home without argument. There aint no such place.

Unlike Homo Sapiens
Hickman appears to me to be intelligently alert to all that is going on in the courtroom. I ahve been watching him intently for two days -- ever since I discovered him -- and I have dislocated a couple of vertebrae in my neck attempting to keep my eyes on the court or the attorneys  who happened to be propounding a question, upon the juror when the replied and upon Hickman to note his reaction.

It is not strange that the young man is self-possessed and calm, as nothing has occurred as yet during the proceedings to excite a neurotic canary bird, but I am confident that nothing can happen to ruffle his self-assurance, no matter how dramatic it may appear to others, and this belief of mine is based upon a strong conviction that Hickman except for the fact that he has two arms and two legs and is otherwise anatoically contructed in the semblance of the human species, is as unlike homo sapiens as is a mud turtle or a penguin.

Hickman is an instinctive criminal. He is a representatvie of a new species of man that has been evolving throuigh the ages, and only wheen society awakens to the fact that species may be differentiated by something other than anatomical divergencies and that psychic anomalies render groups of people more distinct from other groups that the mere conformation of the skull it will realize that the members of this new species may not be judged by the same standards that hold for us or accorded equal consideration, if society, as it is trying to exist today, is to endure.

No Appeal To Heart
As I sat and watched Hickman I tried to discover why it was that I experienced none of the reactions I had expected. He is a youth and youth appeals very strongly to my protective instinct as well as to my affections, as it does to all fathers; but I could find in my mind only a sense of revulsion. I was going to say in my heart, but Hickman does not appeal to the heart. And it was then that it was impressed upon me that I was not looking at a human being -- I was watching for reactions in some species of beast that does not react to the stimluli that affect human beings.

The mind and soul and the instinctive criminal differ as radically from ours as do the mind and soul of a tiger differ from those of a lap dog. If the world was overrun with tigers we should know just what to do about it and that is what we are going to have to do about this new  and terrible species of beast.

'Destruction Our Defense'
Destruction and sterilization are our only defense and we should invoke them while we are yet numerically in the ascendancy  -- if we are.
As I look at Hickman and recall what those hands have done, what those eyes have seen, what that mind has evolved, I cannot hate him. I could not hate the viper that struck me. I should wish to destroy it, but I could not hate it. And so I should wish to see Hickman destroyed -- not through hate, not through malice, but, with all pity, in the interest of posterity.


Edgar Rice Burroughs Says Hickman Sane;
However, 'Fox' Regards Society as Enemy
Against Whom He's Constantly At War
Los Angeles Examiner ~ January 31, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted writer, creator of "Tarzan" and the "War Chief"

Justice, in all her majesty, strides relentlessly forward, There were eight cameras in court when I arrive yesterday morning against seven last Friday. Every press seat was taken and the minor consierations of completing  the jury was finally achieved.

I should like to say something aboiut modern methods of selecting a jury in a major criminal case, but what is the use? If I said what I thought it would be deleted.

However, I probably may, with propriety, observe that the court and the prosecution appear to entertain no hysterical fear of intelligent talesmen.

AS we become better acquainted with the personalities of the court room we are struck by the fact that the outstanding, dominating figure of the HIckman trial is Judge Trabucco. His alert, dynamic intelligence stimulates and impresses itself upon every phrase of every activity in that ornate room on the eighth floor of the Hall of Justice.

Judge Misses Nothing
I have seen judges who appeared to doze behind a convenient screen of dignity, but this man never dozes. HIs eyes and ears miss nothing -- he is a veritable watch dog of justice -- and with that he is the personification of judicial dignity, in that he inspires absolute respect without adopting the methods ofd either the martinet or the satirist.

Asa Keyes has not had any occasion to get into acdtion as yet, but he seems to be well cast. Of the defense attorneys I believe Cantillon is the keener and will add most to the gaiety of nations when the curtain rises after the prologue of jury selection. The zero in the equation is Hickman.

There has been a little comedy relief running through the prologue, thus closely do comedy and tragedy walk together through life.

The longer I consider the Hickman affair and the more I see of Hickman, the more convinced I ecome that the man is no more a human being in the sense that normal members of society are human beings, than is an anthropoid ape.

'Brutality Inborn'
He must have been endowed at birth with certain characteristics that are even more at variance with human characteristics than those of the apes are at variance with ours, and one of these characteristics is something that has been called "inborn brutality of the will."

This new and terrible beast-type in human form, this homo criminalis, is not necessarily insane, though the taint of his blood in the veins of homo sapiens might conceivably tend toward insanity in his progeny. He is as capable of understanding that his acts transgress the rights of others and the laws of God and man as are we, but he does not care. He realizes that he is different from other men and he looks upon organized society as an enemy against whom he is constantly in a state of war.

Where he combines with others of his kind we find more or less open warfare against society, and against other groups of his own kind, as evidenced by the gang wars of Chicago and other large cities, by such outbreaks as occurred recently at the Folsom penitentiary and sporadically in other penal institutions throughout the world.

How are we to arm and defend ourselves against homo criminals? One brilliant subscdriber writing to a Los Angeles daily newspaper suggested that as the fear of capital punishment evidently did not deter Hickman from committing an atrocious murder, captial punishment must be a failure, and he suggests that we substitute "love" for hanging.

Love! I doubt that Hickman has ever felt unselfish love for any living creature. I doubt that he is capable of experiencing any such noble sentiment, for if he were it is inconceivable that he could have looked into the eyes of a little girl, innocent, helpless, wholly within his power, and not have been moved y those other ordinary human characteristics that are components of brotherly love -- compassion and the protecdtive instinct of the normal male.

No, love would be wasted upon Hickman, just as I firmly believe that the concentrated hate of all mankind that is directed upon him is wasted as far as it may cause him remorse or prevent him from a repetition of his criminal acts should he ever again be turned loose upon society.


That's Defense Idea as It Appears to Edgar Rice Burroughs;
'After Sizing Up Jurors, I'm Convinced
It Isn't Going to Get Very Far With Them,' He Adds
Los Angeles Examiner, February 1, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief."

Once again I passed through the cordon of police in the corridor of the Hall of Justice, passed the handsome deputy in the little pine door and the bailiff at the entrance to the courtroom, and once again none of them seemed to suspect that I do not know the difference between right and wrong or that it might seem eminently proper to me to dismember thema nd scatter their remnants in Elysian Park.

In fact, I never suspected this myself until I caught the trend and purpose of the depositions read by the defense attorneys in Judge Trabucco's court yesterday, from which I gather that insane people do not know the difference between right and wrong and that people who suffer from hallucinations are insane.

The idea, as it appeared to me, is to prove that Hickman is not guilty of kidnaping and murder because his mother thought she heard strange noises about the house at night.

In other words she suffered from hallucinations, therefore she was crazy; therefore she did not know the difference between right and wrong; therefor anyone who does wrong my suffer from hallucinations, which unquestionably proves them insane, therefore Hickman is innocent, Q. E. D.

When I was a young man, I thought, upon a certain occasion, I could thrash a policeman. It was an hallucination. ONce I had an hallucination that I could write a play. With these facts well established and a matter of record I may now start upon a career of murder.

And consider the lives of constant danger that all of us married men lead, for how many of us are there who do not sleep nightly in the same room with one who hears things about the house after dark? That is, I mean, of course if we are sleeping where we should.

So far the evidence adduced has not been very convincing, even as to the insanity of Mrs. Hickman, let alone the inability of her son to know that wanton murder is not considered entirely good form, and after sizing up the Hickman jury I am of the opinion that it is not going to get very far with them.

A point was brought out in the deposition of Hickman's high school chum, John Johnson, that is the most damning evidence thus far submitted, and that further crystallizes my already unalterable convition that the world will be better off after Mr. Hickman has departed hence.

He was a boy orator.
That was the first downward step, after that came forgery, robbery, kidnaping, murder.

2,000,000 HEFLINS
I have known all along  that something like this was goiong to happen if some steps were not taken to stem the tide of boy oratory.

Consider the astounding statement made recently in a local newspaper that the 1928 crop of boy orators will moiunt to the appalling toal of 2,000,000! Imagine the consequences of annually turning loose upon us 2,000,000 Heflins.

It is safe to assume that the defense will attempt to show that insanity is hereditary. That should not be difficult, as expert opinion is quite unanimous upon that point, and the defense may even prove that Hickman is or hs been insane, but let us hope that noting occurs to confuse the legal and medical definition of insanity in the mind of a single juror.

By medical standards one might easily be accounted insane whome the law could hold to strict accouintability for his every act. Mental depression, extreme nervous irritability are not normal condition sof  a healthy mind and a mind tha tis not normal may be adjudged insane, according to the testimony of one of the physicians who attended Mrs. Hickman prior to her commitment ot the Arkansas lunatic asylum.

As a matter of fact, however, the only issue in this trial may be summed up in a single question: Did William Edward Hickman believe that he was doing right when he kidnaped and murdered Marion Parker?

Or, to be more fair, was he ignorant of the fact that he was committing an act that would prove harmful to her? Such a conclusion is incredible and because it is so increadible this whole, seemingly interminable business of determingin something that everyone already knows, assumes the proportion of a vast hoax -- a hoax that society is playing upon itself and paying for, not only in money today, but will continue to pay for in money and tears and suffering for generations to come.

What is the answer? I believe that the answer could be given by such men as Judge Trabucco if they were not hampered by the necessitites of present-day criminal court procedure.


'Used Ruthless Methods Because They Offered Him
a Quicker Fulfillment of His Ambitions'
Los Angeles Examiner ~ February 2, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"

In the light of the depositions read in court yesterday we see Hickman in 1926 as a kindly, considerate, high-minded youth who aspired to the ministry; a youth who wished to work that he might make life easier for his mother.

These characteristics were quite evidently deeply impressed upon the mind of his friends, his teachers and his employers, and to such effect that not one of them can conceive that this likable boy of 1926 could possibly have committed murder in 1927, unless he had undergone such a mental transition in the meantime as to have become insane to a degree that rendered it impossible for him to differentiate between right and wrong.

I believe that I can understand and appreciate in what manner these sentiments have influenced these people to arrive at these obvious honest convictions. Proper consideration would be shown Hickman. I hope the jury will show him proper consideration. I hope they will accord him the same consideration that he accorded Marion Parker.

By the testimony of one employer, we learn that Hickman was too tender-hearted to kill a chicken and that another boy was called upon to do this work for him, which may, in the light of subsequent events, mean something or nothing. It suggests to my mind the possibility of what might be termed an anachronistic mental or spiritual development in Hickman. Most boys like to kill.

As they grow older, this primitive instinct becomes less and less pronounced until, in mature men, it often disappears entirely. In Hickman this development may have been reversed, but I think there is another explanation. I believe there is a very excellent explanation and I commenced to sense it from the depositions read Tuesday and yesterday it became almost a conviction.

Deposition after deposition stressed the evident fact of Hickman's ambition and his willingness to make sacrifices to achieve that ambition. I believe that the greatest ambition this youth has ever entertained has been to go to college. He had that in mind when he strove to win a place in the national oratorical contest. It was not the glory he wanted. It was the $500 that the Kansas City Star had offered the winner of this contest -- $500 that would put him that much closer to the fulfillment of his dreams.

He was an officer of an important student organization in Central High School in Kansas City, but when he found that this organization could be of  no value to him, he neglected the duties of his office and later resigned. Nothing mattered but his selfish ambition.

Out here in Los Angeles he wanted a motorcycle. He wanted it so badly that he forged to obtain the money to buy it, which is exactly what might have been expected of any other instinctive criminal. As long as everything was coming Hickman's way he was all right, for he was an intelligent boy and he knew that it is better to win by rightful methods than by wrongful -- and much safer.

When he was having his little successes in high school there was no reason why he should evince any of the criminal instincts, the possession of which he was dboutless ignorant himself at that time; but the moment that an obstacle confronted him he reasoned a way around it, not because he was insane, but because he was quite sane, and he did not put aside the wrongful methods of achieving his ends as a normal boy would have done, but gave them the same sane and careful consideration that he would rightful methods, and because the wrongful ones offered an easier and quicker fulfillment of his ambitions, he chose them, intelligently, ruthlessly.

I am commencing to believe that Hickman never entertained premeditated murder in his heart. H did not go to the drug store to kill Toms, but the instant Toms became an obstacle in his path, he destroyed him just as ruthlessly as he destroyed Marion Parker a year later when the realization dawned upon him that to return her alive would most certainly lead to his arrest and conviction, for Marion was too old and too intelligent to be safely left alive to describe and identify him.

Hickman's case might be described as ambition gone wrong. There is nothing new in that. History is full of such cases. We are surrounded by them in every-day life, though most of them, fortunately, stop short of murder. Ruthless, selfish ambition.

That is Hickman's dominating characteristic. It was Napoleon's, and of the two I believe Napoleon was less sane than Hickman, for he believed that he was doing right in the name of patriotism and country, while it is evident to any unbiased mind that Hickman knew he was doing wrong when he killed Toms, when he kidnaped Marion Parker.

The fact that he murdered Marion Parker is excellent evidence that he knew that kidnaping was wrong -- I do not mean legal evidence, because in court you couldn't possibly prove that the moon is not made of green cheese by admissible evidence -- but to convince an intelligent audience beyond a reasonable doubt, since from his purported confession and all of the known facts there is no reasonable doubt, since from his purported confession and all of the known facts there is no reasonable explanation of the murder other than a desire to escape punishment from kidnaping, which presupposes full knowledge of the wrong fulness of that act.

And why did he kidnap Marion? Again ruthless, selfish ambition. He wanted $1500 to defray his college expenses, and he didn't give a whoo-hurrah how he got it. Of course, he is insane -- so was Ponzi.

The ERB / 1928 Hickman Trial Connection
Photos ~ Letters
ERB Reports
in the LA Examiner
Columns 1 - 6 
ERB Reports
in the LA Examiner
Columns 7 - 13
Hickman Family Archive
Nephew Edward Hickman 

Visit our thousands of other sites at:
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2010/2018 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.