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Volume 1769

Edgar Rice Burroughs Reports
on the Notorious 1928 Hickman Trial
13 Columns for the Los Angeles Examiner
Columns 7 - 13
Featured in ERBzine 1769

For Columns 1 - 6
See ERBzine 1768
Women Who Viewed Photographs
Never Will Be Able to Forget,
States Edgar Rice Burroughs
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
Blank paper staring me in the face, words to be written and nothing to write about that has not been written again and again, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, e pluribus unum, or what have you.

There was drama yesterday, but that will be written of by trained men and women whose business it is to portray such events so vividly that tears will come to your eyes as they came to the eyes of the sob-shaken jurywomen yesterday when the photographs of the pitiful little remnants that had once been a happy child were passed through the jury box.

There may be ten thousands cogent reasons why women should serve on juries, but the effect of those horrible photographs upon the women members of the Hickman jury nullify them all. Those women never will forget what they saw yesterday; upon some of them it may make such a lasting impression as to affect their entire future lives and thus the ramifications of Hickman's hideous, wanton crime multiply an extend, bringing pain and sorrow -- a cancerous growth that not even the knife can now eradicate.

The consensus of opinion among the more experienced onlookers indicates that there is s little likelihood that this cause may terminate where it should -- at the lower end of a hempen rope. This is the first case of its kind to be tried under the new law recently passed by the state legislature and there is a question as to the proper interpretation of that law. Even though the jury agrees an Hickman is found to have been sane when he committed this crime, it is thought probable that his attorneys may interpose a new plea of not guilty and demand a new trial.

Many years ago the state legislature of Idaho labored an d gave birth to many new laws. After they adjourned for two years, it was discovered that all of the laws were unconstitutional. This is not an unusual habit of state legislatures, so we need not be surprised if something is found amiss in this new California law which bears upon the case at issue. As a matter of fact, I should be pop-eyed with surprise if I should discover that  a state legislature had ever done anything right, except inadvertently.

The witnesses yesterday were more interesting than their testimony, some of which we were able to hear and some of which was evidently of such a secret nature that the witnesses confided it only to the court reporter; but I know what ailed them and they have my deep sympathy as I have suffered total paralysis of the vocal cords in a similar situation.

Welby L. Hunt was there, and if he is an example of the present-day gunman, we fictionalists shall have to stick to Jesse James and Rube Burroughs for our types -- we could not jiggle a thrill out of our readers with a description of a bad man who looked like Welby Hunt. He might be any one of a dozen nice boys who had called on our daughters; even the dimple in his chin would not completely damn him. From where I sat, behind a phalanx of opaque star reporters, it seemed to me that Welby's helices were rudimentary, and if you haven't a perfectly good helix, you may fall under the suspicions of the alienists.

Frank R. Peck testified that he is some sort of building material contractor, but he should be an automobile salesman, considering the ease with which he disposed of his machine to William that December evening in Hollywood -- he not only delivered it, but he gave a complete demonstration within twenty minutes after he met his prospect. He was called as a defense witness, presumably to bear out the defendant's contention of insanity, but is a man who will steal a machine insane? That is the question. I owned a car once that I am convinced that only an idiot would buy.

Hickman grows paler. His face is absolutely bloodless. This might be a sick room and HIckman the patient. If it were, they have called a might good man in consultation. Ol' Doc Keyes, the well-known chiropractor, is going to advise manipulating the vertebrae in the patient's neck, if he doesn't die of old age before the adjustment can be made.

Los Angeles Examiner ~ February, 4, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
Once upon a time there was young wolf. With his little brothers and sisters he suckled at his mother's breast and with them he romped and played i the sunshine. He was a happy, harmless little puppy. He lived in a country where there were many sheep and one day, as he was approaching maturity, he killed a little lamb and tore it to pieces.

And the sheep waxed wroth and in their excitement they ran around in circles and said unkind things about the young wolf and demanded that he be punished; but there came a young sheep from another fold, a young sheep who had no little lambs of his own, and he said to the angry sheep: "The young wolf did not know what he was doing when he killed your little lamb." And the sheep said: "How come?" And the young sheep said: "We have known the young wolf all his life, we have seen him romp and play in the sunshine with his little brothers and sisters, we know that he drinks nothing but milk from the breasts of his mother."

"And what of that?" demanded the sheep. "Can you not see," asked the young sheep, "that such a kindly little wolf could not have killed your little lamb and torn it to pieces unless such a great change had taken place in him that he did not know what he was doing?" And the sheep scratched their heads and turned to the kindly shepherd who stood there with his twelve faithful Collies and they said to him: "Shepherd, we are only sheep; you know more about wolves than we do and so we are content to leave this matter to you, in whom we have so much faith, confident that you will protect us from this wolf and from all other wolves."

The defense plan, in the HIckman case, of introducing such evidence as to make the crime appear so atrocious that the jury will be convinced that the Eddie Hickman of 1926 could not possibly have perpetrated it unless he had become absolutely insane, ignores the fact that the anti-social tendencies of the instinctive criminal mature as the individual matures. Rosa Bonheur did not wrest a paint  brush from the hand of the accoucheur and delineate a noble Norman stallion upon the counterpane of her mother's bed, and yet Rosa was a born artist.

Hickman did not leap from his cradle, seize a butcher knife and dismember an innocent little girl, and yet Hickman  was a born murderer. If nothing had thwarted his ambitions, if no obstacles had intervened to render the winning of an honorable goal difficult, Hickman would never have committed a murder, nor any other crime. To the instinctive criminal of his type, crime is merely a means to an end. It is not in itself the chief consideration, as it doubtless is in the diseased minds of the criminally insane.

Hickman's case is analogous in many respects to that of a very famous English criminal case of the early part of the Nineteenth Century, Thomas Wainewright, well known in his time as an essayist, a man with a brilliant future, started on a career of forgery and murder for the sole purpose of obtaining funds to satisfy his craving for a life of ease and luxury. This was his ambition. In another it might have been an ambition to go to college. What difference does that make?

He murdered relatives who had befriended him in order that he might obtain their property. ONe was a beautiful and very healthy girl whose life he had insured for some ninety thousand dollars. Her he poisoned. He was a man of super-refinements who hated all vulgarities and "sordid instincts." Yes, he was very much like Hickman and a commentator says of him: "Wainewright presents to us a perfect picture of the instinctive criminal in his most highly developed shape," but nowhere, in all that has been written of Wainewright, have I discovered any suggestion whatever that he did not know the difference between right and wrong.

The defense will show that Hickman is not normal. Of course he is not normal in the sense that you and I are normal., or think we are; but in another sense, he is normal -- he is a normal instinctive criminal and as such he is a very real and terrible menace to all of us and should be destroyed, as all his kind should be destroyed, and our laws should be so remodeled that they may be destroyed with dignity, for ourselves, and dispatch for them -- especially dispatch.

If our criminal laws are remodeled to harmonize with our blatant claims to rationality a considerable mass of presently admissible testimony which now wastes a great deal of our time and money will, happily, go into the discard. What in heck do we care if the accused has two gold teeth and sore tonsils, or cirrus meningitis, or dementia praecox or that he is a paranoid who is suffering with a megalomania? Mussolini may, conceivably, be suffering with a megalomania, but I doubt that he would consider it entirely social to cut up our baby sisters, nor, if he did, that we should agree with him.

We do not care what ails this bird, Hickman. We know that he murdered Marion Parker. We know that he knew it was a wrong thing to do. We know that he should be hanged and if he is not hanged our already tottering respect for our laws may do such a Brodie that the next murderer we catch -- well, I was going to say something that I should not say, that no self-respecting, law-abiding citizen should say, but sometimes it is difficult to make our thoughts behave. We might send the next one to the Senate from Pennsylvania or Illinois and if he is as sensitive as Hickman has been described to be, he would die of shame.


Los Angeles Examiner ~ February 6, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"

These alienists ought to get together if they want us to have a lot of confidence in them. One of them writes a book in which he tells about epilepsy, while his brother alienist, testifying for the same side, describes epilepsy as an archaic, discarded term born of ignorance.

These alienists are the comedy relief of an otherwise full drama and if they accomplish anything else in criminal trials it is to fix definitely in our minds, as a conviction, a suspicion of long standing, that the estimate of the value of a gored ox depends solely upon whose ox it is.

But notwithstanding this, we learn much from them, some of which, however, comes too late, much too late. We learn, for instance, that if we fail to observe ordinary care and discrimination in the selection of a germ plasm we may in later life become possessed of such delusions of grandeur that we shall wish to kill.

If someone had told Hickman about this nine months before he was born, he would not have had to strip to the waist before a courtroom filled with beautiful motion picture actresses and others of God's favored creatures who can manage to get into department 84 on some one else's pass and sit in the wrong seats, while a member of the lunacy commission drew pictures on his back and chest with an unsterilized key -- pictures that prove conclusively to every intelligent man and woman in that courtroom that HIckman slew Marion Parker form solely altruistic motives because, after three minutes and fifty-eight seconds, the pictures were still visible to the nude eye.

I learned something else from the alienists. I learned that the least said about the wanderlust I have experienced from my youth, the better for my standing in the community if you have a desire to do anything more exciting than emulate the estimable cow which stands all day, day after day, in the same pasture, contentedly chewing her cud, you may be a victim of dementia praecox. Not necessarily, of course; there are other symptoms, but you will fall under suspicion even though your big toe curls in the right direction when someone caresses the sole of your foot.

Furthermore, watch your boys if they develop any youthful ambitions, and keep the butcher knife locked up if one of them should chance to confide in you that he wants to be something besides a street cleaner when he grows up. It is a sure sign of delusions of grandeur and these are almost invariably fatal -- to someone else.

It seems that Hickman entertained delusions of grandeur, but he kept them a secret from the world and even from his intimates until after he had been arrested. If my memory serves me correctly, these delusions of grandeur occurred to him subsequent to interviews between himself, his attorneys and and alienist for the defense, but I may be wrong. I usually am.

And it seems that these delusions may become retroactive, so to speak. At least they seem to have become, so in Hickman's case, causing him to perform unsocial acts before he entertained these delusions of grandeur, for immediately after his return to Los Angeles, following his arrest, he stated definitely to an examiner that he had no delusions or hallucinations.

If I were not aware of the high standing and unimpeachable characters of many alienists, I should be inclined to ascribe motives to their sworn testimony that might make me the defendant in a libel suit, but I really do believe them sincere -- most of them; and so I am moved to ascribe, what otherwise might fall into the category  of idiocy or knavery, to the fact that psychiatry is as far from being an exact science as is alchemy or astrology and, as such, it has no place in jurisprudence under our existing criminal court procedure. Briefly, I believe that it can only tend to befuddle the minds of the jury and becloud the real issues.

'Alienists All Funny, but One or Two of Them
Would Have Been Enough';
Elder Hickman Given Blame
Los Angeles Examiner ~ February 6, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
With a key I drew an H on the breast of my 15-year-old son and one upon my own breast. After ten minutes or so we buttoned up our shirts and changed the subject. Concerning which the less said the better; but I know that from now on the rest of the family are going to look upon us with suspicion. Dermatographia as either a fine art or a pastime has ceased to interest us.

Alienists have ceased to interest me. Like the other good things of life one may get too much of them. If Sid Grauman had been staging this Hickman show we would not have had so many alienists in the cast. Of course they are all funny, ut one or two of them, as a foil for the heavy tragedy, would have  been sufficient. Now the talesman who had never been "arrested," and Oddie Buck, the "fittified nutty sort of a feller," were great comedy relief, but if they had been multiplied several times they would have ceased to amuse, as the alienists have ceased to amuse, and, too, these birds cost us money. At twenty-five to one hundred dollars a day they really should be a whole lot funnier than they are.

But there is one thing about them that I like. Their testimony is unimpeachable. I know that it must be because they are paid to give it. They are the only paid witnesses. The other witnesses, being nonunion witnesses, who work for noting, arouse suspicions in my mind. As a member in good standing of the Authors' Union, I view them with alarm.

Beside greatly increasing my rather meager vocabulary, attendance at the Hickman trial has done other things for me. Among which is an increase in my belief in the value of the Boy Scout movement. In my former articles I think I have mentioned a belief, amounting almost to a conviction, that criminals are born, like artists, book reviewers, psychiatrists and other weird deviations from Nature's original concept of what a normal human being should be.

Many boys are born with criminal instincts. If they can be guided through adolescence and up to years of mental maturity to a point where they can weigh the relative value of a life of crime against that of a life of probity, the intelligent ones will choose the latter, and it is the intelligent boys that  we must guide away from criminal lives, as they make the most dangerous criminals. Such boys, born instinctive criminals, remain instinctive criminals to the end; but they will commit no crimes as long as it is not to their best interests to do so. The Boy Scout training develops the high ideals of normal boys and gives to the abnormal an idealistic goal that may become a fixed habit of thought to the exclusion of any anti-social goal that improper home training or environment might suggest.

It is a sad commentary upon us fathers that an international movement, supported and sponsored  by a comparatively few, should be necessary to insure the boys of the so-called civilized world the training, the example, and the environment that they should find at home.

Whatever insanity there may be in Hickman evidently came from h is mother's side, but the real responsibility for this monster rests equally upon the shoulders of the man who failed miserably as a husband and worse than miserably as a father . There are lots worse things in the world than dementia praecox. Moral imbecility is worse, and the father who will not admit the obligations of fatherhood and make sacrifices to the end that his boys and girls be better human beings than he, is a moral imbecile. Through comradeship, through example, he can guide them from the pitfalls that his maturer experience teaches him lie in their pathways.

The wonderful boys of the Boy Scouts are going to keep many of their fellows from the path that William Edward Hickman knowingly chose, but this responsibility is not, primarily, theirs -- it is mine and yours, if you, too, are a father.

'Hickman Called Fox and Other Names,
but No Animal Kills as Wantonly as in His Case'
Los Angeles Examiner ~ February 8, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
Now I have got to take it all back, or at least a part of what I have been writing about alienists. Some of them are sane. It will be perfectly safe to permit Doctor Orbison to remain at large. Any alienist who can hold the interested attention of the hard-boiled audience in Department 24, following interminable hours of pompous asininities, is not only sane, but a good bet for the Orpheum Circuit. And while I am on the subject of entertainment, I should like to make a suggestion to the presiding judge of the Superior Court, or whoever it may be that stages the criminal productions for the edification of the superior intellects of twentieth century civilization.

We should have a master of ceremonies. It would add greatly to the joyousness of the occasion if Fred Niblo were there to introduce the celebrities as they enter the courtroom. Judge Trabucco's court teems with celebrities, but I am sure that if they were properly introduced we all would enjoy the sessions more -- especially the celebrities.

Recently I sat all day behind a Prince and never knew it until it was too late to work up a superiority complex over it. Princes should be required to have a sword and a haircut so that we might recognize them -- this one had neither.

I understand that there are thousands of good citizens bewailing the fact that they cannot crash the gate and get ringside seats for the best advertised show now playing to capacity houses. I would disillusion them. It is a bum show. The lead is a ham and the comedians are a flop. The heavy is all right. He goes around shouting: "No talking in this courtroom," and wakes us up every time we lapse into beatific unconsciousness of expert testimony.

You people who do not get in are getting the only entertainment this trial is affording. A hundred trained writers are being paid fabulous salaries (I use the word fabulous advisedly), to transmit the details of the case to you in an entertaining manner. It makes no difference to us whether there are any entertaining details or not -- we give them to you just the same -- and if you must see the audience here in the courtroom, buy the current issue of any motion picture magazine and pick your own audience. If you want to get into the next murder trial, get into the movies first -- it's easier.

I am supposed to write about Hickman occasionally, this being his trial, but Hickman bores me to extinction. If he would throw something -- a book or a fit -- he would relieve the monotony and raise himself somewhat toward the plane of Edwin Booth and Ben Turpin as an entertainer. 

He is described as a fox and a cold blooded beast, as a rat, a snake and a wolf, but did it ever occur to you that the thing he did, the thing for which he now stands in jeopardy of his life, is purely and almost exclusively a human act? With one exception man alone, of all animals, kills wantonly and that exception is man's best friend., which has been trained and bred by man, the dog; and I hate to say this about the dog, for I love dogs.

The accumulated testimony of the alienists fortifies my previously expressed suspicion that no good can come out of a boy oratory for the boy orator. Hickman's predilection for oratory has resulted in a gobbiness that may very well hang him. Like all orators he likes to hear himself go and like the fabled parrot he has "talked too damn much." He has convicted himself of every crime in the calendar and proven beyond peradventure of a doubt that he is not only quite intellectually normal, but even, in some respects, brilliant.

Picture of Slain Girl's Father 
'Will Be Always With Me,' Says Writer, 
Even Contreras Affected
Los Angeles Examiner ~ February 9, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
It is a fact that there is an element of humor in every situation, and there is so much seriousness and so much sadness in the lives of all of us that I always like to try to find the humor. That is why I prefer Charlie Chaplin to Lon Chaney. But if there was anything  humorous in the court proceedings  yesterday during the hearing of the case of People v. William Edward Hickman, it has been blotted from my mind by the memory of Perry M. Parker upon the witness stand. That is a picture that will remain with me as long as I live.

It was not the result particularly, of what Mr. Parker did, or what he said, or how he said it. He was marvelously self controlled, though evidently under a terrific nervous strain. It was the result of what I knew was in his heart and the things that I knew to be in his memory.

I am wondering what Mr. Walsh was thinking. He is, obviously, an intelligent boy -- a nice boy -- and I cannot but believe that during the tense moments that Parker sat in the witness chair this nice boy must have felt some misgivings as to the humanity of his act in volunteering to defend the monstrous THING that is called William Edward Hickman.

Probably no man in Los Angeles has seen more gruesome and heartrending sights than George Contreras, chief of detectives for the district attorney's office, yet even he was visibly affected by the memory of what he saw when he answered Mr. Parker's summons to Manhattan street that December night. Dr. Wagner, autopsy surgeon, was affected -- everyone was visibly affected except the THING.

I have heard various estimates of the cost of this trial to the taxpayers of Los Angeles County. Once estimate was $50,,,. It may be more, it may be less. If justice is done, we shall not reckon the cost, but there are grave reasons to believe that, even though the prosecution is in the hands of one of the greatest prosecuting attorneys in the United States and is being tried before a judge who, I understand, has a record of some thirty years on the bench without a reversal, and the issues are perfectly clear, yet the defendant may escape on some technicality in the interpretation  of a new law.  Such an outcome would be monstrous.

The Hickman case is drawing to a close. When you read this it will be only a few hours from going into the hands of the jury. In some respects it has been unique. I do not recall another case in which both prosecution and defense were exerting equal efforts to prove that the defendant had committed an unthinkably atrocious crime and each equally anxious to impress this fact upon the jury.

As there is humor in every situation so also is there good. It is difficult to find either here, but let us hope that good of some nature comes of this, if only that it may serve in some slight measure to compensate for the harrowing grief that these, our neighbors, have suffered.

'Best We Can Do Is Discourage 
Other Hickmans From Plying Trade'
Los Angeles Examiner ~ February 10, 1928
By Edgar Rice Burroughs
Noted Writer, Creator of "Tarzan" and Author of "The War Chief"
Mr. Walsh does not want Hickman hanged for fear that it will be construed as an indictment of all American youths. Reasoning from the same promises I cannot bring myself to believe that it would be highly complimentary to American youth to send Hickman to an insane asylum.

But I do not reason from any such premises. Hickman a the end of a rope, or Hickman in a madhouse, cannot and will not symbolize American youth of this day, or of any other day, unless for so long a period of time we permit his kind to go unhung that their blood has so permeated our social fabric as to render the vast majority of human beings. criminal by heredity.

Hickman is no more representative  of the overwhelming majority of the youth of this or any other country than is a five-legged calf representative of the genus box, and I have no patience with Mr. Walsh, or anyone else, who by such implications, or any other implications of any sort whatsoever, attempts to suggest that the American youth of today is decadent, morally or physically, or upon the verge of such decadence, or even tending toward it in any slightest degree.

I have had experience of several generations of children through  my own observation and through the observation of my parents and my grandparents, as well as that of historians, and I rise up on my hind legs to observe that in all that time there has never been evidence of a finer, cleaner, more intelligent lot of rational, reasoning, right-living young people than represented by the boys and girls of America at the present time.

It is a rank and unforgivable insult to the youth of America to suggest that Hickman is a type of any recognized form or tendency in American youth. He is the representative of a type, however, as I have been attempting to show for the last fifteen days, and as my esteemed colleague, Mr. Keyes, so ably explained -- he is a representative of the criminal type -- the type upon which we must continue to sprinkle insect powder  in whatever crevice or corner of the structure of modern society we may find them.

The show is almost over -- by the time you read this, written during the noon recess, let us hope that you will also have read the verdict of the jury.

Whatever that verdict may be, our battle must go on. There are more Hickmans in the world. There always have been Hickmans in the world. There always have been Hickmans -- there always will be Hickmans. The best that we can do is to discourage the uncaught Hickmans from plying their chosen profession and to destroy those whom we do catch.

This trial has been illuminating and instructive in many respects, not the least of which, to me, has been the discovery that laymen, law enforcement officers, physicians and jurists, agree fully with my criticisms of modern methods of handling major criminal cases, like the Hickman case. It has proven a post-graduate course in the study of human nature and human emotions and I have emerged rom all its sordidness and gruesomeness with a finer faith in human nature than I held at the beginning of the trial.

And I have had a new picture  judicial dignity and the word dignity has taken on a new meaning for me. There is no pompousness in dignity, there is no theatric posing -- dignity is human and natural and kindly. A great jurist can rise from his chair and pour a glass of water for a witness and carry it to him without any loss of dignity. He can smile with the rest of us without loss of dignity. He can do these things because his dignity lies within him, in his own consciousness and in his own fiber -- he, himself, is the dignity of the law.

I am out of a job now, but I am thinking of applying for the position of publicist with the American Society of Psychiatrists.

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 

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