Crime: A Nazi at Lowell, Spy Club, 1766 Rebellion,

And murder

Crime like a little old lady pickpocket, is not a menace to Harvard.

In fact, during the more than 322 years of the College's existence there has not been one murder of an undergraduate by another. The Faculty's record, of course, is not quite as sterling, it being blemished in 1849 by the infamous Webster-Parkman case.

The undergraduates' perfect mark was threatened eight years ago when the University narrowly missed having a murderer on its hands. A theological student had been in contact with University Health Services psychiatrists, who had him labeled as a paranoid. He responded admirably to the Harvard doctors, but soon left his theological studies and journeyed down to Yale. His relationship with the New Haven medics seemed to lack something, for a little over six months after leaving Cambridge he shot and killed a psychiatrist and his wife.

Suicide: Most Frequent Crime

Mental patients notwithstanding, it is agreed--from University Police Captain Matthew J. Toohy to House janitors--that "Harvard is a very peaceful place, the students are all very loyal to each other." The average student's worst enemy seems to be himself. Suicide is the most frequent major crime.

The College, even in 1717, President Leverett's diary shows, was having plenty of trouble with "profane swearing," "riotous Actions," and "bringing Cards into the College." An undergraduate wrote that students were frequently slipping off into Boston for "horseraces, pirate hangings, and other diversions."

In order to restrain these "rakes and blades" the first college clubs were founded. Formed in 1728, the Philomusarian Club declared in its preamble that "whereas Conversation, which is the Basis of Friendship The fundamental Principle of Society ... Is now at A Very Low Ebb ... Vice and Folly Are In Their Zenith.... And whereas Vice is Now become Alamode and Rant Riot and Excess is Accounted The Height of Good Breeding and Learning--In Order Therefore to Stem That Monstrous Tide of Impiety and Ignorance," the Philomusarian Club is formed. Seven of the ten organizers became ministers.

"The Tell Tale"

What might have been the first "expose" sheet and was definitely the first college periodical, "The Telltale," predated the Philomusarian by seven years. The eleventh issue declares that the writer has "found out several Clubs in College," including "The Mock Club" founded in 1769 composed of "Persons Rawbon'd humpback'd and Monophthalmic." The publication was short-lived, however, and the editors organized themselves into the Spy Club, whose members discussed such questions as "Whether there be any Standard of Truth," and "Whether it be Fornication to lye with ones Sweetheart before marriage."

Most of the misdemeanors of the early 1700's were punishable by fines, or mulcts, such as: Tardiness to prayers or lecture ....

2 pence

Entering meetinghouse before the bell (and so probably starting a rough-house) .... 2 shillings

Fighting, lying, drunkenness, frequenting forbidden houses in Cambridge, going on roof of Old Harvard, or cutting lead from same .... 5 shillings

Profane cursing or swearing, playing cards or dice, walking or other diversion of the Sabbath .... 10 shillings

Blasphemy, fornication, robbery, forgery, or any other very atrocious crime .... expulsion

Pres. Announced Expulsion

Expulsion was not merely a matter of telling a student to get out: "The Entire college was assembled in hall, the President announced the crime and the Corporation's sentence," and the expelled member's name was formally cut out of a list of the students. Often, however, if the culprit made a public confession, and convinced the Faculty that he had repented, he was reinstated. There are a few instances in which students expelled for fornication or other "atrocious" crimes, were readmitted a year later. One even became a minister.


The first recorded College rebellion, The Rebellion of 1766, was over bad butter at Commons. The students' leader was Asa Dunbar '67, grandfather of Henry Thoreau. On complaining to Tutor Belcher Hancock, Dunbar's demands were not met and he was condemned by the Faculty to be degraded in seniority and to confess his sin. The students then walked out of the hall at the next breakfast before "giving thanks," raised three cheers in the Yard and breakfasted in town. The whole incident is summed up in "The Book of Harvard," written by an undergraduate:

Chapter 1st:

1. And it came to pass in the ninth Month on the 23d Day of the Month the Sons of Harvard murmured and said,

2. Behold! bad and unwholesome Butter is served out to us daily, now therefore let us depute Asa, the Scribe, to go unto our rulers to seek Redress.

3. Then rose Asa, the Scribe, and went unto Belcher (Hancock) the Ruler & said, behold our Butter stinketh and we cannot eat thereof; now give us, we pray thee Butter that stinketh not."

The request was turned down by Hancock and upon Asa's reporting the bad news to his fellow students, 5.... the Sons of Harvard clapped their hands & hissed and cried aha! aha!"

All Confess

In the end, of course, everyone involved in the incident confessed and,

"So after this there were no Murmurings in Harvard, but all was Peace and Quietness as it is to this Day,   Cambridge Nov. 19, 1776"

Shortest-lived among the clubs in Harvard history was a "Society to Discourage the Perpetration of Crimes," formed in 1793. One of the few records pertaining to the virtuous club was a resolution passed by the Corporation on December 18, 1793:

"It appearing that a large number of the students had voluntarily associated to discourage the perpetation of crimes,

Voted that this Corporation highly approves of so virtuous and laudable a measure: and that ... such conduct merits & will obtain the approbation and applause of every well wisher to the reputation of the University..."

The nineteenth century produced the most specutacular crime in Harvard history. On a Friday afternoon in November of 1849 Dr. Georgius Parkman, a widely known philanthropist, humanitarian and instructor at Harvard Medical School, was murdered and his body mutilated so horribly that it had to be identified by his dentist.

The Fatal Appointment

A pioneer in the medical treatment of the insane, Parkman had inherited a large amount of money, some of which he lent to a colleague, Dr. John White Webster. A professor at the Medical School for a quarter-century, Webster had luxurious tastes beyond his means. Parkman became furious with his debtor when he discovered that both another creditor and himself had been given the same bill of sale as security. He pursued Webster relentlessly and finally made an appointment to see the latter at his laboratory to collect the debt.

Parkman never returned. For three days Webster remained behind bolted doors in his laboratory, with his furnace and two stoves going full blast, and the water running contin- uously. He left word that he was "performing experiments." By the following Wednesday the janitor had become suspicious, and attacked the brick vault in the basement with a chisel. By Friday, one week after Parkman's disappearance, the janitor had opened a hole large enough to introduce light. A human thigh and pelvis were revealed. Other parts of Parkman's dissected body were found in a blood-bath around the room. Webster was arrested.

Claims Frameup

He claimed a frameup, but the key issue at the trial was whether or not the murder had been premeditated. Webster later conceded that he had struck Parkman with a stick of wood as a result of the later's abusiveness, but he stoutly maintained that he had not intended to kill him. The jury was out for only three hours. All Boston thrilled to see a Harvard professor kicking on the gallows of the Leverett Street jail.

Things are a little bit more quiet these days. Last year, "about four or five students" were attacked by "unknowns." The police are sure, however, that the attackers were not students. "Over the years it about averages itself out to that number," Captain Toohy noted.

Nazi in Lowell

Most of the police's trouble comes from ultra-realistic club initiations and practical jokes. During the War, one club had a students dress up at Lowell House as the enemy. A night watchman recalled the incident. "He was up in the bell tower in a Nazi uniform, giving the salute and shouting around." One of the night watchmen still believes that he was a German spy and is still in prison.

The most numerous of major crimes at Harvard are suicides. In fact, Dr. William D. Temby, University Health Services psychiatrist who is studying the problem of suicide, stated that Harvard students are killing themselves off at a rate of about 3 every two years. Since 1936, when health records began to be kept diligently, there have been 34 suicides among Harvard students.

Psychiatrist Gaylord P. Coon stated that the University psychiatrists had been in touch with very few of the students who had commited suicide over the years. "Students liable to commit suicide don't usually ask for help from the psychiatrist, but bear the burden themselves," he said. Psychiatrists and psychologists agree that "there is no clear-cut mental illness that leads to suicide."

Suicides Each Year

There has been at least one suicide among Harvard students every year for the past forty years, with the exception of the War. The Summer School even got into the show a few months ago, as a student jumped off the roof of the Miles Standish Hotel the first week in September. Another student who was said to have been contemplating suicide since his senior year at Exeter, did away with himself at a hotel in Maine, an extreme case of the syndrome.

Harakiri Cult

Temby's statistics reveal a startling fact: Harvard students kill themselves one and one half times as fast as Yalies. Although he admits that New Haven record-keeping may be to blame, figures show that the Sons of Eli decrease at a rate of about one per year. One psychiatrist reported that the highest suicide rate is not in the Ivy League at all, but at Tokyo University, were the harakiri cult is lived to the hilt.

Although Leverett House was once branded as a dope den by a Boston tabloid, and Confidential detailed the perversions of Claverly, Harvard is far from a hideout. Crime did have its big moments, though..