It was just before Christmas in 1927, and 12-year-old junior-high-school student Marion Parker found herself pulled out of class to visit her wounded father in hospital. Only Perry Parker was actually perfectly well. That was until his schoolgirl daughter went missing. The story that he was lying injured in hospital had in fact been invented by a stranger as a ruse to whisk young Marion away. Soon, a cryptic ransom note arrived for her father in what would be a truly horrific ordeal for the Parker family.
Marion was one of twin girls born on October 11, 1915, in Los Angeles, CA, to Perry and Geraldine Parker. Perry was a high-profile banker downtown, and Marion and her sister, Marjorie, enjoyed a comfortable life. As they grew older, the girls were enrolled at Mount Vernon Junior High, close to their desirable family home in the city’s well-heeled Arlington Heights district. But when the twins reached the age of 12, a chill wind was to disturb their cozy existence…
Indeed, on Thursday, December 15, 1927, all of the Parker family’s certainties and securities were to come crashing down around them. That day, a man calling himself Mr. Cooper arrived at Marion and Marjorie’s school. He was greeted by the registrar, a woman named Mary Holt. Apparently, “Mr. Cooper” told the functionary that he worked for the girls’ father and that there had been an accident. He claimed that Perry had been gravely injured in a car smash, and wished to be visited in hospital by his younger daughter.
Notwithstanding the fact that times and attitudes to child safety have changed, this exchange threw up all kinds of issues in hindsight. First and not least was the reference to the “younger” sibling. Surely Holt should have been put on high alert, considering the Parker girls were twins. Furthermore, seemingly the registrar did not make any enquiries about the nature of Parker’s accident, nor did she telephone his bank for confirmation. Instead, she simply summoned Marion, and made the tragic error of allowing the girl to leave with the stranger.
What followed was the beginning of a nightmare for the Parkers, if indeed any of them managed to get any sleep that night after Marion vanished. The next day, however, a ransom note was delivered to the Parker address. In it, an unknown kidnapper threatened Marion’s life and demanded cash – or, according to some sources, certificates for gold – amounting to $1,500. This sum represents a total of more than $20,000 in today’s money. Apparently, the demand was the first of a series of similar messages, each signed off with cryptic names such as “The Fox,” “Death” and “Fate.”
Moreover, these communications made clear the instruction that Perry was to present himself alone to hand over the ransom in exchange for his daughter. So the following evening, the banker arrived at the designated location on Gramercy Place close to the family home. However, apparently the kidnapper spotted some police officers on the street and panicked. He fled the scene, taking poor Marion with him.
The spooked kidnapper tried again the next day, Saturday, December 17, arranging another meet with Perry, this time in Central L.A. The anxious father duly arrived at a street corner near Wilshire Boulevard where he was soon approached by a vehicle. The driver pulled up to Perry and, pointing a shotgun out of the car window, insisted that the distraught dad hand over the money. To his great relief, Perry could see his daughter, seemingly wide-eyed with terror in the ill-lit interior of the car. He assumed the worst was over. He was so, so wrong…
Believing Marion would soon be freed, Perry passed the bag containing the ransom through the open window. But once the money was safely inside, the kidnapper sped away, only to dramatically come to a stop a short distance down the block. With the engine idling, what appeared to be a curious-looking package was thrown from the door of the vehicle and landed in the gutter. The villain put his foot down and made his escape, and Perry went to investigate the jettisoned parcel. His gruesome discovery must have been the most traumatic moment of the father’s life.
For the kidnapper had made good on his promise to return Marion for his reward. But horrifically there was not much left of the unfortunate child. What Perry had assumed to be a bundle was in fact the eviscerated carcass of his little girl. Sickeningly, her limbs were missing from her hollowed-out torso with only the head attached. In a truly twisted detail, the mutilated Marion had had her eyelids stitched open to give the appearance of being alive and alert for the handover.
Needless to say, the city of L.A. reeled in shock in the face of such a barbarous atrocity. As understandably frightened parents kept their children away from school and off the streets, police began a manhunt for the maniac. At one point, the vast operation involved some 20,000 officers and volunteers. As public hysteria grew, the search investigation became the largest L.A. had ever seen.
In addition, a nationwide dead-or-alive reward of $50,000 – later raised to $100,000 – was offered for the child killer’s capture. And soon the identity of the man who dubbed himself The Fox became the favorite topic of speculation for L.A. citizens. Meanwhile, suspicion began to fall on a certain William Edward Hickman. This 19-year-old had once been employed by Perry’s bank. Apparently, Marion’s dad had been instrumental in getting Hickman arrested and imprisoned after he had been caught with fraudulent checks.
But could the kidnap and callous murder of Marion really be revenge on Hickman’s part over her father’s actions? Soon enough, investigators found the connection that they were looking for to put The Fox firmly in the frame. Inside the murdered girl’s disemboweled body, police found a bloodied towel with the address of a boarding house near Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. Detectives went there and spoke to one Donald Evans. The man even let them into his rooms so that they could conduct a search. It was only afterwards that the police officers realized that Evans matched the descriptions of Mr. Cooper and William Hickman. But by then it was too late…
Indeed, The Fox had made good his escape, but the game was up for the former bank employee and jailbird. Police had Hickman’s fingerprints on file due to his prior conviction, and they were able to make a match with those found on the recovered ransom as well as the car used to pick it up. Soon the unveiled face and true identity of The Fox appeared on wanted posters across the country. But the fugitive continued to evade capture…
One week on from Marion Parker’s disappearance, cops laid eyes on their quarry. Police officers Buck Lieuallen and Tom Gurdane spotted The Fox in Echo, Oregon, more than 1,000 miles from where he had committed his horrific crimes. After a dramatic car chase, Hickman was apprehended and quickly admitted to having abducted the girl. However, the perpetrator was equally quick to deny child homicide, placing the blame instead on an individual called Andrew Kramer.
And that was when things started to get really strange for the Oregon cops. One moment, Hickman tried to paint himself as an innocent, claiming that he and Marion had got along well, in contrast with Kramer. But then The Fox began confessing to all manner of violent crimes, including a hold up which had ended in murder. Eventually, investigating officers tracked down the mysterious Kramer but there was one big problem – they had found him in jail. Moreover, the conman had been languishing there since August of that year. That meant that Hickman would face the music alone for orchestrating Marion’s kidnapping and then performing her grisly homicide. Prominent officers of the law were dispatched from the City of Angels to transport The Fox back to California, but then came another twist.
En route to L.A., Hickman confessed to his captors that he was guilty of Marion’s murder and subsequent mutilation. And to the appalled lawmen present, it seemed as if The Fox was proud of his crimes, relishing in the revolting details. At the time, the infamous teenaged killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb from Chicago were dominating the press following their “perfect crime” – the homicide of a 14-year-old boy. Was Hickman an unhinged egomaniac, hoping to gain similar coverage in column inches and news-reel footage?
And, apparently, Hickman’s professed motives presented more confusion. At one point, The Fox claimed that he needed the ransom money in order to attend Bible college. But when questioned again, rather than any holy scripture Hickman referenced the atheist German philosopher Friedrich “God is dead” Nietzsche. Reportedly, the suspect claimed, “I am like the state; what is good for me is right.”
At Hickman’s trial in February 1928, the coroner revealed the gruesome details about Marion’s death. Apparently, the poor girl had been killed approximately 12 hours before her body was dumped on the street. After cutting off her limbs, the murderer had disemboweled the dead child’s body and filled it with newspapers and rags. Furthermore, Marion’s legs and arms had been discovered abandoned in the city’s Elysian Park the day after her death.
During the trial, the exact reasons for Hickman’s atrocities remained unclear. Although The Fox had initially confessed to killing Marion after she discovered his identity, he also told his attorneys that a supernatural entity – known as Providence – had ordered him to do it. Eventually, Hickman became one of the first Californians to attempt a mercy plea under the state’s newly established defense of madness. The jury evidently thought he was crazy like a fox and did not buy the “not guilty by reason of insanity” bid. The judge handed down the death penalty to the guilty man.
On October 19, 1928, Hickman was hung in California’s San Quentin Prison. However, The Fox’s dream of notoriety appeared to have lived on – albeit in a highly unusual way. In Journals of Ayn Rand, the controversial American author discussed her idea for an unpublished novel inspired by Marion’s killer. Apparently drawn to Hickman’s alleged Nietzschean beliefs, Rand described him, as “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy.” Rand may have her fans, but that is no description for a monster who murdered and maimed a 12-year-old girl.