MARIAN PARKER

(trad./Andrew Jenkins)

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The story behind this ballad began on December 14, 1927, when nineteen-year-old William Edward Hickman went to a public school in Los Angeles and told the teacher that eleven-year-old Marian Parker's father had been injured in an automobile accident and wanted his daughter to come home. Marian left with Hickman and three days later, on December 17, her father received notes demanding a huge ransom fee. Wishing to get his daughter back alive, Mr. Parker took the fifteen $100 bills demanded and handed them over to Hickman. After receiving the ransom Hickman drove away. As he went, he tossed a part of Marian's body at the distraught father's feet. Immediately a manhunt began for Hickman, but it was several days before he was found. When he was caught, Hickman was tried and found guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. He was convicted on February 9, 1928, and executed at San Quentin on October 19 of that year.

Perhaps because of the victim's age the Parker case achieved nationwide interest. People eagerly read about the search for the kidnapper and his subsequent trial, conviction, and execution. This situation was not lost on the Oswego, Kansas, songwriter Carson J. Robison (1890-1957), who composed a ballad on the topic that was recorded in 1928 by Marion Try Slaughter (1883-1948), a singer whose best known of 250 pseudonyms was Vernon Dalhart. Eventually three other ballads, two of them titled "Marian Parker" and the third titled "Edward Hickman," about the case appeared. Two of these, the Hickman song and one of the Parker ones, are the work of Andrew Jenkins (1885-1956), a prolific country songwriter-composer of the 1920s. His efforts apparently were written later than Robison's for they both mention the death sentence whereas Robison's text fails to comment about what happened to the killer.

Ballads about Marian Parker have rarely been reported by folksong collectors, but that should not be taken as evidence of their lack of popularity with traditional singers. Traditionally, folksong specialists have avoided those pieces of relatively current vintage, especially if they could be traced back to a specific recording or songwriter. Previously the Robison version of "Little Marian Parker" has been reported from traditional sources only in Utah, Iowa, Oregon, New York, and North Carolina. The present text is proof that the song also is known and sung in the Ozarks. This version was recorded by W. K. McNeil from the singing of Rebecca Simmons of Shirley, Arkansas, in 1979.

W. K. McNeil, Southern Folk Ballads, Volume II, Little Rock, AK, 1988, p. 69.

VARIANT #1 (trad., as collected and transcribed by W. K. McNEIL from REBECCA SIMMONS, Shirley, AK, June 2-5, 1979, reprinted ibid. pp. 68-69)
Away out in California
Lived a family bright and gay.
There were planning for their Christmas
Not very far away.

When along came a murderous stealer
With a heart as hard as stone,
Took little Marian Parker
Away from friends and home.

He took her to the movies,
He gave her candy too.
He told her every promise
That he would be kind and true.

I only want the money
That your daddy can give.
And if he'll give the money
His little child can live.

But late in the evening
She found that he had lied,
For before the evening sunset
The little child had died.

O there is a great commandment
Thou shalt not kill,
And those who do not heed it
Must suffer unto God's will.

This song should be a warning
To parents far and near.
You can't guide too closely
The ones you love so dear.

VARIANT #2 (Digital Tradition DT #731, identified as from Olive Wolley Burt, American Murder Ballads and Their Stories, New York, NY, 1958, p. 65, probably from Andrew Jenkins.

'Way out in California,
A family bright and gay
Were preparing for their Christmas
Not very far away.

They had a little daughter,
A sweet and pretty child.
And everyone who knew her
Loved Marian Parker's smile.

She left her home one morning
For her school not far away.
And no one dreamed that danger
Was lurking near that day

But then a murdrous villain,
A fiend with heart of stone,
Took little Marian Parker
Away from friends and home.

The world was horror-stricken,
The people held their breath,
Until they found poor Marian,
Her body cold in death.

They hunted for the coward,
Young Hickman was their man.
They brought him back to justice,
His final trial to stand.
The jury found him guilty,
Of course they could not fail.
He must be executed
Soon in San Quentin jail.

And while he waits his sentence,
Let's hope he learns to pray
To make his black soul ready
For the great judgement day.

There is a great commandment
That says, "Thou shalt not kill"
And those who do not head it,
Their cup of sorrow fill

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