Saturday, October 16, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Unsolved Murder of Clarence Parker


    He was a lifelong Cape Codder. He was a war hero. He was a hard working and well respected member of the community. So why was he brutally gunned down on his front lawn? More importantly, why has this case remained unsolved for nearly a century? This is the story, as it is known, of the unsolved murder of Falmouth’s Clarence Parker.

    Clarence A. Parker was born in Falmouth on January 15, 1893 to Willoughby and Lillian Parker. He was educated through the Falmouth school district before taking up work at H.V. Lawrence’s greenhouses in town. Parker from a young age was a handsome, jovial, and popular man. The type of person that the community was proud to call one of their own.

    When World War I broke out Parker was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts. Before leaving to go to war Parker married Janet Howitt. Their ceremony was pushed up to September 19, 1917. The couple would go on to have a daughter Alis and a son Gordon, while living at 62 Walker Street close to Clarence’s parents.

    Parker returned to Cape Cod in July 1919 after serving as Private at Camp Baranquine in France. He spent much of the 1920’s building on his positive reputation, holding town offices such as deputy clerk. The biggest break for Parker came in March 1927 when the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) opened its second Cape Cod store. The first had been in Hyannis but the second was on Main Street in Falmouth and the grocery store chain wanted Parker as their manager.

How A&P Looked in the late 1920's.

    A loving husband and father, a main member of the American Legion Auxiliary and a popular respected manager of the local A&P, Clarence Parker didn’t have any shortage of friends. That was why what happened in the early morning hours of September 7, 1930 so shocking.

    Shortly after midnight on Sunday morning September 7, 1930 Parker closed up the A&P. He had brought a leg of lamb wrapped in brown paper home with him. After pulling his car into the garage Parker walked across his lawn. It was at about 12:20am that a single shot rang out. Janet heard the shot from inside and opened the front door to find Clarence face down only a few feet from the door. He was dead.

The scene of the crime. Parker's former house on Walker Street on the left. (Google Maps)

    The unknown assailant took the leg of lamb and ran off through the backyard leaving their revolver behind. The theory was that it was robbery. The assailant thought that Parker had brought the store’s money home to be deposited when in fact he had done that the day before. This was cemented when the leg of lamb was found in a nearby field opened, likely dumped when it was proven to not be money.

    Ann Richardson, owner of the Elm Arch Inn, could only describe a ‘hatless’ man running across her property after the shooting. The assailant was believed to have escaped in a car parked on Shore Street.

Shore Street where the getaway car might have been located. (Sturgis Library)

    A beloved member of the Falmouth community had been coldly killed steps from his front door. The rage from the townspeople was palpable. In total $4,000($65,700 in 2021) worth of rewards were offered including $2,500 from A&P. It was seen as an example of how highly regarded Parker was. Another example was the overflowing services at Parker’s funeral. It was hoped, and expected, that the Falmouth Police would solve the heinous crime quickly. What came was a series of leads that would be debunked.

    The first was only a few weeks later. An abandoned Chrysler car was found near Silver Lake in Kingston. It had suspicious markings on a story about the murder from the New Bedford Standard Times. However it was confirmed by State Police that the car had been stolen from Stedman Buttrick of Concord, Massachusetts after the murder would have taken place. In addition the car was out of gas and the battery was dead when found.

    Next came a salacious editorial piece from the Brockton Enterprise. It said that Parker’s murder was connected to illegal rum running. Going further by surmising that Parker had knowledge of rum gangs activities but after refusing to join them was murdered to keep him quiet. Falmouth Police Chief Herbert Lawrence dismissed the rumors.

    By the end of 1930 there had been no arrests. The reorganization and enlargement of the Falmouth Police Department was demanded and expected due to the perceived failure. Chief Lawrence resigned at the end of 1930 citing poor health.

    The investigation remained ongoing throughout 1931. Lt. Joseph Ferrari of the homicide bureau of the State Police said they were still investigating but it was baffling the lack of clues as to the killer’s identity.

    In August 1932 convicted Mashpee murderer Sylvester Fernandes, before his death in the electric chair, purportedly gave the name of Parker’s killer to District Attorney William Crossley, he then tried to substantiate it but it was fruitless. For two years there had been little in the way of progress or even clues in the murder of Clarence Parker.

    The closest lead, and likeliest scenario, came to light in November 1932. Boston District Attorney William Foley got new lead from arrested Boston gangster Morris Cohen of Dorchester. Cohen said that a young man named Murton Millen was a running with a well known liquor racketeer. It was while they were attending a liquor meeting in Falmouth that Millen purportedly went to rob Parker.

    He lurked in the shrubs of Parker’s home on Walker Street and waited. Cohen said that Millen then shot him a few feet from his door with cold-blooded precision. Parker died almost instantly. However the robbery was a failure due to it being lamb and not money in the brown paper. It seemed to tie in with previous theories of a failed robbery and an out-of-town killer made sense as Parker was exceedingly popular. This theory had doubt cast on it by Lt. Joseph Ferrari as he saw Millen as too young to run with liquor gangs. With cold water thrown on the latest lead the case went cold for several years.

Clarence Parker's grave in Falmouth.

    New leads came to light in September 1936 almost 400 miles north in Montreal, Canada. Several members of local law enforcement went north to interrogate someone who was in Falmouth at the time of the murder. This led to seven more people being interviewed in Hyannis as a part of these new developments. Sadly despite all of the bluster nothing came from the interrogations. The case went cold and Clarence Parker became just a name on a headstone in Oak Grove Cemetery.

    It has been 91 years since Clarence Parker was coldly gunned down on his own front lawn. It has also been 85 years since any meaningful leads were investigated. The case has gone cold and will likely remain unsolved. Whether it was a young rum runner and a botched robbery, or something not yet explored, the bottom line is that a young husband and father, and popular member of the community, was killed and the murderer has never been identified.


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