ERB Firsts Title
Mystery Inscription
The Inscription -Mystery Unraveled
- by Patrick Ewing

My one and only book signed by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a first edition of "The Warlord of Mars".  At the time of the purchase the circumstances of the inscription was a mystery (see photo to right). As the photo shows, Mr. Burroughs inscription was crossed out in pencil and gift inscription was written above that was also in pencil. Evidently Mr. Burroughs signature didn't mean too much in 1944. Besides the inscription, the book also has an indented book store stamp which reads "Holmes Book Co., 333 SE Main St, Los Angeles".
Curious as to what secrets the internet might unveil I searched on various spellings of the recipient because as the photo shows, the name is quite hard to read. After 4 or 5 different name changes I came up with a match from a genealogical website for a Howard L. Barlow (see photo below).

Front End Paper to the 1919 first edition of "The Warlord of Mars"
This particular person lived in Los Angeles and was a Police Inspector for the Los Angeles Police who died on 2/20/1938 at the age of 47. He was a fingerprint expert that was instrumental in capturing William Edward Hickman, a 19 year old that kidnapped and killed 12 year old Marion Parker.

This small bit of information was the ideal fit for the rather cryptic message Mr. Burroughs wrote. In an untraditionally sloppy manner Mr. Burroughs penned "In the hope that he doesn't let any of his handwriting experts see this".

I was feeling pretty certain this person was the intended recipient of the inscription. But this still didn't shed any light on the first few letters of the inscription. The most logical assessment was that it was "Capt" though as the photo shows it certainly isn't clear.

I e-mailed J.F. Barlow, the person who posted the genealogical information, and he was kind enough to e-mail me a photo taken in 1935 of Howard L. Barlow fingerprinting Bing Crosby's twins, Phillip and Dennis. Under the caption of the photo it reads in part "Captain H. L. Barlow, Superintendent of the Bureau of Records and Identifications of the Los Angeles Police Department has fingerprinted the youngsters." So the cryptic salutation was indeed "Capt".
1935 Paramount Productions Inc.
I surmized that the murder trial involving William Hickman must have been significant at the time as it was mentioned in his obituary. I was curious as to when the murder took place and how well known it was. More searching on the internet revealed the kidnapping / murder took place on December 14,1927, just before Christmas break. Nineteen year old William Hickman lied to school officials saying that he was there to pick up Marian Parker as her father's car had broken down and he was to drive the girl home. She was kidnapped, ransomed, killed, and her body mutilated. It evidently caught the nation's attention due to the victim's young age and the particularly gruesome aspects of her murder. A couple of ballads were written about Marian Parker.

Ballads: Little Marian Parker         Marian Parker

I now had some fairly good circumstantial evidence, i.e. the book was in Los Angeles at some point based on the book stamp, a Captain Howard Barlow worked as a fingerprint expert and lived within an hour's drive of Tarzana, and, had access to handwriting experts, and, the first edition of this book came out in 1919, 8 years before the trial. Based on all this it seems likely that he may have been the owner of this book at one time. The kidnap / murder case received national attention and with the proximity of the case being so close to Tarzana, Mr. Burroughs would likely have been aware of Mr. Barlow's occupation. However this is all speculation as it is not known whether Mr. Barlow was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. Mr. Barlow died without children over 65 years ago so it seemed unlikely a connection of their relationship could be found. ** (update - I have since heard from descendents of Mr. Barlow that he was indeed married, had two children and had an extensive book collection. see end of article for more info)

... but strangely enough within a month the connection was found!

While browsing ERB sites for no particular purpose I happened across "Tarzan Forever - A Study in Moral Imbecility" by Patrick Adkins. Patrick Adkins is one of the publishers of "Forgotten Tales of Love and Murder" a compilation of previously unpublished ERB stories. He maintains a website at

Here is a paragraph from that article:

"Early in 1928 Burroughs covered for the Los Angeles Examiner the trial of William Hickman, who was eventually found guilty of kidnapping, murdering, and dismembering a twelve-year-old girl. The Hickman columns represent Burroughs at his most exorbitantly outspoken (and typically imaginative). To Burroughs, Hickman was a "moral imbecile" who appeared to be "a new species of man . . . differentiated by something other than anatomical divergences" (emphasis added)."

There we have it; the link that firmly establishes that Mr. Burroughs would have been well aware of Mr. Barlow. Mr. Burroughs covered the trial of William Hickman and Captain H.L. Barlow was instrumental in Mr. Hickman's capture!

A few months later I came across additional corroborating evidence in "Edgar Rice Burroughs - The man who created Tarzan" by Irwin Porges. From pages 458 to 460 it discusses Ed working a two week assignment from Jan. 26th to Feb. 10th for the Los Angeles Examiner covering the trial of William Hickman. Also, while watching for ERB books on Ebay an auction for a first edition of "Tarzan of the Apes" appeared with an inscription that was pasted in (see below). So Mr. Burroughs evidently signed at least 2 books for Mr. Barlow.

One other item of interests is that Mr. Burroughs did not include a date of the inscription. Upon review of the inscription, Robert B. Zeuschner, author of "Edgar Rice Burroughs - The Exhaustive Scholar and Collectors Descriptive Bibliography" made the following observation: "It is unusual inasmuch as there is no date. For most of his signed books, a date is provided. Those without dates tend to be much more informal, but undated autographs do exist (and you've got one)." It is highly probable that the actual date of the signature occurred in February 1928 as this was when the trial of William Hickman took place. In addition, the signature is very similar to others of that time period and later as shown on signature page.

By the way, it was most fortunate the 1944 Xmas "Dad" used a pencil and softly scribbled out Mr. Burroughs inscription as I was able to erase it without affecting the original writing.


Since I wrote this article I have heard from two relatives and a family associate that provided the following information about Mr. Barlow.

From his granddaughter's memory of Mr. Barlow's book collection.

"My grandfather Howard died some years before I was born, but my grandmother,Hilda,lived in Alhambra, Ca. There was a large out-building just steps from the house where my grandfather had an extensive library. After my father's death and not too many years ago, a friend of his wrote to me about the whereabouts of those books. He told me that it was my grandfather's habit,if the author was living, to mail the book back to the author, requesting an autograph and include return postage. That's how many of his collection were signed. My father kept many of the books,and as a child and young adult I remember coming across, not only signed books but some with letters from famous authors tucked inside and news clippings,too. I still have a few, but many have been donated and lost track of like the one you found. I remember notes,short letters,and clippings from such as Jack London,"Lindy", Will Rogers, and our most famous lady flier, Amelia!"

Here is a letter from the son of an attorney for Howard's son Al Barlow.

"My father was the lawyer for his son, Al Barlow, who retired as a pilot for United Air Lines in about 1969. Of particular interest is the first Captain Barlow’s book collection. Al gave a number of first edition books to my father, which were among those rejected from the university to whom Howard’s enormous collection was donated or bequeathed. The rejections were based on redundancy, primarily. I shall try to approximate a letter, now lost, we once had in a book among them. The letter is to a well-known author, but I do not remember whom. It was obviously a typical one.

“Dear (famous author.) Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Howard L. Barlow, a captain in the Los Angeles Police Department. My personal library consists of more than 10,000 volumes, many of which are first editions or other rarities. (He went into some discussion of the collection.)

I greatly appreciate your work, and own first editions of _____________ and __________.

Enclosed please find a new first edition of your book, _______, with a stamped, self-addressed package for its return. If you would be so kind as to please sign the front ______, and return it to me, I would be extremely grateful.

Howard L. Barlow”