Friday, January 2, 2015

The Murder and Ghost of Pearl Bryan, Part ll

On February 1, 1896 Pearl Bryan a resident of the small town of Greencastle, Indiana was found murdered and headless on John Locke’s farm in Wilder, Kentucky.

The brutality of this crime sent shock waves beyond just the Ohio Valley.

In Part l, many of the exaggerated myths and rumors that surround the Pearl Bryan murder case are shared.

What follows is what most of the newspapers at the time didn’t share.

The Real Pearl Bryan

After this murder Pearl Bryan was described universally as a poor, innocent farm girl that was cruelly seduced and ruined by a blackguard, an older man from the east.

But Pearl wasn’t exactly the country bumpkin she was portrayed as. She was a music student at DePauw University and her wealthy family assured she had a sophisticated upbringing.

She wore all the latest fashions and many of her friends and family suspected that she had more than just a close friendship with her second cousin, William “Will” Wood.

William "Will" Wood
When her family and friends heard she was 5 months pregnant at the time of her death most believed the baby’s father was Will Wood, not Scott Jackson.

During the trial, Will denied having sexual relations with Pearl but depositions taken by sworn witnesses state the he had bragged about having a “soft snap” with Pearl and that he often spoke in detail about his sexual encounters with her.

When she told her parents she was going to visit family in Indianapolis she knew she was going to Cincinnati to obtain an abortion.

It must be noted here that this does not mean Pearl deserved to be murdered.

Two questions remain a mystery even today-- whose child was Pearl carrying and who did actually murder her?

The Blame Game

As newspapers proclaimed this murder The Crime of the Century they also touted that the investigation that led to the arrests of Jackson and Walling and their subsequent trials were good examples of efficient law enforcement and swift justice.

What seemed on the surface to be a case with no loose ends and no mysteries--was exactly the opposite.

Since the authorities knew Will Wood was considered to be a possible father of Pearl’s baby he was immediately considered to be an accomplice in this crime.

Scott Jackson and his friend Alonzo Walling were arrested in Cincinnati within a week of Pearl’s body being found. Will Wood was detained on the same day in Indiana.

Scott Jackson, left,
Alonzo Walling, right.

Ironically, when Will agreed to testify against the other two men he was released.

Jackson told the police that he had arranged an abortion for Pearl as a favor for his friend Will Wood.

Wood on the other hand stated that it was Jackson who seduced Pearl not him. Later during the trial Jackson testified that he had sexual relations with Pearl but after she was pregnant.

Which of these two men was the father was never determined with certainty.

Jackson told the authorities that he had left Pearl under his friend, Alonzo Walling’s care. He also stated that Walling had arranged for the abortion.

Walling on the other hand stated that Jackson’s plan was to lure Pearl to Cincinnati under the pretext that an abortion would be arranged.

He told the authorities that Jackson actually planned to poison Pearl and then cut up her body and place the parts in various vaults around the city.

Both men denied any firsthand knowledge of Pearl’s death stating the other was responsible.

Another Possible Suspect

Curiously, in separate last minute confessions before their executions both men implicated a medical doctor by the name of Wagner who they stated had performed the abortion.

They said there were complications and Pearl in a great deal of pain fell unconscious and died shortly afterwards.

The three men then loaded her body in a vehicle and drove her to a secluded spot where Doctor Wagner severed her head with a dissection knife and wrapped her head in her cloak.

The doctor then drove Jackson and Walling to the bridge and the 3 men went their separate ways.

Doctor Wagner was not subpoenaed to give a statement because shortly after Pearl’s body was found he was committed to the Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane, in Lexington.

Circumstantial Evidence

Neither Jackson or Walling ever confessed to the murder and both maintained their innocence to the end. They were hanged together in March of 1897.

Because of this the police had to rely on circumstantial evidence during both their trails.

They used a series of witnesses that supposedly created a chain that showed both men had been seen in the company of Pearl in Cincinnati several times during the week leading up to her death.

Yet another witness account supposedly proved Jackson and Walling committed the murder.

The problem with this was several of these accounts were actually proven to be unreliable. They were also filled with half-truths and improbabilities.

These various discrepancies could fill a book so only one will be addressed in Part lll of The Murder and Ghost of Pearl Bryan. I also share the ghostly sightings of Pearl, Jackson and Walling.

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