The Missing Head of Pearl Bryan Jul 4, 2017 16:00:09 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Jul 4, 2017 16:00:09 GMT -5
The Missing Head of Pearl Bryan
GREENCASTLE, Ind. – After 121 years, and seven months of tireless research, which included perusing some 3,200 pages of court records and voluminous other documents, many aspects of the tragic tale of Greencastle’s Pearl Bryan remains a mystery. This is what historian Larry Tippin told more than 100 interested visitors about the 1896 “Crime of the Century” at the Putnam County Museum in the concluding portion of his two-part presentation Thursday night.
In the last slide of Tippin’s PowerPoint presentation, he focused on what he had concluded from his research and the nagging questions of what happened to the 23-year-old pregnant Greencastle woman after she left home for Cincinnati to confront her dental student boyfriend, Scott Jackson, and his apparent accomplice, Alonzo Walling, the night/early morning of January 31-February 1, 1896.
The persistent questions are:
• Who was the father of Pearl’s unborn baby?
• Who killed Pearl?
• What happened to the lady’s head?
• Did Pearl die where her body was found?
• Who or what claims to be haunted by Pearl?
Tippin said that because Pearl was five months pregnant, according to the autopsy, her baby was conceived between late August and early September with anecdotal information “making it pretty clear” Jackson was the father. “In my opinion,” Tippin added, “she went to Cincinnati to convince Jackson to man-up and do the right thing and marry her.”
The evidence also indicates the killer was Jackson, who was hanged along with Walling in Campbell County. According to Tippin, Jackson “had told people he would ‘cut Pearl to pieces’ and leave her remains in various places before he would marry her.” He also reportedly said he would disfigure her with chemical burns and dispose of her body in the medical school incinerator.
Meanwhile, it is Pearl’s missing head that sets this tale apart from those of other young unmarried women in the family way murdered by their lovers. “I do not know where Pearl’s head is,” Tippin assured the audience. “With all the research that I did, that was one thing I really wanted to find out. All I can give you is evidence. I don’t want to speculate.”
Some of that evidence was the blood in the valise that Jackson left behind in the Wallingford Saloon overnight. He then retrieved it, brought it back again and placed it in the same location near an icebox. Court transcripts indicated a tavern employee, Dot Legner, picked up the bag to clean beneath it and noted how unexpectedly heavy it was the first night. When she did the same a night later, it was much lighter. “It’s a good thing 18-year-old Dot Legner didn’t look in the bag,” quipped Tippin. “She would have never slept again the rest of her life.”
In court, Jackson had no satisfactory explanation as to why he had the bag, claiming Pearl asked him to keep it for her. In an attempt to explain the blood, Jackson said it came from his dental instruments, though, apparently, no one believed him for the prosecutor sarcastically enquired: “Don’t you wipe them off for crying out loud?” Tippin was amazed when he learned the bag is still maintained as evidence 120 years later.
Why would they cut her head off?” one audience member asked.
Most likely, Tippin replied, to try to obscure the woman’s identity. “Or,” he added, “it could have been because these were two of the most heartless men who ever walked the face of the earth ... or a little bit of the former and more of the latter.”
Cutting off her head in hopes the body would never be identified wasn’t plausible, however, because Pearl’s uncharacteristically tiny size 3 shoes were quickly traced to a Greencastle shoe store, Louis and Hays, on the east side of the square, and her rare webbed-foot condition led to a positive identification by family members.
Pearl’s head has never been found, though at least twice – in 1900 and again in 1907 – a skull was discovered near the Fort Thomas location where the slaying occurred, purporting to be that of Pearl Bryan, but neither was that of the murdered woman.
While the theory persists that her head may have been thrown into the Ohio River by Jackson or Walling, Tippin is unconvinced. “I don’t think he would have thrown it off the bridge,” he said, noting “there’s too much traffic and too many people that would have seen him.”
At the murder scene, the presence of blood on bushes several feet away from where Pearl’s body was found proved the killing occurred at that site, Tippin’s research shows. The coroner, he said, indicated only a still-beating heart could have sent blood such a distance as her head was severed. Blood was also reported as 6- to 9-inches deep in some places at the scene, indicating the mutilation occurred there and not in nearby Cincinnati, with the corpse being transported to Fort Thomas later, as some writers had postulated.
Her injuries included being struck by a rock wrapped in a handkerchief, later determined to have belonged to Jackson. The autopsy also noted traces of cocaine in the stomach, allegedly added by Jackson to Pearl’s drink to knock her out before she was taken to Kentucky. There was a deep, to-the-bone, cut on the victim’s left hand from her apparent attempts to fight off her attackers, Tippin added. Because of this, he added solemnly, she “died with honor and dignity, and that’s how I’ll remember Pearl.” In addition to her injuries, the autopsy revealed a five-month male fetus with no indication of any attempt to abort it, thus laying to rest the theory Pearl died from a failed abortion attempt.
Justice moved swiftly in the case with Jackson’s arrest February 5, 1896, just four days after the body was found, and his three-week trial began April 21, 1896. Walling was tried separately in May of that same year. The men were hanged March 20, 1897.
As Jackson was initially being detained upon his arrest, he reportedly asked if Walling had been arrested. A jailer reportedly replied, “No, should he be?”
As noted by the Greencastle Star-Press, Pearl’s brother, Fred Bryan, glanced intently at the man accused of the horrendous murder of his sister as he was being returned to his jail cell, and suddenly cried out “in a voice low and hoarse with suppressed emotion: ‘If they let him out of here I’ll fix him.’ Not another word was spoken and the party stood for a few minutes in dramatic silence.” Tippin agreed this might have made a difference. “Why they didn’t let Fred have a few minutes with these men (I don’t know) ... but they did not,” the researcher related. “That was probably the last opportunity, a lost opportunity, to find out what happened to Pearl’s head.”
Pearl’s headless corpse was laid to rest March 26, 1896, at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle after her remains were initially placed in a vault because her family had hoped to bury her with her head, Tippin explained.
Several haunting stories have been associated with the Pearl Bryan case, most notably the claim that her spirit haunts Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, Kentucky. An episode of the cable TV series Ghost Adventures explored the Pearl Bryan murder and allegedly confirmed the presence of supernatural activity at Bobby Mackey’s, where it was theorized Jackson had thrown the head down an old well on the property. “Chances of that,” Tippin insisted, “are extremely minimal.” It would have been “totally absurd,” he reasoned, for Jackson and Walling to have traveled an additional 17 miles south from the Fort Thomas murder site to Wilder to dispose of the head. “Don’t mind me and this bloody bag,” Tippin mocked Jackson, “Nothing to see here.’”
After presenting two public programs on the subject, Tippin told the audience he is continuing to work on summarizing the material.
“When does your book come out?” he was asked.
“I have an enormous amount of information,” Tippin answered, indicating he plans to present the information on a website, while explaining the source documents alone would probably be 500 pages in length. “I’ve been able to do a tremendous amount of work on it the last seven months,” he noted, adding that his main goal is to get the information to the public.
It is the sensational and gruesome nature of the case and its unanswered questions that have kept it in the public eye for so long, he said. “It’s 121 years later and we’re still trying to answer some of these questions,” Tippin continued. “I think it would be great if somebody did a fact-based movie, and Jennifer Lawrence needs to be in it. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” he concluded.
Source: Eric Bernsee, The Greencastle Banner-Graphhic, July 2, 2017.