Friday, October 23, 2009

The Grisly Murder of Poor Pearl Bryan

{A haunting suggestion by Kathryn Lybarger}

Betrayed by your beloved! A tragic way to go! Wouldn't you want to stick around & share your misery with the world? Pearl Bryan apparently did.

Pearl Bryan came from a wealthy farming family in Greencastle, Indiana, and was dating the son of a local Methodist minister, in 1896. Unbeknownst to her friends and family, her boyfriend, William Wood, had "seduced" her and she was pregnant. He convinced Pearl to get a secret abortion, to be performed by his friend, Scott Jackson and his roommate, Alonzo Walling. These young men were current students at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery in Cincinnati. Surely, they must have the appropriate medical skills! So, on February 1, a 5-month pregnant Pearl left her parents with a lie, and met up with Jackson and Walling in Cincinnati.

Jackson used assorted chemicals, including cocaine, to see to his task - all of which failed. The men carried on, trying dental tools to complete their duty; and failing again. This botched abortion left Pearl afraid and bleeding profusely. Walling, Jackson, and even Wood saw no other option than to "cover the evidence" of what was, at the time, not only one, but two sinful & shameful acts (an unwed pregnancy & an abortion) - they decided to murder Pearl Bryan!

Traveling to Fort Thomas, KY, they cut off her head in what would later be described as a "clean slice" with a dental instrument. Arranging the scene to make it appear as a rape of a prostitute, they abandoned her body behind what is now the YMCA. Her head was never found, though many people tried throughout the years, and there are any number of theories throughout the years as to what happened to it, from being abandoned in a nearby thicket to tossed in the river, and even thrown in the river. People were still "finding" Pearl's poor head over a decade after her murder! Check out these clippings below, from the 1900 Hopkinsville Kentuckian, February 1907 Paducah Sun, & March 1907 Mt. Sterling Advocate, for just a few examples:

Ultimately, Pearl was identified by her shoes - since her head was nowhere to be found. An autopsy revealed the chemicals in her system. Soon after her murder, her killers were arrested and brought to trial by that Spring. Jackson & Walling were found guilty of murder. The trial garnered so much attention, a Barclay & Co. published a book detailing Pearl's tragic death & the ongoing trial by the end of 1896 titled: Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan, or, The Headless Horror (digitally available in KDL books). They attempted an appeal, then escape. However, due to the national attention and the outrage felt by townspeople, KY Governor William O. Bradley brought more security to their cells (which foiled their escape attempt). About 13 months after Pearl Bryan's murder, Jackson & Walling were hanged; again, Gov. Bradley made sure to bring extra security.

But this is only the beginning of the story - at least what can be proven in the physical realm that humans can conceivably see & know, without a doubt. Some say, on the gallows, Walling - believing himself an innocent man - cursed everyone involved in the case. And though the newspapers do not directly support this "evil eye" curse, there is a strange coincidence that a large number of people involved in the case of Pearl Bryan's murder, and those who brought her killers to justice mysteriously and/or tragically died within 15 years of her death; else they were brought a string of bad luck. Reporters had a habit of bringing up her name when someone related to the case came ill, whether it mattered or not. This included such people as prominent as the judge (died of a "hemorrhage of the lungs" in 1903) to as overlooked as the African-American who carried her remains (fatally injured in a 1902 accident) to obscure figures, such as C.E. Walling - her murderer's brother - was noted as related to the case, when the Berea Citizen reported him as dying in 1910!

Of course, Pearl Bryan herself has supposedly caused some mischief (though it's not directly accredited to her in this August 10, 1904 Richmond Climax clipping from page 1, it's implied)

And she still allegedly does today, most notably in Bobby Mackey's Music World - a night club & former slaughterhouse in Wilder, KY, with its own sordid history embedded in the building, involving satanic rituals & occultists. One of these legends involves a ritual that placed a curse on the disembodied head of Pearl Bryan before it was tossed down a well in the basement of the building, which is why she haunts the place.

I'm not sure they ever ACTUALLY found poor Pearl's head. Perhaps we will never know, as one story alleges Walling & Jackson kept silent because they feared "the wrath of Satan" (other stories place them as Satanists, as well). Supposedly, when people visit her grave, they leave her pennies, so she can have a head at Resurrection.

What do you think happened to Pearl Bryan's head? Do you think there is a curse on those involved with her murder & the case - even those that brought her justice? What & where do you believe she haunts, if she still does? Do YOU believe?


  1. Facts should be checked when posting things such as this. If you would check historical records, Pearl Bryan's body was "found" on 2/1/1896. She left Greencastle to meet with Jackson in Cincinnatti on 1/27/1896 and was last seen, according to witnesses, in the company of both Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling. There is no evidence of satanism nor any evidence connecting Pearl Bryan to Bobby Mackey's Music World.

    You can check this with several historical resources ; Kentucky Virtual Library as well as county archived records, also ref Jim Reis' article "Pieces of the Past", Troy Taylor "Legend of Pearl Bryan Murder", "Pearl Bryan- A personal recollection by Albert Vinton Stegman, Jr.

  2. To the author, the facts here need to be re-checked. Wood was Pearl's cousin, not lover. Wood introduced Pearl to his friend Jackson and it is he that fathered her unborn child and came up with the abortion plan, and eventual killing of Pearl.

    To the previous poster, testimony from the trial given by a local coachmen who was hired by the men to take the three of them not only to Kentucky, but to Licking Pike where Bobby Mackey's Music World is now located. He also testified that it appeared she had been drugged, but was alive when he took them to the location on Licking Pike. Court testimony/records can be looked up, so don't take my word for it.

  3. What is perhaps most interesting about this posting after these comments is how the original posting was based solely on articles found in Kentucky's historic newspapers which, as noted by two comments, were inaccurate. Clearly, some of our readers have gone further in their investigations and for your participation in this post, we say thank you!

  4. To the poster from September 11: George Jackson did not testify that he specifically drove the trio to a spot on the Licking Pike. The route they took did go past the former slaughterhouse but that is the only, remote, connection between the location and the murder. According to George Jackson, they did not stop until they were on the Alexandria Pike, just before reaching the intersection with Grandview Avenue, a short distance from the murder scene.

    You are correct in pointing out that Will Wood was Pearl's cousin, rather than her lover and that he introduced Pearl and Scott Jackson. Though, Jackson's attorneys tried to make the case that Will and Pearl had been intimate and that the baby was his.

    The bottom line is, there is no historical connection between Pearl Bryan and Bobby Mackey's Music World.

    To answer a question posed by the original poster, what do I think happened to Pearl's head?

    Most testimony and statements made during the investigation and trial point to the head being thrown from a bridge into the Ohio River.

  5. It is not unusual when people have been brutally murdered and not properly buried, a haunt of the crimes happens. Until those remains are properly buried to a final resting place, they will not be at peace.