Pearl Bryan, the daughter of a wealthy Greencastle farmer, was an attractive, young woman. She was the youngest of 12 children and at the age of 22, was one of the most popular girls in the area. On January 31, 1886 she was five months pregnant and was murdered in Kentucky by Scott Jackson. This weekend is the 113th anniversary of her death.
In late 1894 William Wood, Bryan's second cousin and close friend met a newcomer to Greencastle, a man named Scott Jackson. As a young adult, Jackson had traveled extensively. His sister married a doctor and professor at DePauw University and after his father passed away, Jackson's mother moved to Greencastle to be near her. Jackson came to visit her and met Wood.
Jackson seemed a fine young man. He was considered handsome and was very charming. But beneath the fašade of breeding and manners he hid a darker side.
Before coming to Greencastle, Jackson worked in New Jersey as a clerk in the accounts receivable department of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Part of his job was to open the mail each day and add up the checks to be deposited into the railroad's accounts.
His boss cooked up a scheme to steal some of the checks, cash them and split the money with Jackson. Most of the money was spent carousing at some of the more notorious saloons in Jersey City and a good portion was bet on the horses.
The theft amounted to over $32,000. Audits were ordered and the embezzlement discovered. Charges were filed. The first trial ended in a hung jury over how involved Jackson was in the theft.
In the second trial Jackson exchanged his testimony against his partner to have the charges against him dropped. Following the trial he left for Indiana where no one knew of his theft.
After visiting his mother, Jackson left for dental school in Indianapolis, inviting Wood to visit him there. The two men became fast friends while carousing in the bars around town. Word of their behavior never reached Greencastle and they were able to retain their images of being gentile young men.
It was during one of Jackson's visits to Greencastle that Wood introduced his friend to his cousin Pearl Bryan. As time went on their relationship intensified and at some point became intimate. In the late summer of 1895 Jackson transferred to a Dental College in Cincinnati. At the same time he abruptly ended his relationship with Bryan.
Rather than telling her he didn't want to see her anymore, he simply cut off communication, refusing to see her and not returning her messages. Two months later she discovered she was pregnant. With Jackson refusing her messages and seemingly nowhere else to turn, she went to her cousin for help. Wood wrote to Jackson and there was a heated exchange of letters including one in which Jackson provided recipes for various drugs to induce a miscarriage. All of these failed. Finally Jackson relented and wrote to Wood telling him to send Bryan to Cincinnati.
In his letter he said he had made all of the necessary arrangements for an abortion. It seemed to be the solution to her problem so Pearl agreed to go; she told her parents she was going to Indianapolis to visit friends.
Jackson met her at the station. He took her to a hostel for women and they had dinner that evening. The next day he introduced her to Alonzo Walling.
Over the next few days Jackson, Walling and Bryan were seen at various places around town. On the morning of January 30 the three were walking down Elm Street involved in a heated discussion. They had reached the street corner when the discussion exploded into a violent argument.
Shocked workers watched and listened as Bryan made it clear to Jackson that he had not done what he promised to do. If he was not going to meet his obligation she was returning home on the afternoon train. The two men appeared to calm her down because she did not go home that afternoon; instead she returned to her room and promised to meet them the next evening when everything would be taken care of.
The following night, January 31, Bryan met with Walling and Jackson at Wallingford's Tavern. They had dinner and Jackson ordered a whiskey for himself and a sarsaparilla for Bryan. In his pocket was a small bottle containing sixteen grams of cocaine dissolved in water. Before returning to the table he emptied the contents of the bottle into Bryan's drink.
Walling left the group and returned a few minutes later with a cab. Bryan was now feeling ill. The three of them got into the back of the cab and told the driver George Jackson to drive across the Central Bridge into Newport eventually ending up on near Fort Thomas, KY.
Walling ordered the driver to stop the carriage and he climbed down from the driver's seat. Jackson emerged from the carriage and the two men helped Bryan out. They then told the driver to drive the carriage down the road a short distance, turn around and wait there.
He did as he was told and as he tied the horse to a fencepost he could see the group making their way over the fence into an orchard. The driver sensed that something was going to happen so he dropped the reins and fled leaving the carriage behind.
After climbing the fence and crossing a field Jackson attacked Bryan. He tried strangling her. She fought with him tearing his shirt. He eventually cut her throat. Later, the two men cut off her head. Her clothes were torn and displayed to appear as if she had been raped. The head was placed in a valise they brought along.
Her body was found about two hundred feet off the Alexandria Turnpike by 16 year-old James Hewling. The young boy didn't touch the body and went to Colonel Lock's home to report the woman lying in the bushes on Lock's land.
When investigators arrived they discovered the headless body of Bryan. She was eventually identified four days later by her shoes which bore the imprint of Louis and Hays, a Greencastle shoe store.
Jackson and Walling were brought to trial separately with both accusing the other of doing the killing. They were quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. William Wood was later arrested and charged as an accomplice. Charges against him were dropped when he agreed to testify against the other two men.
Just before being hanged Jackson asked to see the Sheriff. He told him that Walling did not kill Bryan. A telegraph was sent to the Governor who said if Jackson would admit to the crime and tell where he hid the head, he would commute Walling's sentence. When told, Jackson said he had nothing else to say.
They went to the gallows behind the courthouse in Newport on March 21, 1897. It was the last public hanging in Campbell County.
Over time many stories have sprung up about Bryan, particularly, at Bobby Mackey's Music World in Wilder, KY where paranormal activities have been reported. Mackey's is built over a well from an abandoned slaughter house near the place of Bryan's murder. Rumors are that the missing head was put in the well leading into the Licking River, and used in a satanic rite for a cult in which Jackson was involved.
Numerous people claim to have seen her ghostly image along with another ghost named Johanna who was also five months pregnant when she killed herself in the building that is now Mackey's.
Bryan is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Greencastle. Her headstone has been removed because of vandalism. For years after the sensational murder and trial people would come to her grave and place a Lincoln penny on her grave so that on resurrection day she would be whole again. Visitors today still leave a penny "heads up" on the site.