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Friday, May 6, 2016

Different view of Pearl Bryan offered

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pearl Bryan
GREENCASTLE -- Local resident Margo Bode presented an interesting twist to the story of the murder of Pearl Bryan in 1896 during an event at the Putnam County Museum Wednesday evening.

Most people who live in Putnam County know at least part of the story of 22-year-old Pearl Bryan, the daughter of a wealthy Greencastle farmer. She was the youngest of 12 children and at the age of 22, was one of the most popular girls in the area. On Jan. 31, 1896 she was five and a half months pregnant and was murdered in Kentucky by Scott Jackson.

In late 1894, William Wood, Bryan's second cousin and close friend, met a newcomer to Greencastle -- a man named Scott Jackson. He seemed to be a fine young man and was considered handsome and very charming.

Wood introduced Bryan to Jackson, and the two apparently had an intimate relationship leaving Bryan pregnant.

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.

Bryan eventually met up with Jackson in Cincinnati, where she was murdered, beheaded and left in a field near Fort Thomas, Ky.

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 accomplice Alonzo 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.

They went to the gallows behind the courthouse in Newport, Ky. on March 21, 1897. It was the last public hanging in Campbell County.

The twist that Bode brings to the story is the speculation drawn from much research done locally, that the father of Bryan's unborn child was William Wood, her second cousin, and not Scott Jackson.

Bode gives this conclusion in the play she has written about Bryan.

Author and DePauw Professor Emeritus Dr. John Baughman, who was in the audience Wednesday evening, agreed that he too thought this was possible.

"Wood came from a respectable situation. His father was the District Supervisor of the Methodist Episcopal Church," Baughman said, adding that Wood had a relative who was a professor at the university.

"Most of the media concentrated on the story in Kentucky, but I've seen some papers the made me think it was possible that Wood was the father," said Bode.

Bode and Baughman theorized that Wood sent Bryan to Jackson for an abortion.

"Wood was shunned by everyone when it happened. He eventually went on to be a prominent lawyer in northern Indiana," said Bode.

Baughman also discussed some papers from a local Greencastle Dentist, Dr. Overstreet. The dentist has corresponded with another dentist in Atlanta. In those papers, Dr. Overstreet indicated Pearl Bryan was rather loose.

"She was not as pure and simple as the journalists portrayed," said Baughman.

The climate of the 1890s for women was also a key element in Bode's play. Women were second-class citizens.

"There were things a man could do and get away with but a woman could not," said Bode.

She also spoke of how the men really thought they could get away with the murder.

"Most people thought it was just a prostitute and without a head couldn't identify her. She had some unusual qualities -- she had very small feet and they were webbed. She was also wearing quality clothing," said Bode.

Bryan is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Greencastle. Her first headstone was destroyed by souvenir seekers who chipped pieces of it away. A second headstone was removed and buried in the cemetery because it too was being vandalized.

The base of her monument still rests in the family plot. For years after the sensational murder and trial, people would come to her grave and place a Lincoln penny on it.

Bode admitted in her play she used the illustration of the "heads up" pennies, but admitted she has seen pennies tails up as well as many nickels left on the grave.

Visitors today still leave a penny "heads up" on the site.

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-- Posted by Michele1953 on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 9:22 AM

has anyone heard more on the movie that i believe was supposed to play on halloween here???

-- Posted by lclrdr on Thu, Oct 29, 2009, at 3:24 PM

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