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Pearl Bryan: Chapter two

By Paul Slade
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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

When Monday morning came around, Crim, McDermott and Plummer got their advance train fare from the police accounts office, and set off for Greencastle. A group of reporters from Cincinnati's papers gave chase.
Calling at Lewis & Hayes, the shoe store they'd identified, the detectives got Mr Hayes to examine his records, and found that two of the shop's three pairs in the dead girl's size had been sold. "One was purchased by the wife of a soldier in Fort Knox, Kentucky," Crim writes. "A telegram to Fort Knox brought the information that she was there with her husband, safe and sound. The other pair had been bought, as part of her graduation outfit, by Pearl Bryan, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Alexander S Bryan, living on a farm on the outskirts of Greencastle."

Jackson admitted to Wood he had been 'too intimate' with Pearl and that she was now pregnant

Pearl, born on October 12, 1872, was the youngest of the Bryans' seven children, and had graduated from Greencastle High School at 19. "She had bright blue eyes, blonde hair that shaded to auburn, a pretty face [and] the flawless complexion of an unspoiled country girl", the CP tells us. "She had an attractive personality, a jolly disposition, and a confiding manner. She dressed well, and conducted herself modestly and demurely." Reis adds that Pearl was "a Sunday school and church worker, sprightly and vivacious, and a social favourite in her home". She was slender, and a fraction under 5ft 6ins tall. (11)
The Bryans had read about the decapitated girl found in Fort Thomas, and already started to fear that it might be Pearl. They'd heard nothing from her since she'd left home on Monday January 27, boarding a train at Greencastle station for what she told them was a visit to the Bishop family in Indianapolis. The newspaper reports said that the dead girl had marks on her fingers suggesting she might have been a seamstress, adding that a small wart had once been removed from the thimble finger of her right hand. That sounded enough like his sister for Fred Bryan to telegraph the Bishops, who told him this was the first they'd heard of any such trip.
Pearl's married sister, Mabel Stanley, had a hat shop in Greencastle, so Crim gathered up the evidence the detectives had brought with them from Cincinnati, and went there to question her. "When I arrived, I sensed that the purpose of my mission was suspected with dread," he writes. "Behind locked doors, the sister identified the kimono as her own. She had lent it to Pearl for her trip. Her brother, Fred Bryan, confirmed the identification."
Mabel and Fred took Crim, McDermott and Plummer out to the Bryan family farm. They arrived about 2:00am on Wednesday morning, showing Pearl's mother the clothes they'd brought with them by the light of a kerosene lamp in the front parlour. "Grimly, the detectives waited while Crim drew forth underclothing, shoes and the hat that had been found on the road from Fort Thomas to Cincinnati," Doran writes. "Bit by bit, the mother identified them. Each and every one had been worn by her daughter." The wart marks they'd found on the dead girl's hand and the hairpins recovered at the murder scene told the same story. Asked who her daughter might have visited in Cincinnati, the Bryans mentioned a young man called Scott Jackson, but could think of no-one else.
"Crim clinched the identification when he asked Mrs Bryan if Pearl's toes had been webbed together for quite a space from the foot," Doran continues. "They had, and so had the toes of the girl whose headless body lay in White's undertaking establishment." Mabel broke down at this point, sobbing that she and the other children had teased Pearl about her webbed toes when she was little. "Mrs Bryan," Crim said, "your daughter has been brutally murdered, and her body lies in Newport."
Crim returned to Greencastle, went to the town's Western Union office, and sent Deitsch a telegram saying he'd conclusively identified the body as Pearl Bryan's. Seeing this telegram, AW Early, the office manager, told Crim he thought his friend Will Wood might know something about Pearl's killing. Wood, a local clergyman's son, was a medical student at Greencastle's DePauw University, and a friend of the same Scott Jackson the Bryans had mentioned. They'd met when Jackson's widowed mother moved to Greencastle in around 1893. Jackson, then apprenticed to a dentist in Indianapolis, was in his early twenties at the time, and Wood a few years younger.
"Wood, being of a rather reckless disposition, would go to Indianapolis to see Jackson, and together they would have a big time in the city," Barclay reports. "Both being fond of ladies' company, they spent much of their time together in the company of women of loose moral character and were in several very unsavoury escapades, escaping notoriety under assumed names."
Wood was Pearl's second cousin, and most accounts agree that she treated him as a brotherly confidant. He introduced her to Jackson in the Spring of 1895. "To those not knowing his habits, [Jackson was] a handsome, affable, pleasing man of fine form and features," Barclay says. "He became attentive and, with a veneer of the usages of polite society, managed to fascinate the farmer's daughter. So great was his control over her that she is said to have kept appointments with him in the dental office where he was serving his apprenticeship."
Early told Crim that he'd seen Pearl and Jackson together in the telegraph office several times, and that they'd always seemed very friendly. Jackson transferred to the dental college in Cincinnati in October 1895, and his visits to Greencastle became far less frequent. Wood had shown Early a letter he'd received from Jackson at around this time confiding that he - Jackson - had been "too intimate" with Pearl and that, as a result, she was pregnant. Several other letters followed, suggesting various drugs and potions which Jackson urged Wood to obtain for Pearl in the hopes of terminating the pregnancy. Wood shared these letters with Early too, and seemed to carry out Jackson's instructions to the letter. But it was all to no avail.
"The drugs did not have the desired effect," Early told Crim. "Wood had written to Jackson, informing him that Pearl Bryan was showing the effects of her indiscretion. [...] Jackson regretted that his recipes had failed, and suggested that the girl be sent to Cincinnati, stating that he could arrange to have an abortion performed on her.
"Wood told me after that Pearl had gone to Cincinnati to have a criminal operation performed, and had told her parents she was going to Indianapolis to visit friends. She had money with her, sufficient to cover any expenses she might incur in such an undertaking."

Postcard one: PlanetSlade in New York City

Wednesday, September 1, 2010. New York: My laptop dinged into action this morning with a note from Debbie Buckley, who runs the Military and Community Museum at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. I'd written to the council there before leaving London, asking them to recommend a local historian I could interview while I was in town.
    "As you might guess, we have lots of interest in the Pearl Bryan murder case," Debbie wrote. "I will be glad to show you around, let you meet the Mendell family who live in the Lock house where the body was found, take you to the Newport Courthouse where the gallows are still stored, and the Campbell County Museum where the bag which may have contained Pearl's head is kept."
    I realise that a chance to see "the bag which may have contained Pearl's head" is not everyone's idea of a pleasant holiday trip, but I couldn't wait. My journey to Fort Thomas was still two weeks away at that point, but it already looked like becoming a highlight of the trip.

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