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Pearl Bryan: chapter two continued

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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

Back in 1896, asking a dentist to carry out an abortion for you was not the bizarre idea it now seems. Dentists then, like the barbers of Victorian London, would turn their hands to any bit of minor surgery their customers may require. Students at Cincinnati's dental college would have been familiar with much more than just teeth, often pursuing their studies by cutting up human corpses to examine the organs inside. Jackson himself confirmed this when he told police that, at the moment of his arrest, he'd been on his way to there "to see if the boys were doing any dissecting".
"At that time, dentists were more than just dentists," John Mendell, a local Pearl Bryan expert, told me in Fort Thomas. "At a pinch, they were medical people too. They were like two-bit doctors. They actually worked on cadavers there, and the furnace was so hot it would burn human remains."
It was only a short walk from Legner's to the dental college, and that fact left Crim in no doubt what had really happened to Pearl's head. "Jackson took the grip out, and brought it back empty," he writes. "It was only two squares to the dental college where the furnace not only heated the building, but also served as an incinerator. [...] I don't think that the final disposition of her head is much of a mystery."
Crim never wavered in his belief that Pearl's head had finished up in the dental college furnace. Interviewed by the CP's Joe Doran, he phrased his reply to suggest Jackson and Walling had disposed of the head together, but otherwise gave exactly the same account.

Detective Crim believed Pearl's head had finished up in the dental college furnace

"I'm convinced Pearl Bryan's head was in the valise when it was left at Legner's Saloon," he told Doran. "When they came and got it [from Legner's], they slipped over to the dental college. The furnace there was specially constructed for burning parts of human bodies without leaving an odour or a trace. They went down to the cellar in the dental college, the door to which was unlocked, put the head in the furnace [and] went back to Legner's. We proved they were gone just about long enough to do that." (15)
Believing all this was one thing, but proving it was quite a different matter. By insisting that Wood was the father of Pearl's baby, and Walling the would-be abortionist who killed her, Jackson managed to concoct a version of events which painted him as the only innocent party in the whole affair.
Police took this account to Wood, who told a very different tale. He denied ever sleeping with Pearl, but said Jackson had told him in September that she was pregnant, and confessed that he - Jackson - was the father.
"What did he say?" Deitsch asked.
"He said he was going to have an operation performed on her if he could get hold of enough money. He said he had procured a room in Cincinnati, and that she would be taken care of by an old woman."
"What else did he say?"
"He said that the operation would be performed by a doctor and a chemist who was an old hand at that kind of business."
"Did he mention the name of the doctor?"
"No. He said the party was a friend of Walling."
Deitsch also asked Wood about his conversation with Pearl as she prepared to leave Greencastle for her trip to Cincinnati. Wood said he had spoken to her about the operation and, when Deitsch asked him if she'd seemed relieved at the prospect, replied: "I never saw her so happy in my life".
Deitsch had Caldwell telegraph the Postmaster at South Bend asking him to intercept any letters addressed to Wood there, and then moved on to question Walling. He decided to go in hard.
"I have just talked with Jackson, and he puts all the blame on you," Deitsch said. "He says you performed the abortion somewhere across the river. [...] Jackson says that you threw the head into the river and that the next day you told him to get rid of anything lying around loose at the boarding house by throwing it into the river."
Walling had tried to protect both himself and his friend until then, but now he could see that Jackson was perfectly willing to see him hang if that saved Jackson's own neck. Once he'd realised that, the account he gave police of Pearl's death was the fullest and most credible they'd heard yet.