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Pearl Bryan: chapter seven continued

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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

Plummer had asked Ed Faught, the sheriff at Lexington, and Maurice Hook, who did the same job in Bracken County, to help him with the hanging's preparations. Both men were more experienced at conducting this grim task than Plummer himself, so he asked them to carry out the final checks. At 8:12am, Faught oiled the scaffold's ropes to ensure they'd tighten smoothly around the condemned men's necks, and then he and Hook checked every aspect of the mechanism to make sure it was working properly. Only when they were satisfied did Plummer confirm that the hanging would proceed on schedule at 9:00am.
It was a perfect Spring morning and there was already a big crowd waiting for the day's entertainment to begin. "Many of the people who crowded outside the Newport jail that day came for miles just to be near the scene of the execution," Doran writes. "They could have no hope of witnessing the hanging, and yet they came, and crowded closely on those around them. By 8:30am, it was estimated there were 5,000 persons outside the courthouse wall."
The walled yard behind Newport's courthouse where the gallows now stood could hold nothing like that number, so access was again closely guarded. Politicians handed out the coveted passes to friends, just as they had at Jackson's trial. "It was festival time," John Mendell laughed when we discussed the scene at his kitchen table in Fort Thomas. "You had to be on the 'in' to get a ticket for the execution, and the politicians were paying back their favours. Probably, like our politicians today, they were selling tickets too. It was like a 'standing room only' affair."

'Alonzo Walling is not guilty of the murder of Pearl Bryan,' Jackson told Plummer. 'I am.'

Dr Carothers, who Plummer had ensured would be there to support him, was constantly pestered by people who assumed he must be able to get them in too. "About a dozen people asked me for permission to be present at the hanging, and they were terribly disappointed to learn I had no authority in the matter," he writes. "All morning long, people gathered outside the courtyard, hoping to gain entrance." The best estimates we have suggest about 500 people - men, women and children - managed to cram into the courtyard before the gates were finally locked.
At 8:55am, Sheriff Plummer assembled his execution party and prepared to lead Jackson and Walling to their deaths. And then - with just three minutes to go before the scheduled drop - Jackson spoke up. "Alonzo Walling is not guilty of the murder of Pearl Bryan," he told Plummer.
Jackson refused to answer questions or expand on this statement in any way, but did agree to put it in writing as a message to Governor Bradley. "Walling is not guilty of this crime," he wrote. "I am." He signed the note "Scott Jackson" and handed it to Plummer. "For God's sake, send that to the Governor," Walling cried. (50)
Plummer telegraphed the message to Bradley immediately, and sent Jackson and Walling back to wait in their cell. "While they waited, the two men occasionally walked to their windows and glanced at the crowds below," Doran writes. "Both clasped their hands and shook them at the crowd in the manner of prizefighters acknowledging applause." Every time they appeared at the windows, cries of "Die game, Lonny" or "Die game, Scott" went up in the crowd. At one point, Walling spotted a friend stuck outside, and shouted down offering to get him a ticket for the courtyard. But his friend was embarrassed, and pushed away through the crowd without answering.
Plummer got a reply from Bradley at about 10:15am, telling him to question Jackson further. If he would make a full confession - including the location of Pearl's head - then Walling's life could be saved. Anything less than that, and both men must hang. Once again, Jackson refused to add anything to what he'd already said. Even at one minute to midnight, it seems, he hoped he might somehow preserve his own life too. Asked to at least confirm Walling's insistence that he had not been with Jackson at the murder scene, he replied: "I can't say that. That's a trap. I can't say that without admitting I was there."
Meanwhile, Plummer had granted Walling's request that he be allowed to speak to Covington's Mayor Rhinock. Walling begged the mayor to petition Bradley for a 30-day reprieve. "Jackson can save my life if he will," Walling said. "But he won't. I have tried in every way to get him to do it, but he will not. He ought to save me."
"Now, Lon," Rhinock replied. "I want you to tell me where the head is."
"Mayor Rhinock, before God, whom I shall soon meet, I do not know. I will not lie now."
Plummer contacted Bradley again - by telephone this time -and told him the outcome of these new interviews. Bradley sent back a wire at about 11:15am repeating that, without the full confession he'd specified, there could be no reprieve for either man. He ordered Plummer to restart the twin hangings immediately, and this time told him to get the job done. Plummer formed up the execution party again, which began its march to the scaffold just after 11: 30am.
As Walling left his cell for the last time, he pointed again at Jackson and said: "That man can save me if he will. I die an innocent man. I was not there when she was killed." Jackson made no reply, but Doran says his eyes were now reddened "as though he had been crying".

'Proven false': continued

All this matters only because Crawford was hoping to imply that George's testimony in the Pearl Bryan case couldn't be trusted. But the jury found that a very unconvincing argument, and you can see why.
    William Trusty's account of that crucial trip across the river collapsed the moment it was challenged, but George's stood up to every test the police and the courts could throw at it. If he was lying, then answer me this:

* Why was he willing to take the chance? A black man levelling such serious accusations against two whites in 1896 Cincinnati took his life in his hands, as the casual threats to lynch George on the reconstructed trip show. You'd want an awfully big cash reward to outweigh that risk.

* How did George know the carriage would have a broken headlight before the police had even found it? How did he identify the right horse at the Walnut Hills stable?

* On the reconstructed trip, how did George know to follow a Kentucky track which even Sheriff Plummer had not known existed? How did he lead police so unerringly to the murder scene by this unsuspected route if he'd never made the trip before?

* How come his account tallied so closely with all the police's independent physical evidence? It defies belief to think George read all the press reports and meticulously fabricated his story from the details those contained, and yet - if he wasn't telling the truth - what other explanation is there?

* If - as Scott Jackson himself claimed - the police told George to lie, then why didn't the watching reporters notice anything fishy about the reconstructed trip or his visit to Walnut Hills? Any hint of police falsifying evidence at that point would have been a huge story, and it would have needed an Oscar-winning actor to pull off George's role without creating suspicion.

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