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Pearl Bryan: chapter seven continued

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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

Jackson stumbled for a moment as he mounted the steps to the scaffold, prompting one wag in the crowd to recall a local superstition. "He won't get married this year," the man cried out. A variation of this belief, popular in Yorkshire, maintains that the stumbler must have an unconfessed sin on his conscience. (51)
Recovering his composure at the top of the steps, Jackson surprised the crowd by singing verses from a couple of popular hymns, including The Sweet Bye and Bye. His posture as he delivered these verses was more like an actor's on the stage than anything else. Walling stood beside him trembling, his eyes downcast.
Sheriff Plummer read out the death warrants, then asked Jackson again if he had anything to say. "Jackson hesitated fully two minutes before he replied," Reis quotes one eyewitness as saying. "Before he spoke, Walling turned expectantly, evidently believing that Jackson would speak the words that would save his life, even while he thus stood on the brink of death. [...] Jackson, without looking at him, upturned his eyes and replied: 'I have only this to say: that I am not guilty of the crime for which I am now compelled to pay the penalty of my life'."
So now he was innocent again. The despairing Plummer turned to Walling, and asked him if he had any statement to make. "Nothing," Walling replied. "Only that you are taking the life of an innocent man, and I call upon my God to witness the truth of what I say."

Instead of dying instantly as their necks snapped, the pair were choking slowly to death

Watching all this in the crowd, Cal Crim knew that Walling's last hope was now gone. He'd always believed Walling was complicit in Pearl's death, and that he should be properly punished for that, but never thought for a moment that Walling himself had killed her.
"Walling believed right up to the last minute that Scott Jackson would save him," Crim told Doran. "He believed Jackson, at the last moment, would reveal the true story of the death of Pearl Bryan and save him from the gallows." In his own memoir he adds: "I attended the hanging for one purpose only. I hoped that Scott Jackson would confess and assume the major blame to palliate the fate of his companion."
It was not to be. Reverend Lee stepped forward to pray with Jackson and Walling for a moment, read a few Bible verses, and then backed away and stood on the steps. "Goodbye, Scott. Goodbye, Alonzo," he said, his eyes now brimming with tears. He couldn't bring himself to watch as deputies Moore and Hindman drew the black hoods over the condemned men's faces. "The nooses were then placed about their necks," Doran continues. "As the rope tightened about his throat, Jackson groaned, and his skin turned ashen."
Plummer pulled the gallows lever at 11:40am, triggering the two traps simultaneously. Jackson and Walling fell 5ft 8ins before the ropes jerked them to a halt. They were still for a moment, then both men began to twitch and writhe in the most horrible way. Someone had miscalculated the drop needed to hang men of Jackson and Walling's slender build and, instead of dying instantly as their necks were snapped, the pair were now choking slowly to death. Even in his worst nightmares about the day, Plummer had never imagined anything as hideous as this.
"When the ropes snapped taut, the two men swung round and round, their fingers clutching spasmodically at the air and their shoulders heaving convulsively," Doran writes. "At 11:50, almost ten minutes after Sheriff Plummer sprung the traps, the doctors listened for the heartbeats of the two men - and they still were beating." Walling was finally pronounced dead at 11:55, and Jackson six minutes later.
The bodies were cut down and placed in the waiting coffins. Even in death, though, Jackson's notoriety meant nothing could be simple. "Pressure was so great that it was found necessary to cremate Jackson's body immediately after execution so that souvenir hunters would have no chance at the ugly business of digging up a grave," Carothers writes. "Walling's body, however, was sent to his family for burial, and it was my thought that his sentence was too severe." Crim agreed. "I have always felt that [Walling's] execution was a grave miscarriage of justice," he wrote 50 years later.
Pearl was avenged at last, but the man who'd caught her killers took no satisfaction from the sight. "I stood where I could see them as they stood over the trap and before the black caps were drawn down over their faces," Crim adds. "The trap was sprung, and I turned away, as I have often wished I could turn away from many of the memories of the tragedy that, even after half a century, I would most gladly forget."

'Proven false': continued

For all these reasons, I'm content to dismiss any conspiracy theories insisting George was simply a liar. It is just possible that he might have been honestly mistaken about Walling's identification, though.
    George's testimony is the only account we have that puts Walling at the murder scene. Walling's own account was that he'd delivered Pearl to Scott Jackson on the Cincinnati side of the river, and then never seen her again.
    He had every reason to lie about that, of course, but I'm struck by his counsel's very confident assertion at the requisition hearing that he had proof Walling never left the Ohio side on the evening Pearl was killed. If he'd been prepared to frankly confess his own role as Jackson's accomplice, perhaps Walling really could have proved that. He'd still have gone to jail for quite a few years, but at least he wouldn't have been hanged.
    "It is now the mature opinion of many who gave the case careful study that the defendants lied themselves to the gallows by their persistence in maintaining an attitude of entire innocence," the CE's Harry Pence wrote in 1928.
    "Had they confessed they were, indeed, responsible for the death of Pearl Bryan, and based their defence on the contention that they had not, at any time, sought to end her life [...] they could doubtless have escaped the extreme penalty." (52)
    I don't buy that as far as Jackson is concerned, because how do you finesse cutting a live girl's head off into a mere manslaughter charge? It might well have worked for Walling, though.
    Instead, he chose to go along with Jackson's increasingly ludicrous stories about mystery doctors, psychic landladies and lying coachmen. It was a decision that may have cost him his life.