Table of Contents
The Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan
The History of the Tragedy
Pearl Bryan’s headless remains buried at Greencastle
The Trial of Scott Jackson
The Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan
ort Thomas, Kentucky, is most beautifully located near the banks of the Ohio river, on the Highlands, just above and on the opposite side from Cincinnati, Ohio. Although a comparatively new U. S. Military Post, it has long been a historical point, and in the early days of the Corncracker State, and while yet a portion of the County of Kentucky in the State of Virginia, was the home of the red men. There are persons yet living whose parents fought bloody battles with the Indians on the ground now occupied as a U. S. Fort, and that adjacent thereto; a picturesque portion of which is the scene of this true narrative of one of the most terrible tragedies of the nineteenth Century.
The tragedy referred to was committed at the dead of night in a lonely spot near the Fort, January 31st, 1896.
By the manner in which it was committed, it re-called the days of old, when tyrants beheaded their victims, and the murderer at heart, who was yet too cowardly to commit the deed, hired some one to do it, requiring in evidence that the deed had been done, that the head should be severed from the body and returned to the employer.
To re-call such deeds of horror to the minds of the people of a highly civilized nation at the close of the nineteenth Century by the actual commission of a similar deed, struck horror to the hearts of the people, and they were worked up to a pitch that had never been witnessed in this country before. Telephones and telegraph were called into service, and the finding of the headless body of a young and doubtless beautiful woman in a sequestered spot near Fort Thomas, was flashed around the world. So shocked was the country over this ghastly find that the metropolitan papers from one end of this country to the other informed their representatives in the Queen City to wire full particulars of the horrible deed, without any limit to the words to be used.
It was the most diabolical cold-blooded premeditated outrage ever committed in a civilized community. The entire surrounding country, including the three cities, Cincinnati, OH, Covington and Newport, KY, were startled from center to circumference and aroused as it never had been before. The Sixth Regiment U. S. Infantry, commanded by Col. Cochran, which is stationed at Fort Thomas, was astounded that such an outrage should be committed almost within the guard lines of the Fort. Aged and battle-scarred veterans who had gone through the great civil war, only a generation before, when brother stood in battle array against brother, father against son, neighbor against neighbor, flocked to the spot where the headless body lay, and stood with blanched faces, struck dumb with amazement, at the boldness of the deed and horrible manner in which it had been committed.
In an old orchard in the confines proper of the Fort, about midway between the Highland and Alexandria pikes, on the farm of James Lock, and near the fence which acts as a boundary line for Mr. Lock’s farm, was found by James Hewling, a young man, on Saturday morning, Feb. 1., 1896, the decapitated body of a young woman of Venus-like form, the headless body lying with the neck in a pool of blood.
From the position of the body it was evident that the woman had been thrown down violently and then her head deliberately severed with a dull knife. The severance was made below the fifth vertebra. Judging by the pool of blood, life had been extinct from four to eight hours when the body was found.
The clothing of the woman was of poor quality. The dress was light blue and white, small pattern check, of cotton, worn tight across the back and loose in front. She also wore a dark blue skirt and a union suit of underwear. On her hands was a pair of tan kid gloves, well worn. The black, cloth-topped shoes were of fine quality, in contrast to the other clothing, and were marked within “Louis & Hays, Greencastle, Ind., 22-11. 62,458.” Her stockings were black and blue, new. The rubbers were old and worn at the heels. The corset had evidently been ripped open and torn from her body during a struggle which took place near where it was found. Close by was a piece of the dress, also with blood on it.
In an almost incredible short time after Hewling gave the alarm, the soldiers from the Fort, the citizens surrounding it, and hundreds from the city near-by gathered at the spot and were awe stricken by the sight which met their eyes.
Who was the murdered woman and who could have committed the horrible atrocity? These were questions which were on the lips of every one, and for the answer of which a most thorough and searching investigation was at once begun. The best detective talent was immediately put to work. The people were thoroughly aroused and determined upon having the headless body identified and the cruel, heartless murderer or murderers brought to swift justice.
Leaving the investigation of the deed, we will now go with the reader to a happy home of a happy family, ranking among the oldest and best connected families in the state of Indiana, and living on the father’s farm near Greencastle, Putnam County, Indiana. Alexander S. Bryan, and his wife who had lived to honorable old age, respected and loved by all who knew them, owned this happy home and were the parents of twelve children, of which at the time of this writing, seven were living, Pearl being the youngest, of a fine, voluptuous form, with a sweet, lovely disposition and manners, popular with all who were acquainted with her, cheerful and happy at all times and was first entering her twenty-second year. The Bryan family, taking all the relations into account, is the largest in the state of Indiana, and its standing of the very highest.
Pearl the baby of the family, petted and feted, had graduated from the Greencastle High School in 1892, with the highest honors and was the special favorite of her graduating class. Beautiful in form and features, highly accomplished, well educated, with a doting father and mother, well provided with this world’s goods, and with whom she was a favorite daughter, Pearl Bryan had much to live for.
From the time she left school, aye, even before her graduating year arrived, she had many admirers, and to look on her was to love, to love was to lose. She counted her admirers by the score, but to none did she give her heart, or encourage them in any serious intentions. She was liked by all, but while she was of a lovable, affectionate disposition, she allowed none to go beyond the line of admiration, and cupid’s swift and seldom erring shafts, fell harmless by her side.
Three long years had passed since Pearl had bade “good bye” to her studies in the Greencastle High School, and although a leader in society, a guest of honor where-ever she visited, none of her ardent admirers had made a deeper impression upon her, and her heart was still her own. Men of high moral character, well supplied with this world’s goods and standing well in business and social circles, would have eagerly jumped at the opportunity to claim her as their wife. Their protestations of love however seemed to have no affect upon the mind or heart of Miss Pearl Bryan.
Money and position did not have any effect upon her favors, the young man, struggling hard to make his way in life, was as graciously received and as well treated by her as the young swell, rolling in luxury and wealth.
Will Wood, a second cousin of Pearl Bryan, was one of her ardent admirers, but was treated as one of the family and in no sense as a lover. He was treated rather as a favorite brother by Miss Pearl, who made a confidant of him. Wood’s father who was a good old Minister lived only a half mile distant from the Bryan’s, and Will spent much of his time at Pearl’s home, and was in her company a great deal. Nothing was thought of this, at the time, although evil tongues wagged rapidly afterwards, and many were ready to lay at the door of Will Wood in less than a year thereafter, direct connection and complicity with a crime unparallelled in the criminal history of the Nineteenth Century.
Along in the latter part of 1894, Scott Jackson with his mother moved to Greencastle, Ind., from Jersey City, N. J. One of Mrs. Jackson’s daughters, the wife of Dr. Edwin Post, of Depauw University, had lived at Greencastle for many years, and Mrs. Jackson moved there to get near her daughter. Scott Jackson belonged to a good family, his father being Commodore Jackson, who commanded many vessels and who stood high in social circles in New Jersey. Scott cut quite a prominent figure in both the social and business world. He went to Jersey City with splendid recommendations. His career there was considerably checkered however, and he only escaped a long sentence to the penitentiary, which his partner Alexander Letts is now serving, by turning State’s evidence in a case of embezzlement in which Jackson and Letts had embezzled a large amount, said to have been $32,000 from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
Jackson and Letts, it appears, obtained employment of the Pennsylvania Railroad company, in the Jersey City offices. One of Jackson’s duties was to receive and open the mails.