The Chilling Truth Of Pearl Bryan's Missing Head

Pearl Bryan was a pretty and popular young woman who lived in Greencastle, Indiana. She was the second-youngest of 12 children, and her father was a prominent farmer. Being one of the youngest, she was doted on by her parents and was provided with everything she needed. Bryan graduated from Greencastle High School in 1892 with honors and was popular among her classmates. As noted by Gutenberg, the young woman wasn't short of admirers as well, but she did not pursue a romantic relationship with any of them.

In 1893, Bryan met dentistry student Scott Jackson, who had recently moved to Greencastle with his mother. The two were introduced to each other by Bryan's cousin, William Wood, who was friends with Jackson, per Medium. Bryan and Wood grew from being friends to intimate partners, and Bryan fell pregnant. The young woman voiced her desire to marry Jackson and raise their baby together, but he refused. Furthermore, he stated that he needed to go back to school in Cincinnati and convinced Bryan to have an abortion.

Scott Jackson's background

Scott Jackson and his mother moved from New Jersey to Greencastle, Indiana, to be closer to a relative. Jackson came from a well-to-do family, and his father was a commodore. However, he got in trouble with the law due to embezzling. As reported by Gutenberg, Jackson and a man named Alexander Letts pilfered a total of $32,000 (more than $1 million in today's money) from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company where he worked.

During the investigation, pieces of evidence stacked up against the two men, but Jackson turned on his partner and became the state's evidence, which helped convict his accomplice. Letts was sentenced to a lengthy prison term, while Jackson was never charged for the crime. It was then that he decided to move to Greencastle with his mother, as his father had also died by that time. It was in 1895 when Pearl Bryan revealed to Jackson that she was carrying his baby.

Pearl Bryan's trip to Cincinnati

Scott Jackson went to Cincinnati to attend school, but he kept in touch with Pearl Bryan through letters sent to William Wood. The letters, as reported by Courier-Journal, also came with prescriptions for a mixture of ingredients that he told Bryan to take in order to have a miscarriage. However, the concoction did not work, and Bryan was starting to show. Jackson then told Bryan to come and see him in Cincinnati.

Bryan's family wasn't aware of her pregnancy, and on January 28, 1896, she told them that she was traveling to Indianapolis to visit relatives but instead went to Cincinnati to meet with Jackson, per Medium. It was reportedly her understanding that Jackson would finally marry her. Bryan checked in at the Indiana House but used her sister's name instead. When Bryan met with Jackson at a tavern, he brought along his friend and roommate, Alonzo Walling, and that was when Jackson told the young woman that he asked her to visit so she could have an abortion. A worker at the tavern later testified that he saw Jackson put something in Bryan's drink (via Courier-Journal). He also said he overheard Bryan tell Jackson that she was heading back home and that he would have to answer to her brother for getting her pregnant.

The discovery of Pearl Bryan's body

On the first day of February, a farmhand named John Hulling discovered the dead body of a woman in the bushes in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Authorities were called to the scene, and they saw that the body was missing its head, which made identifying the corpse more difficult. A pool of blood was found by the woman's feet. The police searched the nearby areas for the severed head, but they were unsuccessful. According to Medium, the unidentified woman wore a blue dress and gloves. A shoe, as well as a few strands of hair, were collected from the scene as well.

Upon completion of the autopsy, authorities were notified that cocaine was present in her system and that she was about five months pregnant at the time of her death. Her decapitation was clean, and the medical examiner reported that it must have been done with a dissecting knife. Furthermore, the amount of blood at the crime scene suggested that her head was cut off while she was still alive. Authorities believed that the decapitation was done in an effort to conceal the victim's identity (via Gutenberg).

How was Pearl Bryan identified?

At a time when technological advancements weren't available to help with investigations, it was quite difficult for the investigators to identify the dead woman's identity. They questioned nearby brothels for missing sex workers, attempted to find the severed head by using bloodhounds, and investigated her clothing and shoes. According to the Northern Kentucky Tribune, her identity was finally confirmed with the help of a shoemaker.

Louis Poock owned a shoe store in Newport, located a few miles from the crime scene. His store was also near the funeral home where the body was brought for an autopsy. Poock was well acquainted with the authorities handling the case, and he was allowed to enter during the autopsy. He noticed the small size of the woman's feet, and he also discovered a unique code — 22, 11, 62458 — on the shoe found at the crime scene. With permission from authorities, Poock conducted his own investigation about the origin of the shoe in hopes that he could help identify the victim. He eventually found out that the shoe was sold in Greencastle, Indiana. Investigators interviewed the shoemaker who made them and learned that only two women purchased that specific size. Per The Enquirer, one was alive, and the other — Pearl Bryan — was missing. Authorities visited Bryan's home, and her mother confirmed that the clothes found on the body were her daughter's. Other identifying features, such as webbed feet and a scar on the hand, also confirmed her identity.

Where is Pearl Bryan's severed head?

Investigators interviewed the people closest to Pearl Bryan, and they learned about Scott Jackson. He was arrested on February 5, and Alonzo Walling was arrested the following day. Initially, as reported by Medium, the two men provided an alibi that had been disproven. They then attempted to minimize their involvement by accusing the other of murdering Pearl Bryan. Authorities theorized that the two men killed Bryan after a failed abortion, and they severed her head to hide her identity. Witnesses testified as well, which further convinced the jury that Jackson and Walling were guilty. They were sentenced to death by hanging.

The two perpetrators were questioned about the location of Bryan's head, and Jackson said it was thrown into the river. Walling, on the other hand, said that Jackson told him he threw it in a sewer. Per Gutenberg, the perpetrators gave several different accounts regarding what happened to the severed head. It was never found, and Bryan's body was buried headless in Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. Often, visitors who go to her grave leave pennies with heads up to honor the young woman who lost her head in her tragic murder.