The last decade of the 1800s was a murderous one. Bloody Victorian crimes were making sensational headlines and adding to the coffers of newspaper owners. In 1896, coming off the heels of the Borden murders and H.H. Holmes, a murder occurred that encompassed 3 states and just about every newspaper in the nation carried the saga, some of it bordering on tabloidism just so they could have something in print. Along with the “normal” murder case betrayal and lies, it included unrequited love, chemistry, conspiracy for a criminal operation, feticide, mobs making a mad dash to collect muderabilia, monies made from crime scene touring, a fetus in a peppermint stick jar, and a manhunt for a head. The 21st century sees people adding even more fantastical details that keep what was once deemed the “crime of the century” in the headlines and keep it a money making business.
There is no way of knowing how many thousands of people have paid to investigate Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, KY; and there is no way of knowing how many of those people did their own research before going instead of listening to the urban legends that are told in books and tv shows about the location. A lot of money has been made since a book published in 2001 made the first untrue claim that it had been a place of satanic worship in the 1800s. The snowball effect had been started and it gets bigger every day. Patrons and paranormal investigators have had lies that line the pockets of “parastars”, book publishers, and tv producers shoved down their throats for decades; and it makes me wonder why the majority people seem to care so little for the truth of what actually happened.
The basic story told today regarding the Pearl Bryan murder goes something like this: Pearl Bryan was pregnant with Scott Jackson’s baby. She wanted to get married and he tricked her into coming to Cincinnati from Greencastle, IN. When she arrived, he and Alonzo Walling murdered her and because they were members of a satanic cult, they beheaded her and threw her head down a well located in the basement of an abandoned slaughterhouse as a blood sacrifice. Bloodhounds used in other famous cases were brought in and they tracked Pearl’s scent to the same slaughterhouse. Refusing to tell anyone what had really happened, they stood on the scaffold the day they were hung and threatened to come back and haunt everyone.
Would you like to take a guess how much of the above is true? Four things. In order for you to understand what those four things are, I need to clear up some misconceptions for you.
Long before I became a paranormal investigator, I was fascinated by true crime. The Borden murder case was the catalyst for that love. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on about any horrible true crime that occurred, and Pearl’s case was no exception. Imagine my surprise the very first time I saw a ghost show that purported she had been part of a satanic ritual.
Before we go much further, I need you to understand that I am in NO way saying the property that is known as Bobby Mackey’s Music World is not haunted, quite the opposite. Things have occurred on that property that could definitely lead to restless spirits. Not long after the civil war, this area of Finchtown, as it was called then, was known as Gallows Gap because of all the illegal lynchings (at least 20) that took place there. A bridge collapse one quarter mile from the property killed over 40 people in 1892. People were reporting spooks in that area long before folks associated with Bobby Mackey were.
If you look at a map of Finchtown, it shows that the slaughter house that was located in the southwest part of the town, was not where Bobby Mackey’s Music World stands today, it was several hundred feet south of there. It was not even a commercial slaughter house. It was a small home operated by a local butcher to serve the local residents. Research done by Dan Smith, author of Ghosts of Bobby Mackey’s Music World, corroborates my own and shows the distillery built by George Roberson Jr once stood where Mackey’s establishment is at.
In 1876 Roberson applied for, and obtained permission to dig three tunnels, under the railroad, from the distillery to the Licking River. These tunnels were used to pump water into the structure for the distilling process. All three of these tunnels are still in existence and one of them is what has been deemed the “well to hell”.
A careful study of satanic cults, their whereabouts, and their activities over the ages, show that none existed in any part of Campbell county in the late 1800s and since there was no slaughterhouse with a well to hell at that particular place on the property, added to the fact that the distillery was in full operation when Pearl was murdered, we can safely say that no part of Pearl was ever disposed of there. In fact, if you read personal accounts of the witnesses at the hanging, Alonzo Walling never once gave the crowd the “evil eye” and Scott Jackson never uttered words even remotely hinting that he would haunt anyone.
“Jackson was described as standing erect and playing the part of an actor. Walling trembled with his eyes downcast. At that point, Jackson was again asked if he had anything to say. An eyewitness said, “Jackson hesitated fully two moments before he replied. Before he spoke, Walling turned expectantly evidently believing Jackson would speak the words that would save his life, even while he stood on the brink of death. Walling had half turned around and he stood in that position with an appealing expression on his face, while 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.”
Walling was then asked if he had any comments. He said, “Nothing, only that you are taking the life of an innocent man and I will call upon God to witness the truth of what I say.”
Newspaper accounts of the day, and interviews conducted with people having grown up learning about the murder have proven that nothing about “Satanists” was ever mentioned until about 2001 when the first of two books, with other inaccurate information, was published.
Anyone that reads any story from any paper in the nation in 1896 and 1897 will never find the words “haunt” or “satanic cult” or “slaughterhouse” mentioned. The modern day stories of Scott and Alonzo simply are not true.
What is true? What happened to Pearl? Was she really the poor farm girl people try to make her out to be? Not at all.
Pearl Bryan was one of 12 children born to Alexander and Susan Farrow Bryan. She was born somewhere between 1872 and 1874 in Greencastle, Indiana, the 2nd to youngest child and the last daughter. Alexander was a very well to do farmer, stock breeder, and dairy business operator. The Bryan family had high social standing in their community. None of the financial collapses of the 19th century seemed to ever affect the family and they even survived the diphtheria outbreak unscathed, but by the beginning of the 20th century, half of their children would be dead. The causes included: consumption, brain fever, a tragic folding bed accident, and of course murder.
Pearl was very active in the community, at church, and school. In a lot of articles about her, I see it said that the portrait from 1892 above is the only known photograph of her, but this photo shows the arbor day celebrations in 1891 and she is shown in the second row from the bottom, 9th person from the left.
This photo from PALNI purports that Pearl is in this photo from 1886, but does not specify which one is her. I have seen it said that she is the girl sitting right above the Z in the sign, but cannot prove it. She would have been 12-14 in this picture.
This is the Greencastle High School graduating class of 1892 and the original photograph that the single portrait above was taken from. After graduation, Pearl taught Sunday school at the Methodist church and helped raise the young children left motherless by the deaths of her sisters.
In the spring of 1895 Pearl met Scott Jackson and her fate was sealed. He had moved to Greencastle with his mother, who was trying to hide the fact that he had been in serious trouble for embezzling from the railroad and disorderly conduct involving a prostitute, which got him kicked out of dental college in Indianapolis. They moved in with Scott’s sister and he got an interim job working for the town dentist while waiting for the fall quarter of the dental college in Cincinnati to start.
Not long after moving to Greencastle, Scott met William Wood, Pearl’s cousin. William introduced them, and soon Bert (Pearl) and Dusty (Scott), as they were known to their closest friends were courting. Right before Scott left for school in October, he and Pearl became intimately involved. After he left for Cincinnati, Pearl discovered she was pregnant and that Scott had never had any intention of marrying her.
Western Union agent A.W. Early testified that on several occasions in the months leading up to her murder, Scott and William had exchanged correspondence that included various recipes for concoctions to induce a miscarriage that he and roommate Alonzo Walling had come up with. Pearl tried all of these unsuccessfully and after a meeting with Scott during the Christmas holiday’s where he once again refused to marry her, they came up with a plan for her to come to Ohio for a criminal operation, otherwise known as an abortion.
The plan was for Pearl to tell her parents that she was going to visit a childhood friend that had moved to Indianapolis, but she would secretly go to Cincinnati instead. William put her on a train on January 28th and that was the last time he saw her alive.
Testimony from various witnesses says that for the next 3 days Scott continued to try to play the chemist and give her drugs that would cause her to abort without the actual procedure being done. A druggist from a local pharmacy stated that he had sold Scott a large amount of cocaine (legal at the time) and a bartender at Wallingford’s Saloon testified that he had seen Scott mix something in her drink early in the evening the night she was killed. Her autopsy would show that she did ingest a substantial amount of the drug shortly before death. The cocaine did not work as planned and late that night they hired a black man by the name of George Jackson to drive a carriage they had rented. This would be Pearl’s last ride.
It would be important to the case later when George testified that the female he had never seen the face of, was alive during the trip. Days after the murder, George came forward to the police to tell them he had been the one to drive the trio from Cincinnati, OH to Fort Thomas, KY. Although some people doubted his testimony, he was put through every test possible to validate his claims, including detectives and reporters recreating the drive.
George stated that he had been hired on Elm street to drive. He left Elm street, turned left on 3rd street, right on Broadway and crossed the Central bridge. When they had crossed into Kentucky, the route went from 3rd street to Central Ave, to Chestnut St, Isabella St, Keturah St, and Patterson St. He got scared because of Pearl’s moaning in the back of the carriage and pulled over at the Distillery on Licking Pike (this is the closest Pearl would come to being at Bobby Mackey’s property). He tried to refuse to go any further, but he testified that Alonzo jumped in the driver’s seat with him and pulled out a gun, forcing him to continue by saying “You black bastard, if you try to jump out here, I’ll send you to hell”. They proceeded on, eventually ending up on Alexandria Pike and eventually Grandview Ave where John Locke’s farm was located.
Scott and Alonzo dragged Pearl out of the carriage and into the dark. George took off running, damaging the lantern on the carriage in the process, when he heard Pearl scream and he didn’t look back. A later investigation would indeed turn up the correct carriage with the damaged lantern.
When Pearl’s body was discovered at the Locke farm the next morning, all hell broke loose. The coroner would later testify that Pearl had been alive when she was decapitated, because arterial spray was found on leaves as high as 3 feet (some papers reported 6 feet) and the ground was soaked at least 3 inches deep with her blood. That would not have been possible if she had been dead, as Scott tried to claim later, when her head was cut off. Mobs of people swarmed the area looking to take anything from the scene as a keepsake, including the bloody leaves. Entrepreneurs set up vendor stands in the area selling things as well. Pearl’s murder did and still does line a lot of pockets. Her unborn 5 month old fetus ended up in a jar that had held peppermint sticks at a drug store and people paid to be able to look at it.
Long story short, Pearl was finally identified because of the shoes she was wearing and Scott and Alonzo were arrested in Ohio. It had to be officially determined where she was killed to know which state was going to prosecute the case. Ohio and Kentucky had different laws pertaining the death of Pearl’s unborn child, with Kentucky’s laws being more stringent.
It took 6 days to identify Pearl and arrest Scott, Alonzo, and William. Afterwards, the family and detectives tried in vain to get Scott and Alonzo to tell them what they had done with her head. They would never get a straight answer from them. But two different people testified about the Scott carrying around Pearl’s valise the day after she was killed and asking them to store it. Originally it was weighted and the bartender at Wallingford’s had joking asked if it had a bowling ball in it because “the weight rolled around”.
Investigations in Cincinnati had turned up a lot of bloody clothing items that the pair had discarded amongst the various sewers drains in the city, but they never found a head. From witness testimony concerning the timeline of Scott’s activities with the valise, which contained hair and blood stains, Detective Cal Crim surmised and was of the belief, until the day he died, that Scott had brought the head back from Fort Thomas in the valise, taken it to the dental collage and cremated it in the furnace in the cadaver room. Back then dental students worked on dead people, and parts of them were sometimes burned afterwards in that furnace, so it was certainly hot enough to destroy her head. Pearl’s family had to bury her headless and for decades after the murder, people would find skulls and be convinced they had at last found her head, but none were ever proven to be hers.
Scott & Alonzo volleyed back and forth on who actually killed Pearl, and it was never really settled, but popular opinion was that it was Scott. We do know that Scott was involved by his possession of the valise and a letter that was intercepted before it reached William Wood:
Write a letter home signed by Bert’s name telling the folks that he is somewhere & going to Chicago or some other place – has a position etc – and that they will advise later about it – Say tired of living at home or anything you want. Send it to someone you can trust – How about Will Smith at LaFayette – tell the folks that he has not been at I[dianapolis] but at LaFayette and traveling about the country. Get the letter off without one seconds delay and burn this at once. Stick by your old chum bill and I will help you out the same way sometimes. Am glad you are having a good time
Be careful what you write to me
Arthur Carter’s famous bloodhounds were called in to help locate the rest of her and did indeed pick up a scent eventually, but the trail went in the opposite direction of the distillery to the Covington Reservoir. Over $2000 was spent to dredge and drain this location to no avail. Nothing was found other than bloody handprints on a cistern.
Scott and Alonzo were both convicted of the murder and hung on March 20, 1897. Their death was slow and painful because necks did not break during the hanging and they both took quite a while to die of asphyxiation.
Many song ballads have been written about poor Pearl, but they are not really accurate to the facts in the case, up to and including Bobby Mackey’s own original tune. The valise that she brought to Cincinnati with her, that blood and hair proves carried her head, is on display in a museum along with some other artifacts of the case. Her poor baby, floating in a preservative in a candy jar, was lost after a time and never got a proper burial.
I am not saying that Pearl does not haunt somewhere. She would certainly have every reason to do so, especially now with so many misconceptions being thrown about let alone such a traumatic death, but she has no reason to be haunting an area that she, nor any of her body parts had ever been, and is 4 miles away from where she lost her life.
Please remember that next time you pay your good money to investigate the property at 44 Licking Pike in Wilder KY and show her the respect she is due.