Pearl Bryan Murder

Pearl Bryan Murder

A personal recollection by Albert Vinton Stegman Jr. (1902-1990) from the Stegman Papers Volume 2, Item 6. Reprinted here with the permission of the Campbell County Historical Society holder of the Stegman Volumes.

A newspaper Illustration of Pearl Bryan

Pearl Bryan took the New York Central (Big, 4) train from Greencastle to Cincinnati on the morning of January 31, 1896, arriving, at the Third and Central station. She had come to meet her sweetheart, Scott Jackson, whom she was hoping to marry, as she was pregnant.

Jackson and Walling met her at the train and the three of them walked up Central to Fourth Street, and then to Elm, and there at the corner they engaged in a loud, animated argument. Jackson tried to convince the girl that she should have an abortion. She refused, however, and as the men tried to pacify her, she angrily shouted that she was taking the noon train back to Greencastle. There she would tell her brother all about it, and he would see to it that wrong was righted. (The facts brought out at the trials, regarding this street-corner argument, were told by witnesses who were employees of the John Church Music Publishing Co., located at Fourth and Elm Streets. They had heard everything that was said by the girl and the two men through an open shipping room window. Identities were unknown to them then, but later, in court, these witnesses identified the three as Pearl Bryan, Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling.

Pearl did not take the train home that day as she threatened. Instead, toward evening, the three visited the sitting room of Legner's Tavern at Fourth and Plum Streets, where their actions and arguing attracted the attention of the porter, who later on, testified that he saw one of the men put something into Pearl's sarsaparilla, a popular soft drink of that day. It was later learned that Jackson had purchased cocaine in a nearby drugstore. Sale of such drugs without a prescription was not illegal at that time.

Following the porter's testimony at the trials, the only continuing events of that evening that were brought out by a witness in court, were related by a colored coachman who had his stable and hack business near Peebles Corner. He testified that he had been engaged to pick up two men and a woman, at Fourth and Plum, and take them over to Kentucky. He stated that the woman, who later entered his hack, was either drugged or quite ill. Of course, if the hackie was telling the truth, the killing took place in Kentucky.

The men told him to drive his horse across the bridge at the foot of Broadway, entering, Newport at York Street. They would then direct him. According to the coachman's story, they went south on York to Eleventh Street, then west to the streetcar barn at Lowell, where they turned south onto Licking Pike. After passing my Grandfather Stegeman's "Old 76" Distilling Company in Finchtown, and the Andrews Steel Mill in Wilders, Jackson, who was apparently familiar with the area, instructed him to go up Johns Hill Road.

On reaching Alexandria Pike they turned back north, continuing on the Pike until reaching the fateful spot on the Lock farm. There was no evidence at the trials, indicating that any tolls were paid on the Turnpike, so it was probably well past midnight, with the gates open, and the keepers asleep. When the north-bound coach reached the southern tip of the triangular Lock property, where South Ft. Thomas Avenue joins with Alexandria Pike, the driver remained on the Pike, down the hill, after passing the James Metcalfe house (site of the Woodfill School today) on the left.

The girl, lying in the back, had been constantly moaning and groaning throughout the trip, but suddenly her crying became louder and louder, with the cabdriver becoming more and more frightened. Finally, just before reaching Grandview Avenue, he was told to stop the horse, and the two men and-the girl got out. As they started toward the fence, with the men supporting the drugged girl, the thoroughly scared coachman picked up the reins and took off for Cincinnati, as fast as the horse could go.

No one was ever certain what happened after that moment. Pearl Bryan may have died before the coach had stopped, with the men carrying her body to the fence, or they may have dragged her up into the thicket on the hillside where the deed was done. Whether Pearl Bryan was dead and being carried, or alive but doped and dragged, Jackson and Walling would have had a real struggle to get up the steep hill. Even if there was a moon, it would have been very dark in the thick woods, so they would certainly have required a lantern, which one man would have been carrying. That same conspirator was also probably carrying the girl's traveling bag, as that would be needed to carry the decapitated head.

If 1 am correct in my conjecture that they had the bag and a lantern in the hack with them, it is evident that everything had been carefully planned. Also, if the Coroner was correct about the use of surgical instruments in the decapitation, they were also being carried. As to how Jackson and Walling returned to Cincinnati, no one knows. I have written that the scared driver drove back to town as soon as his passengers were out of the hack, but one newspaper article gives the impression that he abandoned his coach, and went running down the hill towards Newport. In any event, someone (or two) had to get back on foot, as, in the dead of night, at that very isolated spot on the Pike, there would be small chance of picking up a ride.

 Also, no witness ever appeared to say that they had given anyone a lift into town that morning. The streetcars, that had stopped running at midnight, started again very early in the morning, but certainly, the motorman or conductor would have come forward with the fact, if a black man, or two white men, carrying a grip and a lantern, boarded their car near the end of the line, especially after the news of the murder came out.

On the same day that the body was discovered, February 1, 1896, Jackson and Walling returned to Legner's Tavern at Fourth and Plum in Cincinnati, and told the bartender that they would like to leave a small leather grip with him until the following-day. The bartender agreed, but on handling it, he noticed that it was oddly weighted, and asked if it held a bowling ball. He got no answer. The next night Jackson took the grip out, and then sometime later, brought it back empty. At the trial of Jackson, Detective Crim pointed out to the jury that the dental college was only a couple of squares away from the saloon, and that the furnace not only heated the building, but also served as an incinerator for burning rubbish of the place.

Lewis Ross and Sam Phister, the two young Highlanders who were graduating from the Dental College that year, said later that the general opinion at the school was the girl's head simply disappeared in the furnace. Naturally, the blood-stained leather bag was presented as a prime prosecution-exhibit at both trials, but I do not know if it was determined if the blood was that of the murdered girl. It may be that there were no facilities for such testing in 1896.

The bag did prove to belong to Pearl, as she had brought it with her that day from Greencastle. After the trial, and the double-hanging, the bag went into a lockbox at the office of the Campbell County Circuit Court Clerk at the Newport Courthouse; and it is still there. (Note: it is now at the Campbell County Historical County Museum)

A great many strange tales were to be told about this grisly murder, and they would continue over the years. Curiosity brought many hundreds of our Tri-State area citizens out to the turnaround "end-of-the-line" loop, at the end of the recently completed "Cincinnati, Inverness & Ft. Thomas Electric Railroad", which was just across the road from the lane into Mr. Lock's property (now Warren Court).

The streetcars did a booming business, with extra cars being added to handle the weekend crowds, and this was to continue long after the two men were executed, more than a year after Pearl's body was found. The visitor-sightseers wanted souvenirs, either bought, or simply taken from the "scene of the crime". Many enterprising entrepreneurs set up roadside stands along the Pike and apparently sales were brisk. With the new merchants from the recently established Midway operating many of these places, Mr. Lock decided to give them some competition, by having souvenir and food stands along his own lane. As he was in the grocery business, with a very successful store in Newport at Monmouth and Ringgold (8th Street), he had an advantage. So, he not only sold Pearl Bryan Souvenirs, but also offered lemonade, sandwiches, soft drinks and candy.

Newspaper reports told also, of how some souvenir hunters were collecting pebbles and stones to take home, while others broke branches from trees and bushes. At least, Mr. Lock succeeded to a certain extent, in keeping trespassers from trampling down his farm, and keeping them out of his orchards, but he only accomplished this by resorting to a bit of trickery. It was only natural, of course, for most of his uninvited visitors to want to see the exact spot where Pearl Bryan's headless body had been lying, but this was very difficult to get to, and perhaps a quarter mile from the car line. It was on a steep hillside, covered with heavy underbrush, making walking quite difficult for the city ladies in their 1890's full skirts.  So Mr. Lock simply moved the "site" of his farmhand, John Hewling's gruesome discovery, well up the hill, for the convenience of the sightseers, and to protect his property.

On a personal note, at the time of Pearl's murder, my Mother's family had their home in Newport, on Central Avenue, as Granddaddy Morton was Newport's City Engineer. Also, however, they had a farm home for the summers they rented from  Mr. Jacob Hawthorne on Alexandria Pike, across from St. Stephens Cemetery. The large house was just right for the mother and father, and all nine children. (A supermarket is on the site today.)

On that fateful morning, Granddaddy was driving his horse and rig down the Pike as usual, on his way to Newport, when he came upon a group of people, with horses and carriages on the side of the road, just before he had reached Grandview Pike.  Naturally, he stopped and was to learn at firsthand about the discovery of the headless girl's body.  Both Sheriff Plummer and Coroner Carothers, whom he knew well, were there, so he was to visit the site, and saw where the body was found.  I was born in March 1902, just six years after Pearl was killed, but as I recall in my earliest memories, the Pearl Bryan story was still being talked about, and to all of us kids, especially in our south end of town, it was an exciting and spooky tale.

Also read Jim Reis' article on Pearl Bryan from Pieces of the Past

And Troy Taylor's Legend of Pearl Bryan

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