1897: Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling, Pearl Bryan’s murderers

Add comment March 20th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1897, a remarkable scene unfolded at the double hanging of Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling in Newport, Ky.

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.”

At 11:40am the trapdoors opened and Jackson and Walling were hanged.(Source)

Jackson and Walling had been convicted the previous year in separate trials — each defendant accusing the other — for the murder of Pearl Bryan, a naive Greencastle, Ind. farmgirl who had gone in search of an illegal abortion and turned up headless.

The notoriously grisly case — the decapitated body was only laboriously identified by tracing a manufacturers’ mark on her shoes back to her hometown — precipitated a nationwide media frenzy, ordinarily an ephemeral phenomenon.

But this story had more legs than your average whodunit. Years later, tourists were still seeking out Pearl Bryan sites to gawk, and paying local hucksters to eyeball murderabilia.

(As was the style at the time, the Pearl Bryan slaying also contributed a murder ballad recorded by the Library of Congress. Close-enough lyrics here.)

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But for the last public hanging in Campbell County, the crime beat couldn’t even scratch the surface of the weirdness.

Poor Pearl Bryan’s head, you see, was never found, and the culprits adamantly refused to divulge its whereabouts, prompting rumors of satanic ritual.

This occult connection (and the unsettled nature of a case with a head still at large) attracted paranormal associations.

Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a Wilder, Ky., honky-tonk, that opened more than 80 years after Pearl Bryan’s murder, is reputed to be haunted by her spirit and those of the men hanged for her death. (The actual connection of this building/site to Pearl Bryan or her killers is speculative at best, but to judge by the stories they tell about it, Bobby Mackey’s seems to be a spectral Grand Central Station. Don’t take it from me: a “ghost counselor” and the “President of the United States Psychotronic Association” both vouch for its spooky bona fides!)

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Murder,Popular Culture,Public Executions,The Supernatural,USA

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