The Gruesome Circus


[Collected from various sources]

Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling murdered Pearl Bryan in 1896. The two Satanists decapitated her head and disposed of it in the offal disposal chute, or “well” of the old slaughterhouse. Jackson cursed the location and anyone involved in prosecuting him. The two men were too terrified to discuss their infernal rituals and rites at trial, their fellow members would’ve killed them.


Pearl Bryan
Pearl Bryan

This remains the most widely promoted “legend” surrounding Bobby Mackey’s facility. The most ironic aspect of the tale is, according to the evidence, no murder occurred at all. The trial for Pearl Bryan’s “murder” was a staggering display of corruption and fabrication. It was a gruesome circus of bribery, libel, and willful deception.

A headless female body was found on February 1, 1896, in a remote field outside of Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. It was miles away from the site that would eventually be Bobby Mackey’s. The corpse was discovered in John Locke’s field. Authorities weren’t hopeful the remains would be identified. The head was cleanly removed, with no sign of struggle except around the vertebra. The body had lost all its blood elsewhere. Whoever performed the decapitation had surgical knowledge and utilized a surgical tool. Outside of minor scratches on her hands, the body had no other signs of violence, no stab wounds, and no bullet holes. One investigator just happened to notice the body wore a special kind of footwear. The victim had a slight foot deformation that required custom shoes. Both the maker and the serial number were imprinted on the shoe.

The body was eventually found to be Pearl Bryan, 23, of Greencastle, Indiana. She was a popular woman who had friends everywhere. Her father was a successful farmer named Alexander S. Bryan. Everyone was stunned by the unexpected death and the story that unfolded showed Pearl was not quite as she appeared.

Bryan was in a delicate situation by autumn of 1896. She found out she was in the family way. She decided to find a doctor for an abortion. The father, William “Billy” Woods, was also her cousin. On January 28, 1897, she told her family she was going to stay with friends in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was the last time her family saw her alive.

Bryan instead went to find a physician for the procedure. Woods gave her the money to go to Cincinnati, Ohio. What happened beyond this point has never been satisfactorily explained. The authorities never had proof of murder, beyond a post-mortem decapitation. Evidence suggests her death was due to a botched abortion, and her head was removed to hide her identity. She had waited five months to address the issue of her pregnancy, so it’s uncertain as to what she believed her options were.

Scott Jackson, Alonzo Walling, and William Woods were arrested by February 6. The Jackson and Walling double-indictment was hastily fashioned, with no reference to Bryan’s pregnancy and no formal murder charge against either man.

Jackson was open and cooperative with officials, from the time of his arrest. He said Woods had gotten Bryan pregnant and harassed him about the situation throughout December. Woods and Bryan were cousins, so they couldn’t marry, even if they wanted to. If the pregnancy was discovered, they would both be ruined.

Initially, Jackson said he couldn’t help. He was just a dental student. He went home for the holidays and believed Woods would take his troubles elsewhere. Jackson, 27, was the only son of the widowed Mrs. John Jackson, a well-respected resident of Greencastle, Indiana.

After the holidays, it became clear Woods wouldn’t relent. He continued to beleaguer Jackson. Jackson grew so tired of the aggravation he said he thought he knew someone who might be of help.

Jackson then questioned Alonzo Walling, 22, his friend and roommate. Walling said he thought he could find someone who helped women in that condition. Walling questioned his girlfriend, May Smith, and she referred him to a doctor known for such procedures.

Bryan came to Cincinnati and registered at the Indiana House under the name of Stanley. Woods sent her far too early, before any preparations were made. Jackson and Walling hadn’t even found a suitable physician to perform the procedure. Smith gave them the name of a prospective doctor, but they hadn’t found an opportunity to even speak with him.


A Petty Argument is Murder


By this point, detectives told Jackson that Walling made horrendous accusations against him. The idea of betrayal was just enough to encourage Jackson to do the same.

Jackson then said he referred Pearl to Walling, himself. He said he’d called on Bryan at the hotel the next day to arrange for the procedure. He gave her instructions as well as directions to the place of the operation. He didn’t see her again after.

Jackson said he believed Walling killed her, but he didn’t witness it. He said Walling took her to Ft. Thomas and murdered her, and then threw her head in the river. In Jackson’s account, Walling was frantic the next day. He wanted Bryan’s clothing and belongings destroyed. Jackson said Walling decapitated her body to conceal her identity.

Walling, on the other hand, said Jackson did it. He also said he couldn’t accuse him outright, but he suspected it. Walling said Jackson not only murdered Pearl, but he carried her head around for 3 days in his bag. He claimed Jackson injected Bryan with prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) through a hypodermic needle. No such substance was found in her body or in Jackson’s possession.

Woods was released on his own recognizance, if he agreed to testify against Walling and Jackson. Of course he did. As the only connection between Bryan, Jackson, and Walling, his testimony pushed all blame for both the pregnancy and botched abortion onto Jackson. Woods assured the court Jackson did it, and Walling was his accomplice.

Woods denied being intimate with Bryan, although several of his friends testified that he commonly boasted about his sexual exploits with Pearl and how “easy” she was. What’s most intriguing is that Pearl’s own family assumed Woods was the baby’s father. He was always at the Bryan house, even when Pearl had gentlemen friends visit. Jackson had visited the Bryan household once or twice, but only as a friend of Woods’s.

Both Walling and Jackson feared extradition to Kentucky. They said they wouldn’t receive a fair trial and it appears they were correct. The two were brought to Campbell County, Kentucky. The men were jailed as soon as they arrived. Jackson and Walling were confined alongside one another. The authorities placed them in adjacent cells and listened to their conversations, but not even private exchanges produced anything substantial. There was never any proof of either man’s accusation, just as there was absolutely no proof of anything the authorities theorized.




This article series appears in Appalachian Curiosities.
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