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Poor Pearl

Pearl Bryan

…And little did Pearl Bryan think when she left her home
The grip she carried in her hand would hide her head away
She thought it was her lover’s hand she could trust both night and day
Although it was her lover’s hand that took her life away…
~From the American folk ballad describing the murder of Pearl Bryan.

When Pearl Bryan boarded a train in central Indiana bound for Cincinnati, she hoped the trip to Ohio would mean an end to her troubles. Pearl just wanted to make a problem go away; she had no idea that her tragic fate would be immortalized in song as a warning of what fate awaits young people who stray from the path of righteousness.
It was January 1896 and the 21-year-old belle of Putnam County was desperate. Unmarried and pregnant, Pearl was heading to Cincinnati where the father of the child said he had arranged for an illegal abortion.
Instead, the girl who would evermore be known as “Poor Pearl” was betrayed and most foully murdered by the man she trusted.
Ordinarily such a story would pass into oblivion after killer was swung off into eternity by the hangman; no doubt this family secret would be buried deep. But this time was different: Pearl’s murder was tailor-made for the popular culture of the time. The barbarity of the crime, its characters and its cause created a melodrama that wrote itself: A villain deflowers a beautiful young girl and murders her to cover up an unplanned pregnancy so he can continue to live a life of debauchery. To prevent the girl from being identified he cuts off her head, which is never found.
The tragedy understandably resonated with the public, prompting the composition of one of America’s most enduring folk ballads meant to encourage young ladies to embrace chastity and modesty.

The Belle of Putnam County

If not for her ignominious end, Pearl Bryan likely would not even rate a footnote in history. Assuming she returned alive and well from Cincinnati, she should have thanked her lucky stars and learned her lesson. Pearl had no aspirations beyond being a wife and mother and could have her pick of suitors, so it is likely she would have settled down, become a mother if she was still able to have children and dealt with her past as best she could.
There are a few facts we can glean about Pearl if we are willing to accept the contemporary newspaper accounts with a grain of salt.
We know that she was the youngest of 12 children born to the anonymous wife of Alexander Bryan, a well-to-do dairy farmer in Putnam County. Six siblings were alive to mourn the death of Poor Pearl in 1896, along with both parents. The Bryans were well-respected in the area, known for their piety and upright character. Members of the Bryan line had been in central Indiana for close to a century, and people remember that the family helped pacify the Indians back in the days before statehood.
We know that Pearl graduated near the top of her class from Greencastle High School in 1892. She did not pursue any further education and lived with her parents. She was an avid seamstress who fashioned most of her own clothes. Her commitment to sewing was readily identifiable by callouses that are apparently unique to practitioners of that trade. These later proved useful to investigators.
There is only a single photograph of her, probably a graduation portrait; most images of Pearl are lithographs based on the picture. More than 100 years out of style, it is hard to judge from a line drawing whether Pearl was as beautiful as the reporters described her. We will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she deserved the high praise and it was not simply de mortuis nihil nisi bonum which prompted the effusive praise of Pearl.

Pearl… of a fine, voluptuous form, with a sweet, lovely disposition and manners, popular with all who were acquainted with her, cheerful and happy at all times …
Beautiful in form and features, highly accomplished, well educated, with a doting father and mother, well provided with this world’s goods, and with whom she was a favorite daughter, Pearl Bryan had much to live for…
From the time she left school, aye, even before her graduating year arrived, she had many admirers, and to look on her was to love, to love was to lose.

Pearl was in no hurry to settle down despite having her share of suitors. The Enquirer tells us that “none of her ardent admirers had made a deeper impression upon her, and her heart was still her own.” Although friendly, she was universally aloof to the suitors.
“Money and position did not have any effect upon her favors, the young man, struggling hard to make his way in life, was as graciously received and as well treated by her as the young swell, rolling in luxury and wealth.”

She counted her admirers by the score, but to none did she give her heart, or encourage them in any serious intentions. She was liked by all, but while she was of a lovable, affectionate disposition, she allowed none to go beyond the line of admiration, and cupid’s swift and seldom erring shafts, fell harmless by her side.

Perhaps knowing she was doomed to be nothing more than a wife and mother, Pearl was not ready to surrender to her fate. Time was not on her side (press reports stated that “three long years” had passed since her graduation), but eventually some man would win her favor; as the Enquirer said about her, “Cheerful and talkative, yet lacking in force, by nature kind and benevolent to a fault, and her development of individuality and self-reliance small, she was one who could be easily persuaded but never driven.”
The time would come when the proper man would be vetted and a formal courtship begun. Eventually the number of gentleman callers Pearl received would dwindle down from many to one and then zero — forever. She would go from the special favorite of her parents with its accompanying benefits to homemaker with its attendant duties.
There was one young man who stood out from the rest, but only as a friend. Will Wood was Pearl’s second cousin and was the nearest relative in age and location to Pearl. A student at Depauw College (now a university) with hopes of becoming a doctor like his uncle, Wood was the son of a well-known and respected Methodist minister. He played a critical role in advancing the plot of this real-life melodrama by introducing the “hypocrite and demon” Scott Jackson to Pearl Bryan. Wood was Jackson’s closest friend, and together the two men frequented some of the region’s more questionable saloons and gambling joints.
His intentions in introducing Pearl to Jackson were completely honorable. Friend of both Pearl and Jackson, Wood was intimately connected with the crime but hardly culpable. His interview and testimony prove that he was doing everything he could to help Pearl and was interested only in her welfare.
Letters between Jackson and Wood openly discuss failed attempts to induce a miscarriage through home remedies. In one of the last letters Jackson discusses Pearl’s itinerary and assures Wood that everything will go according to plan (just not the plan Wood and Pearl expected).
“He said that it was very frequently done, done every day and if he had the instruments he could do it himself,” Wood testified at Jackson’s trial. “Such operations, he said, were everyday occurrences and if we got it done she would be all right in three or four days.”
Wood had a genuine love for Pearl that was described as being more like that of an older brother. He was far away when Pearl was in Cincinnati and would never have sent her if he suspected Jackson’s true intention.
Like the others connected to the case, Wood was overwhelmed by the strength of Jackson’s personality. Not until he met Jackson did the reputation of this Methodist minister’son, attending a religious college with hopes of joining his uncle’s medical practice, decline to what the Enquirer decreed to be “mixed,” and sank much lower than that following the tragedy.
While Wood escaped any earthly punishment, the Enquirer condemned him for the unpardonable sin of bringing shame to his family.

They met through the intimate acquaintance and friendship of each with Will Wood, who little thought when he brought this pure spotless virgin in contact with the hypocrite and demon, Jackson, that he was committing a sin, which he would regret to his dying day, and which would bring disgrace, dishonor and ruin on two highly respected families and also upon his own head and that of his aged respected and Christian father.

With the notoriety surrounding Pearl’s murder and the key part he played in the trials of Jackson and his co-conspirator Alonzo Walling, Wood found his plans for medical school in ruins. He disappeared from public view until a few years later when a wire story reported falsely that Wood had been aboard the U.S.S. Maine when she exploded in Havana in 1898. The dispatch took the opportunity to rehash more of the Pearl Bryan story than was necessary. In truth no sailor named Wood was listed on the crew manifest for the Maine.
What prompted this false report and what really happened to Will Wood are unknown.

Scott Jackson

In the small city of Greencastle Scott Jackson was a Jekyll and Hyde. His lineage was rarely equaled and never surpassed by those in his new hometown and he was welcome in parlors around the city. When away at school he preferred different company, the kind that would have barred him forever from any home in Greencastle.
Physically he was a little short, but he was handsome and cut a fine athletic figure. He sported a bushy mustache of the type then in vogue and his blond hair supplied his nickname, “Dusty.” Jackson possessed that fragile kind of self-assurance particular to narcissists. In the right company he was dominant and he had a talent for finding companions who could not withstand his forceful personality. He was a villain from head to toe and sternum to spine, lacking any conscience whatsoever.
The Enquirer gave an apt description of Scott Jackson:

Belonging to an excellent family, he was outwardly a man whom any father would be proud to have his daughter associate with. With dimples on his chin and cheeks, a childish smile on his lips, frank, beautiful, pale violet-blue eyes, he had a most winsome countenance. But behind the angelic front was hidden a very demon…
To those not knowing his habits, a handsome, affable, pleasing man of fine form and features; to those who knew him truly, a villain of the deepest dye, a very demon in human shape.

In the fall of 1894 Scott Jackson and his widowed mother moved from Jersey City to Greencastle, ostensibly to be closer to one of her daughters who had lived there some years as the wife of a Depauw College professor.
Like Pearl and Wood, Jackson came from a good family, but this had no effect on his character because he had none to affect. Jackson’s father had been a merchant marine fleet commodore with all of the integrity of character such a position requires. In Jackson’s case, however, the apple fell far from the tree.
There was an equally important reason for the move which was the family’s secret shame: Scott Jackson had narrowly dodged a long prison term in New Jersey for grand larceny, avoiding conviction only by cooperating with the prosecution. His crime ruined the family name on the East Coast. When it became clear there was no future for them in New Jersey, Jackson and his mother gave up the bustle of the East Coast for the refined quiet of a Methodist enclave in Central Indiana.
Jackson’s first known crime was reckless and stupid (a trait he would continue to display in his murder of Pearl). Working in the mail room of the Jersey City office of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Jackson was tasked with opening the correspondence. This gave him uncontrolled access to checks and probably cash. He helped himself to more than $32,000 before he was caught.
The other man, Alexander Letts, had not instigated the scheme but was considered more culpable because he forged the signatures on the checks in his role as a financial clerk. Jackson was presented with a deal that allowed him to be nolle prose if he testified against Letts, who was later convicted. Not surprisingly there was almost no money left to recover.

The saloon which they kept had become notorious. They were acknowledged high flyers in sporting circles. Both had become “plungers” on the race tracks. It was reported that they made much money, owing to their lavish expenditures. They “entertained” liberally in their own particular way, and for a time were looked upon as “good fellows” among the sporting fraternity, who sought the privilege of their acquaintance. Jackson was a prominent member of the Entre Nous, an exclusive social club.

One can only hope that poor Letts, lured into the scheme and left take the fall, took no small satisfaction in hearing of Jackson’s ultimate fate.
Because the Jackson family was not native to Greencastle and had few acquaintances there besides the sister, news of Jackson’s criminal past and lewd behavior did not reach that city. Will Wood was a neighbor to Jackson and once they found their shared interest in the underworld lifestyle, the two young men became fast friends.
Jackson entered the Indianapolis Dental College where Wood frequently made the interurban ride for entertainment. Jackson and Wood proved that New Jersey had nothing on Indiana as far as being able to find a good time.
“Both being fond of ladies’ company, they spent much of their time together in the company of women of loose moral character and were in several very unsavory escapades, escaping notoriety however under assumed names, which prevented their families and friends at Greencastle from hearing of them,” according to the Enquirer.

Love and Ruin

Wood introduced Jackson to Pearl in the Spring of 1895 and it was love at first sight. Jackson’s words, which the Enquirer reports “came only from the lips and never from his heart,” quickly overwhelmed Pearl’s Victorian sentiments and excited her passions.
Jackson maintained the outward appearance of a gentleman of high morals and good character, winning the approbation of Pearl’s parents, who were in their dotage. With the less intensive scrutiny that younger children receive from their parents, Pearl was given wide latitude in her relationship with Jackson.

The parents of the erring girl never for a moment suspected anything wrong. Pearl was their favorite, the daughter of their old age, had been raised with every care and precaution, had always moved in the very best of society, and Jackson to them was a gentleman, a member of one of the best families of the country…
Without hesitancy they permitted their favorite daughter to accept the attentions of Jackson, go out with him when he was visiting home, and remain alone with him in their parlor until late hours in the night. They had every confidence in Pearl, and no suspicion of the villainous intentions of Jackson, or the evil influence he possessed over her.

Pearl was putty in Jackson’s hands and he molded her to fit his will. Older, more experienced and with a plan that ended in the naive girl’s full surrender, Jackson knew the things Pearl wanted to hear and how to woo her. The Enquirer also blames Pearl’s fall on Jackson’s mesmeric powers.
“He became attentive, and with a veneering of the usages of polite society managed to fascinate the farmer’s daughter. His power over her seemed almost hypnotic. So great was his control over her that she is said to have kept appointments with him in the dental office where he was serving his apprenticeship.”
Will Wood pins down the date of Pearl’s first encounter with her seducer somewhat by testifying that Jackson told him “he betrayed her in September.”
“The accomplishment of his devilish designs, her ruin, was easy,” reports the Enquirer. “She fell a victim to his lustful desire, and in a short time discovered that she would soon become a mother.”
In a panic, Pearl turned to Wood, who became the primary conduit of information between the expectant parents. Any communications between Pearl and Jackson were lost forever and there was a suggestion that Pearl was carrying something that Jackson desperately wanted. It was clear that her body was searched after she was dead. It remains a mystery what, if anything, he found.
Wood, however, kept his letters from Jackson which put the dental student in the center of the plot. The letters provide a clear portrait of what was happening.
After confirming with Wood that “Bert,” their code name for Pearl, was indeed pregnant, Jackson wrote that something would be done, but as it was early in the pregnancy he recommended a wait and see position. Later Wood responded that the baby was healthy and probably going to stay that way, so Jackson provided some recipes for homeopathic abortifacients, or miscarriage-inducing tinctures and oils.
Several home remedy abortion concoctions were tried without success and Wood reported to his friend that Pearl was beginning to show physical signs of her condition. Her mental state, bordering on hysteria, was no better.
Jackson had transferred from Indianapolis Dental College to the college in Cincinnati, and told Wood that he was going to procure an abortion. He needed Wood to get Pearl to agree. It took no convincing on the part of Wood to induce his cousin to travel for the operation.

Question: Did you have a long talk with the girl?
Answer: Well, I talked with her.
Question: About the operation?
Answer: Yes, sir.
Question: Did she seem pleased?
Answer: I never saw her so happy in my life.

In addition to sharing his troubles with Will Wood, Jackson confided everything to his roommate, Alonzo Walling, whose involvement in the crime would result in his death on the gallows before his 22nd birthday.
Walling was also a student at the Ohio Dental College, although his background was much more common than Jackson’s. The oldest of three boys, he was 19 years old and had worked his way through high school in one of the Indiana glass factories until it closed. Like Jackson, Walling’s mother was a widow and the Enquirer reported that “having very poor health, her only thought was to try and give him a good education.”
While not absolving him of one scintilla of guilt, The Enquirer paints him as an unintelligent dupe who lacked the backbone to stand up to Jackson. We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this view.

Pearl in Cincinnati

Wood saw Pearl off at the Greencastle train station on Monday, January 27, 1896. Their meeting at the depot was by mere chance. He was there to pick up his father who was returning from a church conference. Wood was the only relative who knew where she was really heading as she told her parents she was going to spend the week with friends in Indianapolis.
She arrived in Cincinnati in the afternoon on Monday, was met by Jackson and put up at the Indiana House, but from there her activities until the night of her murder are unknown. Most likely she remained in her room or close by during the day. How Jackson kept her in limbo for a week waiting to have an abortion is a mystery, but probably she was still under his hypnotic influence.
Walling eventually acknowledged being with Pearl and Jackson at Wallingford’s saloon early Friday night, when confronted with witnesses who saw the three there. He claimed that was the first time he spent any time with her. Jackson also denied knowing Pearl was in town until he was presented with the witnesses from Wallingford’s saloon. He was the last person seen with her in the city, at around 8 p.m., when Pearl and Jackson boarded a cab. The only witness who put Walling with them at that time was unreliable and eventually convicted of perjury in connection with his testimony. He admitted he lied simply to inject himself into the story.
In their desperate attempts to deflect blame for the horrific crime Jackson and Walling told everything they knew — about the other man. Thanks to this mutual betrayal, it was simple for police to track the movements of each man and pick up evidence along the way.
However, since each tried to portray the other as the one who actually did the killing and denied he was even there, neither man would say what happened in a small wooded area outside Fort Thomas, Kentucky on the night of January 31, 1896. However, the killer painted in crimson a picture of how Pearl Bryan died, which was left for investigators to decipher.
A typical winter thaw warm front caused snow to turn to rain across the Ohio River Valley that Friday night, and by clues at the murder site Pearl and her killer — undoubtedly Jackson — arrived outside Fort Thomas across the river from Cincinnati, after 10 p.m. By that time the warm front had moved through and the clouds were dissipating. We know this was the hour of her death because Pearl’s body and her clothes were dry when she was found the next morning.

Discovery of the Crime

The young man who discovered the body of Pearl Bryan around 7 a.m. on Saturday, February 1, testified that it was not unusual to find “ladies of the city” asleep or camping near the soldiers stationed at Fort Thomas, so at first when he came over a small hill in a pasture on John Lock’s farm and looked into the copse below, he assumed it was just one of these unfortunates sleeping it off.
Then, he testified, he saw the blood. It was spattered everywhere. Police reported finding blood on the underside of leaves and high up in the trees fifteen feet away from the crime scene.
“The ground was literally saturated with blood,” testified Cincinnati Detective Cal Crim. “The earth was upturned and blood was found to a depth of eight or nine inches.”
The crime scene was out of a nightmare. The already bleak grayness of a Northern Kentucky winter was made worse by the blood-drenched snow turning into crimson-tinted mud puddles. The melting snow created a slight mist in the air that contributed a damp chill. Crowning the dismal spot was the reason everyone was there: a bloodless corpse with nothing more above her shoulders than a stump.
The young woman’s head had been severed at the fifth cervical vertebra, right above where the neck meets the shoulders. The head itself was missing.
The cut was made with skill; she had not been butchered. A quick glance at Gray’s Anatomy indicates that a cut near that area is what someone well-acquainted with the anatomy of the head and neck would make when separating one from the other.
The woman’s clothes were in such disarray that police incorrectly thought she had been raped. Instead the killer was searching for something, possibly a letter, which the woman kept with her.
“The upper part of the woman’s dress was open as was the garment beneath, and her bosom was bare,” the Enquirer wrote. “The skirt-band was unloosed, and the skirt of the dress was gathered up about the waist.”
Several yards away police found a woman’s glove and a piece of cloth torn from her dress.
The forensic evidence at the scene allowed the investigators to recreate the timeline of the murder, which told of the woman’s terrible end.
The killer and victim walked toward the copse side by side but at some point the woman tried to flee. The victim fled through a mud puddle that, had she not been running, she certainly would have avoided. The killer followed her directly through the mud and caught her, tearing off the bit of cloth from her dress.
Pinning the woman to the ground he drew a knife and slashed her throat. The woman put up a valiant struggle for her life: The three defensive wounds on her left hand laid open her palm and fingers to the bone. At some point in her death struggle she tore a piece from the killer’s shirt sleeve. It was recovered at the scene and the amount of blood on the scrap indicates she was already severely wounded.
At the coroner’s inquest the jurors concluded the woman was alive when the killer began to cut off her head because her body was completely devoid of blood. Had she been dead, the coroner said, some blood would have remained in her veins.
News of such a horrible crime spread fast and soon the relic hunters were competing with investigators to find clues. Anything relating to the crime was fair game, from bloodstained leaves to the Holy Grail of murder memorabilia: A strand of the victim’s hair.
The autopsy revealed that the woman was around five months pregnant and that she had not been raped. At first the soldiers at Fort Thomas were the likely suspects, but every man was present and accounted for at the time of the crime. This news caused authorities to shift their focus to finding a man, probably married, who got a girl into trouble and who lost his mind at the wrong moment.


The authorities identified the remains through circumstantial evidence beginning with the only lead from the crime scene: A pair of shoes. The woman was wearing small black leather-and-cloth boots that bore the label of a clothing store in Greencastle, Indiana. Police headed there to interview the owners of Louis & Hayes, who told them that a dozen pairs of the shoes were made especially for their store. Ten had been sold and police were able to track down all but two of the purchasers. The shoes in question went to one of those buyers. It appeared they were at a dead end.
Because Depauw Women’s Seminary was close by, the police tried to make up for lost time by visiting the campus to make sure all the ladies there were accounted for. They were.
When the description of the girl’s sewing calluses and a small wart on a finger became known, Pearl’s mother became concerned. She asked her son to check on Pearl.
“Fred Bryan a brother of Pearl telegraphed to Indianapolis to Pearl’s friends, asking if she was there,” the Enquirer told its readers. “The answer came that Pearl had not been in Indianapolis.”
Faced with the likelihood that the impossible had become possible and that the murdered girl might be their youngest daughter, Pearl Bryan’s parents were about to go to the police with their concerns. Detectives from Newport and Cincinnati were ahead of them and arrived on their doorstep in the early hours of the day. The officers were already convinced that the dead woman was Pearl Bryan and only needed confirmation from the family.
The clue that broke the case open came from the Western Union telegrapher who happened to be a friend of Will Wood’s. A.W. Early knew of the telegram sent by Fred Bryan and also knew that Pearl Bryan was not in Indianapolis but that she was in Cincinnati to have an abortion.
“It was then, he knew, that he possessed positive information, not only as to the identification of the headless body at the Morgue in Newport, but also to the fixing of the guilt on one or more persons, one of whom at least was Early’s intimate friend,” the Enquirer told readers.
Wood not only talked to Early about the problems of Pearl and Scott Jackson, he showed him the letters written by Jackson with the various suggestions for inducing an abortion.
“Wood told me afterward that Pearl had gone to Cincinnati to have a criminal operation performed, and had told her parents she was going to Indianapolis to visit friends,” he told police. “She had money with her, sufficient to cover any expenses she might incur in such an undertaking.”
Armed with this information the detectives went back to the clothiers. A cross-check of records confirmed that the size 3 boots were bought recently by Pearl Bryan. With the shoes and Pearl’s homespun clothes in hand, the detectives knocked on the door of the Bryan home around 2 a.m.
Suffice to say that within an hour arrest warrants had been issued for Scott Jackson and Will Wood for the murder of Pearl Bryan. Alonzo Walling had not yet been connected to the crime.


Jackson was the first man arrested and his capture went without incident: he was picked up outside the rooming house where he lived with Walling.

It was after nine o’clock, when almost the last ray of hope had died out of the officers breasts, that Chief of Police Deitsch received word that Jackson had just been seen at the Palace Hotel. The chief started out and ran into a man answering Jackson’s description. He informed the detectives of the fact, the fellow was watched and was seen to walk slowly down Ninth Street, and on reaching 222 he looked up at the windows. He strolled slowly to Plum Street and stopped and again looked back at the house.

One of the detectives approached Jackson from behind and called out, “Dusty!” which made Jackson turn.
“Your name’s Jackson, isn’t it?” asked the detective.
The Enquirer records Jackson’s reaction: “The man turned perfectly livid and trembled like an aspen, and as the detective continued to say, ‘I want you,’ he exclaimed, ‘My God! what is this for?'”
The most interesting thing about Jackson’s first interrogation after his arrest was where and how it occurred:

The scene in the private office of Mayor Caldwell in the City Hall was undoubtedly the most remarkable ever witnessed there. The Mayor was sitting in his office with his Chief Clerk, Cliff Lakeman, when Jackson was ushered into his presence by the officers, at the head of whom was Chief of Police Deitsch. A few minutes later the room was thronged with representatives of the newspapers and detectives. Coroner Haerr was also there waiting for possible developments.
Jackson, the prisoner, sat in the center of a long sofa on the east side of the room. On the side of him was Chief Deitsch. The latter conducted the examination, while the Mayor sat in his chair, smoked a cigar and listened.

Jackson said he last saw Pearl on January 2 in Greencastle and had no idea why she was in Cincinnati — assuming it really was her body in the morgue. What he could not explain away with a lie he simply shrugged off with an “I don’t know.”
Jackson was surprised to learn that police had been doing more than just trying to identify a body. Jackson’s acquaintances knew he was from Greencastle, as was the victim, and he was seen in the company of a mysterious young girl before the body was found but not after. When Jackson began carrying a valise for no apparent reason, he was brought to police attention.
Although it was one of hundreds of tips provided, police dutifully sent a detective to speak with a saloon keeper who was holding on to a case for Jackson. The officer came back with a critical piece of evidence. Known forever as “the bloody valise” because the name fit, the satchel appeared as how one would imagine it would if its previous contents was a severed head.
His explanation for this was weak. When asked why he left the valise in the saloon, Jackson said he did it because he did not want to carry it. He admitted his boardinghouse was just across the street and the valise was empty.
Following the interview Jackson was booked into the Hamilton County Jail on a charge of murder. Jackson’s cell contained no light and was built from dark stone. Several cells away, a single gas lamp flickered. The Enquirer did not report if Jackson’s cellblock was otherwise empty, but he was alone in his cell. In this dungeon he began to lose his cool demeanor and was afraid of being lynched. He requested the jailer to sit outside his cell. The jailer said he thought Jackson was more likely to kill himself than be lynched, and thus began a restless night for the accused.
Around 2 a.m. he asked the jailer if Walling had been arrested yet. When the turnkey asked why he should be, Jackson clammed up. The jailer reported the behavior to investigators and by 3 a.m. Walling was in custody, although Jackson was not made aware of this.
The report of Wood’s arrest in South Bend reached Cincinnati around 6:30 the next morning.


Will Wood was interrogated in much the same fashion as Jackson, but with his father in the room, as well. Based on the information uncovered in Greencastle, police did not consider Wood guilty of anything other than having a bad choice in friends. His interview did not shed any new light on the case and he was released on his own recognizance without being charged.
The circumstantial evidence against Jackson and Walling was increasing exponentially with every edition of the Enquirer, but the paper’s accounting was not far from the truth. Faced with the overwhelming stack of evidence, the men turned on each other.
In Jackson’s locker at the dental college searchers found trousers that were blood-flecked and had muddy cuffs — as if the wearer had run through a mud puddle. Jackson claimed Walling wore the pants the night he killed Pearl, while Walling simply denied knowing anything about the pants.
A possible weapon was found in the form of a straight razor hidden in the bottom of Walling’s trunk. He admitted the razor was his, but denied it was connected to the crime. Authorities were alerted to its existence by Jackson.
Walling repaid the favor by pointing out that Jackson purchased cocaine and was planning to give Pearl an overdose via injection. No injection site was present on her body, but the autopsy showed she had ingested cocaine powder. He went on to say Jackson told him the cocaine was to paralyze Pearl’s vocal chords so she could not scream when he killed her. Jackson admitted buying the cocaine, but said he did this at Walling’s request.
Continuing his quixotic effort to lay the crime squarely at the feet of Jackson, Walling told police where they could find the coat Jackson wore the night of the murder.
A detective went to the spot and found the black coat which matched the pants found in the locker. Blood stains were found on the sleeves and front. The Enquirer claimed in one of the pockets was found “tansy flower, which, made into tea, is used to produce miscarriages.”
Occasionally the prisoners were questioned together, which resulted in conversations between the two that always degraded into each man demanding the other do the honorable thing and tell the truth.
In reality Walling was not helping his case much, if at all. Desperate to escape the gallows, he was cooperating fully with police in locating evidence that just further established his guilt and did nothing to exonerate him. His knowledge of the intimate details of the crime made him an accomplice and subject to the same penalty as the principal. At best the only difference was whether Walling died in prison sooner, rather than later. Still, he had nothing to lose by trying.
With the testimony of Will Wood and the corroboration by telegrapher Early, establishing motive and opportunity would be easy for the prosecution.
Jackson with valiseThe most damning piece of evidence was the bloody valise recovered from a saloon where Jackson left it. Confronted with the it, which he said he intended to destroy but had not yet done it, Jackson was clearly shaken. However, his story was so simple that even with his back against the wall it was easy to remember: “Walling did it all.”

Jackson’s face flushed and his eyes twitched. He pulled his mustache and ran his fingers through his hair. He was only a moment answering, but it appeared to be an hour to those who were waiting for a reply. He finally moistened his lips with his tongue and said: “Yes, that is blood.”
“Isn’t that the valise in which you carried the head?”
“I guess it is, but I did not carry it.”
“Well, who did?”

The valise is one of two that made appearances in the trial, both of which belonged to Pearl. The bloody valise was left at a saloon and later an empty case was turned in by Jackson and Walling’s barber. He could not recall which man left it, however.

At the Funeral Parlor

Jackson and Walling had to face one more ordeal before ever seeing a courtroom. The police were hoping that being confronted with the fruits of their crime, one or both of the men would crack. The plan resulted in a most unusual meeting at the undertaker’s parlor.
The Bryans spared no expense and gave Pearl the kind of funeral accoutrements one would expect a grieving family to do in such a situation. Her coffin had a white satin cloth finish, trimmed with a cord and tassel. The handles were silver, as was the plate in the center of the casket lid that read simply, “Pearl.” She was buried in the same white silk dress she wore to her graduation.
Jackson and Walling“The absence of the head was made scarcely noticeable by the placing of a square satin pillow in the head on the casket down to the shoulders of the corpse,” wrote the reporter present at the scene.
Standard police practice encourages investigators to confront the accused by showing images of the victim, but rarely is a suspect brought to a funeral parlor and interrogated in front of the dead victim by her family. Cincinnati PD had no such compunction.

Mayor Caldwell Chief Deitsch and Sheriff Plummer went to Epply’s morgue, where the remains lay. In a short time Detectives Crim and McDermott arrived with the prisoners. Jackson was placed at the head of the coffin and Walling near the foot. Both faced the brother and sister of the murdered girl, who were on the other side of the casket.

The Enquirer relates that Jackson’s cool demeanor, damaged by his encounter with the bloody valise, was near collapse when he arrived and it looked like the police theory was correct. But by the end of the interview he had recovered his nerve.
“He shook his head and sighed deeply. His face was terribly flushed, and he looked as though he might break down at any moment,” the paper reported. “On the other hand Walling was to all appearance the coolest man in the room. He gazed at the corpse without a shiver and looked around on the faces of those present.”
Perhaps he was expecting Jackson to confess and exonerate him. It was a forlorn hope he held to his final hours. The police then turned the interview over to the Bryan family, which was most interested in locating Poor Pearl’s head.

Determined to make one more effort to secure a confession as to where the head was, Chief Deitsch arranged for Mrs. Stanley to ask the prisoners. Almost begging on bended knees, and sobbing heavily she cried: “Mr. Jackson, I come to you and ask where is my sister’s head. For the sake of my poor mother and for my sister and for my brother I beg of you to tell me where my sister’s head is. It is my last chance and I want to send it home with the body. Won’t you please tell me, I beg of you?”
Jackson looked at her, and, without turning a hair, said: “Mrs. Stanley, I do not know.”
The same question was asked Walling to which he coldly and without any semblance of feeling, replied: “I do not know where it is.”

Jackson and Walling were returned to the jail, where they were greeted by a throng of citizens there for the single purpose of seeing the two men. Extra police were called out to clear the street and the people dissipated quietly, the Enquirer reporting that the crowd lacked a leader to turn it into a mob.
That evening Pearl’s body was taken by train to Greencastle. Her father had it placed in a sepulcher until her head could be found. Over and over he rejected entreaties to hold a funeral but only responded, “We must have her head. She cannot be buried without her head. The head must be found.”

To Kentucky

The two men fought extradition from Ohio to Kentucky but the courts upheld the governor’s order. Their trip from Cincinnati across the Ohio River to Newport is without question one of the greatest police chases ever conducted and contains an ironic twist that can only happen in real life. The Enquirer’s vividly detailed account by an anonymous reporter (likely paid by the word) conveys the festival-like excitement caused by their transfer to Newport and deserves quoting at length.

St. Patrick’s day, March, 17., 1896, will ever live green in the memory of Alonzo Walling and Scott Jackson. It was on this day they were taken to Kentucky, quietly and without much ado.
The crowds about the Jail and the reporters had no idea what was going on until patrol wagon No. 3 backed up to the door and Sheriff Plummer, followed by his prisoners and the detectives, went to get in. Immediately the crowd went wild and a mighty yell went up. “They’re going to Kentucky,” was yelled by a thousand voices. Cabs were telephoned for by reporters, spring wagons were pressed into service and before the officers and prisoners could get in the patrol wagon fully twelve or fifteen vehicles were ready to follow. The horses were forced to a run and those following increased their speed accordingly.
The crowd increased. Fear was unmistakably seen on the countenances of both prisoners. Down Sycamore Street to Eighth the horses went on a wild run. Before reaching Eighth Street, Sheriff Plummer said that it would be impossible to thwart the fast increasing throng and in order to throw them off their guard, ordered the driver to turn west off Sycamore on Eighth and drive to Central Police Station. A large crowd awaited them there and the prisoners were quickly hustled into the cells. The crowds increased until the large iron doors had to be closed to keep the crowds from the driveways and corridors of the big City Building. The prisoners were kept there for two hours or more. Every movement of the officers was watched closely, especially by the reporters.
Suddenly the large iron doors flew open, and patrol No. 1, dashed into the court-yard, when the party was again loaded in quickly. Once in the wagon, a wild drive to Newport was made. East on Eighth Street to Broadway dashed the team of splendid police-horses, down Broadway to Second and over the Central Bridge on a full run thence up York Street in Newport, up to Third to the jail.
Everywhere the people stopped and stared at the strange chase, as patrol No. 1 and vehicles containing press-representatives galloped by, throwing mud and snow in all directions, and unconsciously the correct conclusion was arrived at in nearly every case — that Jackson and Walling were being taken across the river.

We must assume the writer, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day while on the job, was peddling blarney when they wrote that the transfer was done “quietly and without much ado.”


The overwhelming circumstantial evidence made the summer 1896 trials of Jackson and Walling perfunctory affairs. There was the typical legal wrangling in which every lawyer bore the title “Colonel” and the state of Kentucky was represented, the Enquirer assured readers, by the best team of prosecutors that could be assembled from across the Bluegrass State.
Jackson took the stand in his defense, but there was nothing new to his theory of the crime: Will Wood got Pearl pregnant and as a favor to him Walling took Pearl across the river and murdered her.
“He maintains that Walling was confused and panic stricken when he saw the articles in the newspapers describing the finding of the body at Fort Thomas,” according to reporters. Jackson’s duties, which he failed miserably, were to dispose of Pearl’s luggage. His jury took under 15 minutes to find him guilty and recommend the death penalty.
Walling’s attempt to pin everything Jackson was similarly unsuccessful and he joined his former roommate in the death house.
All appeals were unsuccessful and the execution scheduled for March 20, 1897.

Execution Day

On the night before the hanging, Jackson and Walling were lodged together in the death house where they spent their time writing notes to family and friends, eating hearty meals and talking with the “death watch” made up of jailers and newspapermen. Both men were resigned to their fates, but Walling appeared to be more accepting. He ate a steak dinner and decided at 1 a.m. to go to sleep. The Enquirer reports that soon he was sleeping like a baby.
Jackson, on the other hand, did not sleep. He talked with his jailers well past 2 a.m. when he was visited by Sheriff Jule Plummer. The sheriff interrupted Jackson in his letter writing and asked if the condemned man planned on making a statement.
“If you are, I would appreciate knowing that in advance,” the sheriff said. Jackson replied that he would not make a statement. Plummer then asked if Jackson would exonerate Walling. A villain to the end, Jackson demurred.
“I cannot save Walling without lying,” he lied. “And I will not do that.”
Shortly after dawn the next morning Jackson and Walling, dressed in black cutaway coats and white shirts, mounted the gallows and without making any statements, were hanged for the murder of Pearl Bryan. They both died instantly. The Enquirer headline over its long article describing the hangings read “Sheathed: Justice’s Sword.”
The article reported that once the black hoods were removed from the corpses, Walling’s face appeared peaceful while Jackson died hard.

Only those who gazed upon the distorted and discolored face of Scott Jackson after the lifeless body had been cut down from the scaffold will ever realize the agony which he suffered before death’s icy grasp reached out and released him from his earthly sufferings.

In rather gruesome detail for a newspaper in 1897, the Enquirer described how Jackson’s head had swollen to three times its normal size and caused the undertaker’s assistant nearly to faint with fright.
The relic hunters who were out after Pearl’s murder were there for her killers’ executions but came away — at the moment — empty handed. As the bodies swayed at the end of their ropes the throng began to push forward, and the militia, which was on hand for just such an expectation, fixed bayonets and forced the crowd back.
Legend tells us that pieces of the hangman’s rope are particularly valuable as charms, so it is likely some lucky collectors eventually paid a pretty penny for a few inches of rope, thanks to eager jailers or militia members.

Pearl’s Head

Pearl Bryan’s severed head was never located despite intensive efforts by the police and public reunite it with her body. At one time a pond near Fort Thomas was drained at considerable expense with nothing to show for it.
Walling spoke openly of his speculations and eventually fixed on the idea that Jackson threw Pearl Bryan’s head off the bridge into the Ohio River. He backed up this claim with another: Jackson not only brought Pearl’s head back to the rooming house, he looked at it admiringly.
“He came in with a valise, and I saw him open it and say, ‘You are a beaut, you are.’ He thought I was asleep,” Walling said during questioning.
An interview by Walling with the Enquirer is a good example of the game of hot potato played by Walling and Jackson.

Question:Well, now, did you do it or did Jackson? He says you did it.”
Answer: He’s putting it all on me now, is he? Well, he’s the one who is guilty. I know nothing of it.”
Question: What did he tell you had become of the head?”
Answer: I understand that he threw it in the Ohio River.”
Question: Jackson says that you threw the head into the river, and that the next day you told him to get rid of anything lying around loose at the boarding house by throwing it into the river.”
Answer: I never saw the head, and he told me that he threw it into a sewer.”
Question: Then he says the skull was cut up and thrown over piecemeal by you.”
Answer: I don’t know about the cutting up part, but deny the other.”

In his earliest statement after admitting he knew about Pearl’s murder, Walling told police he believed Jackson buried it near the murder site. Extensive digging produced nothing, but the burial theory retained popularity despite denials by Jackson and an alternative theory later suggested by Walling. For several decades every time a human skull was unearthed in Northern Kentucky (a surprisingly common experience) it was suspected of being Poor Pearl’s head. Each time, the skull was ruled out.
Pearl’s father, Alexander, reconciled himself to the sorry fact that Pearl’s head would probably never be found and allowed his daughter’s remains to be buried without it. Her coffin was removed by pallbearers from her high school class from the tomb where it had been stored. Will Wood’s name is not mentioned in any newspaper reports. The six men carried the coffin to her final resting place at the highest point in Greencastle’s Forest Hill Cemetery where the grave could be seen from the Bryan homestead.
If ever a ghost was doomed to spend eternity searching for something, it is Pearl Bryan. However, whether it is because it is true, or because there are simply no ghost hunters in the area to dispute it, Pearl’s headless body appears to be resting quietly in her white satin coffin.

Birth of a Legend

There are many scholarly books about American folk music that tell how Pearl’s story was adopted by performers and became the standard for what researchers call “the murdered girl” genre of music. For a detailed exploration of the murdered girl ballad, I suggest Poor Pearl, Poor Girl! The Murdered-Girl Stereotype in Ballad and Newspaper by Anne B. Cohen. Her scholarly research on the actual crime is very granular and her book contains photographs not previously published. Those who are interested in the folklore aspect of the case will also be quite pleased. Be forewarned: This is a sociology textbook.

Pearl Bryan

Young girls, if you’ll listen, a story I’ll relate
That happened near Fort Thomas in the old Kentucky State
On January the thirty-first the dreadful deed was done
By Jackson and by Walling; how cold Pearl’s blood did run!
But little did her parents think when she left her happy home,
Their darling girl just in her youth would never more return.
How sad it would have been to them to have heard Pearl’s lonely voice
At midnight in that lonely spot where those two boys rejoiced!
And little did Pearl Bryan think when she left her home
The grip she carried in her hand would hide her head away
She thought it was her lover’s hand she could trust both night and day
Although it was her lover’s hand that took her life away
The driver in the seat is all who tells of Pearl’s sad fate
Of poor Pearl Bryan away from home in the old Kentucky state
Of her aged parents we all know well what a fortune they would give
If Pearl could but to them return her natural life to live
In came Pearl Bryan’s sister and falling to her knees
Begging to Scott Jackson, “My sister’s head, O please!”
Scott Jackson he set stubborn not a word would he proclaim
“I’ll meet my sister in heaven, where I’ll find her missing head.”
In came Walling’s mother, Pleading for her son
“Don’t take my son, my only son; from him I cannot part
O please don’t take him to prison; it would break my poor old heart!”
The jury gave a verdict, and to their feet they sprung:
“For the crime these boys committed they surely must be hung.”

A Note About Sourcing
The main source for this article and the best source for an introduction to Pearl’s murder is a pamphlet, The Murder of Pearl Bryan, or, The Headless Horror, published by “Barclay & Co.” consisting of word-for-word copies of content that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The articles are arranged in semi-chronological order, but not always. Two events that occurred almost simultaneously would be covered in separate stories and included in different parts of the pamphlet.
The fact that the Enquirer name does not appear leads to the conclusion that it was pirated.
This was often done with sensational trials usually by someone close to the case, most likely a reporter who cut a deal with a rival printer.
In the trial of Dr. James Snook for the murder of his mistress, daily trial transcripts were compiled and sold by the court reporters because they held more salacious details than could be printed in the newspapers. Few copies of the Snook pamphlet exist today because Columbus, Ohio, police confiscated and destroyed the bulk of them.
Occasionally newspapers published commemorative editions after the final sentence is carried out, such as the one printed after the execution of Mayor Sam McCue. There was no difference between those publications and today’s scandal sheets or those TIME/Life “special editions” that come out when a big celebrity dies.
Although Pearl’s story involved premarital sex, pregnancy, abortion and murder, there was not much in the pamphlet that was not in the papers. Mostly it is word substitution: “rape” for “outrage,” “abortion” instead of “criminal operation,” etc. The phrases “criminal intimacy” and “betray” as a action verb on the part of the victimizer, is used in the pamphlet and newspaper to mean “had sex” (The intimacy was criminal because they were unmarried).
The lack of new information means it was probably published as a special edition prior to the execution of Jackson and Walling as it ends right after the guilty verdicts are rendered.
For information about the hanging, I reviewed Enquirereditions at the Ohio State Library.
Regardless of its provenance, The Headless Horror collects articles and extensive verbatim transcripts of the trials and interrogations in one convenient place.

The Mayor Pays His Debt

Samuel McCue

The citizens of Charlottesville harbored a love-hate relationship with their former mayor and municipal court judge J. Samuel McCue. While Sam did have friends and admirers, for the most part local feelings tended toward an intense and passionate dislike.
In 1904, Samuel McCue, 45, was a ruthlessly successful attorney in Virginia specializing in debt collection and domestic relations cases. He had been a powerful mayor for three terms and sat on the bench of the municipal court where he was known for his unyielding tough-on-crime stance.
Gossips around the courthouse were convinced that Sam had the largest loan portfolio of any member of the county bar association, but some clients suspected he was financing his sideline business with their money in the form of collected, but undeclared, debt payments. One published account reflected the commonly held belief that Sam’s professional duties provided him with a hold over some of the community’s leading citizens who might have over-extended themselves financially, legally or romantically.
Lesser known generally, but also a dangerous activity on his part, Sam was a philanderer.
Any of these actions makes accumulation of enemies almost a certainty.
After his execution for murder, the Bluefield (Maryland) Daily Telegraph — perhaps the only newspaper in the area that did not support the verdict — speculated that Sam’s reputation had more than a little to do with his conviction.
“There was another thing that worked to his undoing. He was a man of overbearing disposition, and hated the poor and the humble with lofty disdain and frequently with insulting demeanor,” an editorial in the newspaper read. “When the first breath of suspicion came, these people fanned it into a flame.”
The Daily Telegraph did not comment on the fact that the jurors were brought in from various locations around the state — Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Warrenton and Richmond –and were unaffected by the local mood immediately after the crime.
In the end, Sam reaped the same kind of justice that he sowed after he killed his 42-year-old wife, Fanny, in a violent frenzy. For his crime he died on the gallows in February 1905.
At the turn of the 20th century, the McCue clan — Sam, along with his brothers Judge Edward O. McCue and Dr. Frank McCue and various kin created by decades of marriages among the elite — was among Albermarle County’s leading families.
“The McCues have always been prominent in Albermarle, exhibiting on all occasions positive and masterful dispositions in the conduct of their affairs,” according to The McCue Murder: Complete story of the crime and the famous trial published by reporters James H. Lindsay and John S. Patton shortly after the case reached its conclusion.
According to the book — a pamphlet, really — the McCue family fortune came from its large farming and cattle operation. Sam McCue was educated on the farm by a private tutor, later entering a prep school which led to a study of the law at nearby University of Virginia.
Sam maintained at best a gentleman’s C average until he left school to learn the law directly from those who practiced it, Lindsay and Patton wrote.

It is not likely that he took to books from a love of letters, but with the well-defined purpose to make use of his attainments as an asset in getting along in the world. The sparkling of the cadmean waters did not tempt him to deep and frequent draughts, and when he hung out his shingle as a young lawyer in 1884, his academic achievements and legal attainments were probably unattested by parchments.

Diplomas or not, Sam quickly established himself as an aggressive and skilled legal collections enforcer for local businesses. One client said “I turned over to him accounts I failed to collect, no matter how urgently I sought payment. Invariably, Sam McCue got the money.”
Those who were pursued by McCue cursed his name and sang a ditty that summarized their feelings: “Maunfra, maunfra, what’ll I do/To keep out o’ the hands of Sam McCue.
The attorney entered politics and was elected alderman in 1888, serving in that position until 1894. His first run for the mayoralty resulted in a third-place finish but Sam’s second try was successful. After he defeated the incumbent who had trounced him previously rumors of Sam’s stranglehold over some of the town fathers began to surface.
He served two terms as mayor and Sam’s draconian presence on the municipal bench drove the citizens to change the city charter. They established a city police court with an elected judge and stripped the mayor of all judicial duties.
Despite being the sole cause of its creation, Sam chose to seek the newly created judgeship rather than a third term as mayor. In that race Sam faced off against his brother who, to the surprise of no one but the now ex-mayor, beat him handily.
Based on the character sketch of Judge Edward McCue in The McCue Murder, it is easy to see why voters chose Edward over Sam:
“Samuel McCue had been a hard man,” wrote one contemporary reporter summarizing Sam’s murder case. “He had sent scores to jail, and had seldom tempered justice with clemency. Many who were the recipients of his justice insisted that the quality of his mercy was badly strained.”
Regarding Edward, the authors had high praise.
“It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a better administrator of justice in any petty court than Justice McCue,” said the authors. “Even the people whom he convicts love him for his moderation and just findings.”
In 1902 Sam was reelected to the mayor’s office. When his wife Fannie was killed, he had just retired from that position to concentrate on his private practice and his position as deacon of the local Presbyterian church.

The Crime

Fannie McCueThe crime that put the noose around Sam’s neck began after he and Fannie returned home from a Sunday night service at the Presbyterian Church where Sam was a deacon.
“The McCues were a church-going people,” a retrospective on the crime published the day after the ex-mayor’s execution the Harrisburg (Virginia) Daily News reported. “Deacon McCue invariably sat well to the front in the sacred auditorium, and Mrs. McCue, always looking trim, sat primly at his side.”
Later, witness after witness would recount how the McCues appeared to be quarreling and did not, as was their custom, walk to their pew together. Sam explained this away as a red herring caused by an ill-timed bathroom break on his part.
Following the service the husband and his wife of nearly 20 years walked home together in silence.
“Mrs. McCue’s manner, as afterward testified to in court, appeared depressed and preoccupied, failing to observe or respond to the greetings of friends who they passed on the way,” the The Daily News told its readers.
It was only a few minutes after the couple entered their home and closed the door that Dr. Frank McCue came running to the house clutching his medical bag and a pistol. Charlottesville beat cop Daniel C. Grady was close behind him. Something was very wrong behind the doors of the mansion on Park Street.
There were plenty of people strolling down the exclusive thoroughfare where the McCues lived, and many, alerted by the hubbub, turned from walkers to gawkers.
“In a few minutes a piece of news — startling, horrifying news — spread with the rapidity with which bad news alone seems to travel,” according to one contemporary report. “Crowds hurried to the McCue home to learn the worst, and how it had happened.”
The worst was the brutal murder of Fannie McCue; how it had happened was proven in court to have been at the hands of ex-Mayor Sam McCue. The “why” — motive — was disagreement over Sam’s infidelities.
Exactly what transpired in the upstairs of the McCue home on September 4, 1904, that led to Fannie’s death is unclear; Sam gave a number of statements that were variations on a theme, but with enough differences regarding important details that make deconstructing the events connected to the crime difficult.
Other witnesses gave strong statements that incriminated the ex-mayor but later recanted them on the stand.
Sam’s testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest was the only version of events he gave under oath. It is not too lengthy, the relevant parts are included here, and — as Sam admitted later in the shadow of the noose — is a complete fabrication.
It begins with the couple in their bedroom, preparing for bed.

I picked up a paper, reading the last Council proceedings, and I think Mrs. McCue was undressing in the meantime and talking about the affair. She laid her clothes on a chair. I had gone over to my chiffonier and took my coat off and my collar and negligee shirt.
I was standing at my buffet and I noticed some figure moving toward me. I think I rushed over towards the gun which stands in the corner — we keep it there — and that is all I remember. I think I must have been unconscious after that. He and I had a scuffle. I am pretty positive he was a white man, a kind of dirty white man. I think his beard was out a little.
…I could not say which door he came through, for my back must have been to the door. It seems to me I heard a sound, when he came in, some sound of a click like. I do not know how long after this sound before he came in.
I do not know if he had anything in his hand, but possibly he did.

mccue home mapDr. McCue testified at the inquest and his brother’s trial about what he found when he reached his brother’s home. He said he received a call from his brother about 9:15 p.m.
“Come down here,” the doctor remembers his brother saying. “Someone has knocked me senseless and I think has murdered Fannie.”
When Dr. McCue got to the scene, he found that Sam was “dazed and could not give a good account of himself.”
“Arriving, I found the front door ajar and went directly upstairs,” he testified at trial. “I saw my brother’s wound when I got to the hall, blood was dripping to his undershirt. One hand was pressed to his head.”
Dr. McCue said his brother was incapable of providing any assistance due to his head wound.
Entering the second floor, Dr. McCue said he smelled the odor of burnt gunpowder and heard the sound of running water from the bathroom.
The bathroom was dark; he turned up a gas burner and in the flickering light he saw Fannie McCue dressed in a nightgown, bent backward over the tub. Her head was submerged. The running water had washed away most of the blood from Fannie’s body and diluted some of the blood stains on her gown, but there was a great deal of blood ringing the tub. A bloody baseball bat lay on the floor of the bathroom.

Wounds, Fatal and Otherwise

Dr. McCue was quickly joined by two other physicians, Charles S. Venable and Emmett Early, who removed Fannie’s body from the tub and carried it to her bedroom. Venable and Early examined the dead woman’s wounds. It was clear that the struggle had been violent.
The lace at the collar of her nightgown was torn away. Her right ear had been struck with a blunt instrument — presumably the bat — hard enough that it split her outer ear in half. She suffered a small laceration on her nose, which Venable said had bled profusely. One of her fingernails was bent nearly at a 90-degree angle, evidence Fannie fought with her killer.
The doctors agreed that at least one wound was inflicted post-mortem.
“The third wound was a small transverse wound on the back of the head, but it gave out little blood,” Venable said in testimony confirmed by Early. “I concluded that that wound happened afterwards. I believe it would be produced by falling with her head back and hitting the bath tub.”
But neither the head wound nor submersion in the tub was the cause of death. That came from a shotgun fired at close range.
“There were powder marks right in the wound; it was black,” Venable testified at trial. “Leather wadding was taken from the spinal column.”
The examination revealed the shot had gone downward and front to back, the pellets destroying several ribs, which in turn stopped them from passing completely through her body.
“There was a great deal of disorganized blood in the cavity,” Venable said. “We turned the corpse over, which caused blood to pour out.”
The consensus among physicians was that Fannie could not have been shot and been able to get to the tub afterwards.
“Death from a gunshot wound like Mrs. McCue would result almost instantaneously,” Early testified. “The person would drop in his tracks after receiving such an injury.”
Dr. McCue was the only one of four physicians who testified about a wound on Sam’s cheek who said he saw it bleeding. His story, however, changed from the inquest to the trial with Dr. McCue increasing the severity of the wounds. At the inquest Dr. McCue referred to the wound on his brother’s cheek as bleeding. At trial, however, he testified that he “saw his nose was bleeding. Blood was oozing from his nose; I saw it. After any injury to the head we often look for bleeding from the nose. It is one of the symptoms we carefully observe.”
Another doctor who examined Sam the day after the murder said the wound was not serious.
“I have most frequently seen it on football players who have been scraped on the ground,” said Venable. “I don’t think the wound on McCue’s face was such a one as would indicate an injury sufficient to cause unconsciousness.”
The fourth doctor who saw Sam at the crime scene gave a much different account of the wound.
“I saw what seemed to be a scratch on Mr. McCue’s right cheek bone,” said Dr. Hugh T. Nelson. “The wound seemed to be very slight. It was like a child had scraped his knee on the ground.”
He soundly rejected Dr. McCue’s belief that it was an assailant carrying a sand-filled cosh who killed Fannie and rendered Sam unconscious. Unlike Dr. McCue, Nelson had seen injuries caused by blackjacks.
“A blow on the cheek to have produced unconsciousness would have produced discoloration and a ‘puffing up,'” he said. “Unless done with the fist, it would almost certainly have fractured the jaw bone. It probably would have caused some vomiting and would have a tendency to make the pulse slow.”
Sam failed to exhibit any symptoms of a closed-head injury in the time following the murder.

A Possible Fall Guy?

While the doctors were examining Fanny’s corpse, Officer Grady was searching the house for evidence. What he saw did not provide much support for Sam McCue’s version of events.
Grady found no signs of a struggle in any room, and no evidence of a crime anywhere except in the bathroom. A blood-stained baseball bat was on the floor near the corpse, and McCue’s shotgun, a Winchester pump, was found outside the bathroom door, an empty shell with No. 6 birdshot still chambered.
Briefly burglary was considered the motive, but that was quickly discarded. Nothing was taken from the home, it was early in the evening on a Sunday and was still light out. Only the most foolhardy thief would have committed a break-in under those circumstances.
One scenario that did interest investigators was the chance that one of the ex-mayor’s many enemies came to collect a debt of his own. In short order two witnesses came forward with information that around the time of the murder a white man ran up to the home occupied by Judge Edward McCue and knocked violently on the front door. The man waited about 30 seconds then ran across the street to Sam’s house.
“The few minutes which elapsed between this incident and the announcement of the crime at Sam McCue’s may have been sufficient for the accomplishment of the tragedy,” reported the Daily News.
Although never conclusively shown, the state’s theory is that the witnesses saw another concerned citizen alerting Judge McCue to the events across the street. No one ever identified the man or came forward to acknowledge the act.
Owing to his position on the bench and his brother’s time as judge, Edward McCue theorized that someone who previously appeared in dock came to settle accounts.Edward theorized that the man — Leslie Marshall — planned to eliminate the two McCue brothers “in one grand performance.”
“(The judge) had in mind a man whom he and his brother had caused to be punished more than once for misdemeanors, and it was understood that this man was very resentful toward them,” read the article in the Daily News. “His brother’s description of the man who assaulted him fitted this one as well as any other.”
Marshall recently appeared before Judge McCue and was punished for public drunkenness. The crime not only resulted in a fine, but because Marshall violated an order “to be on good behavior” handed down by Sam McCue when he was municipal court judge, Marshall forfeited a bond.
Beyond his ill feelings toward the McCue brothers, Marshall had a strong reason to hate the ex-mayor with a vengeance: Sam McCue was not only the divorce lawyer for Marshall’s wife 22-year-old Hattie, Sam and his client were lovers. But it would have been nigh impossible for Leslie Marshall to have a better alibi for the time of Fannie’s murder: He was in church with his mother.
“Well for him that he had an alibi so easily and perfectly established,” an anonymous wire service reporter wrote. “If he had been arrested and brought to Charlottesville charged with the murder of Mrs. McCue he would have been in grave danger, even if he had not been lynched.”
Marshall struck back against his accusers by sharing his own theory of the crime — or at least his potential involvement in it.
“He did not hesitate to charge that there was a conspiracy in which (his) wife was involved to connect him with the crime — and that the conspiracy antedated the murder by at least two days,” read a wire story in the Burlington (Iowa) Evening Gazette
Hattie MarshallHattie Marshall filed for divorce in August and moved from the family home in Earleysville, a town about 10 miles from Charlottesville, where she took up residence.
Speaking to reporters who smelled a story, Leslie Marshall said two days before the crime Hattie sent him a “long gossipy and affectionate letter” urging him to come to her on Monday morning — the morning after the murder.
“I wish you could arrange it so you could come to town Monday,” she wrote. “I will give you money to pay your way to Proffitt’s (the railway station closest to Earleysville). If you could come early Monday morning and go back Monday eve, that would be the very thing.”
Despite his hopes that Hattie wanted to reconcile, Marshall was unable to make it to Charlottesville on Monday, appearing there on Tuesday. He was disappointed by the reception.
A wire story that received play across the country, reported that “his wife received him coldly, he said, and refused to make up.” According to the article, when Marshall questioned his soon-to-be ex-wife why she summoned him, her response was chilling.
“Her reply was that for a few hours after the murder he was under suspicion and she wanted him to come clear himself. ‘How was it, then, that you wrote to me before the crime?’ was his next question, the answer to which was not reported.”
It should be noted that the Marshalls were involved in a most-contentious child custody issue, with Leslie attempting to get custody of two of the couple’s three children. To the youngest he denied paternity and wanted nothing to do with it. Once the investigation zeroed-in on Sam McCue, the theory that there was any kind of murder plot involving Marshall as the fall-guy was not pursued.
Hattie strongly repudiated any improper relationship with her divorce lawyer, although evidence introduced at his trial indicated they had a rendezvous in Washington, D.C., over Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the murder. It was apparently the second time Fannie confronted her husband over this particular infidelity. The first was shortly before her murder when she said she “found him locked in with another woman, and when he came to the door he looked ‘sheepish,'” was how her brother recalled the incident.
Letters Hattie sent to Sam while he was awaiting trial show that their relationship was intimate, but there was never any indication she was a participant in the crime.
When the evidence failed to support the revenge theory, Sam McCue became the primary suspect.
He was arrested for the crime the day after his wife’s funeral. Sam’s brother recused himself from the bench when the police applied for the arrest warrant, so he would not have to sign it.

A Perfect Hell

For those in the McCue inner circle — particularly those from Fannie’s family — the crime almost came as no surprise given the terrible state of the marriage.
Sam McCue, much of the testimony at the murder trial revealed, was as tough on his wife as he was on debtors. One witness called for the defense admitted on cross-examination that Sam McCue recently told him his domestic life was not a happy one.
“‘My life here on Earth for the past four or five years has been a perfect hell,'” quoted lawyer John S. White, who had worked with Sam McCue on legal issues. White recalled Sam said Fannie was “the most jealous woman I had ever known.”
Her brother, Ernest Crawford, also an attorney, boarded at the McCue home between 1899 and 1901 and testified that “It was the most unhappy couple I ever saw.”
“The quarrels were always about other women,” he testified. “I never saw him kick or strike her, but have heard him curse her in the most violent manner repeatedly.”
Willie McCue, 17, one of the four McCue children, reportedly said his parents fought viciously. To police investigators and before the Coroner’s jury, Willie not only confirmed what his parents fought, but said near-homicidal violence had occurred in his presence.
“For the past three or four years it has been a perfect hell on earth,” Willie said. “My father and mother lived like cats and dogs.”
Willie told Detective Alfred Baldwin that he recently had to protect his mother from an enraged Sam who was chasing her with a pistol. He said that his father threatened his life when he became involved.
N.R. Martin, a jailer, testified to to a conversation he overheard between Willie and his father about the event.
“You know what Crawford said about my drawing a pistol on your mother is not true,” Sam said.
“Yes it is,” Martin recalls Willie as responding. “You know she ran and got in my bed and asked me to defend her.”
Willie made his claims in sworn testimony, as well as in repeated interviews with police, conversations with relatives on both sides of the family and in multiple letters to his maternal aunt, and was considered so reliable that he was included on the prosecution’s list of witnesses.
In a letter to his maternal aunt Willie described his position.

Aunt Sallie, I am fighting one of the greatest battles now. I am among all my father’s people, and they, of course, wonder why I took such a step in this case, but I am going to do what I think is right…I will never be in worse trouble than this. I cannot sleep, and when I go to bed and wake up with the same trouble, I feel as though I cannot stand it.

On the stand during his father’s trial, however, Willie recanted what he could and denied what he couldn’t. When confronted with claims of other witnesses that he talked of the bad state of affairs between his parents, Willie simply said over and over: “No. I deny it emphatically.”
“Verily, it was a case of the quick or the dead! And the quick was the winner,” according to a report the day after Willie’s trial testimony. The writer waxed eloquently about his motivation for changing his story.

Mayhap the memory of the unhappy woman, upon whose grave the flowers hardly yet have withered, still touch the heart of the son, who was wildly hysterical on the night she perished by an assassin’s hand. And mayhap he will never forget the wretched but tender little woman who one ran to him, then a mere stripling, for protection from her husband. But the living are even stronger than the dead; the present from the absent. Not ten feet from the witness chair where young William sat gleamed the metallic blue eyes of his father, boring into the very heart of the son like an augur of steel. Those cold blue eyes have subdued others. Yesterday they subdued young William McCue.

Because Willie was considered a hostile witness, the prosecution was allowed to impeach his testimony.
“On 14 important matters he was been contradicted by independent witnesses. I do not count the detectives,” said Col. Micah Woods, one of the prosecution team in his summation. Woods accused the McCue clan of exerting undue influence on the boy.
“He perhaps was told that his father was standing on the scaffold near the trap door, and that if he were to repeat what he told…he would spring the trap and would send his father to his death,” Woods orated. “I think that what he may have done in this case should provoke sorrow and pity rather than abuse and vituperation.”

Witnesses Tell What They Know

But the prosecution had other witnesses who could and would share what they saw and heard on the night of the murder.
The first witness was coachman Charles A. Skinner, who was employed by a neighbor of the McCues and whose room was close enough to their house to hear crying and screaming around the time of Fannie’s murder.
Skinner said the screaming went on for several minutes until he heard a single gunshot. Watching from his window that overlooked the McCues’, Skinner saw Dr. McCue and Officer Grady arrive on the scene.
More important to the prosecution’s case was the testimony of 17-year-old John Perry, a houseboy in the McCue home. On the night of the murder Perry, whose room was adjacent to the bathroom, testified that he heard Fannie being beaten, and fleeing to the bathroom, begging for her life until the fatal shot was fired. On the stand, like Willie McCue, Perry was loathe to convict his boss. He changed his testimony between the inquest and the trial, backing away from his earlier statements that Fanny had been begging Sam not to kill her.
At the trial, Perry denied telling detectives that he heard Fannie from the bathroom say, “Oh, Sam, Sam, don’t kill me. I am going to die anyhow.”
Instead, Perry claimed he told the police she said: “Sam, Sam, he is killing me!”
Although Perry could hear the assault, he was powerless to help — the servants’ quarters door to the second floor of the house was always locked. The servants were expected to use the back stairs which led to the kitchen.
The prosecution explained away the servant’s recantation by positing that Perry, was a black man concerned for his position with the McCues, and so denied he ever implicated his employer.
The prosecutors introduced a written statement from Willie McCue drafted the morning after the murder — before Willie had a change of heart — where Perry provided a more detailed version of events.

I said “John, I want you to tell me just what you heard.” The first thing he said was “You know last night I was afraid to tell those gentlemen on Mr. McCue. I heard him slap her first because I got up and put my head out the window. Then it sounded like he was hitting her and thumping. Then I head him choke her and heard her like she was strangled. She said, “Sam, you out not to treat me like this. I promise not to do it again.”

The only physical evidence indicating that Sam had been involved in any crime was his wet shirt that bore signs of diluted blood on the cuffs. The blood was perhaps the most important clue because Sam claimed from the beginning that he had not seen Fanny after he regained consciousness. Sam never touched Fannie’s corpse or the bathtub, in fact, he never went into that room during the post-crime investigation. Thus, blood could only have gotten there because Sam was the killer, the prosecution argued.
The shirt was taken by Dr. McCue and placed in the laundry. It was rescued before it was washed, and Dr. McCue denied that he was trying to hide it.
A baseball bat covered in blood was assumed to be the weapon that Sam used to beat his wife to the point where her ear was nearly severed. There was some testimony that the day following the murder Fannie’s throat showed signs of strangulation, but there was no proof that the marks on her neck were put there by the killer — the discoloration may have been caused by her submersion in water or were simply signs of decomposition. On the other hand, strangulation marks on her neck could account for the wet, bloody cuffs on Sam’s shirt.
Some of the most interesting rhetoric was reserved for the summation of lead defense attorney John L. Lee, who compared Fannie McCue’s murder to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Gentlemen, what was the most important event in all the history of the world? Was it not the scene enacted upon Calvary, when Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, gave up his life for humanity…I trust that you will receive what I saw with reverence for this Holy Book upon which you have already taken your oath. The life and liberty of a man is at stake, and only in this crisis do I venture to use the inspired words to save him.
Now, gentlemen of the jury, are you prepared to say that the main fact of the crucifixion did not occur because four different accounts of it, written by the saints themselves, differ — and differ radically?

His eloquence in trying to make McCue into a martyr was unsuccessful. After enough time to make it look like they were seriously deliberating, jurors convicted Sam McCue for the murder of his wife. He was sentenced to hang.
After the sentencing was over and the jury had been dismissed, one juror approached Sam and extended his hand.
“You have done me a great injustice,” Sam said.
“That rested with you,” said John A. Traylor of Richmond. “I did my duty as I saw it.”

A Debt is Settled

After two unsuccessful appeals and fruitless request for clemency from an old political comrade, McCue resolved himself to his fate. He became quite religious and eventually confessed to his crime. Publicly, Sam’s confession sought to put the blame on some unnamed “evil power” for the crime and and he denied that anyone else was involved.
Three of his ministers released a statement that McCue “did not wish to leave this world with suspicion resting on any human being but himself. That he alone was responsible for the deed, impelled by an evil power beyond his control; and that he recognized that his sentence was just.”
Privately, Sam confessed that he and Fannie started arguing after his return from Washington and that she had picked up again while they were changing for bed.
Enraged, he struck Fanny in the face and she responded in kind, giving him a slight raspberry on the cheek. They began fighting violently. She picked up the baseball bat which she brought into the house for protection. He wrestled it from her and began beating her with it. She fled to the bathroom where she had been running water for her bath. Sam followed her, exchanging the bat for his shotgun.
As Fanny knelt on the bathroom floor and pleaded for mercy, Sam pointed the shotgun at his wife and pulled the trigger. The force of the shot pushed her back into the tub. He did not address the issue, but the theory is that Sam’s shirt got wet and covered with blood as he attempted to strangle or drown her before using the shotgun. He then attempted to cover up the crime with a burglary claim, later changed to a killing motivated by revenge.
At dawn on February 10, 1905, a calm and composed ex-Mayor Sam McCue ascended the gallows and paid his debt to society in full.