Alonzo Walling went on trial for the murder of Pearl Bryan on May 20, 1896, following the conviction of his accomplice Scott Jackson. Walling became Jackson’s worst enemy after they were captured, pointing out evidence sufficient to hang Jackson.
“One night a bunch of us dental students were drinking at Wallingford’s Tavern and Scott asked the group what poison would be the quickest in killing someone,” Walling told detectives. “The students mentioned three alternatives, hydrocyanic acid, prussic acid or a large dose of cocaine. He chose cocaine because he could buy it legally without a prescription and it was accessible right around the corner at Koeble’s.”
Walling told the law that he knew Scott murdered Pearl and that he wasn’t a party to the murder. They wanted further proof.
“Scott had Pearl’s head wrapped in his coat on the night of the murder,” Walling told them. “His coat became bloody and he had me ditch it for him. I can tell you where you can find his coat. It is in the sewer at the corner of John and Richmond Street, wrapped in newspapers.”
Detective Witte was sent to the location and he soon found a bluish-black, men’s jacket, wrapped in newspapers. It matched the slacks he was wearing when he was arrested. The jacket and items found with it proved to be a wealth of information for the police.
It had blood stains, primarily on the sleeves which is what they would expect to find in such a murder, and a blood stain that could be consistent with being wrapped around a human head. They pulled something from the pocket and found it to be three ladies handkerchiefs wadded together.
There was also a portion of a herb called tansy flower which has been used in producing miscarriages. The handkerchiefs were shown to Pearl’s family members after they were cleaned. Her mother and sister were certain they belonged to Pearl. Another group of ladies clothing items were also found nearby. They were Pearl’s as well. Walling also led them to other items they had secretly discarded and told detectives they could find more in lockers at the dental school. Scott Jackson was livid. Things couldn’t have gone worse for him. He would do whatever he could to see that Walling would also hang.
Walling didn’t fare much better in his trial. The guilty verdict against Jackson was expected but both men were active in the murder and the actions afterwards. Both were sentenced to hang. Their lawyers argued that Pearl died from the cocaine administered to her in Ohio.
“They aren’t guilty of the murders in Kentucky since Pearl died in Ohio.” Yet they couldn’t be tried in Ohio as that would be tantamount to double jeopardy. The justices noted that the coroner’s inquest stated that Pearl was alive when she was brought to the orchard in Kentucky. The dual hanging was set for May 20, 1897. With court proceedings behind them, talk returned to lynching. The two convicted men, Jackson and Walling, were now bent on escaping.
There was a massive jailbreak from the Campbell County Jail. Many escaped and Jackson and Walling might have taken the opportunity to slip away into the night but they correctly surmised they were better protected while in jail. Could the jailbreak be a guise for some clandestine group to get an opportunity to lynch them? Jackson and Walling felt it was a legitimate concern and when order was restored the two most famous inmates at the time were still safely in their cells like Sunday choir boys.
Scott Jackson asked to speak to a minister on the morning set for the hanging. After their meeting he spoke with Sheriff Plummer.
“Sheriff, I’ve said all along that it was Alonzo that murdered Pearl,” Jackson said. “It’s been bothering me. I must tell you the truth. Alonzo Walling didn’t do it. I have to take that back.
The sheriff announced the hanging would be delayed while he notified Kentucky Governor William O. Bradley of his discussion with Jackson. He sent a telegraph to Governor Bradley in Frankfort to apprise him of the situation.
“Sheriff Plummer, I’ll agree to commute Walling’s sentence if Mr. Jackson confesses to the crime,” the governor responded immediately. “He must also tell us where to find Pearl Bryan’s head.”
The sheriff relayed this to Jackson and said he would have to have his answer soon. After a few minutes Jackson said he would nothing more to say.
The scaffold was inside the Campbell County Jail. The sheriff asked that the gallows be rechecked. He wanted no snafu. After the death device was deemed satisfactory he had Jackson and Walling brought out Both seemed to have lost their bravado when the nooses were placed around their necks.
Jackson was asked if he had any final words to say. He seemed to be in thought and finally Walling looked toward him, hoping he would say the words that could save his life.
“I have only one thing to say,” Jackson finally said. “I am not guilty of this crime and I am about to pay the penalty for it with my life.”
Walling was then asked if he had any final words. “I can only say you are taking the life of an innocent person,” he answered. “I call on God to be my witness to what I say is the truth.”
Sheriff Plummer sprung the trapdoors sending Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling into eternity. Copyright 2013 Jadon Gibson
Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson, a graduate of Caney Junior College (now Alice Lloyd College) and UK, is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His stories are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!
A VOICE FOR GOD – A VOICE FOR GOOD
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. I started writing what I like to call ‘interesting stories based on history’ in the late 1980’s. I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers through the years. A lot of comments are similar to that of Phillip Odell, “when I read your stories it’s like watching a movie or program on TV.” Such a story was reported in various newspapers almost one hundred years ago.
Ewin Runions had a deep faith in God. His dedication and demeanor was such that he was called on to pray for sick neighbors and others. An incident involving two young men resulted in Runions’ reputation as a gentle and compassionate man being passed word of mouth through-out a wider area.
It was springtime and Runions was planting corn, having an immediate supply of seeds in his pocket while leaving the bulk of them in a sack at the end of the garden. A couple of mischievous youths happened by and saw his sack of seed corn while Runions was at the far end of the garden. The boys let the farmer’s pigs out of their pen and it was only a short time before they found and ate the sack of corn.
The boys noticed Runions returning to that end of the garden for more seed so they hid. They worried that he would notify their parents of their misdeeds, getting them in trouble. They listened and what he heard surprised them.
“You blessed little pigs,” Runions said blandly upon seeing the results of their outing. “I know how you love corn. I should kick myself for not tying the pig lot carefully and for not putting my seed up where it would be kept safe.”
He then went about catching the pigs and returning them to their lot before setting off for a neighbor’s farm where he was able to borrow some seed corn until he could find time to go to town to replace it. He then went about completing his planting.
Runions’ reputation was already impeccable but as his good name spread throughout the area the devil took notice and decided he must intervene and bring the benevolent farmer back down to size.
Runions’ little farm on the north side of Walden’s Ridge in Claiborne County, Tennessee, included a peach orchard and his main source of income came from selling peaches each year. He sold the peaches from every tree but one. Runions had given that tree to the Lord a few years before.
Every year the peaches of that particular tree were given to the needy and to the sick. Less fortunate folks came by each year to pick peaches from the tree and they were all put to good use. Many of the pits (seeds) of those particular peaches that came from the Lord’s tree were planted because folks wanted to grow trees that had a direct lineage to God’s tree.
The devil decided to try Runions and sent a killing frost in June of 1921 and it decimated the peaches….all but those on the Lord’s tree that is. His conjuring didn’t affect that tree. It was spared and it was covered with the largest, most beautiful peaches that people had seen in east Tennessee. Its crop was so bountiful that twenty-one stout props had to be put under its limbs to prevent them from breaking down.
Since peaches were scarce in 1921 people came from near and far to see the Lord’s peach tree. Many wanted to buy the peaches from the tree because peaches were hard to come by elsewhere. Others wanted to buy them to help Runions through a difficult time because they noticed his other trees were barren.
“Those are the Lord’s peaches,” he would say, steadfastly refusing to accept their offers. “They’re not mine to sell.”
The needy and sick also made their way to his little farm and he allowed all who came to pick peaches from the Lord’s peach tree for as long as they lasted. There were many who benefited from the tree because the peaches were so abundant.
Nearly a century later this story about Ewin Runions and the Lord’s peach tree is again being told.
Good deeds can be rewarded here on earth as they are in Heaven.