On the morning of February 1, 1896, John Hewlin, a farm hand, found the headless body of a woman on the Kentucky farm of John B. Lock, near the end of the Fort Thomas electric car line, just over the river from Cincinnati. The body was lying on its stomach in a pool of blood, with arms outstretched. Her hands were cut to the bone by defensive wounds. The head had vanished.
An autopsy revealed that the woman was about five months pregnant. The coroner determined that her head had been cut off while she was alive. There seemed no way to identify her. There was nothing distinctive about her clothing, except for her shoes, which were unusually small and narrow and bore a label from Louis & Hayes, Greencastle, Indiana.
The police were stymied. Initially they assumed that the woman was a prostitute due to the location of the body near Fort Thomas Army post and her clothing, which, except for her shoes, was quite shabby. But one man believed that he could solve the mystery: that intrepid shoe merchant of Newport, Kentucky, Mr. Louis D. Poock.
Story of the Clew Which Identified Pearl Bryan.
In all the varying phases of the Pearl Bryan mystery there is nothing more interesting than the tracing up the clew which led to the arrest of the men now charged with the crime—the story of the shoes. When the headless body of the betrayed and murdered girl was found on that lonely road near Ft. Thomas, identification and the arrest of the authors of this horrible deed seemed remote and improbable.
But from the shadows of doubt and uncertainly, the brain of one man suggested a clew which, faithfully followed, brought the case to its present standing. The body was found on the morning of February 1. While the detectives of the three cities were vainly trying to solve the mystery of the dead woman’s identity, Mr. Poock, a Newport shoe dealer, came to the front with a suggestion. On the feet of the murdered girl were a pair of shoes. Mr. Poock’s professional eye detected the fact that the shoes had been made in Portsmouth, Ohio. The police telegraphed there and were soon in possession of these facts. A dozen pairs of the shoes had been made and all of them had been sold to a firm in Greencastle, Inc.—Louis & Hayes. This narrowed the field of investigation and it was concluded that the solution of the mystery was to found in Greencastle.
On the morning of Monday, February 3, Sheriff Plummer, in company with Detectives Crim and McDermott, left for that place. They had with them the wearing apparel found on the girl’s body and the shoes. A bridge had broken down at Lawrenceburg, and the train was delayed so that the trio did not reach Greencastle until 1 o’clock the following morning. They went to the Hotel Commerce and retired. At 6 o’clock they were up and ready for work. There are a number of colleges in the town and they are attended by female and male students from all over the country. The hands and feet of the murdered girl showed that she was of good family and refined, and the detectives proceeded on the hypothesis that the girl had been a student at one of the colleges. It was certain, however, that she had worn a pair of the Louis & Hayes shoes at the time of her death, and to that store the detectives went for their start.
It was easily found by an examination of the books that nine of the dozen pairs of shoes had been sold. The detectives at once began tracing the shoes and this task occupied their time until 4:30 o’clock Tuesday afternoon. During their search they had many interesting experiences.
THE NINTH PAIR
At the time mentioned the sleuths had traced eight pairs of shoes, and found the purchasers alive and well. The ninth pair, they discovered, had been bought by Pearl Bryan on November 19, 1895. Then they began to trace Pearl Bryan. She had borne an excellent reputation, and they had to work quietly, so that, if the clew proved wrong and Pearl was alive, her character would not in any way be affected.
They learned that Pearl had left Greencastle several days before, and was supposed to be visiting the Fisher family at 75 North Central Street, Indianapolis. A telegram sent by Operator Early disclosed the fact that she had not been there. Then began a search for Pearl’s intimates. Operator Early gave the information about Scott Jackson and Will Wood. Wednesday morning the detectives wrote Chief Deitsch to expect developments at any moment. Then the telegram ordering Jackson’s arrest was sent, and the detectives left for South Bend, where Wood was arrested. The rest is known.
During the investigations the detectives struck two clews, each of which looked as though it was the right one at the time. One was that of a girl who was missing from Greencastle and whose description corresponded to that of the murdered girl. She was finally found. The other was a Cincinnati girl who was in trouble, who was also missing, and whose description also corresponded with that of the murdered girl. She was likewise found. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 24 February 1896: p. 8
CLEW OF THE SHOES
It was several days before the detectives paid serious attention to the shoes, the only real clew that the case afforded. The police arrived in Greencastle, Feb. 4. In the meantime Shoe Merchant Poock had completed his work.
By means of his knowledge of shoe manufacture and the methods of describing an order, Poock, proved conclusively that the shoes were of size 3, that only one pair of that style had been made, and that they had been shipped to Louis & Hays.
The police had been working under the mistaken idea that the shoes’ size was 3 ½, of which two pairs had been made, and thus the officers were thrown off the track. Poock’s work traced the footwear to Pearl Bryan. A clerk in Louis & Hays’ store remembered that he had sold the shoes to the youngest daughter of Alex Bryan, a farmer, living near Greencastle. Cincinnati [OH] Post 20 March 1897: p. 2
After testifying at Scott Jackson’s murder trial, Mr. Poock was soon asked to solve another baffling case.
BY THE SHOES
Mr. Poock, of Pearl Bryan Fame, Will Try to Solve Another Mystery.
Columbus, Ohio, October 11. L.D. Poock, the Newport shoe man who played an important part in the Pearl Bryan case, is now endeavoring to solve another mystery. Some months ago Poock removed to this city to accept a position as a salesman for a wholesale boot and shoe house here. Chief of Police Kelly sent for Poock to-day and placed in his hands the strange case of young man who was run over and killed by a railroad train at the suburban village of Powell two weeks ago, and whose remains have not been identified.
The remains were apparently those of a person of respectability. He was about 23 years old, of medium height, brown hair worn rather long, brown eyes, smooth face and medium complexion. The dark suit of clothes and striped negligee shirt on the corpse were of good material. Many viewed the remains at the morgue, but none had ever seen him. The remains were interred in the potter’s field a few days ago, but before the interment took place Chief Kelly had the shoes worn by the dead man removed. They are an expensive pair of black enamel shoes, laced, with pointed toes and comparatively new. The Chief turned these shoes over to Poock today and the latter says he thinks he will be able to ascertain, through them, who the dead man was.
Poock states that this class of shoes are made by only three houses in the country, and he immediately opened communication with them. The number of the series is in the shoes, and Poock expects to find out to what retail dealer this number was sold. If the retail dealer is located, then Poock hopes to learn who purchased this particular pair. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 12 October 1896: p. 8
Noting the date on this next squib, it would suggest that the Post did not have the details of the Powell mystery corpse. Or was there another dead man?
L D Poock, of Pearl Bryan fame, will try to tell by the shoes the name of the dead man found in the river at Columbus. Cincinnati [OH] Post 13 October 1896: p. 3
I am disappointed to report that I could not find any follow-up stories as to whether Mr. Poock helped identify the young man, either at Powell or in the river.
Mr. Poock was commissioned by a Chicago publisher to write a book about the case.
May Write a Book on the Pearl Bryan Case.
Columbus O., Oct. 27. L.D. Poock, the Newport (Ky.) shoe dealer, who traced Pearl Bryan’s shoes from the factory to the retail store where they were sold, has received a request from a Chicago publishing-house to write a book on the crime and his connection with it.
Poock is now living in this city, having engaged as a traveling salesman for a large shoe house. Cincinnati [OH] Post 28 October 1896: p. 7
That book, which I have not seen, although apparently there is a copy at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, was called Headless, Yet Identified: A Story of the Solution of the Pearl Bryan, Or Fort Thomas Mystery, Through the Shoes, by L. D. Poock, published in 1897 by Haun and Adair, Columbus, O. It was 149 pages long and cost 25 cents.
The worry and stress over the case, as well as the people who flocked to his Newport shoe store to hear the sordid details, caused him to neglect his business.
L. D.Poock, the Newport shoe dealer, who obtained considerable notoriety by taking the shoes found on Pearl Bryan’s body in the Kentucky Highlands to Portsmouth, O., and establishing beyond a doubt that the shoes were sold by Louis & Hayes, at Greencastle, Ind., thus giving the detectives a clew upon which to work in establishing the identity of the murdered girl, has made an assignment. Poock conducted a shoe store on York street, Newport, just above Fifth street, and previous to the murder of Pearl Bryan had the best trade in Newport. He became intensely interested in unraveling the mystery of the crime, to the neglect of his business. Pooch was a witness at the trial of Jackson, but was not summoned to testify against Walling. Xenia [OH] Daily Gazette 30 June 1896: p. 2
THE BRYAN CASE
Caused L D. Poock, of Newport to Neglect
His Business and Finally Fail.
Cincinnati papers announce the failure of Mr. L. D. Poock, the Newport shoe dealer, who played such a conspicuous part in the identification of Pearl Bryan. Assets are placed at $6,000 and liabilities $14,000. Poock, it will be remembered, got possession of one of the shoes of Pearl Bryan and traced them back to the manufacturers—Drew, Selby & Co., and finally to Hays & Co., Greencastle, Ind. Poock took a deep interest in the affair and neglected his business through worry over it, and his failure is due to this. Before the murder his store was one of the most thriving in Newport. Portsmouth [OH] Times 4 July 1896: p. 1
L. D. Poock, the shoe man who was interested in the Pearl Bryan case and who is now a resident of Dayton, has filed his bill of expenses amounting to $23.84 with the county commissioners at Newport, Ky. Mr. Poock claims the reward of $500 offered by Gov. Bradley for information leading to the conviction of the murderers of the girl. Xenia [OH] Daily Gazette 15 February 1897: p. 2
I cannot find that Mr. Poock ever received the reward. He was criticized by the Cincinnati Enquirer for taking such a long time to file his expenses.
Despite his financial woes, Mr. Poock was again asked to solve a murder mystery in 1898.
Latest Move of the Newport Shoe Man Who Solved the Pearl Bryan Murder Mystery.
L.D. Poock, of Newport, Ky., was in Lima, O., Wednesday endeavoring to solve a murder mystery which is bothering the officials at St. Paul, Minn. Poock, it will be remembered, furnished the Cincinnati police with a clue which led to the identity of Pearl Bryan. A few weeks ago a woman was murdered at White Bear Lake, a summer resort near St. Paul. When the body was found it was decomposed and the rats had gnawed away one shoe and a portion of the other. The St. Paul authorities have made every effort possible to find a clue which would lead to her identity, and have sent the woman’s shoe to all the leading shoe manufacturers of the country. As a last resort Mr. Poock was sent the shoe, and to the Times Star representative he stated that he had located the maker of the shoe and the dealer who sold it. Further information, however, he refuses to disclose. Cincinnati Times-Star. Portsmouth [OH] Daily Times 7 January 1898: p. 3
Maddeningly, once again, I can find no resolution to the case. I wonder if Mr. Poock ever cracked another case or if the Pearl Bryan mystery was his finest moment. And if anyone knows if the woman (or the young man at Powell) were ever identified, I’d be pleased to hear from you.
The police usually have no time for amateur sleuths, but I think that, at least in Pearl Bryan’s case, Mr. Poock truly did assist the police with their inquiries. Mr. Poock died, aged 63 on 19 March, 1923, at his home in Dayton. Hamilton [OH] Evening Journal 20 March 1923: p. 12
You’ll find the entire story of the Pearl Bryan murder case here in a period book: The Headless Horror. There you will find some of the “interesting experiences” the detectives experienced in trying to trace the owners of the shoes.
Obviously I stole the title for my book: The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales, which has a chapter on some of the paranormal incidents surrounding the murder of Pearl Bryan.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.