Editors Note: In cooperation with the Anomalies Research Society, we present this exclusive feature report based on the investigation of the Military Veterans Paranormal organization.
Bobby Mackey’s Music World is well-known to paranormal researchers as one of America’s “Most Haunted” places (Argie and Olsen, 2014). Located at 44 Licking Pike in Wilder, Kentucky, the location is highly publicized as having a colorful history replete with tales of industry, gambling, Prohibition, violence, music, and assorted supernatural mayhem (Begley, 2014).
Two of the most popular legends associated with the location feature tragic female figures. The building is said to be haunted by two men who murdered a young pregnant woman, Pearl Bryan, cutting off her head, and depositing the head into one of the onsite drains in what has been described as a Satanic sacrifice. When the old “well” was uncovered decades later by a caretaker, a “portal to hell” was said to have been opened. The caretaker then claimed to be possessed by the freed evil entity. The basement area and the “supernatural vortex” located at the well/drain are promoted as a legendary location of occult activity on the Bobby Mackey website and is part of a paranormal-themed tour of the site.
The basement is also the location of former dressing rooms for performers of the upstairs club. The story of Johanna, who is described as a club dancer from the 1940s, is that she fell in love with a man whom her father, a mobster, did not approve. Her plight was recorded in a mysterious diary also found by the same caretaker who discovered the covered well. Her suitor was taken out by the mob and she poisoned herself in the dressing room soon after. A final love poem is penned on the wall. Neither story stands up to scrutiny in relation to the current building and its well publicized haunted history.
The current owner of the building is country music aficionado, Bobby Mackey, who bought the club as a live music venue. Paranormal tales regarding the site ramped up since then. Though Bobby Mackey himself never experienced any trouble, others have reported physical and emotional attacks at the location including his late wife Janet who was allegedly attacked by an invisible entity. Other people have claimed they have been assaulted by forces that threw them across the room. Employees, visitors and paranormal investigators reported experiences with shadow people, mists, disembodied voices, balls of light, strong feelings of other beings present, and recordings of electronic voice phenomenon (EVPs). About 40 different spirits have been identified as inhabiting the site by visitors and self-described psychics. A dark entity is said to be present that is particularly dangerous to women.
The location was featured on a 2006 episode of the television show, A Haunting. The location was featured multiple times on Ghost Adventures with Zak Bagans who documented his belief that he was possessed by a demonic force there. He also claimed to have had contact with the ghost of the convicted Bryan murderer.
The location has capitalized on its violent past as a speakeasy and gangster club as well as its original use as a slaughterhouse to enhance its reputation as a spooky location with an “unquenchable thirst for blood”. Tours of the basement are featured daily and include viewing of the supposedly haunted well – a 3’ diameter, 18” deep hole that is considered the “supernatural vortex” of the site. There is a two-hour tour of the facility during the daytime hours, and paranormal teams can purchase 5 hour stints (or more) for private investigations of the site (Argie & Olsen, 2014).
The Military Veterans Paranormal group (headed by Cadwell) investigated the history of the site and its stories as well as conducting a site visit.
The documented history of the Bobby Mackey’s location differs from the alleged history currently circulated by the previous and current representatives of the establishment and repeated in the media.
Deed records were examined to determine the ownership of the location. A building was constructed here in 1850, originally serving as a small slaughterhouse. The structure that currently stands is not the original edifice, as the original was completely torn down. However, three “wells”, more appropriately called “drains”, located in the basement and which play a role in the paranormal tales, are original. These are said to have been used to drain the blood and waste from the slaughterhouse to the nearby river.
In the 1930s, the building was the Bluegrass Inn, until it was bought by E.A. “Buck” Brady, a local mobster who turned it into a tavern and casino called the Primrose. Casinos and clubs competed for customers of the area including those run by the infamous Cleveland Four – a powerful and influential organized crime group. Mobster “Red” Masterson was tasked to “move” Brady out of the Primrose which resulted in a confrontation between Brady and Masterson. Brady preemptively wounded Masterson but the trial fell apart when Red Masterson refused to identify Brady as his attacker, stating he wanted to “handle this in my own way.” Brady subsequently “sold” the Primrose to the Cleveland Four syndicate and retired to Florida. He committed suicide in 1965.
After the Primrose was acquired by its new syndicate, it was known as the Latin Quarter which was a very lucrative casino. In 1961, an initiative to rid the county of organized crime essentially shut down the Latin Quarter.
After the Latin Quarter closed, several businesses moved in and out of the location commonly referred to as the “Bloody Bucket,” due to the high incidents of violence there. It often changed hands for just $1. In 1973, it became the Hard Rock Cafe biker bar (unrelated to the current popular restaurant chain). Several shootings occurred on the premises and eventually it was shut down in 1977. The club reopened as Bobby Mackey’s Music World in 1978.
Pearl Bryan murder case
On Saturday, February 1, 1896, Pearl Bryan’s decapitated body was discovered on John Lock’s orchard in Fort Thomas, KY (just across the river from Cincinnati, OH), along Alexandria Pike Rd.
The autopsy report showed that Bryan had defensive wounds on her hands and arms, indicating that she was “alive at the time immediately before her head had been completely severed, and that she had been between 4½ to 5 months pregnant” (The Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan or the Headless Horror, 1896). A single set of male footprints were found leading up a hill towards the Covington Reservoir where authorities found an abandoned cistern (water tank) covered by a large rock with a bloody handprint on it. The cistern was thoroughly inspected and found to be empty. Detectives followed the footsteps that stopped at the edge of the reservoir.
19th century crime scene investigation was limited and they did not have forensic capabilities as we have today. The decapitation of the body would hinder identification. Had it not been for the serial number on her shoe which traced back to her hometown of Greencastle, Indiana, Pearl might not have been identified.
Scott Jackson was convicted of murdering Bryan. After Bryan’s body was identified, her relationship to Jackson and an accomplice, Alonzo Walling, was uncovered. Apparently, Scott Jackson was the father of her unborn child and wanted Bryan to get an abortion. After several botched abortions later, he allegedly forced her to ingest 14g of cocaine (which was found in her stomach during the autopsy) which did not kill her. He then slashed her throat and decapitated her.
Jackson, upon interrogation, had accused Walling of the murder. Walling was described as being very impressionable and slow-minded. Therefore, he most likely did not have the mental capacity to plan and undertake the murder. Walling, upon interrogation, accused Jackson of being her killer. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
One news clipping states that Jackson admitted the murder the night before he was hanged and wrote out a statement saying that Walling was innocent of Bryan’s murder and that he was the only perpetrator. (New York Times, 1897) However at the gallows when asked for his last statement, Jackson stated, “I have only this to say: that I am not guilty of the crime for which I am now compelled to pay the penalty of my life.” (Slade, 2011) It is alleged in the current legends that Alonzo Walling’s last words were that he would haunt the location forever. However, Walling expected to be vindicated by Jackson: “That man can save me if he will. I die an innocent man. I was not there when she was killed.” (New York Times, 1897)
All news reports, statements made by Jackson and Walling, as well as the court documents, show that the crime scene was NOT Bobby Mackey’s site but over 4 miles away. The route taken by the party was most likely devised based upon avoidance of toll booth authorities; therefore, they may have passed the building that night but there is no indication they stopped there.
During police interrogation, both men actually accused each other of throwing Pearl’s head off a bridge into the Ohio River – one of the very few corroborative statements made by both men. They made no mention of the supposed well in their statements or testimony. The cistern en route to the Reservoir did have a bloody handprint but was empty upon inspection the day of discovery of the body. This information is found in news reports as well as legal documentation. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that her head was not thrown into the Bobby Mackey site well as commonly stated in the current version of the legend.
The evidence at the scene indicated there was only a single person involved, which contrasts the claims that Bryan’s murder was part of a cult ritual. The association between the murder and mention of Satanic cult activity is a recent one. Cadwell was able to speak to a woman who was in high school in 1977 in Wilder, KY, who stated that she remembered learning about the Pearl Bryan murder in history class. There was no mention of occult activity or satanic ritual associated with it at that time. She recalled that those rumors did not start until after the establishment became Bobby Mackey’s Music World in 1978. Furthermore, no news reports of that time made mention of a satanic or occult association which would have been expected for such sensational details. The lack of support in court documents and testimonies of all involved exponentially weakens the idea that Jackson and Walling were part of a secret satanic cult. The current legend expands the idea of the basement well as a location of cult activity and multiple blood sacrifices. Again, there is no evidence for this which tends to fall in line with the moral panic regarding nonexistent Satanic cult activity of the 1980s.
The occult angle may originate with Carl Lawson, the former caretaker of Bobby Mackey’s, who claimed that he was demonically possessed by spirits at the club who informed him that Pearl Bryan was murdered as part of a satanic ritual and her head thrown in the well as a sacrifice. His story is recounted in the 2005 book Hell’s Gate: Terror at Bobby Mackey’s Music World, by Douglas Hensley. Hensley claimed that he interpreted the story told to him by Carl Lawson. Mr. Lawson appears to have related the paranormal tales to Mackey in the early days of the venue (beginning in 1978) though Mackey did not care for the tales. The Hensley book is also credited by Mackey as stoking interest in the legends (Begley, 2014). Lawson passed away January 26, 2012, therefore we were unable to interview him to further investigate his claims.
The circulated claim that Pearl Bryan was murdered as part of satanic ritual by two men and her head thrown in the well (which one?) at the current Bobby Mackey’s location does not correspond to the historical facts documented in any sources of the time.
The Mysterious Johanna
Her name was said to be Johanna Jewels (or sometimes ‘Jewel’), possibly a stage name as she was a performer at the Latin Quarter nightclub in 1950 when she kindled a romance with a man at the club named Robert Randall. The Mackey tour guides relate the story that Johanna became pregnant, and her father had Randall killed. (Much is also made of the coincidence that Bobby Mackey could be a derivative of ‘Robert Randall’ as Robert Randal Mackey (Argie and Olsen, 2014)). Distraught, she killed herself in the dressing room, a popular spooky spot for visitors to the establishment these days where some claim to detect the smell of roses that once adorned the room.
There are several stories regarding the life of Johanna Jewels. One claim is that she was the daughter of the owner of the Latin Quarter. From 1947-1961, the nightclub was owned by the Cleveland Four. At the head of the Cleveland Four was Moe Dalitz who only had one daughter, Suzanne. Another claim by Bobby Mackey’s Ghost Tour guide, was that she was the daughter of Albert “Red” Masterson. Birth records show that Red did not have any daughter named Johanna. Furthermore, in the alleged journal of Johanna, she mentions her father and “Red” in the same sentence, as well as notes Masterson by last name further confusing the relationships.
There is evidence to show that there was indeed a “Johanna” that committed suicide via poisoning. However, her name was Johanna Ragan, and she died at 44 Pike Rd, Covington, KY (just miles away from the establishment) in 1914, decades too early, before the establishment was even made into a speakeasy. Johanna Ragan’s death certificate shows she was married and a housewife, not a dancer. The Bobby Mackey’s Ghost Tour Guide informed the MVP group that his friend had a copy of a death certificate with the name Johanna Jewels. Death Certificates are official documents and therefore only her legal name, not a stage name, would be given. Therefore, unless such a document could be authenticated, it remains unconfirmed and questionable.
The foundation of Johanna’s story is based on Lawson’s claim he found her journal hidden in the basement. No journal was ever produced by Lawson who related the information to Hensley. Sara Toensing, former adjunct professor at UC Davis, and Lynn Simms, a linguist professor at Austin Peay State University (personal communication, 2014), analyzed the alleged journal entries from Johanna, as dictated by Carl Lawson. The authenticity of the entries is questionable. Although both recognize that the entries were most likely paraphrased by Lawson, the content itself is dubious. Dancers in the early 20th century were not well-respected. According to the journal, Johanna allegedly lived at home with her parents. During that time, a woman would only live at home if she was not married or employed. However, a job as a casino dancer would have been considered scandalous at that time and so dancers did not live at home with their parents. Additionally, mobsters kept their wives and daughters away from their businesses. Therefore, to say that Johanna was a dancer that lived at home and intermingled with her father’s business does not make historical sense. Additionally, in the journal, the entry makes note that her dad had “Red” kill people. This would indicate that Masterson was not her father. To assume that her father was Buck Brady would be erroneous as well, as Red Masterson and Buck Brady obviously did not get along. Lastly, it is important to note there is no physical proof of the existence of journal.
While it remains possible that there really was a dramatic story of a mysterious Johanna during the Latin Quarter years, documentation for such is lacking and we are left concluding that the story of her tragic life and her alleged journal are fictional.
In regards to the love poem allegedly written by Johanna on the wall of Bobby Mackey’s before she died, it appears to be a common verse, also used in the song “Never” by Toni Arden released in 1951. The love poem details do not fit with the original story but likely a later embellishment by an unknown source and appended to the tale.
The majority of the information released regarding the history of Bobby Mackey’s and its haunted past has been done through representatives of the establishment – its ghost tour manager until 2014, Wanda Kay, and subsequent guides, as well as former caretaker Carl Lawson. The internet is saturated by the retelling of the history from this perspective. Multiple paranormal television shows delivered the same unconfirmed information to the general public. The Bobby Mackey’s version (for lack of a better identifying term) of the history of the location is the one that is most widely circulated on the internet, books, and television, however, our research indicates that most likely the true facts of the Pearl Bryan case and the documented history of the location, were muddled, overlooked, inaccurate, or confabulated.
Based on our research, interviews, and the historical documentation provided to us from various historical societies, we conclude that the claims of occult activity and the correlation between Bobby Mackey’s and Pearl Bryan’s murder case are unsubstantiated. As of yet, we are unable to conclude whether “Johanna Jewels” existed, as there is no viable evidence to support it. However, we are able to support the claims that the establishment has had a very violent and shady past, based off of the history of the relationship between the location and organized crime.
Physical aspects of the location
A crew from MVP examined the premises in an attempt to determine whether there was any physical basis to the claims of paranormal activity and if any of anomalous activity would manifest. Professional experts (scientists and electricians) concluded that it may be possible that the environment of the structure in places may produce natural phenomena that could be perceived as paranormal: uneasy, restless or fearful feelings, paranoia, hallucinations, and the sense of being stared at.
The interior of the old building includes iron pipes, copper wires, electrical equipment, exposed and cut old wiring, a large transformer, unleveled floors, water damage, and few solid concrete walls. There are power lines directly over a portion of the building and active train tracks 16 feet away from the back of the building with trains running every day. The foundation is not level and has open holes.
Some past investigators have suggested that the site is along an active fault line, Cracks in the landscape are noted to be from this “fault line” (Smith, 2013), which are thought by some paranormal investigators to perpetuate possible paranormal activity. While this is a common idea related to the tectonic strain theory of Persinger (1983), there is no scientific basis for it. In addition, Persinger’s ideas related to luminous phenomenon, not hauntings.
A review of the geological maps of the area by Hill, a geologist, shows that the building is likely constructed on the limestone-shale Kope formation that slumps readily when wet. There are no mapped faults anywhere near this vicinity nor are such faults to be reasonably expected.
The onsite investigation recorded fairly high electromagnetic field (EMF) readings of 5.9 to 6.0 milligauss. Iron pipes may enhance or transmit the electromagnetic field. The high readings are not surprising considering the condition of the structure with unshielded wiring, thin walls and old piping. The existence of the transformer and the train tracks may also affect readings. While paranormal investigators consider anomalous EMF reading as possible indication of ghosts, paranormal activity or that high readings may affect human perception, there is no scientific basis for those claims. It is currently unconfirmed if EMFs play a role in paranormal activity in general.
The specific location of Bobby Mackay’s along with various elements of the building construction (such as the plumbing) can present an increased possibility of excessive infrasound which may be responsible for biological and physical effects. Infrasound can also be caused from large moving or pulsing objects such as pipes (in excess of 7 ft), doors, speakers, furnaces, hot water heaters, vehicles, air conditioning systems, or from wind, storms, and weather conditions. Infrasound (within the range of 7 to 14 Hz) may influence human emotion and comfort level. Low frequency signals are said to possibly have physical effects on objects or cause vision anomalies (Tandy and Lawrence, 1998) but the role of infrasound in paranormal experiences is still unclear (Parsons, 2012).
The above conjectures are not answers to the causes for numerous claims made at Bobby Mackay’s over the years, but they do present options in the environment, as well as many other options, that may be considered as to why people perceive the location as “haunted”.
Based on the historical documentation, there is no evidence to substantiate the often repeated stories of the Satanic or occult activity connected to the legend regarding the murder of Pearl Bryan. There is no empirical evidence that ties the act of the murder or the murderers to the Mackey site. So their alleged haunting of the premises can not be supported by any facts of the case.
There is no evidence to suggest that the Johanna, allegedly the daughter of an organized crime member, killed herself at this location due to a lost suitor. It seems plausible that the legend originated from an actual death of a woman nearby named Johanna in 1914. The story incorporated historical context through time and was heavily reliant on the unsubstantiated claims by Carl Lawson’s through his interpretation of a document he believed was Johanna’s diary.
Claims of the veracity of the diary seriously undermine the entire tale. The love poem wall scrawl has been debunked as a relatively recent addition.
There is scant support for the dramatic allegations of compelling mysterious activity in this location that may be construed as a “haunting”. Many and various other rational explanations could contribute to the experiences reported by employees, visitors, and paranormal researchers. Allegations of the location being extremely paranormally active, a “portal to hell”, or host to dangerous dark entities are unsubstantiated. The current circulated legend has obviously enhanced and accrued additional details in the retelling over some 30+ years.
The events witnesses report at Mackey’s appear to be heavily dependent on psychological priming and the desire to have a paranormal experience (Wiseman, 2011). The paranormal claims from employees, and events reported via the media and various paranormal research groups remain anecdotal and legendary, and unverified.
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