True Crime

The Case of Pearl Bruns

By Lola Starr

Warning: Talks of violence, blood, and murder. 

August 11, 1991, was considered a typical day for everyone in South Portland, Maine. However, inside a ranch-style home on Broadway in South Portland lived Pearl Bruns and her husband, Bill Bruns. On that day, they stood in their kitchen, arguing once more, yelling at one another; according to Pearl Bruns’ friend, Deanna Cyr, Pearl, and Bill were constantly fighting. Pearl started drinking more and was getting depressed, and she even went on to tell Deanna, “There is one thing I want you to know, if anything should ever happen to me, tell them Bill did it.” The argument the two were having on August 11 was about money, and as things got more heated, Bill grabbed his keys and slammed the door to the house. As he left to get his dinner that night. When he returned a couple of hours later, the house was silent- Pearl was nowhere to be found. She was not reported missing until two days later by Pearl’s daughter Elaine, on August 13 (Though some sources also say the 14th”). 

When detective Linda Barker searched the Bruns’ residence, they found all of Pearl’s personal belongings, including her beloved Cadillac, remained at the house; with this information in mind, there was no evidence Pearl had just left. Upon investigating her bedroom, it was found that her room was torn apart. A partially packed suitcase sat on her bed. However, a closer look at the suitcase revealed it was spotted with blood, and Detective Barker determined that a high-velocity impact blood splatter was consistent with a blow on the head with a hard object. With evidence of some violence combined with a missing person, Barker continued her search around the house, which led her to find traces of blood in the bathroom, the hallway, and the kitchen, leading her to the cellar steps. Following the trail to the cellar, she found that the unfinished cellar dirt had been disturbed. With all of this now evident, she called for backup, and they came with shovels, but the detectives dug and kept digging and came up empty-handed. Unable to recover anything, they hit a dead end. Nevertheless, Barker had one suspect in mind: Bill Bruns. 

Pearl was Bill’s sixth wife, and he was her fourth husband. The two met at the VFW, where Pearl was frequently seen, and they said it was “Lucky in love.” However, after marrying, their marriage was anything but blissful, with them often fighting about money and Pearl’s drinking. So on the night of August 11th, once Bill returned and found Pearl absent, he just went to bed, suspecting she was probably at the VFW or somewhere else. He never reported her as missing. With this information, Barker turned her attention to him, but her superiors thought Pearl might have just run off with one of her ex-husbands. If this was the case, she never informed her children, and it is said that Pearl loved to hang out with her family. The puzzle pieces were not clicking; unfortunately, the case went cold. 

On September 28, 1991, over a month later, a hiker found Pearl’s purse along a trail in New Hampshire, 200 miles away from where she was reported missing. Inside was her driver’s license, her pocketbook with cash, and more blood spatter. Her missing person’s case was updated to a homicide case. With this new information, the police and detectives did not want any trials to go cold, so they returned to the Bruns’ house for another investigation, this time with a second search dog; this dog was trained to lay where he believed the body was. The area of interest was searched, only to find nothing once again. Not wanting anything to slip through, the police issued another warrant, only this time, they used luminol; the chemical, once applied, revealed a bloodbath, blood everywhere, on the carpet, bloody footprints, and a blood trail, all once again leading to the cellar. Once stopped, the blood trail reached Pearl’s body’s length. With this information in mind, Detectives Patrick Lehan and Mike Harriman brought in Bill for interrogation and began asking him questions, confronting him with this new evidence. Yet, Bill stuck to his story, That he came home, Pearl was gone, and he never saw any blood. Once again, the detectives reached a dead end. 

Thirteen months after Pearl Bruns’s disappearance, the Brun residence is again searched, but their attention is set on the cellar. This time, they brought Geophysicist Scott Calkin, who used a Ground-penetrating radar to take a reading on the Bruns cellar, where he found an anomaly. He had found consistent reflectors along the basement floor, except for one blank space. A space reading can be caused by a disturbance in the soil or something buried under it that absorbs the radar’s energy. In either case, they have to dig to find out what the anomaly could be. So, on September 11, 1992, for a third time, police searched for Pearl’s body. After a couple of shovelfuls, police hit an object: a head wrapped in a garbage bag. On the body was a watch with Pearl’s name monogrammed onto it and the shoes she was last seen wearing when she went missing.

On September 11, 1992, Pearl Bruns was declared murdered; she had been struck in the head three times by a fist and bled to death. While the police uncovered her body, detective Linda Barker went upstairs to arrest Bill. He was in the kitchen, peacefully eating his pasta. Once told he was being arrested, he insisted he was allowed to finish his spaghetti, a request the police denied. 

Police believe that Bill and Pearl had an argument that became physical. He hit Pearl a few times and knocked her out, where she then bled to death. Afterward, he wrapped her up in plastic bags, dragged her to the cellar, and buried her.

Bill ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years.

It was later learned, through medical records, that Pearl had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and had less than six months to live.

Pearl Bruns’s case was also covered by Forensic files, season 6, episode 2, which broadcasted on May 28, 2001. 

May she rest in peace.


Categories: True Crime, Uncategorized

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