Copyright by Brianne Sieberg. Powered by Blogger.

The Unsolved Murder of Pearl Gilma Osten

(Photo of Pearl gifted to by Kent Gebhard)

Pearl Gilma Osten sat across from her parents in the living room of her family farm house, having the sort of conversation between parents and teens that seems to transcend time.

She was the 7th of 9 children born to Thea and Martin Andreas (Andrew) Osten, and she wanted her parents to trust her in her pursuit to make her music, which was her passion, her career. To do so meant she'd have to move 200 miles southeast from the small farming community in Otter Tail County she was raised in to Minneapolis.

Her parents, protective of their daughter and fully aware of what a big city can do to a naive young girl, were hesitant. Stay here, they persuaded. Their farm was a guarantee and her help was needed.

But Pearl was persistent, and it was her dedication to music that her parents knew they couldn't deny. They soon obliged and it wasn't long before Pearl found herself at the doorstep of her sister, who lived in Minneapolis with her husband.

She took a job as a server at a local tea room, supporting herself with her customer's tips as she chased her dreams in music.

On the night of October 1, 1927, mere weeks after her arrival and still dressed in her server's uniform, she boarded a street car after her shift ended late. The conductor reported he saw her at 12:30 a.m., smiling and laughing with a gentleman, and appeared reluctant to get off with him at one of the stops. The conductor later told police that the gentleman touched Pearl's arm in a gesture of reassurance, before she left the car with him at 5th Street.

She was never seen alive again.

The next afternoon, at 4:30 p.m., a group of young boys were playing in a field. An 11-year-old, hiding in an abandoned woodshed, found Pearl's mutilated body inside. She had been strangled. Worst of all, the woodshed was located only 60 feet from her sister and brother-in-law's house.

Unfortunately, in the 1920s, crime scene investigation wasn't the pristine process of evidence collection that is insisted upon today. Instead, it became a spectacle. Responding to the boy's screams, neighbors and passers-by crowded the scene, contaminating it with their foot and fingerprints. Police couldn't decipher which were made of a sinister nature, and which were out of curiosity.

This was before DNA, and at a time when solving crimes relied heavily on unreliable witness testimony, when no one reportedly saw or heard a thing.

Still, it seemed Pearl was trying to reach out from beyond. She had fought her attacker. She had many bruises on her body, a strip of cloth was tied to her right wrist and her pocketbook had been emptied.

The case went cold, and over 90 years has since passed without any closure.

Pearl's parents were distraught with grief upon hearing the news. A parents' worst nightmare had come true, and I'm sure they were haunted by the circumstances that surrounded it. If only they were more insistent that she remain. They weren't able to protect her, and with no one to run to her screams and cries for help, their little girl died a brutal, painful death alone and far from home.

Generations were added to the family, and Pearl's descendents remained in Minnesota. They carry with them a lingering despair that started with her parents almost a century ago. Of course they'd like an answer. Of course they want the case solved. Police only have hope of the remote chance that at some point, someone, somewhere will find a signed, handwritten confession in a forgotten box in the attic that ties to Pearl's murder.


Police conducted interviews as far away as Los Angeles, and though suspects were detained, no charges ever stuck. Neighbors from her hometown of Pelican Rapids pooled their money and offered a $2,000 reward ($28,000 today) for information.

In 1937, an inmate at North Dakota's Bismarck Peniteniary wrote an anonymous letter that implicated a fellow prisoner Gilbert Blais, stating he confessed to him he killed Pearl.

Blais was immediately taken to Minneapolis and questioned. Witnesses, including the conductor, identified Blais as the man seen with Pearl and his alibi (that he had been working at a factory) quickly fell apart.

However, Blais insisted the letter was written out of spite. He was never charged.

Two grand juries were called to look into Pearl's death, but nothing seemed to have come about.


What struck me the most is how relatable this case is. I had a very similar conversation as I left to pursue my future (ironically, just outside of Minneapolis), as I'm sure I'm soon bound to have it with my own children when they come of age. As parents, it is our jobs to give our children the confidence to strike out on their own. The fear of monsters in the dark is never something we outgrow.

Unfortunately, I fear Pearl's death will forever carry this open ending. Who did it? Instead of being known for her music, Pearl's legacy is of her grisly death instead.

Review: Silent Witnesses by Nigel McCrery

Dear Diary,
When I was in college, I enrolled in a course titled “Dead Men Do Tell Tales.”

It was taught by a revolving cast of guest lecturers including the County Medical Examiner, anthropologists, toxicologists and forensic scientists, and after reading the brief course description I was immediately intrigued.

Now I admit, my interests sometimes take a morbid turn and criminal justice is a long held fascination of mine. I 've harbored such a curiosity for the process and pursuit of monsters, how law enforcement apprehends their suspects, and the ensuing legal processes. By then, I had already witnessed the drama of a courtroom proceeding (specifically, a sentencing in a murder trial), so I was eager to learn more about this side of the system.

The lecturers were not shy in their details, posting gruesome crime and death scene photographs as well as photos from an active dig at a Potter’s Field. There were autopsy reports, there were skeletons, and there was blood. I hold the proud distinction of being one of the few females to not barf during the 3-hour/week lecture.

I was often on the edge of my seat as the lecturers spoke.

I felt this same level of interest and intrigue as I started the book, Silent Witnesses.

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark was a tough title to follow, but this book provided insight into the role science plays in identifying killers. It made strong connections to the how of the lab work briefly discussed in IBGITD, backed by the historical evidence and chronology that turned forensic science into what it is today.

'Silent Witness' is a British TV crime drama, and also written by McCrery.

Overall, while this book was informative, I struggled to remain engaged. Though I'd set aside time to read (it's become my preferred "wind down" activity before bed, replacing my previous "wine down" time), long stretches would pass before I'd pick up this book again. In fact, I was inspired and reread IBGITD after authorities caught the serial killer.

Final verdict: I wish I had this title for supplemental reading when I was enrolled in the "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" course. It was a good book read at a bad time I suppose ...

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book through the link, I will receive a small percentage of commission. You are under no obligation to use these links, but if you do, I will use the money to reinvest in more books.

The Legends and Stories of the Whaley House

Travel Channel’s ‘Most Haunted’ named The Whaley House the #1 Most Haunted House in the United States.

My photo tour of the Whaley House (posted here) is one of my most popular posts to date. 
It’s prompted some interesting correspondence I’ve had with readers.
One comment I’ve received via email has really stuck with me:

“Weren’t you scared? The Whaley House is said to be extremely haunted, and you were completely alone!”

I was very honest in my reply: walking through the home felt as though I was walking through my grandparents’ house. The dining room was much darker than the rest of the house (a windowless, central room) which made me a little uneasy, but I was never scared.

I would later learn seances were once conducted in that very room.

Furthermore, I was curious to learn why the home had such a reputation, and who was responsible for it.

I began by re-examining the home’s timeline, which I had summarized in my initial post.

But this time, I dove between the lines.


Opening as a museum in 1960, the Whaley House was destined to be haunted before the home was even built. The land the house is on was once the site of a public gallows.

Yankee Jim Robinson was hanged there for grand larceny.

And Thomas Whaley couldn’t care less about this connection and he purchased the land in 1855 for his family home.

Thomas, his wife Anna, and their 3 children moved in in 1857.

Then, a fire raged from within and it destroyed the general store Whaley ran from inside the home. The family relocated to San Francisco for a period of time, returning to the home in 1868.

(The courthouse) 

 (The general store)

(The theater)

In addition to the general store, the home was also the site of the city courthouse, the city’s first theater troupe, and more.

In 1870, merchants moved out of Old Town and into New Town.

Armed men held Anna at gunpoint as courthouse records were seized in 1871.

  •       Not long after the family initially moved in, their youngest son Thomas, Jr., died of scarlet fever in the house at age 18 months.
  •       In 1885, daughter Violet shot herself in the chest following her failed marriage. She succumbed to her injuries and died.
  •       Many descendants lived and died in the house including Thomas, Anna and four of their 5 children.

It was during the home’s numerous periods of restoration that strange sights, sounds occurrences and aromas were documented.

Most notorious is the sighting of Yankee Jim. It’s said his ghost makes eerie noises, loud footsteps and leaves disembodied footprints. The family was continually fearful.

Baby Thomas is also said to have stayed behind. People can hear “tiny” footsteps, and the sounds of him crying or giggling.

(The second floor landing, where the family slept and many of the documented sightings occur.)

Violet’s presence is felt on the second floor, where she spent most of her time after her divorce but before her suicide. It’s said the feel quite cold in these areas.

Thomas Whaley, Anna and others are felt within the house, on the staircases and around the property. Thomas especially, is noted to be seen at the top of his stairs, dressed in his frock, coat and top hat.

Visitors can smell Anna’s perfume.

Mists are seen.

Lights turn on and off.

(The music room, and the lamp's crystals that allegedly swing on their own.)

Crystals in the music room’s lamp swing without prompt.

No one has lived in the house since 1953, but yet, it seems the house remained inhabited.


Whether you believe in ghosts and spirits or not, touring the Whaley House can pique the interest of anyone. The home is historic, and the beautiful restorations alone are worthy of a look. If you go, will you let me know if you experience anything?