The Bethesda police received an envelope in the afternoon mail (There were two deliveries a day then, one in the morning and one in the afternoon) It was addressed to, in block lettering cut out from a magazine, "Police Department, Bethesda, Md." and was postmarked two days before in Norfolk Virginia. A note inside read, again in cut out lettering “Don’t bother to look for Pearl."
The police searched their recent files and found that Pearl Corens was an attractive brunette who worked for the federal government and had been reported missing by her husband Henry and her brother, Grover Walker. The two had come together to the station house in the early evening of February 15, 1945.
The responding officer noted in his report that the husband, Henry Corens “looked to be close to collapse from fatigue.” The pair said that Pearl Corens had left home two nights before, explaining that she was going to visit with a friend who was ill. When she didn’t return henry contacted the friend who said that she hadn’t seen Pearl for several days. Furthermore, she hadn't been i11. Henry added that "Of course, Pearl had a lot of friends over in Virginia. She often stayed with them overnight, or sometimes over a weekend, when they gave parties."
The cop on duty later asked why, if Pearl was in the habit of staying away from home, was her husband so anxious this time? And Henry said that Pearl never missed work and if for any reason, she had to be absent or late, she always telephoned. But this time she didn’t.
Later that night, Pearl Corens' brother phone the station to say "I didn't want to say it In front of Henry, but I think Pearl has run away from him. They've been quarreling a lot. I heard Pearl accuse him of running around with other women. She went so far as to consult a lawyer about getting a divorce."
He added that Pearl undoubtedly met other men at the parties she'd attended but he was confident that she had taken none of them seriously. Nor did he believe that she had run away with another man but that it was possible that she had “gone away by herself to think things over.”
A few days later a second letter arrived at the station and looked identical to the first and carried the same note inside "Pearl gone for good. Not returning"The Norfolk police did what they could to track down the source of the letter but to no avail. Detectives called Henry was called into the Bethesda station for more questioning and revealed that he and Pearl had had a violent argument about other men on the night she left the house. He said just before midnight, he was awakened by the radio. Pearl was home. He shouted to her to lower the music and a few minutes later she came into the bedroom and angrily demanded to know where he had hidden the whiskey and then and hopped on him and scratched his face. "
"By that time," he said, "I sat up in bed and I slapped at her. She must have picked up something, it must have been the heel of a shoe. She struck me here (indicating the forehead) and it knocked me out."
He said he regained consciousness within a few minutes and searched the house, but Pearl had disappeared. In the morning his right eye was bloodshot, his forehead swollen, his face scratched, and his lip cut.
It rained the next day, bad weather for car painting so he stayed home until noon; then went to a restaurant for lunch; returned home about 1.30; remained there until about 4.30; went to a moving picture theatre; drank several glasses of beer about 8.30; went home again and retired about 9.30.
A detective went to the Army Signal Corp desk in the Defense Department where Pearl, who was 31, worked. Her co-workers recalled the day that she disappeared because she had failed to show for work and in all years with the government, she had never missed a day. Her boss confirmed that and added that even though Pearl was known as a two-fisted whiskey drinker who was often drunk after hours, she was never late or absent. When Pearl failed to show up at the office for several more days, her co-workers phoned her house repeatedly, but the phone calls went unanswered. One of the co-workers called Pearl’s brother, Grover, a wealthy farmer in Gaithersburg, the then-rural portion of upper Montgomery County. Grover said he had heard nothing from his sister for several days but said he would drive down to Bethesda to check on her and phone the co-workers back with a report. Grover phoned Henry Corens job and was told that Henry hadn’t been in all week.
Grover and his wife drove down to Gladwyne Blvd. Bethesda to his sister home. When no one answered the bell, they let themselves into the house and looked around. Nothing seemed out of order. They left and came back several hours later and found Henry at home.
Grover said “Where've you people been? Pearl's office has. been trying to get her and your shop said you were off”
Henry, a Belgian with a decided accent, was cheerful and relaxed and said he had taken a few days off from the shop to do some work around the house "But I don't know where Pearl is. She just walked out and left me after we'd had another fight" and then pointed to a black eye and to bruises on his head.
Three photos of Pearl Coren
Grover and everyone else in the family knew that the Corens had an unhappy marriage and their arguments, often fueled by booze, were known to get physical. Most of the arguments centered around Pearls excessive drinking and Henry suspicions that she was always cheating on him.
"Well,” Grover asked, “Did you report her disappearance to the police?" to which Henry answered "To the police? Why make a fuss? After all. she's probably over with her girlfriends the girls she often spent the weekend with or said she did."
"No, she isn't with the girls," said Grover. "Those girls are the ones who called me to find out why she stayed away from work."
So Henry accompanied Grover down to the Bethesda Police Department.
Next, detectives questioned Pearls friends and one, a close girlfriend, said that Pearl had been seeing a who was stationed in Norfolk and that he had been with Pearl had a party weekend before her disappearance. Police in Norfolk tracked down the sailor only to learn that he had been transferred to the west coast, where he was not due to report for a week. In the meantime, there was no way to locate him.
Two weeks, on February 27, after the reported disappearance Pearl Corens was found, in the late afternoon two young Virginia farmers, C. C. Dailey, and Fristoe Melton. They had spent the day fishing on the banks of the Potomac off of Seneca Road and started home to Herndon through some riverside woodlands and spotted Pearl’s head staring at them from the underbrush. The head in an advanced stage of decomposition.
There was a head, but no body. There was also a basket in which the head had apparently been carried. There was no sign of disturbance in the leaves and hushes, and there were no traces of blood. Tire tracks indicated that she had been murdered elsewhere, and her head transported to the woodland glade.
They rushed out of the woods, found a payphone and called the Fairfax County police. The cops determined that the head … it was scarcely recognizable as a human head, entirely unidentifiable as to features…had been dug up by animals.
Another search of the area found pearls gold dental bridge. The County Medical Officer T. B. McCord determined that the head was from a woman's body and that woman had been strangled to death and after she had died someone had severed body and head with a sharp saw, the line of cleavage being at the fourth cervical vertebrae just above the jointure of neck and shoulders.
An alert reporter from the Washington Times-Herald, covered the story and mentioned it to a Bethesda detective who had Pearls dentist, Dr. Raymond Fields of Bethesda, examine the bridge that was found. He did and determined that the bridge belonged to Pearly Corens.
At midnight the police went to Henry Corens home and rapped on the door. When Henry answered a cop barked "Your wife's head was found across the Potomac. Come down to the station with us."
"Sure, I'll come.” Henry said “But why do you want me? I haven't done anything."
Corens, now close to collapse, was taken to the morgue, at Bethesda Naval hospital and identified the body, or what was left of it. Dr. Richard W. Rosenburg, a deputy coroner of the District of Columbia, who made various tests of Corens' skin, and took fingernail scrapings and specimens of blood for analysis from Henry who offered, without being asked, to submit to a lie detector test. The offer was refused.
While Corens was Bethesda Naval, other police officers, led by Capt. James McAuliffe, searched his home, every inch of it from attic to basement, to find the body and some, evidence of murder. Basement drainpipes were removed. Dozens of objects were taken from the house.. The cops took a car full of tools and the like for examination to the FBI laboratories, which was then in downtown DC.
The sewer in front of the home was examined and every bit of ground around the Corens home was spaded up in vain but Pearl's body wasn’t found.
The question for the police was, where did the murder happen? In Maryland or Virginia, to know what narrow the case considerably. The Military police located the sailor and he had proof positive he was aboard ship during the entire week of Pearl’s disappearance.
The only suspect left was Henry Corens. The police learned, probably through Grover, that Henry had come from Antwerp, Belgium to the United States with his parents and a brother and sister in 1919, when he was 18. He had married and divorced a Washington department store clerk Gertrude Van Dam in 1923.
After they divorced he met and married Pearl in 1933. She was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. McKendree Walker, prosperous dairy farmers. Henry had no criminal record and was a dependable and trusted worker. He had Americanized the spelling of his name from Korens to Corens.
The Bethesda police searched the Corens home twice, accompanied by the States Attorney. On the second visit the States Attorney asked, “Did your wife have dates with other men?"
"No" Corens said "She met them sometimes at parties, but she was the straightest woman 1 ever knew."
“Could she have been robbed? Did she usually carry much money with her?”
“Sometimes she carried a lot.” He answered.
A policeman asked where the entrance to the attic was, but henry replied “You have no need to search my attic, in fact, I won’t allow it”
The DA made Henry go over his story again. And again Henry said that shortly after Pearl returned home from work on Monday she left again. She didn’t say where she was going. He went to bed at 9:30.
Detectives questioned Corens neighbors. The woman next door, Mrs. Esther Lynn conformed that Pearl had been home that day "I saw her at 5:30 on Monday.” The neighbor said “ was in my backyard and she was on her back porch. I asked her if she'd had a nice weekend. She said 'Yes' and then went into the house. I didn't see her again. But then I wasn't looking."
She added the passing comment that on either the 12th or 13th, she wasn’t sure, she had seen Henry Corens eave his house with a large laundry bag and several days after that he carried a large paper package out of the house and paid of muddy boots and place them in the trunk of his car.
"She came in after midnight” Henry continued “woke me out of a sound sleep and demanded to know where her whiskey was. I told her I'd hidden it and wasn't going to tell her where it was because she'd had enough. "That made her mad. She was all drunk and jumped on me and started to beat me. She clawed me several times. You know she's bigger than I am,"
Henry was 5 foot 7 and 145-pounds. Pearl was 5 feet 11 inches and about 170 pounds.
“What did you do when she attacked you” The police asked
'I slapped her a couple of times," Henry answered.
"And what did she do?"
"She just walked out and that's the last I saw of her. I thought 1 she went to visit her girlfriends, but apparently, she didn't."
"Do you think anything could have happened to her?"
"She might have committed suicide. But I don't think so. Once she tried to take her life by gas, and once she tried to drown herself."
The questioning was interrupted by a police officer who came into the room carrying a large wooden slab. "What's this?" the co asked. Corens explained it was the top of the basement laundry tub.
“Why,” the cop asked, “are their bloodstains on it?” and Corens explained that "I've been using it every time I butchered chickens or rabbits. Last time, I cut my hand.”
The DA didn’t buy it and took the wooden slab and a sample of Corens blood with him when he left.
The last thing Henry Corens said to the police, that night was, "To my knowledge, my wife hadn't an enemy in the world."
The FBI laboratory confirmed Henry’s story about the chicken blood on the wooden wash-tub lid. Then the Miami police called in to say that they had taken in a man a "queer sort of character" who had confessed to murdering Pearl Corens. A detective flew down to Florida, questioned the man who his details didn’t match up to what the police had.
The DA ordered another search of the Corns home and this one turned up parts of a disassembled clothes drier and a hacksaw, hidden in the basement floor and spots of blood. The cops searched the attic this time and found nothing but noted the attic was impeccably clean and the cleaning had been recent. In the furnace, the police found the recent remains of a spade and among the ashes from the fireplace trap there was a piece of clothing which Pearl had worn.
The FBI lab found long strands of hair, human hair, adhering to the hacksaw. As to whose blood it was, the lab couldn’t confirm. Henry and Pearl had the same blood types, so perhaps on the blood on the washboard could have been Pearls. Ashes from the fireplace showed traces of rayon, which might have come from a woman's stockings and undergarments. It was enough to arrest Henry.
On March 1, 1945, Henry Corens was charged with "the willful and premeditated murder" of his wife and locked up in the county jail which was then in Rockville.
Corens, claiming he could not obtain a fair trial in Montgomery County, where public feeling ran high against him, asked and obtained a change of venue and the case was moved to Annapolis. The trial began in May of 1945.
Dr. Fields, Pearl's dentist, was among the first witnesses. He testified he was positive the head was that of his former patient, Mrs. Corens. Next, relatives and fellow workers of the pair testified that Henry and Pearl "didn't get along."
Based on testimony from Physicians who had seen the wounds on Henry’s forehead and left eye, on the night of the murder, February 12, Pearl Corens had struck Henry on the head and while he was unconscious left the house. He was ready for her when she returned, the Prosecutor said.
A real estate agent was called to testify that a week before Pearl disappeared that she had walked into his office, introduced herself and said she would like to sell her home because she and her husband were getting a divorce.
The state said that in their view, Henry's had been choked Pearl to death sometime between 1:30 and 3:30 A.M. and then took the hacksaw to her neck. The murder probably took place in the bedroom and hacking in the basement and that before he left the house that morning to hide the head and body, he burned Pearls clothes in the fireplace.
Grover Walker told of a drinking party which Pearl had planned to have in her Bethesda home, a plan to which Henry had objected strenuously. "The party was held regardless and wound up in a fight two weeks before she disappeared," Walker said and added that his sister had confided in him that she "could no longer stand Henry running around with other women."
A police chemist testified that he found specks of blood on Henry Corens bedroom slippers, there was a tiny spot of it on a sheet, a few more flecks on a box of soap flakes. The chemist further testified that ashes from the Corens fireplace had revealed traces of Pearl's black dress and her herringbone blue coat.
Henry’s lawyers asked What happened to the three quarts of human blood that, would spurt from a human body when a head was severed from that body? You wouldn't find merely specks of blood here and there. You would find pools and streaks of blood that could not be washed up with soap powder."
The experts had no answer to that.
Henry took the stand and said that the hacksaw had traces of blood on it because he had used it to shave a corn off his foot. Otherwise, as to the traces of blood found around the house, he that his finger was caught behind an a car in December 1944, and as a result of the accident he was off from work for more than a month, during which time he was often in the basement, and one night when he hit his finger the blood dripped upon the floor and his slippers. He also said that in January of 1945, a rabbit ran into his yard and he killed it with a stick and skinned it in the basement "right there by the laundry trays." He further said that he killed quite a few chickens in the basement.
When the state asked why he had waited so long to report his wife missing, he responded that the police would have thought he was crazy if he had reported to them every time Pearl stayed away from home for days and days.
To bring the case back to the state's corner, the Prosecutor provide a motive by providing a surprise witness named Thelma Pack. The cops learned that Henry Corens was far from being a faithful husband. The source said he had a series of girlfriends over the years. Since he couldn’t take their phone calls at his home and his job wouldn’t allow calls (He was a car painter at Barry-Pate Motor Co.) Henry rented a Post Office box to communicate with his lovers. Detectives searched Henry’s house again and found a letter addressed to the him at the PO box and then traced it back to the sender from the return address on the envelope.
The single woman, Thelma Pack, who lived at the return address conformed that she knew Henry but that he had told her he was divorced and was living at his sister’s house in Bethesda.
It was the prosecution belief that Henry Corens killed Pearl so he could marry Thelma Pack, whom Henry had met on July 1, 1944. Henry told Thelma that he had been single for the past six years and for the next six months Corens took her two or three nights a week to bowling alleys, restaurants and movies.
Thelma read a letter from Henry to her aloud in the court "My Everything: I am desperate to see you and am hoping that I will be able to come and meet you, but I am not sure. I am counting the hours for you to come back, my darling. Affectionately, Hen. P. S. I hope to hear from you tomorrow. Please send Dr. Gordon's bill. Love and kisses, Honey."
At Christmas Corens presented Thelma with a gold locket and bracelet, she testified, and six weeks before Pearl disappeared, he asked her to marry him.
With that interesting testimony, the State closed its case.
The case went to the jury at 5:29 P. M. on May 27 and at 1 1:10 P. M. the jury announced they had reached a verdict. It was "Guilty of murder in the second degree."
When Henry heard the verdict he covered his face in his hands and wept.
“I don’t know how you killed her” the judge said before passing sentence “but you killed her” He then sentenced Corens to 18 years in prison.
Henry was released from prison and moved to Cobb Island and then to Cheverly Maryland where he married a widow named Hazel Lucille Simons. She died in 1975 and Henry died in May of 1989.
To this day, no one knows what happened to the rest of Pearl Corens body.