Bill Bruns and Pearl Smith [Missing Pearl] Forensic Files Case Study

How Pearl Smith Died and Bill Bruns Caught? (Full Summary)

How Pearl Smith Died and Bill Bruns Caught Full Summary
  • Year of Incident: August 13, 1991
  • Region: Portland, Maine
  • Victim: Pearl Smith (Pearl Ann Drown Bruns)
  • Culprit: Bill Bruns (William ‘Bill’ Bruns)
  • Forensic File Case: Missing Pearl (Forensic Files- Season 6, Episode 2)

On August 13, 1991, Elaine Woodward reported her mother Pearl Smith (47 years) missing. Detective Linda Barker was assigned to the case. She investigated Pearl’s house and her husband, Bill Bruns (62 years).

When asked why he didn’t file a missing person report for his wife, he mentioned that they fought that night and may have left the house because she did that couple of times.

“But there was a problem”

On searching the house, detectives found nothing missing. Her clothes, jewelry, and even her beloved Cadillac, which she never left behind, were still in the garage. This rose suspicions of foul play.

Investigators also found blood spatter on a partially packed suitcase in her room. But, there was no additional evidence that lead to the case. The case stalled until a hiker found Pearl’s purse with ID in Appalachian trials of New Hampshire.

A thorough search of the area turned up nothing, and the case again came to end with no clues.

However, investigators try to evaluate Bill’s profile. He was a truck driver for years, so he had easy access to many things. He can easily dump the body. He had connections with fishermen and other refrigerated truck drivers.

This all makes it nearly impossible to find her body.

When the investigators again visited Bill’s house, they noticed that the rug had been cleaned, but Bill denied it. This raised suspicion. Also, there was a soiled basement.

Investigators called the cadaver hunting dogs to search the basement but again found nothing. On a final try, they use blood enhancing examination using luminol reagent.

The scene turned out to be horrific.

There were blood cast-off marks on walls, dragging blood marks, bloodied footprints on basement stairs, and a body-shaped pattern on the dirt of the basement. This all screamed to be a possible crime scene.

However, excavating the basement was a big task. Bill was questioned again, and he pretended to be innocent but refused to take a lie detector test.

That is when the breakthrough application of ground penetration radar in forensics was first used to locate the buried body. And investigators finally found Pearl Smith’s body.

Bill Bruns was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and 15 years of imprisonment.

Who was Pearl Bruns?

Pearl A. Bruns Smith worked as a fish packer in the Maine port town of Portland. She worked hard and only earned a couple of dollars a day.

Even though, she was known to be a good-hearted lady. Unfortunately, she did not have as much luck in matters of love as she was five times divorced.

She was often seen in the bar near her workplace where she’d drink away her worries every day. This was where she met her last husband, Bill Bruns. Things weren’t good between them, and one day, she was reported missing by her daughter, Elaine Woodward.

Who was Bill Bruns? And His Punishment?

Who was Bill Bruns And His Punishment

William Bill Bruns was a truck driver, and regularly transports goods and food to other states. He was thirteen years older than Pearl and had ended his third marriage when they met.

They both went to the same bar after work and their friendship quickly turned into a relationship and marriage.

Bill Bruns pleaded guilty to the murder of his wife, Pearl Smith Bruns, and was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in 1994.

Ironically, the post-mortem report of her showed that she was terminal cancer and if Bill did not kill her, she hardly had six more months to live.

Where is Bill Bruns Now?

According to reports, Bill Bruns died in 2022 in Kennebunk Maine, living a total of 90 years. He only served 8 years and got out in 2002 and lived in Cody, Wyoming, and later moved to Maine.

Bill’s and Pearl’s car ended up with Bill’s son and the house was sold to pay Bill’s lawyer.

Read More: Craig Bailey & Megan Mckernan [A Touching Recollection] Forensic Files Case Study

Reasons Why Bill Bruns Killed his Wife Pearl Bruns?

Bill and Pearl used to fight a lot about money. On the night of August 13, 1991, they were having one of their usual fights. But this one ended up with Pearl Bruns packing her suitcase and leaving a frustrated Bill behind.

Bill Bruns got frustrated and attacked her. He brutally punched the left side of her face thrice and watched her bleed to death.

Bill wrapped her in two garbage bags and dragged her to the basement and buried her in the dirt.

He disposed of her purse with blood on a hiking trail in New Hampshire to sabotage the investigation. When questioned about her disappearance, Bill insisted that she must have run away with one of her ex-husbands.

Forensic Evidence Against William Bill Bruns

EvidenceForensic Significance in Case
High-velocity blood spatter found on Pearl’s suitcaseIndicated a blow to the head with a blunt force
Pearl’s purse found on an Appalachian trailIndicated the possible homicide
Cadaver hunting dogs trained with pseudo-corpse scentTracing the smell of cadavers to the Bruns’ family basement
Luminol test at the Bruns houseIndicated a large amount of blood spill consistent with a homicide
Ground penetrating radar for detection inconsistency Discovery of the body buried 2 feet beneath the basement’s crawling space
Wristwatch with engraved Pearl Bruns markingRecovered from decomposed body
Pink shoelaces she was last seen wearing on discovered bodyThe decomposed body of Pearl Smith
Post-mortem Report Fractures on the head indicated blunt force to the left side of the face, possibly by fist.

Read More: A Bitter Pill to Swallow Forensic Files Case Study: Maynard Muntzing & Michelle Story

Forensic Analysis in Pearl Smith and Bill Bruns Case

There were four main forensic analyses and techniques used to solve the case of Pearl Bruns and William Bruns. These were:

1. Blood Spatter Analysis

The shape and position of the blood spatter are important information in a case to understand the possible sequence of action.

The high-velocity impact blood spatters found on Pearl’s suitcase along with cast-off and smears indicated that she was hit on the head with a blunt force.

This first raises suspicions about Bill’s story of her running away.

Consequently, after the luminol test, the fluorescence indicated:

  • Cast-off blood on the wall
  • A blood pool on the rug
  • Blood footprints
  • Drag marks to the basement
bloodstain pattern on different surfaces

2. Luminol Test

Detective Harriman decided to use luminol in the house to detect blood.

Procedure: Luminol usually comes in powder form that is mixed with water and sprayed on a suspected bloodstained area and viewed under black ling.

Principle: When luminol reacts with blood, it produces light that helps the forensic examiner to determine the shape, size, and amount of blood deposited on an area even if they are cleaned.

In case: When the chemical was sprayed in the house, bloodstained marks were clearly visible on the walls, floor, stairs, and rug. It also shows the attempts to wash the blood away.

3. Cadaver Hunting Dog

Cadaver Hunting Dog unable to find pearl Burns body

Dr. Edward David used cadaver-hunting dogs at Bill’s house to locate the body.

These dogs are trained with a pseudo-corpse scent that mimics the scent of a decomposing human body. They are capable of identifying the body and showing signs such as lying down on the spot, digging, and circling around the spot.

When taken to the Bruns’ house, the dog lay down at the door of the basement. On entering the basement, the dog lay down on the dirt.

Investigators dug up but found nothing. Later, the body was recovered in the same basement, just a few feet from the spotted site.

4. Ground Penetrating Radar

Ground penetrating radar is mainly used by geophysics to identify metal objects in the ground without digging. However, in this case, it was used for forensic purposes.

Principle: It radiates high frequency that is reflected by metal objects giving off a radio spectrum. The resultant frequency is used to identify the object and its location without disturbing the ground.

In this case, the soil under the basement shows the presence of rusty sand that was consistent throughout the basement. But at one spot, there was no signal.

That means something underneath absorbed the signal. The signal creates a human-shaped void. Finally, on removing 2 feet of soil, Pearl Smith’s decomposed body was recovered.

Read More: Trey Cooley [The Magic Bullet] Case Study: Forensic Files, Culprit

My Thoughts on Bill Bruns Case

I think this is one of the cases where the culprit in rage, kills another person. It was a moment of heat, and those who can’t cope with it ended up like Bill Bruns.

He didn’t even think about why he was doing it. What will be the outcome? He only did it to make himself overpowered. I regularly read cases, and it is clear that 80% of cases are the outcomes of rage killing.

Sometimes, even their friends can’t imagine that one can do such a thing. Similarly, in this case, Bill’s friend who was a chief police officer says something like “Bill has nothing to do with Pearl’s disappearance. It was that the Woman who must flee away with one of his boyfriends.”

I think this only objectifies an image of a Pearl Smith in his eyes and what he heard (one side of the story) from his beloved friend Bill Bruns.

Actually, this is common. We mostly heard one side of the story and comes to a conclusion.

If that chief police officer had also considered Bill as a suspect and investigated him, he would have been arrested long ago and the case wouldn’t be stretched for a year.

And again, as a judicial officer, the police should be focused on facts and shouldn’t only drift by emotion. I’m not saying emotion and faith is a bad thing but they should not be fooled by facts.

What’s your thought? Are you agree with me? Or I am wrong? Let’s discuss this in the comments.


  • Forensic Files – Season 6, Episode 2 – Missing Pearl [Watch of YouTube]
  • Maine News Index – Portland Press Herald [Link]
  • Findagrave Profile [Link]

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