It’s a small town along the banks of the Scioto River, in Ohio. It’s quite easy to miss as just another quaint, rural community, same as many others situated across the United States. Just outside of Columbus, Circleville may be small, but after 1976, it would be forever remembered for the shadowy events that began to transpire. Residents began to live in fear and panic as they started to receive vicious, sinister letters from a mysterious, unknown person. For an area where everyone knew everyone else, and residents routinely left their doors unlocked, it hardly seemed like the place where anyone would set about terrorizing the town in such a manner. Well that’s just what someone did. They will be forever known as the Circleville Letter Writer.
For many years beginning in 1976, this unknown person wrote thousands of letters threatening the recipients with violence. The letters always contained just enough intimate, secret details to keep the recipients petrified, always wondering if they were being watched. These vulgar letters were not only filled with threats of violence, but laced with profanity and sexual images. In order to obscure the writer’s identity and origin, each letter was written in block letters, without any return address. All the authorities could be sure of was that the letters were mailed from somewhere in nearby Columbus. Even after authorities thought they had the suspect in custody, the letter writer still taunted his victims. The Circleville Letter Writer has never been identified. Join us as we explore some spine-chilling details surrounding the Circleville Letter Writer case.
15. Mary Gillespie Appeared To Be The Writer’s Main Target
Circleville had a population of approximately 14,000 residents. Many of them were targeted and received threatening letters. However, it appears as if one woman, Mary Gillespie, was seemingly singled out for the cruelest letters. Mary Gillespie drove a school bus in rural Circleville when she began to receive the frightful letters. They contained private details about her and informed her that she was being watched by the writer. He knew she was married, with a daughter, and, to prove the seriousness of the letter, even informed her that he knew she was having an affair with the superintendent of schools, Gordon Massie. The writer demanded she cease her illicit affair and that this was not a prank. There would be serious repercussions towards her if she failed to heed his advice.
14. Ron Gillespie Began To Be The Subject Of The Writer’s Wrath
Anyone who received the horrific letters would be justifiably upset. When Mary Gillespie began receiving hers, she quietly packed them away and tried to hide her panic. She cautiously began to keep a watchful eye on her surroundings at all times, in case she was able to spot the writer as he stalked her. Angered at Mary’s success at hiding her terror, the writer began mailing letters to her husband, Ron Gillespie. The letters were very blunt, stop her wife’s affair or he would pay the price. Mary denied the affair and blamed the letters on a botched blackmail attempt; however, the news got out and her reputation was tarnished as gossip began to spread. Both Ron and Mary tried to ignore the threatening letters as best they could.
13. The Gillespies Tried To Go After The Writer Themselves
After a few weeks of trying to ignore the letters, the Gillespies received another letter threatening that if Mary did not admit her affair to the school board, the writer would send proof to the local television station, and have it posted on signs and billboards. The couple began to think hard about who could possibly be their tormentor. They suspected Ron’s brother-in-law, Paul Freshour. To be sure, they mailed similarly written letters to Freshour dictating that they knew what he was doing. They advised him to stop threatening them or they would reveal his identity to the authorities. Apparently, the tactic worked as the letters stopped suddenly. Even though they weren’t sure, Freshour was the letter writer, it appeared as if the frightful episode had ended.
12. Ron Gillespie Dies Mysteriously
The letters had stopped and the Gillespie’s life was returning to normal. Then, on August 19, 1977, the phone rang and Ron Gillespie answered. Ron lost his temper, hung up the phone and retrieved his pistol. He left the house without telling Mary who was on the phone or what they said, yet his children reported he mentioned the letter writer on his way out. Gillespie got in his car and drove off. Not far from the house, police discovered Ron’s car had struck a tree, killing him. When the crash was investigated, the police were stunned to find that the pistol had been fired once. They could find no reason for him to have fired the gun. The crash occurred just moments after Ron left his home and no one reported a gunshot. During the autopsy, Rob’s blood alcohol level was 1.5 times the legal limit; however, everyone that knew him attested to the fact that he didn’t drink. The police found the whole incident to be quite mystifying.
11. The Writer Berated The Community Over Gillespie’s Death
After Ron Gillespie’s crash, his death was ultimately ruled an accident. This ruling came despite all the inconsistencies and unanswered questions. The intersection where he died was well known to him, as it was only down the street from his home. His pistol was fully-loaded yet had been fired when found on him, despite no one hearing the gunshot. Ron’s blood indicated he was legally drunk when he died, yet by all accounts he was teetotaler. The letter writer started sending letters to several area residents, taunting them to conduct a more thorough investigation. His prior letters indicated that he had been watching Ron’s red and white pickup truck as it sat in the driveway, and now claimed he knew all about his death. What was his interest? Did he kill Ron Gillespie? How? If he did, the letter writer never admitted it.
10. The Writer Attempted to Kill Mary Gillespie
Soon the Circleville letters began again. It had been six years since the letters first began and Mary Gillespie could no longer take the threats. She admitted to her affair with the superintendent Gordon Massie. She accused Freshour of being the letter writer, which he adamantly denied. Gossip made her the talk of the town. She managed to keep her job driving school buses. One day, while driving along her bus route, she noticed a sign on the roadway that threatened the life of her daughter. Horrified, she stopped the bus and removed the sign. Behind the sign was a box with a string attached to another post. Inside the box was a crude booby trap with a pistol. The pistol was meant to go off when she removed the box. Thankfully it failed to activate and Mary remained unharmed. As the threatening sign was specific to her family, it was apparent she was the target.
9. The Police Arrested One Suspect As The Letter Writer
After the attempt on Mary Gillespie’s life, the gun was found to have had the serial number filed down. However, the crime lab was still able to recover enough of it to trace it back to Paul Frehour. Freshour insisted he knew nothing of the attempt on Mary’s life and that the gun had been missing for some time. With no other evidence, the police forced Freshour to take a handwriting test and had him copy some of the threatening letters. Experts agree that this was the wrong manner to test his handwriting. Despite this, the sheriff was convinced they had their man and Freshour was arrested for attempted murder. Even though Freshour had a solid alibi on the day of the attempt on Mary’s life, and without any real evidence, he was still convicted in October 1983, and sentenced to 7-25 years in prison. Circleville residents were sure he was the letter writer.
8. The Letters Continued With Freshour in Prison
While in prison, Freshour was a model prisoner. Even as such, he was rarely granted the privilege to correspond with the outside world. Regardless, the Circleville Letter Writer continued to send letters. Just as before, they were all postmarked in Columbus (Freshour was imprisoned nowhere near Columbus). The prison warden himself believed Freshour was innocent of being the letter writer. Police, though, were sure they had the right man and maintained that somehow he was still able to get the letters mailed. Freshour served ten years in prison and maintained his innocence until his death in 2012.
7. The Prison Attempted To Prove Freshour Was Not The Letter Writer
Circleville residents were sure Paul Freshour had written the threatening letters. However, the letters continued to be received all over central Ohio. Police complained to the prison in Lima, Ohio, where Freshour was incarcerated. After so many complaints, the warden placed Freshour in solitary confinement. The letters continued. The warden conducted at least three full-scale investigations, during which Freshour was again locked in solitary. The warden wrote a letter to Freshour’s wife and expressed his conclusion that there was no way he was the letter writer. After seven years, Freshour was eligible for parole but the board rejected his request due to all the letters still being received. A few days after his parole hearing, Freshour himself received a taunting letter from the writer. It read, “Now when are you going to believe you aren’t going to get out of there? I told you 2 years ago. When we set ’em up, they stay set up. Don’t you listen at all?”
6. The “Unsolved Mysteries” Television Episode
After serving ten years in prison, Paul Freshour was finally released and returned home to his wife. Less than a year later, the television series Unsolved Mysteries aired a segment on the Circleville Letter Writer. In December 1994, a few days after the show aired, “Unsolved Mysteries” received a mysterious makeshift postcard, actually part of a manila folder, in their Burbank, California post office box. It read, “Forget Circleville, Ohio: Do nothing to hurt Sheriff [Dwight] Radcliff: If you come to Ohio, you el sickos will pay.” The letter was signed, “The Circleville Writer.” A producer reported the note to the FBI.
5. The Writer Used The Town’s Gossip Against Them
Whomever the real identity of the letter writer, they definitely understood the power of gossip in a small community. The alleged affair of Mary Gillespie, years prior to being admitted to, was the talk of the town. Gossip spread throughout and ruined her reputation, as well as that of the school board’s superintendent. The fear and panic was also spread by way of gossip, which intensified the letter writer’s threats exponentially. The community was talking amongst themselves: Who was doing this? Are they watching? How do they know all these private details about our lives? No one was above suspicion and yet, no one was suspected. Aside from Freshour, who only had any real connection to the Gillespie’s, there were no leads in the case. In fact, Freshour was not convicted of being the letter writer, only of the attempt on Mary Gillespie’s life.
4. A Second Circleville Letter Writer?
In March 1992, Grove City Police Chief James R. McKean received an anonymous letter, similar to the other Circleville letters except that they were printed in all small rather than capital letters. In the letter, the writer identified the original letter writer as a teacher named Mary. They added that the same person who killed Ron Gillespie in 1977, was also responsible for killing Pickaway County school teacher Vicki Koch in 1980. The Koch murder had remained unsolved. Sometime later, Chief McKean received a second letter where the writer went about explaining how “Mary” printed her letters and had set up numerous booby traps at the schools that were never discovered. The police investigated but found no evidence of any booby traps at the schools.
3. The Writer Dug Up A Baby’s Corpse?
In 1991, the writer sent a letter claiming to have stolen the bones of a deceased baby from a Pickaway County graveyard. He threatened to keep the bones and not return them until a certain public official came clean about an undisclosed heinous crime. The writer suggested that this official was responsible for the 1980 murder of a local school teacher mentioned in a previous letter and deserved to be brought to justice. The writer sent multiple letters to this effect and some of them included powder he claimed came from the bones. The public official never came forward and his identity or the alleged crimes remain unknown. However, in 1992, the writer again wrote letters threatening to scrawl “I’m going to kill a waitress,” on restroom walls all over central Ohio if the crime wasn’t exposed. It never was, and he never did. The writer acknowledged he knew about the small-print letters previously sent, but never claimed to have mailed them.
2. There Was Another Unknown Suspect
Years later, when reviewing the sheriff’s case file, investigators uncovered evidence never brought up at Paul Freshour’s trial. It was a statement that Mary Gillespie made about another bus driver who reportedly had been driving the same road about 20 minutes prior to Mary finding the booby trap. The other bus driver told Mary that as she passed that intersection, there was a yellow Chevrolet El Camino car parked there. A large man with sandy hair was standing nearby and he quickly turned around as she drove near him. She said he acted suspicious and tried to make it seem as if he was using the bathroom though it was evident he was not. He was trying very hard to avoid identification. This mystery man’s description didn’t match Paul Freshour at all. Yet there was no indication of any follow-up on the lead or an attempt to identify who owned the yellow El Camino.
1. Who Was The Circleville Letter Writer?
Though many Ohio residents are still convinced that Paul Freshour was the culprit, the evidence just doesn’t add up. In fact, many respected independent investigators agree, after reviewing the evidence, that Freshour was actually innocent. They point to the fact that thousands of letters were received by residents, all threatening, but most contained personal, intimate details that left the recipients sure someone was spying on them. How could Freshour, a successful Anheuser-Busch Brewery supervisor, have the time to travel throughout Ohio spying on thousands of residents, without his family noticing his behavior? Why would he use his own gun in a booby trap? In fact, many question the reality of this booby trap as there were numerous inconsistencies in its reporting. The official report even states that Mary Gillespie took the box home and then discovered a firearm inside, yet still waited two full hours before reporting it. It was never even admitted into evidence at Freshour’s trial, thus denying his attorney the opportunity to examine it. Freshour never owned an El Camino, yet the case file shows the authorities knew of a potential suspect who did, but was never questioned. Freshour continued to maintain his innocence until his death in 2012. Though the Circleville letters finally stopped, the perpetrator remains at-large and unknown.
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