Small towns are usually renowned for their charm. There’s always something welcoming and hospitable about a small population where everyone knows everyone else. However, you can’t deny that the occasional seclusion does result in a few hidden secrets better left uncovered. Behind the smiles and unlocked doors, behind the hearty welcomes and the bartender who always asks how you’re doing, there’s an eeriness that can’t be shaken. One of those towns is Circleville, Ohio, and the mystery of the handwritten letters known as the Circleville Letters that shook its residents to the core.
The Circleville Letters Arrive
In 1976, the peaceful community of Circleville, Ohio, began receiving threatening, and sometimes sexually explicit, letters in their mail. All were postmarked from nearby Columbus, without a return address, and were full of personal details by the anonymous writer who claimed to be ‘watching them’.
One particular case was the reason behind why the Circleville Letters reached widespread interest. The most dangerous of these letters was sent to a local bus driver, Mary Gillispie, accusing her of having an affair with the superintendent of schools. “I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious [sic].”
Mary hid the letters as they came, keeping a close eye on her every day activities in hopes of spotting the writer. Soon enough, though, Mary’s husband Ron received a letter as well, and as in all small towns, news of her affair spread quickly. Ron’s letter was less pleasant, though, warning him that if he did not stop the affair, he would die.
The couple did their best to ignore the threats, until another letter arrived that was a lot more threatening. It left little to the imagination as to how serious the Circleville Letter Writer was. “Gillispie, you have had 2 weeks and done nothing. Admit the truth and inform the school board. If not, I will broadcast it on CBS, posters, signs, and billboards, until the truth comes out.”
Now, more sure than ever that the writer was someone close to the Gillispie family, Mary and Ron gathered their loved ones and tried to figure out a list of suspects. Among those invited were Ron’s sister and his sister’s husband, Paul Freshour. There was a lot of talk that Paul was the alleged writer, but nothing stuck. And soon enough, the letters stopped.
The Gillispie Family Tragedy
In August, 1977, the horrors began again, and this time, they hit home. A telephone call made to the Gillispie home infuriated Ron so much that he grabbed his gun and stormed out of the house in rage. Nobody knew who the caller was, but people were quick to assume that the Circleville Letter Writer was behind it.
Later that day, Ron’s truck was found wrapped around a tree, with Ron inside and dead. A fire had been shot from his gun, though no one had heard it, and officials were quick to rule his death as an accident. One postmortem report claimed that Ron’s alcohol level was 1.5 times the legal limit, although friends and family claimed Ron was never a heavy drinker.
This information apparently angered the Circleville Letter Writer, who quickly attacked the Sheriff with letters accusing him of a cover-up.
Eventually, Mary admitted to the affair, albeit claiming that it had started after the first letters had been sent to her. She managed to keep her job, but the letters continued, some even addressed to her daughter. Six years later, the phantom writer took things one step further. He began installing posters along her route for the world to see.
Mary, finally fed up of the harassment, stopped her bus and stormed towards one of the signs, ready to pull it out. She received the shock of her life. The sign was attached by a string to a box, and when she opened it, she revealed a gun pointed right at her. Had she pulled out the sign completely, the gun would have probably fired and killed her.
Mary immediately reported the incident, and when authorities inspected the weapon, they traced it to Mary’s now former brother-in-law, Paul Freshour.
Paul Freshour Arrested
Paul was adamant about his innocence, and even went as far as telling the Sheriff that his gun had been stolen. He was given a handwriting test to determine if his lettering matched that of the letters. The test’s administration was criticized though, mainly because the Sheriff asked Freshour to copy the writing and even told him what to write.
Nevertheless, Paul was arrested, and charged with attempted murder. Although he was never charged with writing the Circleville Letters, the court ruled against him, and he was sentenced to prison.
The residents of Circleville, Ohio could finally breathe freely, knowing that the man behind the threatening letters was now behind bars. However, the horrors continued, even with Paul locked away, and sometimes even in solitary confinement. What made it even worse was that Paul himself received a letter from the unknown writer.
The letter stated: “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?” Although many people saw this as a sign that Paul was indeed innocent, the authorities were not convinced, certain that Freshour was somehow behind everything that was happening.
Circleville Letters Conspiracy
Paul was released in 1994, and the reports of the Circleville Letters had stopped. Still proclaiming he was innocent, Paul continued to seek justice for Ron’s death and the identity of the Circleville Writer.
His accusations and conspiracy theories were plenty, the most noticeable of which was his attack on Sheriff Dwight Radcliff, who he claimed was running a career-long cover-up of corruption. This included hiding many of the letters people received to cover up allegations of child molestations by a county coroner and the district attorney (the same one who prosecuted Paul) of impregnating a school teacher and having her murdered. In Paul’s opinion, Radcliff was covering up crimes to decrease his town’s crime statistics and further his career.
Who is the Circleville Letter Writer?
To this day, there has been much debate behind the identity of the Circleville Letter writer. Most notably, journalist Martin Yant did a story on the case for Unsolved Mysteries which brought forward many theories, none of which involved Paul Freshour.
One of said theories stated that a second suspect with a yellow El Camino was spotted next to the booby trap that almost killed Mary Gillispie. Other suspects included the son of the superintendent whom Mary was having an affair with, a jealous co-worker who was infatuated by Mary, and Ron Gillispie’s sister herself who had framed Ron after a nasty divorce.
Authorities still claim that Paul Freshour is the Circleville Letter writer, but with so much evidence against the scene of unsolved crime this, we can never really be certain. What we can be sure of, though, is that for over a decade, the small town of Circleville, Ohio had seen its fair share of spooky, and will forever be the setting of one of the most horrific unsolved mysteries ever.