Imagine the horror of having your deepest secrets revealed: the realization that your privacy has been violated by an unknown force. From 1976 to 1994, inhabitants of Circleville, Ohio were terrorized by this very predicament. Throughout those 18 years, the anonymous Circleville Writer sent local residents a string of letters that revealed the double lives of some of the town’s most well-liked people. To this day, questions remain. Who was the Circleville Writer? How did they come to possess such sensitive information?
1976: The Circleville Letters Begin
The Circleville Writer’s first known letter was sent to a busdriver named Mary Gillispie. The letter–postmarked in Columbus and containing no return address–asserted that the married Gillispie had been having an affair with the local superintendent Gordon Massie. It wasn’t long before Mary’s husband Ron received a letter of his own, detailing the same allegations against his wife. All Mary could do in response was vehemently deny the accusations. But soon, more letters came, each becoming increasingly threatening.
“Gillispie, you have had two weeks and done nothing,” one letter read. “Admit the truth, and inform the school board. If not, I will broadcast it on CBS, posters, signs, and billboards…”
Another read, “Stay away from Massie: don’t lie when questioned about knowing him. I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke…”
But even with stalking thrown into the equation, we’ve yet to even come close to the story’s climax.
Ron Gillispie’s Death
About a year after the arrival of the first letter, Ron Gillispie received an anonymous phone call. While it’s not known exactly what was said by either party, Ron reportedly hung up in distress, telling his children that he was going to confront the man who’s been writing threatening letters to his family. With that, he grabbed his handgun and was out the door.
Ron was found dead that night, his truck crashed into a tree. Interestingly enough, his gun had been fired. At whom, we still don’t know. Dwight Radcliff, the county sheriff, claimed that Ron had been driving drunk, something his family contested, as he had not been known to drink heavily.
Not even Ron’s death was enough to silence the Circleville Writer. Over the next few years, hundreds of letters were sent to various residents of the town. Curiously, the content of the letters had shifted toward accusations against Sheriff Radcliff, claiming that he was hiding the truth about how Ron actually died.
Following the death of her husband, Mary admitted that she had indeed had an affair with Gordon Massie, though she claimed it happened after the initial letters were sent. How true any of this was, we don’t know.
Was Paul Freshour Behind the Circleville Letters?
In 1983, Mary was driving her usual bus route when she noticed that the street was lined with signs that detailed her affair. Clearly, the Circleville Writer had made good on his threat to further expose her. At this point, Mary was no longer embarrassed, but angry. She pulled the bus over and walked towards one of the signs, which was stuck on a fence post. She ripped the sign from the fence, not realizing just how life-threatening an action this was.
The sign was rigged with a booby trap. Below the sign was a small box, inside of which was a pistol with wire connected to the trigger. Had Mary ripped the sign with more force, the trap would have succeeded in killing her. She reported the trap to the police.
The gun’s serial number, which was only partially scratched off, was traced to a man named Paul Freshour, Mary’s former brother-in-law. This was obviously a shocking revelation; Paul had been providing Mary emotional support since the initial letter’s arrival. And it now seemed as though he had been the one tormenting her the entire time.
Paul claimed that the gun had been stolen from him, though he offered no good explanation as to why he didn’t report this. He also took a penmanship test, the results of which were deemed inconclusive. Still, in October of 1983, he was sent to prison for the attempted murder of Mary Gillispie. His sentence lasted 10 years.
The Circleville Letters Continue
With the arrest of Paul Freshour, a burden was lifted from the town of Circleville. Residents could finally live their lives without the nuisance of drama related to Gillispie. However, the letters didn’t cease. Paul even received a cryptic letter of his own.
“Are you going to believe you aren’t getting out of there?” it read. “I told you two years ago, when we set ‘em up, they stay set up. Don’t you listen at all? No one wants you out. No one. The joke is on you. Ha ha.”
Despite this, Paul served the remainder of his sentence, maintaining his innocence throughout. It wasn’t until his release in 1994 that the letters abruptly stopped.
Even though the Circleville letters continued after Paul’s arrest, those interested in the case have a hard time accepting that he was completely innocent. The fact that he didn’t report a supposedly stolen handgun is–to put it bluntly–sketch. He died in 2012, taking with him any additional information he had on the case.
Many suspect that the Circleville Writer was comprised of multiple people, just one of whom was Paul Freshour. Other suspects include Paul’s wife Karen Sue (Ron’s brother) and a co-worker of Mary’s who was reportedly infatuated with her.
The Circleville Writer’s motives are even more mysterious than their identity. Had Mary truly been having an affair with Gordon Massie, it’s possible that the Writer was simply “seeking justice” for Ron (albeit in a terrible way). However, the suspicious circumstances surrounding Ron’s death seem to implicate the Writer’s involvement. Obviously, the Writer had an unhealthy obsession with the Gillispie family, and it is nothing short of a miracle that none of the children were harmed.
With Ron, Paul, and Mary all dead, much of the mystery of the Circleville letters is simply left to speculation. What’s your theory?