The Circleville Letters

Hey, Readers. Another Monday has rolled around, so that means it’s time for another mystery. This one is certainly baffling and is still unsolved. It’s been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles as well as episodes of Unsolved Mysteries and 48 Hours.

There has been lots of speculation, but just who was this mysterious letter writer? Read on.

cars, street, buildings

Main Street, Circleville, Ohio. (Photo by Analogue Kid at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Circleville, Ohio is a quaint midwestern town located about twenty-five miles south of Columbus on the Scioto River. It’s best known for the Circleville Pumpkin Show, an annual event that dates back to 1903. It’s not the sort of place you would expect anything sinister to occur.

But that’s exactly what happened.

In 1977, residents of the small town began receiving anonymous letters that detailed personal information about their lives. No one was exempt—newspapers, elected officials, and private citizens were all recipients.

Mary Gillespie, a wife, mother, and school bus driver was the main target. The letters claimed she was having an affair with school superintendent Gordon Massie.

“I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious.”

The envelope was postmarked Columbus, Ohio.

Mary’s husband, Ron Gillespie, also received a letter “informing” him of the alleged affair and stating that if he didn’t do anything to stop it, he could end up dead.

“Mr. Gillespie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie. … You should catch them together and kill them both. … He doesn’t deserve to live.”

“We know what kind of car you drive … We know where your kids go to school.”

Mary was on vacation in Florida with her sister-in-law on August 19, 1977, when Ron received a phone call, supposedly from the anonymous letter writer. He told his daughter he was going to confront the letter writer. He was traveling at a high rate of speed, lost control of his truck, went off the road, hit a tree, and was killed.

At the time of his death, Ron had almost twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, but those closest to him stated he was not a heavy drinker. Beneath Ron’s body was a .22 caliber revolver. One shot had been fired. Some questioned if Ron had been shooting at the letter writer. The coroner ruled his death an accident, but his brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, believed Ron had been murdered and pressed the sheriff to continue the investigation.

The letters didn’t stop after Ron’s death. Both Mary Gillespie and Gordon Massie continued to receive threats. Letters arrived at various businesses, government offices, schools, and other Circleville residents.

Mary had always denied having an affair with Massie, but after Ron’s death, Mary and Gordon began seeing one another. The threats escalated.

“It’s your daughter’s turn to pay for what you’ve done.”

On February 7, 1983, Mary was driving her empty school bus when she saw a handmade sign on a fence about her daughter. She stopped, got off the bus, then attempted to remove the sign. But when she did, she discovered it was rigged to twine and a box. She took the box home. Inside was a handgun rigged to go off. Mary contacted the police.

Investigators from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation found the serial number on the gun belonged to a coworker of Paul Freshour. According to 48 Hours, he admitted he’d sold the gun to Paul.

Paul’s estranged wife Karen—a sister to Ron Gillespie—told police that Paul was responsible for the letters and was furious with Mary over her involvement with Massie. Freshour was cooperative with the police. He admitted it the gun belonged to him but claimed it had been stolen. Paul did not ask for an attorney and he allowed police to search his house and car. He also provided handwriting samples. When he agreed to take a polygraph, he failed.

He was arrested for Mary’s attempted murder, but no charges were ever brought for the letters. Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Mary was allowed to testify about the letters and answer questions from the defense about them. Some experts say this was damaging to Paul’s case.
  • The judge allowed 39 letters to be brought up at trial, due to the fact the writing on the booby trap was similar to the block letters used in the handwritten letters.
  • Handwriting analyses indicated Paul Freshour could have written the letters. A second expert—originally a defense witness—agreed.
  • Paul’s fingerprints were never found on the booby trap or the box with the gun. However, he was off work the same day. The industrial size chalk box containing the gun was similar to those seen at Paul’s workplace, Anheuser Busch.
  • No one saw Paul near the booby trap and he had a fairly good alibi for most of the day.
  • Paul Freshour didn’t take the stand, but multiple defense witnesses testified to seeing him at home.

Paul was sentenced to 7 to 25 years for attempted murder, but some in the community doubted his guilt.

The letters continue to come after Paul was in prison, despite being banned from using paper and pens. The sheriff was convinced it was him but couldn’t answer how he was able to do it, but the prison warden said it was “impossible.”

Eventually, Paul himself received a letter boasting about how they had set him up. 

“When we set him up, we set him up good,” it read.

Paul Freshour served 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mary Gillespie. He died on June 20, 2012, at the age of 70. He continued to maintain his innocence. Today, the identity of the Circleville Letter Writer is still unknown.

26 thoughts on “The Circleville Letters

  1. Oh, what a tangled web SOME people weave, eh? This looks like one of those mysteries that will never ben solved, and somehow, I feel like poor Paul was the ultimate set-up, and a suspiciously convenient scapegoat. 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d never heard of this before, Joan. How very bizarre. It seems impossible that Paul could have sent letters from prison. I also wonder about the letters other people in the town received and the ultimate motive behind them. Definitely a mystery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does seem impossible for him to have sent the letters from prison. I’m not sure about what others received, but I do know what most were directed at Mary Gillespie. It was a strange thing, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I came across this story a couple of years ago, then I recently watched an episode of 48 Hours that went into a lot of detail. It’s probably one of those that we’ll never know the answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If he was innocent, all I can think is … that poor man! It would be interesting to know what postmarks were on those later letters. I also wonder about the husband’s death. Fascinating story, Joan. Thanks for sharing. Hugs 💕🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could have written a novella on this story, but in order to keep it short, I tried to stick with the highlights. There were so many things going on, and I agree with you about the husband’s death. Not sure it was an accident.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Until that very last letter (“we set him up good”), you had me convinced Paul was the letter-writer and had set up the booby trap! At any rate, I’m glad he’s not still suffering, either as a mentally disturbed man or as an innocent man framed.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fascinating, Joan. I love your series. Years back, I oversaw an investigation at a college where I worked. I had to get a handwriting specialist to help with the case. It was a fascinating situation, and ultimately, the culprit was the person claiming to be the victim. Strange but true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always thought handwriting analysis to be fascinating. Interesting case you had. Sorry I’m just responding to you. For some reason your comment went to spam and I didn’t catch it until today.

      Like

Leave a Reply to Jan Sikes Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.