Date of Crime: February 1983
Paul Freshour was convicted of the attempted murder of his
sister-in-law, Mary Gillispie, a school bus driver. In 1976 Mary
received a letter in the mail telling her that the letter writer was aware
that she was having an affair with the superintendent of schools and that it
had better stop. The letter also contained the threat, “I know where
you live. I've been observing your house and know you have children.
This is no joke. Please take it serious.” Mary lived in
Circleville, Ohio and the envelope was postmarked Columbus, Ohio which was
25 miles away. There was no return address, no signature inside, no
way to tell who sent it.
A week later Mary received another letter with a similar tone. She
kept the letters to herself. Then her husband Ron received a letter
telling him that if he didn't do something to stop this affair, that his
life was undoubtedly in danger. Ron later received another letter
which stated, “Gillispie, you have had 2 weeks and done nothing. Make
her admit the truth and inform the school board. If not, I will
broadcast it on CBs, posters, signs, and billboards, until the truth comes
Mary and Ron thought they knew the identity of the letter writer. They
wrote four or five letters to this man telling him that they knew who he was
and what he was doing. For a while the letters stopped. However,
on Aug. 19, 1977, Ron received a phone call. The call seemed to
confirm Ron's suspicions about the identity of the letter writer. Ron
then took his gun and told his children he was going out to confront the
letter writer. He was not known to be a heavy drinker and did not seem
to be drunk. Within a short distance, at an intersection Ron knew
well, he died after his pickup truck crashed into a tree. A shot had
been fired from his gun. There was no explanation at whom the gun
could have been fired. Tests reportedly showed Ron had a .16 alcohol
level in his blood, more than one and a half times the legal limit.
After giving a lie detector test to a suspect, the sheriff ruled Ron's death
an accident. But several Circleville residents soon received anonymous
letters accusing the sheriff of a cover-up. Mary admitted to a
relationship with the superintendent of schools, but said it began after the
letters were sent. Mary kept her job driving a school bus and kept
In 1983 the letter writer began putting signs along her bus route.
Mary stopped her bus to rip down a sign, but noticed there was a sting
attached to the sign which connected to a box located behind the sign.
She took the box inside her bus, opened it up, and found a pistol was inside
the box. She found that the box was a crude booby trap intended to
shoot her when she took down the sign.
Someone had tried to rub the serial number off the pistol, but lab tests
were able to read it accurately. It turned out the gun belonged to
Mary's brother-in-law, Paul Freshour. Freshour said the gun was his,
but he had not seen it in a long time and had no reason to check on it.
He denied he had anything to do with the booby trap.
Sheriff Dwight Radcliff gave Freshour an envelope and letter of the
Circleville writer and asked Freshour to copy them as near as he could.
Based on Freshour's copying skills, the sheriff concluded that he was the
letter writer and had written the sign on the booby trap. After a jury
trial, Freshour was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison for the attempted
murder of Mary. Everyone assumed he had written the Circleville
letters and that the letters would stop once he was in prison.
However, letters continued to be received over a large area of central Ohio.
Following repeated complaints by the sheriff, the warden of Freshour's
prison put Freshour in solitary confinement, and conducted at least two
full-scale investigations. The warden became convinced that Freshour
could not possibly be writing the letters. Also Freshour was
imprisoned in Lima, Ohio which was 90 miles away from Columbus where the
letters were postmarked and presumably sent.
Although Freshour was a model prisoner, he was denied parole after seven
years of imprisonment because of the volume of letters that was still being
sent. Eventually he was paroled after 10 years of imprisonment in May
At the time Mary found the booby trap, one of the other bus drivers had
driven down the same road 20 minutes before and had seen a yellow El Camino
parked by the booby trap's location along with a large man with sandy hair.
This man's description does not fit Freshour. The man turned away from
the bus driver apparently to avoid being identified. Another possible
suspect in the case had a brother who owned a yellow El Camino. It was
never made clear who wrote the letters and made the booby trap, or whether
Ron Gillispie's death was a murder or an accident. [12/09]
Victims of the State,
Western Ohio Cases,