Circleville, near Columbus Ohio, is a nice, gentle town with a small, friendly community and little of much interest to urban types and big media outlets looking for a juicy story.
That was until 1976 when the Circleville letters mystery began.
Residents began receiving threatening letters that made reference to personal circumstances. Each letter was written in block capitals – harsh, unnatural formations that gave the letter urgency and sinister feel.
What made the case even more interesting was that the letters appeared to originate from Columbus, not within this close-knit Circleville community.
Investigators appeared to have something of a lead on the case when attention focused on one couple…
Mary Gillespie was told that her home was under surveillance and she was was accused of carrying out an affair with the superintendent of the school where she worked as a bus driver.
The letters clearly insisted that this was no hoax and she needed to stop what she was doing. The situation escalated until she could no longer hide the letters.
Eventually, her husband Ron received one. At this point the truth about the affair was irrelevant. The small town rumor mill was in action and all eyes were on Mary.
Mary and Ron continued with life as best they could and the letters kept on coming. Why were they being targeted so strongly and who had reason to do this?
Their instinct said it was Ron’s brother in law, Paul Freshour, so they sent some letters to him in return to try and catch him out. At first this seemed to work as the letters ceased.
That was until August 19th 1977, when Ron answered a call from an unknown caller. He simply left the house in a rage, not telling Mary who was on the other end, and took his gun with him.
He was later found dead in a car accident near to the home. The gun had been fired, but there was indication as to the target. There were no reports of shots being heard.
Then there was the question of how teetotal Ron was 1.5 times over the legal limit at the time of his death. It had all the markers of a typical accidental death, yet nothing added up.
This should have been enough for the unknown letter writer, but the case grew stranger…
Mary eventually ended up admitting to the affair. Instead of seeing an end to the matter, Circleville residents received letters, seemingly from the same hand, that called for a more thorough investigation into Ron’s death.
Did the author want people to learn the truth about his involvement? Was he as bemused as everyone else?
The letters began to flood in once more. Gillespie family members and elected officials were targeted with the same type of vulgar, insistent letter with threats and intimidating language.
At this time, Paul Freshour insisted he was innocent while the problem escalated. Six years on, in 1983, signs appeared over town that made threats against Gillespie’s daughter.
A booby trapped pistol almost took her life, but luckily the mechanism failed. The gun was traced to Freshour, who said that his had been missing for a long time.
Was it a lie? Or was Freshour being framed?
As Freshour was the strongest lead, he was taken in for questions and a handwriting test. The result was deemed to be close enough for an attempted murder conviction.
Case closed? In truth, the case was far from over…
Freshour stuck by his alibi for the booby-trap stunt and there was evidence in his favor, yet he was sentenced to 25 years in jail.
During his sentence, the letters continued. They still originated from Columbus, yet Freshour was incarcerated across the country.
Opinion was split on Freshour’s true involvement. This wasn’t helped when he received a letter himself in jail that 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?”
Was he an accomplice? Was he being set up? Six months after his eventual release, the TV show Unsolved Mysteries ran an episode about the Circleville letters mystery.
They received a threatening letter from “The Circleville Writer” insisting that they forget the story and stay away.
We may never know if this came from Freshour, the man writing to Freshour in prison or another source.
All we know is that the Gillespie family were tortured for decades, Ron Gillespie died under unexplained circumstances and Freshour maintained his innocence until his death in 2012.