The unsolved mystery of the Circleville Letter Writer

Imagine, if you will, opening your mailbox and grabbing the stack of junk mail as though today was any other day. You're sifting through the offers of credit cards and pre-approved loans when, out of nowhere, there's a letter addressed to you. It has your name and address, handwritten, and no return address. Your mind might first go to a birthday card, but this the hypothetical month of September and your birthday is in hypothetical February. It's possible that grandma got Alzheimer's without you noticing (you really should visit her more), but it's more likely the letter is something else entirely.

You open your mysterious letter. Don't worry; it's not anthrax. It's only your secrets. They know what you did last summer. And, if you don't come clean, you will be punished. It's what's known as a poison pen letter. These letters are the focus of horror stories. Someone has been watching you. They know intimate details from your life that nobody should be privy to without your permission. These were the letters that plagued Circleville, Ohio, from 1976 until as late as 1993.

The situation around the Circleville poison pen letters eventually turned from terrifying to deadly. What's even scarier, the Circleville letter writer may still be out there. The Circleville letter writer sent poison pen letters to multiple residents of the small Ohio town, accusing them of misdeeds, like some sort of literary vigilante, but one of the cases turned deadly.

Poisonous letters in a deadly story

Mary Gillispie, a local bus driver, received a letter in 1976 accusing her of having affair with the school district's superintendent. It's scary enough to know that your dark secrets are known to an unknown observer, but it's even more terrifying when that observer threatens you. As Gizmodo reports, the letter read, "I know where you live. I've been observing your house and know you have children," adding, "This is no joke. Please take it serious."

Before long, Gillispie's husband, Ron, was receiving letters as well. Soon, everybody in the town knew of her alleged affair, but Gillispie denied it, and the letter writer wasn't happy. "Gillispie, you have had 2 weeks and done nothing," a new letter to Gillispie read. "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."

The letter writer must have had more important things to take care of, like finding a new creepy trench coat, because the letters to Gillispie paused for a short time in 1977. Things were starting to settle down. After all, Mary Gillispie hadn't received a letter in while. Maybe, just maybe, the Circleville letter writer had gotten bored with Gillispie. If only she were so lucky.

A mysterious death and an alleged cover-up

It wasn't a letter that followed the letter writer's pause but a phone call. No one knows who was on the other end of the line when Ron picked up, and no one knows what was said. Whatever it was had upset Ron. He stormed out of the house in a fury, hopped in his car, and took off. Ron brought his gun with him.

Was Ron heading to hunt down the person who'd been tormenting his family? Was he to put an end to the letters once and for all? The world will never know his motive. When they found Ron, he was dead, his car was wrapped around the trunk of a tree, and his gun had been fired. The police never did figure out what he fired at, but they attributed Ron's death to alcohol, even though Ron was never known to be a heavy drinker. Not long after the official cause of death was released, the sheriff began to receive his own letters, claiming he was covering up what really happened to Ron Gillispie.

The letters continued to arrive, addressed not just to Mary, but now addressed to her daughter as well. In 1983, the Circleville letter writer took up a new tactic. They started to post signs along Gillispie's bus route.

Continuing letters and an attempted murder

Years of harassment and a dead husband would make anyone tired, and Gillispie had had enough. She stopped her bus. Gillispie was intent on ripping down the sign. Why she stopped on that day at that particular sign, no one knows. What's more, no one else had tried to remove the sign. We know this because there was no dead body lying on the ground around it. So, Gillispie reaches for the sign but noticed something that wasn't quite right. A string connected the sign to a box, and it's a good thing she didn't pull it. Inside the box was a loaded gun, and it was pointed directly at her, according to Gizmodo. Had she taken down the sign, the string would've pulled the trigger and Gillispie would be dead.

The letter writer had tried to scratch out the serial number on the firearm, but there was enough still visible that the authorities were able to trace the gun back to Gillispie's former brother-in-law, Paul Freshour. Paul was then arrested. Cool. Problem solved; case closed. Or was it?

Freshour denied being the Circleville letter writer. The trial was a bit confusing. The only concrete evidence the prosecution had was the firearm that belonged to Freshour as well as his proximity to Mary Gillispie. That's not much to go on.

Found guilty, but things didn't exactly add up

The handwriting comparison was inconclusive, but that didn't stop the prosecution from pushing it to the jury. Eventually, the jury decided the partial evidence was enough to convict Freshour of attempted murder, though he was never formally accused of being the Circleville letter writer. He was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison.

There was one major problem with conviction: the letters didn't stop. Crazy enough, while Freshour was confined to his cell, he received his own letter. "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?" it read.

Freshour was released in May of 1994 and maintained his innocence until the day he died. In 1993, according to the Unsolved Mysteries wiki, the show was filming an episode around the Circleville letter writing case and — guess what — they received a mysterious postcard. "Forget Circleville Ohio: Do Nothing to Hurt Sheriff Radcliff: If You Come to Ohio You El Sickos Will Pay: The Circleville Writer." Were the letters written by someone else? Was the Unsolved Mysteries letter a copycat? Is this a deep conspiracy with hundreds of working parts? The pesky thing about unsolved mysteries is the world may never know.