The mystery surrounding the Circleville letter writer who terrorized the city of Ohio for decades and was linked to the strange death of a crash victim

MYSTERY still surrounds the identity of an anonymous letter writer who terrorized an Ohio town for decades with threatening letters claiming to uncover the residents’ dark secrets.

The Circleville letter writer began his reign of terror in the 1970s and was believed to be linked to a terrifying phone call made to one of his victims hours before the man died in a car crash.

Mary Gillispie got a lot of letters


Mary Gillispie got a lot of lettersPhoto credit: CBS
Mary's husband crashed in search of the writer


Mary’s husband crashed in search of the writerPhoto credit: CBS
Paul Freshour was believed by the community to be the letter writer, but he maintained his innocence until his death.


Paul Freshour was believed by the community to be the letter writer, but he maintained his innocence until his death.Photo credit: CBS

The terror first began in March 1977, and by the time the last letter was sent in the 1990s, it was estimated that nearly a thousand locals were arriving.

Most of them were postmarked in Colombus, Ohio, 30 miles north of the sleepy town.

The first victim to receive a letter was bus driver Mary Gillispie, who received most of the threatening mail for the first few years.

The first notes accused her of having an affair with the headmaster, Gordan Massie.

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“Stay away from Massie: don’t lie when asked if you’d like to meet him,” reads one horrific letter.

“I know where you live: I’ve been watching your house and I know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it seriously. All concerned have been notified. It will be over soon”

“Mr. Gillispie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie. … You should catch them together and kill them both. … He doesn’t deserve to live,” read a letter to Gillispie’s husband, Ron.

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

Well respected in the community for being high school sweethearts, Mary and Ron stayed in the area to raise their children.

“You wouldn’t find a better person than Ronnie Gillispie,” Janet Cassidy, a local resident, told 48 Hours.

According to Marie Mayhew, a podcast host who focuses on the case, the letters eventually escalated to phone calls and offensive signs along Mary’s bus route.

“Ron would have to go outside and… he would have to find and pick up all the signs about his wife and kids in Circleville,” Mayhew said.

The couple went to the police, who tapped phones, monitored homes, and tried to work with the USPS to find out where the mail was coming from.


By August 1977, while Mary was vacationing in Florida with her sister-in-law, Ron had had enough.

He got in his truck and drove away, telling his children he would confront the letter writer.

“Ron said so [Mary] he knew who the letter writer was and he would take care of that issue while they were in Florida,” Mayhew said.

It is also reported that Ron received an anonymous call at home just before he rushed out, bringing his gun.

The caller’s identity has never been found, but is believed to be the letter writer.

Ron was later found dead after reportedly crashing into a tree in a single vehicle accident.

A .22 caliber revolver that had only been fired once was found near his body.

He had nearly double the legal blood alcohol limit, journalist Martin Yant said in 48 hours.

“Some people told me he wasn’t a heavy drinker,” Yant said.


The coroner ruled that Ron’s death was an accident.

However, some have claimed that Ron shot the letter writer and was murdered

“The letter writer had… threatened Ron Gillispie that… he might end up dead. And then he ended up dead,” Yant said in 48 hours.

Among those who reportedly believed Ron had been murdered was his brother-in-law, Paul Freshour.

“He wanted the truth about Ron’s death. He also wanted to know who wrote the letters,” said Pam Stanton, a longtime family friend.

After Ron’s death, Mary admitted that she began to have a romantic relationship with Massie, but claimed that it only began after the letters began.

The harassment only grew.

“Everyone knows what you did. If you don’t believe us, just piss them off and find out for yourself.”

“It’s your daughter’s turn to pay for what you did,” said another.


It escalated further until 1983 when an attempted murder was attempted on Mary’s life.

On February 7, 1983, Mary was riding her school bus when she saw an obscene sign about her daughter hanging on the fence.

Horrified, she stopped and attempted to pry the sign off the fence, only to find the device was connected to string and a mysterious box.

When she got home, she found a loaded gun in the box, which police say was a booby trap.

Gun inspectors at BCI – Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation discovered that the gun’s serial number belonged to none other than Paul Freshour’s colleague, who, according to 48 hours, admitted to the police that he sold the gun to Paul.

After questioning Paul’s wife Karen – who is divorcing him – she told police he was responsible for the letters and was angry at Mary for dating Massie.

“She had found a torn letter in a dresser and she had found some other letters hidden around the house,” Yant said.

According to 48 hours, Paul was cooperative with investigators.

He admitted it was his gun but said it was stolen and did not ask for an attorney.

Paul even allowed them to search his home and car and gave them samples of his handwriting.

However, when he agreed to take a lie detector, he failed.


Paul was arrested for the attempted murder of Mary, but no charges were ever brought about the letters after they followed up on his conviction.

At trial, Mary was allowed to testify about the letters and answer questions from the defense about them, which experts say greatly hurt Paul’s case.

The judge allowed 39 letters to be brought to court because the writing on the booby trap resembled the block letters used in the handwritten letters.

“They had handwriting analysis that suggested the letters might have been written by Paul Freshour, and a second expert — originally a defense witness — agreed,” Yant said.

Paul’s fingerprints were never found on the booby trap or the box containing the gun.

However, he had left work the same day the booby trap was found, and the industrial-size chalk box in which the gun was found resembled that seen at Paul’s place of work, Anheuser Busch.

But no one saw Paul near the booby trap.

“He had a pretty good alibi for most of the day,” Yant said.

“Paul Freshour did not take the stand, but several defense witnesses said they saw him at his home.

“He had work done on his house. The reason, he said, was that he took the day off.”


Paul was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison for attempted murder.

However, some people in the community doubted his guilt, believing he was a family man who had never been in trouble with the law.

“It’s just absurd. … there’s no way,” Stanton said.

“He wasn’t stupid enough to put his own gun in a booby trap,” said Janet Cassidy, a neighbor.

“Anybody could have gotten this gun.”

Even after Paul was in prison, the letters continue to pour in, even though he has been banned from using paper and pens.

The sheriff was convinced he was, but couldn’t say how he was able to.

Paul’s warden said it was “impossible”.

Eventually, Paul himself received a letter boasting about how they had tricked him

“If we set it up, we set it up well,” it said.

Paul believed his ex-wife Karen, who reportedly suffered the worse financial end of the divorce and lost custody of their daughters, was behind the alleged setup.

It was also argued that she had not kept the alleged letters she had found and told to the police officers.


Yant also said he uncovered evidence in police reports of an alternate suspect spotted by another bus driver at the time of the incident

“She said…she saw a man next to a…El Camino…but the man turned away from her and pretended to go to the bathroom…So she didn’t get a good look at him ‘ Yant explained.

“She said he was a tall man with sandy hair. And Paul wasn’t tall and he had very dark hair.”

It was reported that Karen had a boyfriend with sandy hair and that her brother also had an El Camino.

She was never named a suspect by police.

Paul reportedly told a friend he believed his son Mark was with whoever stole his gun.

“Paul… get his son into trouble? No, Uncle Paul would never have done that,” Stanton said.

“Uncle Paul would have died before he saw Mark go to jail.”

Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI investigator, said she believes the author may be a woman and is uneducated due to many typos in the news.

However, “Sitting here today, I would say I can’t rule him out,” she said of Paul.

“But I… am looking for other reasons that tell me… it might actually be someone else.

But forensic documents expert Beverly East compared Paul’s letters to a friend to the horrific threats.

“The G… is a very unusual G. Looks like a six, a number six,” she said.

She also noticed a pattern in the zip codes.

“It’s like he’s not sure if it’s 4-2-1-1 2 or 4-3-1-1-3. …In the anonymous letters on the zip code …I found the same mistake.”

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“I would go to court and swear by the Bible on the evidence I found,” she said of her belief that Paul was behind the letters.

“I would say one person wrote all of this. And the one person is that person.” The mystery surrounding the Circleville letter writer who terrorized the city of Ohio for decades and was linked to the strange death of a crash victim


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