A series of letters postmarked from 30 miles away start arriving at a couple’s home. They claim that the wife, a bus driver for the local school system, is having an affair with the town’s school superintendent. The letters continue for years until, one night, the husband’s truck mysteriously veers off the road and he’s killed in a single-vehicle accident. A .22-caliber revolver that had been fired just once was found near his body at the scene and his blood alcohol content was determined to be about twice the legal limit despite the fact that he was never known to drink heavily. Strangest of all, it’s believed that the man received an anonymous phone call just before getting into his truck and bringing his gun.
This may all sound like the plot of a season of Desperate Housewives or Days of Our Lives or some other outlandish television drama; however, it’s actually the entirely true story of the Circleville Letter Writer, a mysterious villain who terrorized a small town in Ohio for decades and hasn’t been identified to this day. And, while the letters mostly targeted the superintendent, the bus driver, her husband, and their daughter, numerous other residents of the town of Circleville found mysterious and threatening letters in the mailboxes over the span of nearly 20 years.
And, while a man was eventually arrested for one of the crimes connected to the terror reign of the Circleville Letter Writer, many of the people closest to this case aren’t convinced that he’s guilty. Thus, the case has remained pretty much unsolved while a man sat in prison for a crime he may not have committed. However, in 2021, some new light was shed on this case when popular true crime program 48 Hours did an episode on the Circleville Letter Writer and uncovered some interesting information.
Let’s take a look at this case from the beginning and you can decide what you believe for yourself. This is the unsolved mystery of the Circleville Letter Writer.
The First Letter
The first letter ever associated with the Circleville Letter Writer arrived at the home of Mary and Ron Gillespie in March of 1977. Mary was a bus driver for the local school system and she and her husband Ron were respected members of the community. However, the author of the letter claimed to know a secret about them. The letters threatened to reveal the affair that Mary was having with the school superintendent Gordon Massie. At that point, it was hard to say whether there was any truth to the claim that Mary was having an affair. Regardless, more letters followed and continued to harass the Gillespie family.
In one of the letters, it read, “Stay away from Massie: Don’t lie when questioned about meeting him,” which was presumably addressed to Mary. In another letter, they wrote, “I know where you live: I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This no joke. Please take it serious. Everyone concerned has been notified. It will be over soon.”
In a letter that seemed to be for Ron Gillespie’s eyes only, the author wrote, “Mr. Gillispie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie… You should catch them together and kill them both… He doesn’t deserve to live.” Of course, Ron believed his wife when she told him that she was having no such affair and Ron never carried out any acts of violence against his wife or Gordon Massie. But the letters continued. And, despite the fact that the police were tapping phones, surveilling post offices, and working with the USPS to catch the Circleville Letter Writer, no suspects were arrested.
Signs began to pop up along Mary’s bus route. They said awful things about her and Gordon Massie and about her young daughter. Ron would wake up early in the morning before Mary left for work and collect the signs to spare his wife the embarrassment and emotional torture of seeing them. Needless to say, the Gillespie family was getting fed up with these malevolent shenanigans.
It’s worth noting that the members of the Gillespie family were not the only people in Circleville getting harassed. Other members of the community were also receiving strange letters. However, whoever the Circleville Letter Writer was clearly had a vendetta against Mary Gillespie and Gordon Massie as most of the letters focused on their alleged affair.
A Mysterious Crash
In August of 1977, things came to a boil when Mary went to visit her sister-in-law in Florida and Ron stayed behind. According to his kids, Ron received a strange phone call one night while Mary was away. When he hung up the phone, he appeared angry and told his children that he was going to confront whoever had been writing the letters. He grabbed his gun and hopped in his truck.
What happened after that is a mystery to this day. But, somehow, Ron’s truck slammed into a tree. When the authorities arrived, they found Ron dead in the truck with a .22-caliber revolver not far away. A single shot had been fired from the gun and Ron had no gunshot wounds. Also, an autopsy revealed that Ron’s blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit; however, he was not known to be a heavy drinker and his kids didn’t think that he was drunk when he left the house. The whole thing was very strange.
Did someone try to run Ron’s truck off the road, causing him to fire his gun in self-defense and, ultimately, crash into a tree? Did that someone force alcohol into his system to make it look like an accident? Or had Ron simply been pushed to the point of desperation, causing him to take a drunken joyride that would end his life? No one knows to this day, but many theories have been suggested.
An Attempted Murder
After the death of Ron Gillespie, the Circleville Letter Writer didn’t let up one bit. In fact, things escalated even further between the mysterious criminal and Mary Gillespie. For years and years, the letters continued to flood her mailbox. However, these new letters began to focus more and more on Mary’s daughter. One of these letters read, “It’s your daughter’s turn to pay for what you’ve done.”
Then, in February of 1983, almost 6 years after the first letter had been delivered, Mary was driving along her bus route when she spotted a sign on the side of the road with an obscene message about her daughter written on it. Mary, incensed by the sign, pulled the bus over and tried to tear the sign down. However, as she was doing so, she noticed that the sign was connected with twine to a wooden box. She removed the sign and took the strange box home to inspect.
When she was finally able to pry the box open at home, she discovered a gun inside. After she turned the gun and box over to the police, they determined that it had been a booby trap designed to shoot whoever tried to tear down the sign. Luckily, it had not functioned properly.
The police were eventually able to determine that the gun had belonged to none other than Paul Freshour, Mary Gillespie’s brother-in-law.
When the police interrogated Paul’s wife, she claimed that she had found one torn-up letter inside a piece of furniture in their home and several other letters throughout the house. However, it should be noted that Paul and his wife were going through a divorce at the time and that his wife Karen was in danger of losing custody of her daughters, which could explain why his wife might want to get him locked up. Paul allowed the cops to search his home and his car and he even gave them a handwriting sample.
And, while Paul claimed that his gun had been stolen from him (the gun that had been found inside the booby trap), he ended up failing a polygraph test. With this evidence as well as several handwriting experts who claimed that Paul could have written the letters and the fact that the box used for the booby trap was similar to the boxes used at Paul’s workplace, he was sentenced to 7 to 25 years for attempted murder.
Paul would’ve had a solid motivation for wanting to kill Mary Gillespie. After the death of Ron Gillespie, Mary revealed that she was, in fact, having an affair with superintendent Gordon Massie. The two of them claimed that the affair started after the letters began arriving at mary’s home but, if we’re being honest, that’s almost certainly untrue. Perhaps Paul Freshour learned of Mary’s infidelity and decided to punish her for cheating on his brother-in-law.
However, there are still many Circleville residents who believe that Paul Freshour is innocent. And there’s some evidence to support this theory. First of all, after Paul’s arrest, another bus driver that took the same route as Mary Gillespie claimed that she saw a man putting up the booby trap who was large, had dirty blonde hair, and drove a yellow El Camino. Nothing about that description fits Paul Freshour or his car.
There’s also the fact that letters attributed to the Circleville Letter Writer continued to be sent to citizens of Circleville after Paul was incarcerated. Was Paul somehow sending letters (or getting someone else to send letters for him) from prison? The chances seem very slim. Is there a copycat out there? It’s possible. Yet the fact that Paul’s fingerprints were found on several of the post-incarceration letters complicates this whole thing even further.
These letters were sent all the way up until 1994. Then, they stopped abruptly when Paul Freshour was released from prison, but not before one letter was (apparently) sent to Paul himself.
All in all, there is a solid amount of evidence to suggest that Paul Freshour did not write any of these letters and had nothing to do with the attempted murder of Mary Gillespie. In that case, the Circleville Letter Writer may very well still be out there, living life as if none of this had ever happened.
There’s a whole lot more evidence involved in this case that this article doesn’t cover, so feel free to do some reading about it for yourself. However, even the experts who have been working this case for years aren’t able to say that they know the identity of the Circleville Letter Writer with any certainty.