Conspiracy Corner – Running in Circles

Harmon Lanager, Staff Writer

Welcome back Truth Seekers! This week’s Conspiracy Corner features one very fatal attraction. At the Conspiracy Corner, we attempt to champion the truth by unraveling secrets for the good of the public. However, not everyone’s agenda is so pure. What if someone, like a dark reflection of us at Conspiracy Corner, used the truth as a weapon to terrorize a small town for their own amusement? Here, we discuss the Circleville Letters.

In 2010, the pleasantly small city of Circleville, Ohio had a population of just over 10,000 in Pickaway County. Roughly twenty-five miles from Columbus, it rests on the banks of the Scioto River. Founded in 1810, the city has a rich history and culture. Every year, the city hosts the Circleville Pumpkin Show. With this four-day event known to have up to 400,000 visitors, cobblestone streets and a charming downtown area, it is easy to forget the reign of terror that once ruled its residents.

It all began in 1976 with Mary Gillispie. Mary was a bus driver, dedicated mother to her children and supposedly in love with Ron Gillispie, her husband. However, the last part was called into question by a strange letter from an anonymous source. Although Mary didn’t know the author, the author knew Mary very well. In the letter, the author stated that they knew Mary was having an affair with the school’s superintendent, Gordon Massie.

The letter also made it clear that the author has been watching and will continue watching Mary. It read, “Stay away from Massie: Don’t lie when questioned about knowing him. I know where you live: I have been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious. Everyone concerned has been notified and everything will be over soon.”

Interestingly, Mary wasn’t the only one targeted by the letters. A number of Circleville residents received letters that were filled with explicit, sexual threats and ramblings, but none had return addresses. With Ron being the next to receive a letter, it appeared the Gillispie family was the author’s primary target. It informed him of the affair and provided a simple ultimatum: put a stop to it or die. Soon after, he received another one reading “Gillispie, you have had two weeks and done nothing. 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.”

Having read the letters, Mary and Ron came to the conclusion that Ron’s brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, was the author behind the threats. With certainty, they sent him letters of their own that demanded an end to the terror. For a time, all seemed to have stopped.

Then, on August 19, 1977, Ron received a phone call. Whatever the caller said, it was enough to get Ron fired up. Hanging up the phone, Ron grabbed his pistol, told his family he was going to confront the author of the letters and sped off in his red and white pick-up truck. According to the August 20, 1977 issue of the Circleville Herald, “A Route 3, Circleville, man was killed when his pick-up truck crashed into a tree late Friday night…” and “Ronald L. Gillispie, 35, Route 3, died of massive internal injuries in the 10:30 PM Friday accident on Five Point Pike. He was pronounced dead at the scene by Pickaway County Coroner Dr. Ray Carroll.”

Knowing that Ron Gillispie received a phone call from an anonymous person, raced off to confront the Circleville Writer and was found dead shortly after, reeks of foul play. To

mention another strange detail, Ron’s firearm was found to have fired a single shot, but no bullet holes or spent casings were found at the scene. It should also be noted that his BAC was well over the legal limit at .16%. While that seems like it should explain his death, it only adds to the mystery. You see, Ron Gillispie was known to avoid heavy drinking. In fact, his family reported that he was not intoxicated when he left the house.

Originally, the death was marked an accident because of Ron’s BAC. If this explanation leaves you unsatisfied, know you aren’t the only one. Specifically, Sheriff Radcliff of the police received intense pressure to reveal the truth behind the case. Yet, the pressure came from an unlikely source: The Circleville Writer themselves. Sheriff Radcliff received a letter saying, among other things, “You always use high speed to elimination of someone if you must get rid of them: you don’t fire shots for drinking: there were many booby traps at the schools but no one admit it for public scare,” along with “Radcliff does not allow media unless approved by him.”

It appeared that the Writer was not pleased with the police pinning Ron’s death as an accident and was accusing them of disinformation. There are many motives for this pressure such as a desire to claim credit for the accident or avenge Ron’s death.

Regardless, the mention of booby traps rings eerie with the next event. In February of 1983, Mary Gillispie was doing her daily route on her school bus and came across a number of signs posted along the road. They were coated in threats towards Mary and her family. Finally frustrated to the point of outrage, Mary stopped the bus and attempted to tear down the sign. In doing so, she discovered a box connected to the sign. The box was a booby trap that consisted of a pistol, set to go off at the opening motion of the box. Luckily, it seems the Circleville Writer put more care into the letters than the threats because the pistol did not fire.

When the police examined the pistol, they discovered that the serial number had been sanded off. Regardless, the gun was traced back to Paul Freshour and he claimed the gun had been stolen from him. A test was conducted to compare Freshour’s writing to that on the letters. Though the validity of the test is questionable and Freshour provided an alibi, he was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Yet again, it seemed someone was not pleased with the work of the police. As Paul wasted away in prison, the letters continued to be sent. Courtesy of the Writer, Paul himself received a letter that seemed to be from the real Writer, gloating how Paul was helpless in prison for something he didn’t commit. It read, “Now when are you going to believe you aren’t going to get out of there? I told you two years ago. When I set ‘em up, they stay set up. Don’t you listen at all?”

Not long after the sign incident, it came out that Mary was in fact having an affair with the superintendent of the school board. Mary claims that the affair did not begin until after the first letters were sent. According to Mary, the relationship came as a result of the ordeal and brought them closer together.

Though the reign of terror seems to have faded to an end, the Circleville Writer remains out on the loose. In 1994, the tv show Unsolved Mysteries starring Robert Stack (big fans, by the way), began covering the story of the Circleville Letters. It appears those at the Conspiracy

Corner aren’t the only fans of Unsolved Mysteries, as they too received a letter reading, “Forget Circleville, Ohio… if you come to Ohio, you el sickos will pay. The Circleville Writer.”

Today, Circleville is once again a pleasant small town. The terror and paranoia from the Circleville Letters have all, but disappeared. However, the mystery remains unsolved. For Mary Gillispie, not knowing who the Writer was or how they knew her so well may always haunt her. In truth, the identity of the Writer will probably remain an eerie enigma lingering over the town of Circleville forever. Until a major breakthrough is made, it seems me and other countless investigators before me are all just… running in circles.