The 13th Floor

The Mysterious and Unexplained Incident of Ohio’s Circleville Letters

Circleville is a small town in Ohio, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. But starting in 1976, sinister, sexually explicit and threatening letters began to appear in the mailboxes of Circleville residents. All were postmarked from nearby Columbus, Ohio, and none included a return address. Only one person’s letters have been well documented, those of Mary Gillispie.

 Mary was a bus driver, and the Circleville Letter Writer accused her of having an affair with Gordon Massie, the superintendent of schools. Both denied the affair, though several years later they did begin dating, insisting that their affair didn’t start until after the letters. The letters promised that Mary and her children were being watched. Mary’s husband, Ron, also received threatening letters.

 A new letter arrived: “Gillispie, you have had 2 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.” The letters stopped for a time, but a phone call on August 17, 1977 to Ron infuriated him, causing him to storm out of the house, armed with a gun. Later that day, authorities found Ron dead inside his crushed car. The authorities deemed it a drunk driving accident, though they couldn’t explain how or when Ron’s gun was fired. Close friends insist Ron was not a drinker.

 This ruling angered the Circleville Letter Writer, who returned to his letter-writing campaign, accusing the sheriff of a cover-up. The letters continued through 1983, including some sent to Mary’s daughter. That year, along her bus route, Mary found an obscene sign that mentioned her daughter. Incensed, she pulled the sign out of the ground and discovered it was booby-trapped with a loaded gun. The police traced the gun back to Paul Freshour. Freshour used to be married to Ron’s sister. The two divorced, but that made Paul Mary’s former brother-in-law.      

 Paul was arrested and on October 24th, stood trial for attempted murder. The prosecution did not have enough evidence to pin the letters on Paul, but it didn’t stop them from mentioning it. The jury convicted Paul, and he was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison. 

But the letters didn’t stop. While Paul was behind bars, sometimes in solitary confinement, letters continued to be received by the people of Circleville, all with the Columbus postmark. Paul himself received a letter while he was incarcerated. It 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?” 


Paul was released from prison in May of 1994. In 2011, Paul (or someone purporting to be Paul) put up a simple website with a few documents. Most notably is the 164 page packet he sent to the FBI, requesting their help in investigating Ron’s murder and the origin of the Circleville Letters. Interestingly, he does not ask them to investigate the crime he was convicted for, even though he maintained his innocence. In the letter to the FBI, Paul accuses Sheriff Dwight Radcliff of being involved in a career-spanning coverup of corruption.

Some of the accusations and conspiracy theories Paul put forth included that arsenic was being included in many of the letters; that the letters were an attempt to get Gordon Massie (“a functioning alcoholic”) fired after he was “asked to leave” his previous school district for having an affair with an employee; and that Radcliff was covering up other crimes in order to decrease his town’s crime statistics and further his career. Paul claimed that the sheriff hid many of the letters people received in order to continue covering up allegations of child molestation by the Pickaway County coroner, and the district attorney (the same one who prosecuted Paul) impregnating a schoolteacher and having her murdered.

The official story is that the letters stopped in 1994, around the time that Paul was released from prison. However, according to one reddit user, letters were still being received through 2001, with unconfirmed letters continuing through 2003. Paul died in 2014, and the Circleville Letter Writer has never been found.


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