The Circleville letters: You’ve got hate mail


June Whitehead

An anonymous letter writer terrorizes a small town and threatens to expose their secret dark rumours.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Circleville, Ohio, residents opened their mailboxes to find mysterious letters meant to terrify them. This letter reads in part:

“You have been watched: If you do not comply and you will suffer: No one can help: No one can protect you: Obey: Obey:”

Circleville, Ohio

Circleville, Ohio

CBS News

The peaceful nature of the small town best known for its annual Pumpkin Show changed in March 1977. Circleville businesses and select residents began receiving anonymous letters with information and personal accusations.

anonymous letters

The Circleville Letters

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office / Marie Mayhew

Some of the mysterious handwritten letters were sent without return addresses. Recipients were accused of embezzlement, domestic violence, affairs and even murder.

The Affair

Mary Gillispie and Gordon Massie

Jackson Middle School Yearbook

School bus driver Mary Gillispie (left) became the primary target of the letters. The writer accused Gillispie, who was married, of having an affair with married school superintendent Gordon Massie (right).

The poison feather

The Circleville Letters

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office

A letter to Mary Gillispie says:


This is your last chance to report him – I know you're a pig and he'll prove it and I'll shame you out of Ohio – A pig sneaks around and meets other women's husbands behind their backs, makes families, homes and marriages suffer: “

A letter to Ronald Gillispie

The Circleville Letters

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office/ Marie Mayhew

The letters sent to Mary Gillispie did not stop and became more and more threatening. Her husband, Ronald Gillispie, also started receiving them. The writer, who was adamant that an alleged relationship between Mary Gillispie and Gordon Massie wrote to Ronald Gillispie:

“You should catch them together and kill them both.”

A fatal accident

Fatal accident of Ronald Gillispie

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office/Ohio BCI

One night in August 1977, while his wife was on her way to Florida, Ronald Gillispie received a mysterious call from the supposed writer. He left in his pickup truck and was killed when he crashed into a tree. A gun that had been fired once was found under his body, raising the question of whether he had been shooting at the letter writer. The coroner ruled Gillispie's death an accident, but others suspect he was murdered. He was 35 years old.

Another day, another sign

Circleville, Ohio

CBS News

Mary Gillispie always denied having an affair with Gordon Massie, but after her husband's death, she says they started seeing each other. That's when the threats against her increased.

On February 7, 1983, Mary Gillispie was driving her bus route to pick up children. This is the intersection where he saw an obscene sign about his 13-year-old daughter. Mary Gillispie tried to pull the sign over a fence, but realized it was rigged with rope and a box. He took the box home and opened it. Inside was a gun ready to fire.

death trap

Circleville booby trap

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office/Ohio BCI

Mary Gillispie took the box to the police, and they quickly realized it was a booby trap. Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) discovered the gun's serial number and traced it back to someone Mary Gillispie knew.

Paul Freshour

Paul Freshour

Craig Holman/USA Today Network

The gun belonged to Paul Freshour. The news was shocking because Freshour was Mary and Ron Gillipsie's brother-in-law. Freshour had always believed that Ron had been murdered and had pushed the Pickaway County Sheriff's Office to take a closer look at the case.

The suspicious letter writer

The Circleville Letters

CBS News

When investigators interviewed Paul Freshour's estranged wife, she claimed he was also the Circleville letter writer. Although Freshour insisted he had nothing to do with the cards or the booby trap, he was arrested and tried for attempted murder.

“What's Left” Podcast.

Podcaster Marie Mayhew

CBS News

Marie Mayhew is the host of the “Whatever Remains” podcast, where she discusses the Circleville letters. She says48 hours” there is only one piece of evidence connecting Paul Freshour to the booby trap. “I think the gun is probably, to me, in the full scope of the investigation. the strongest evidence,” Mayhew said.

The tormenting letters continue

The Circleville Letters

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office/Pickaway County Courthouse/Marie Mayhew

Although Paul Freshour was never charged with writing the letters, at trial the judge allowed 39 of the letters. It was a break for the prosecution who claimed that the cheating writing shares similarities with these letters.

Freshour was convicted of attempted murder and everyone assumed the letter writer was now behind bars, but the letters never stopped.

Is the writer still out?

The Circleville Letters

Pickaway County Sheriff's Office/Marie Mayhew

Paul Freshour served 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mary Gillispie. He wasn't allowed pens or paper while behind bars, but the letters still continued. Even Freshour got one.

The letter to Freshour reads in part: “Freshour: Now when you think you won't get away: I got old two years ago, when we set them up: they stay installed:”

Hints for the writer

Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole

CBS News

Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole looked into the letters that continued while Paul Freshour was in prison. After nearly 20 years, the letters stopped in 1994 when Freshour was released from prison. Over the years, Freshour still maintained his innocence.

“If a crime goes on and you have someone in custody for a long period of time, you have to say, 'Someone else is sending these letters.' They are not happening by magic. Someone else is writing the letters,” O’Toole said.

due diligence

Beverley East

CBS News

“48 Hours” wanted an independent analysis of the Circleville letters and turned to forensic document expert Beverley East, who studied some of the anonymous letters and some of Paul Freshour's writing samples. She noted how uniquely the letter “G” was written and some other numbers, which convinced her that she knows who is responsible. East says he's “100 percent sure.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *