Illustration by Aaron Gelston
In part one of “Yours Truly,” a series of anonymous letters besieged the residents of Circleville. Focused primarily on an alleged affair between Mary Gillispie and the local school superintendent, it was not long before the Writer’s harassment led to the indirect death of Mary’s husband, Ron. Years later, the Writer sought for Mary to join her late husband by crafting a booby trap with a loaded gun.
The only thing more shocking than the attempt on her life was the discovery to whom the gun belonged.
In the months originally following Ron Gillispie’s death, his brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, and local sheriff Dwight Radcliff often found themselves at odds. Radcliff—like his father before him and his son soon to follow—was the small town’s top lawman. According to Martin Yant, a private investigator and attorney that focuses of wrongful incarceration whose in-depth research of the bizarre case allowed him to speak personally with those involved, Radcliff wielded a tight rein over the town’s affairs and didn’t take well to criticism. In talking with PressureLife, Yant recalled the acrimony between Radcliff and Paul that stemmed from the way the investigation surrounding Ron’s fatal car crash was handled, which Paul felt was dismissed as an accident all too easily.
And what of the mysterious call that Ron received which precipitated the drive which ultimately led to his death? “Radcliff refused to investigate the phone call from someone who claimed to be the Writer. Paul kept bugging him about it and he really got under the sheriff’s skin.” Yant added, “Radcliff was only too happy to go after Paul when he had a chance.”
In the years that followed, Ron’s death along with the Writer’s deluge of harassing letters, faded to bad memories until Mary stumbled upon the aforementioned booby trap with the loaded gun pointed at her face. With its serial numbers only partially scratched out, police immediately traced the firearm to none other than Paul. Paul vehemently denied erecting the signs that baited Mary to the booby trap or writing any of the previous letters but he could not deny that the gun was his.
In the trial that followed, Paul’s own wife turned against him to testify for the prosecution as the two were in the midst of a highly acrimonious separation. “Paul’s ex-wife really did a number on the sheriff convincing him that Paul was the devil incarnate, and you have to understand how much power [Radcliff] had,” Yant stressed. “I think Radcliff applied pressure and they did not disclose, either they or the prosecutor, a report that described another person at the scene of the booby trap. That was a crucial document that could have sent the investigation in a different direction.” If enough cards were not already stacked against him, the Writer’s harassing letters were also used against him in court despite Paul never actually being charged as their author.
It did not take long before Paul was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to prison. However, his incarceration did nothing to quell the circulation of letters. Even after being placed in solitary confinement and a personal letter from the warden vouching for Paul’s innocence in regards to their authorship, his parole was denied due to their continued distribution. A decision in which Sheriff Radcliff weighed in. After his parole was denied, Paul received his own chilling message while in prison, reading, “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 UP. DON’T YOU LISTEN AT ALL?”
After serving ten years, Paul was released on good behavior in May of 1994. He went to his death in 2012 denying any involvement in either the gun box or the letters, going so far as to hire private investigators out of pocket to do what local authorities could not or chose not to do. Outside of a letter directed at the studio that produced Unsolved Mysteries to scare them away from covering the story in 2002, the Writer’s ink seems to have dried.
It has been over forty years since Mary first received a letter and just as many questions still remain. What really happened to Ron Gillispie the night of his death and who had he talked to over the phone? What was the police cover-up that the Writer cryptically hinted at and was it even legitimate? Were Paul’s ex-wife and the sheriff determined to see Paul persecuted regardless of the facts? Did an innocent man really lose ten years of his life behind bars just as a family lost their father and husband to the obsessions of a deranged neighbor?
As with most mysteries, the case of the Circleville Letter Writer frustratingly lacks a definitive ending but before our shifting conversations allow us to move on, spare a moment for the lives of those that cannot.