Illustration by Aaron Gelston
The truth in unsolved mysteries often comes a distant second to our thirst for story.
Our innate curiosity and desire to be entertained leaves the lives of those involved too easily forgotten. While mere anecdotes for others, these mysteries are too often synonymous with tragedy, loss, and an alienating lack of closure. For a small town just south of Columbus one such unanswered question would leave them gripped in a cycle of fear and paranoia for years. It is a mystery that lacks a definitive conclusion to this day.
The letter that Circleville’s Mary Gillisipie found in her mailbox in 1976 took her by surprise. Written in crude block lettering to mask its origin, it accused her of an affair with the school superintendent, Gordon Massie, of the district for which she was employed as a bus driver. It read in part, “STAY AWAY FROM MASSIE: DON’T LIE WHEN QUESTIONED ABOUT KNOWING HIM. I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE: I’VE BEEN OBSERVING YOUR HO– USE AND KNOW YOU HAVE CHILDREN. THIS IS NO JOKE. PLEASE TAKE IT SERIOUS. EVERYONE CONCERNED HAS BEEN NOTIFIED AND EVERTHING [sic] WILL BE OVER SOON.”
A subsequent letter mailed to Mary’s husband, Ron, spoke not only of his wife’s alleged affair, but insisted he force her to publicly confess to the act or his own life would be in danger. Whether the Writer’s claim held merit, it was clearly an issue he or she was dangerously fixated on, evidenced in the letter that came next: “YOU HAVE HAD TWO WEEKS AND DONE NOTHING. MAKE HER ADMIT THE TRUTH AND INFORM THE SCHOOL BOARD. IF NOT, I WILL BROADCAST IT ON CB, POSTERS, SIGNS, AND BILLBOARDS UNTIL THE TRUTH COMES OUT.”
Why Mary and Ron decided at this point to confide in only Ron’s sister and her husband, Paul Freshour, and Paul’s sister rather than turning to the police is a mystery of its own, but may speak to nature of the close-knit community. After circling the wagons, a list of suspects was narrowed down and a retaliatory letter was penned by the group and mailed to the presumed culprit. Whether the relative quiet of the following weeks was a result from their counter-letter or the Writer merely biding his or her time, it would only prove to be the calm before the storm.
On Aug. 17 of the following year, Ron received an unexpected call at his home. The phone had barely crashed back into its cradle before Ron stormed out into the night, taking only the time enough to find his gun. Determined to bring an end to the harassment once and for all, Ron sped off into the night in his pickup truck convinced that it was the Writer on the line. According to members of Ron’s family who were with him that night, the brief exchange was apparently enough for the husband and father to finally realize who had been tormenting them. Any answers Ron had would not find the morning’s light.
The police found Ron’s truck wrapped around a tree not far from his home. He apparently crashed at a considerable speed on a road he passed nearly every day. A single bullet was said to be fired from his gun, but the police that arrived on the scene could not find any potential targets. A toxicology report would later find Ron’s blood alcohol level 1.5 times the legal limit, summarily ruling his death an accident.
The Writer’s next missive, which was spread throughout the shell-shocked town, shared an unsettling difference of opinion. It read in part, “TWO TEENAGE BOYS SEEN WHAT HAPPENED: YOU ALWAYS — USE HIGH SPEED FOR ELEMINATION [sic] OF SOMEONE IF YOU MUST GET RID OF THEM: YOU DONT [sic] FIRE SHOTS FOR DRIVING.” The letter closed by calling out the sheriff by name, “RADCLIFF DOES NOT ALLOW MEDIA UNLESS APPROVED BY HIM THERE WAS [sic] SIGNS IN THE GROVE CITY RESTAURANTS: THE POLICE LIED.”
Over a thousand letters were sent to the besieged townsfolk in the years that followed, each offering disquieting knowledge of their personal lives. By 1983 the Writer turned his or her perverse attention to Mary Gillispie’s young daughter, Traci. Vulgar slurs were scrawled on roadside signs were purposefully erected along Mary’s bus route and were more than a mother could stomach. Pulling to the side of the road, she began ripping the signs off the posts that they were nailed to with her bare hands.
That was when she found the box. Within it, the barrel of a loaded pistol stared back at her between the eyes, one final postscript from her cursed pen pal. Had the jerry-rigged box attached to the back of one of the signs operated as intended, the point blank booby trap would have spelled a definitive end for Mary. The Writer’s campaign of terror had escalated to a chilling new level: attempted murder.
The only thing more unspeakable would be the discovery of the gun’s owner.
Next issue: “Yours Truly: Part 2” – The identity of the writer… or is it?