A series of incriminating letters put a man in jail for attempted murder, but his confinement does not stop the letters from arriving.

A hand holding a pencile writing a letter accusing school bus driver Mary Gillispie of having an affair with the superintendant of Schools

The letters that led to Ron Gillespie’s death

Police investigator wheeling the covered body of Ron Gillespie into an ambulance

Was Ron Gillespie’s death an accident?


In December of 1993, a post card arrived at the Unsolved Mysteries offices that stood out from the rest. It was a threat designed to keep us from telling the following story. It read, in part: “Forget Circleville, Ohio … if you come to Ohio, you el sickos will pay.” It’s signed: “The Circleville Writer.”

Circleville, Ohio is a small town 25 miles south of Columbus. It’s a place that rarely attracts outside attention. But in 1976, the frightening letters started to arrive.
Local journalist Martin Yant:

“The first letter was received by Mary Gillispie, a school bus driver, telling her that the letter writer was aware that she was having an affair with the superintendent of schools and that it had better stop.”

A bright golden light shining on a small revolver

Why was one bullet fired from his gun?

In addition to allegations of an affair, the letter carried an ominous threat. It read, in part:
“I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious.”

The envelope was postmarked Columbus, Ohio. There was no return address, no signature inside, no way to tell who sent it. A week later, Mary received another letter with a similar tone. Mary kept the letters to herself, until her husband Ron also received one. According to Martin Yant:

“And this letter, addressed to Ron Gillispie, told him that if he didn’t do something to stop this affair, that his life was undoubtedly in danger.”

Letter received by Unsolved Mysteries that reads 'Forget Circleville, Ohio... if you come to Ohio, you el sickos will pay.'

Actual letter received by Unsolved Mysteries

The alleged affair became the talk of Circleville. The mysterious writer understood the power of gossip. The next letter was even more threatening. It read, in part: “Gillispie, you have had 2 weeks and done nothing. Make her 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.”

Mary and Ron evidently told three people about the letters: Ron’s sister, her husband, Paul Freshour, and Paul’s sister. Mary had an idea about who was sending the letters. And she had a plan. According to Paul Freshour, Ron Gillespie’s brother-in-law:

“We thought we’d scare the guy. We sent him four or five letters only. There was no violence in them or anything, just that we knew who he was and what he was doing, and we sent him the letters.”

Mary Gillespie with her arms in the air bound at her wrists to a wooden structure

A trap was set for Mary Gillespie

For a while, the plan worked. The threatening letters stopped. Then, on August 19, 1977, Ron received a phone call. The call seemed to confirm Ron’s suspicions about the identity of the letter writer. According to journalist Martin Yant:

“He told his children he was going out to confront the letter writer. He took his weapon. He did not seem to be drunk. Said good-bye to his children and went out.”

Angry and upset, Ron hurried to the family’s red-and-white pickup, even though the letter writer had said he was watching it. According to Martin Yant:

“Within a short distance, at an intersection that he knew very well, he lost control of the vehicle, hit a tree, and was killed. Somewhere in between leaving the house and hitting that tree, his gun had fired one shot and there was never any explanation for when or how, at whom that gun could have been fired.”

The police eliminated one potential suspect, then ruled Ron Gillispie’s death an accident. But several Circleville residents soon received anonymous letters accusing the sheriff of a cover-up. Ron Gillespie’s brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, said the sheriff had changed his story:

“The sheriff agreed with me that there was foul play. And then, when I contacted him again, he’d changed his attitude completely. Then, he was telling me that it wasn’t foul play, that the suspect had passed a polygraph test.”

Martin Yant pointed out another inconsistency:

“Gillispie had .16% alcohol in his blood, which would, in Ohio, be one-and-a-half times the legal limit. Most people I’ve talked to said that he was not a heavy drinker and were surprised by that kind of finding.”

A tiny pistol placed against a white wall

The gun belonged to Paul Freshour

Was Ron Gillispie’s death an accident? Was he really drunk that night? And why had one bullet been fired from his handgun?

After Ron’s death, the letters kept coming. His wife, Mary, and the superintendent of schools eventually admitted to a relationship, but said it began after the letters were sent. Mary kept her job driving a school bus. But beginning in 1983, the letter writer began putting signs along her bus route. Mary’s daughter was being targeted. According to Martin Yant, Mary finally took action:

“She ripped the sign down. Much to her surprise, behind the sign was this box and string and also another post that was attached to the fence post. She took it into the bus, and she opened it up, and there was a small pistol.”

When she looked closer, Mary realized that it was a crude booby trap designed to fire the gun at her. Investigators discovered that someone had tried to rub the serial number off the weapon. But when lab tests were able to read it accurately, the case took an incredible turn: it belonged to Mary’s brother-in-law, Paul Freshour. He had just split up with his wife, Ron Gillespie’s sister. Paul denied any involvement:

“I admitted the gun was mine, but I hadn’t seen it for a long time. I had no reason to check up on it or anything, and I don’t know when it had come up missing. I really don’t know what happened to it, and I told them that and that’s the truth. And that’s how it was.”

Paul Freshour with a mustache

Paul Freshour

On February 25, 1983, Sheriff Dwight Radcliff asked Paul to take a handwriting test. Paul agreed:

“He would give me an actual letter and ask me maybe to do the envelope part just as near as I could to the envelope. And then, on some, he would take the actual letter out and have me to do them as near as I could on the letters. And I did them because I knew I wasn’t responsible for the letters.”

Martin Yant said this was not the correct way to conducting handwriting analysis:

“That is not the proper way to test to see if someone has a certain writing style, because if they’re copying from a letter, they’re going to try to emulate the style. And the experts said that the testing was improper. So they didn’t really say that these letters were written by Paul Freshour. They said that they could have been.”

The sheriff also searched Paul’s garage. He turned all the evidence he gathered over to the courts. Paul Freshour was charged with attempted murder:

“He called in the prosecutor and told the prosecutor that it was my writing on the booby trap and I was under arrest for attempted murder and placed on a $50,000 cash bond.”

A man standing outside his bright yellow el camino on the side of a road

Authorities did not follow up on the El Camino

On October 24, 1983, Paul Freshour went on trial for the attempted murder of his sister-in-law, Mary Gillispie. He wasn’t charged with writing the threatening letters, but they were used as crucial evidence against him. On the stand, a handwriting expert said it was his opinion that the writing on the envelopes, documents, and postcards was made by the same person: Paul Freshour. Paul’s boss testified that Paul hadn’t gone to work the day the booby trap was found. Even though Paul had a solid alibi for almost the entire day, he never took the stand in his own defense. It was a decision he would come to regret. Paul was found guilty of attempted murder. He said the verdict was completely unexpected:

“I can’t blame the jury, because the jury didn’t hear all the evidence. But I just couldn’t believe it. I was really in shock.”

Paul Freshour was given the maximum sentence for attempted murder: 7 to 25 years. Everyone assumed he had written the Circleville letters. And everyone figured they would stop once Paul was in prison. Everyone was wrong. Journalist Martin Yant:

“They were being received all over a large area of central Ohio. So, a lot of people couldn’t understand how Paul Freshour could be mailing all these letters from prison.”

Following repeated complaints from Sheriff Radcliff, the warden had Paul placed in solitary confinement. But the letters continued. All of them were postmarked Columbus, even though Paul was imprisoned across the state in Lima. Martin Yant said the Warden became convinced that Paul was not writing the letters:

“Full-scale investigations were conducted twice, possibly three times, during which Paul Freshour was put into isolation. And the warden of the prison then wrote a letter to Paul’s wife saying that as far as he was concerned, it was impossible for Paul to be writing these letters and sending them from prison.”

For seven years, Paul was a model prisoner. But when he became eligible for parole, the board rejected his request based on the volume of letters still being sent. A few days after his hearing, Paul himself received a sadistic letter from the phantom writer. It read, in part: “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?”

When journalist Martin Yant reviewed the sheriff’s investigative file, he uncovered evidence never mentioned at the trial:

“Mary Gillispie told the sheriff one of the other bus drivers told her that she had been driving that same road about 20 minutes before Mary Gillispie found that booby trap at exactly that site. And when she went by that very same intersection, there was a yellow El Camino parked there. A large man with sandy hair was standing there. When he saw her come, he turned around and acted like he was going to the bathroom or something, but seemed also to be avoiding any kind of identification. The description of the individual does not fit Paul Freshour at all, and Paul had a very solid alibi for this time. There was no attempt at all to follow up on that lead. And if they had, as I say, they would have found that another possible suspect in this case had a brother who had a yellow El Camino.”

In May of 1994, Paul Freshour was finally granted parole after serving 10 years. To this day, he maintains his innocence. He’s sure that the real criminal is still at large:

“I’d like to see someone really look at this case on the letters, reopen the letter part of it and get in and find out who wrote the letters. I’d also like to see someone look into my former brother-in-law’s death. Look, that’s not my family anymore. That’s my past. I’m not even going to look back at it. I’ve got a new family and a new future. But I would still like to see someone look at that accident real close and the letters.”

The Circleville letters finally stopped, but many questions remain. Who actually wrote the letters? Was Ron Gillispie’s death an accident or was he murdered? And, who made the booby-trap found by Mary Gillispie?

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season seven with Robert Stack and in season four with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.



  1. Patrick

    Mary kept her job driving a school bus. I was so relieved to hear this..lol. So they started hooking up after the letters they claimed, sure. Hey these letters are saying we’re having an affair, it’s not true but let’s try it. Ridiculous.


  2. Shaggy

    Wasn’t me.


  3. Shannon Cline

    I think Mary and her sister in law wrote the letters. Interesting how Mary kicks her in laws off the property then moves her sister in law in. They held some sort of bond. Is Mary still alive today ?


  4. Mike Pence

    It was Donald Trump. He has affairs with all those woman and lies nonstop but everyone believes him without question.


    • Patty

      Of course it was Trump, he’s guilty of almost everything that’s wrong in the USA, so it had to be him, Lol!!


      • John

        tRump is guilty as hell of an awful lot, but he could not have done anything like the damage to democracy that people like you helped him do…


  5. Terry

    Paul Freshour is behind the letters and the booby-trap. He hated Mary for the affair and thought somehow she had Paul killed in truck accident which is why he was so vocal about it being more than an accident. He had help, (not sure from who), but he did have an accomplice. Freshour is guilty.


    • Henry

      If you look on the sitcoms discussion forum page, some people suspect Paul wrote the letters during the period between Ron’s death and his conviction. It’s possible that while he was convicted he had his son mail out any letters Paul never got to send. Then from the period around Paul’s first appeal attempt, it’s been speculated Karen—Paul’s ex-wife—may have wrote letters up until the UM segment because she did not want her ex-husband—who was apparently abusive to her and their kids—to be free.


  6. James Kilbourne

    Per an episode of 48 hours aired 8/25/2021, (it won’t let me past the link but it is the first result for Circleville Letters 48 hours) has a transcript of the entire episode. Ultimately Paul Freshour’s handwriting (from other personal letters not the one he did for the Sheriff) was identified by a modern handwriting expert. This was based on a number of unique quirks and confirmed that the 100s of samples provided were from the same person, and that was Paul Freshour. But that was of less significance assuming the following statement is true:

    “While studying the thousands of pages of the case file, Marie Mayhew made a discovery that supports East’s findings. Investigators had found Paul Freshour’s fingerprints on about a dozen letters postmarked while he was incarcerated.”

    Some have commented on the stupidity of him using his own gun, doing more research you’ll find that the serial number had attempted to be removed. Paul worked at the Anhauser-Busch plant in Columbus, giving him the means to mail the letters. How did he send the letters in prison? I would suspect that they were likely written beforehand, then mailed by a potential accomplice. He would have had time to write them perhaps hoping they would “exonerate” him, and prevent him from being tried again. Mary was home when Ron received the call just before his death (as were their children), so if she was involved she did not act alone. Was Paul involved with Mary in some way? Some things will likely remain a mystery…


  7. The Strange Truth

    Of note is the gullibility of Paul, very reminiscent of Richard Jewel, i.e. he agreed to provide incriminating evidence against himself by actually trying to mimic the handwriting on the letters purposefully. Any neurotypical person would have seen that this was a crucial part of the set-up and would never have agreed to a handwriting test or an interview without a lawyer.

    I think Paul may have had the gun stolen by his brother years prior and when his brother and his brother’s wife has something embarrassing come up and Paul got wind of it, he was warned to keep his mouth shut. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, the letters were sent out. The “hundreds of other letters” were “noise” to draw attention away from the true intended victim.

    The woman accused of the affair, the sheriff, her husband were part of a love triangle and they were in essentially an open relationship, something that would have ruined all of their reputations. Paul, who had a form of autism, was manipulated into keeping quiet about the strange love triangle and into incriminating himself, as well. He was told that if he set himself up by agreeing to the handwriting test and not defending himself at trial vigorously, he would be permitted to join the tryst when he got out.


  8. some highschooler

    When police had to write reports on paper instead of typing it they were trained to write in block letters so everyone’s writing would be eligible. It would not surprise me if the person who wrote the letters had some previous experience writing like this, most likely leading to sheriff radcliff.


  9. HS

    Freshour got railroaded in this case.


    • ProveMwWrong

      I met Paul (Grand-Paul as we all called him at the campground) around 2001-2002. He vehemently denied being a part of this ruse by Sheriff Radcliff and Paul’s story never inched a SKOSH away from his statement in the 1980s. He may have been a bastard to his wife and kids, but later in life, as he tried to clear his name until his last breath, he was adored by any who met him at the campground in Morrow County.


  10. Renzi

    What did the other letters say. Who were they aimed at? Why just focus on the “Mary” letters.


  11. Fatboy

    Finding the sign/booby trap on the side of the road and the fact it didnt go off seems a little too convenient. Perhaps Mary a had a hand in things


  12. Kara Moore

    It was not Paul Freshour, it was someone having a feud with him. All of this bickering back and forth between the couples overshadow a few things, there were people who had no involvement with the couples, and the fact that someone would make the claim about the man romantically involved with the little girl…who would make up a story about that?

    Wouldn’t Paul be stupid to make a booby-trap with his gun? It would be easily traceable. No one tested for fingerprints on the letter, sign or gun, nothing. And the person claimed they would broadcast it on the CB, but that would also be stupid because people with other CBs would hear the person and identify. There is one thing that bothers me, the slang used “when WE set things up, they stay set up”. Who are the we? More than one?

    It was probably a married couple who felt they were being treated badly by people in town, so to get revenge they sent letters all over town.


  13. Daniel Blake

    Come on, on the day she found the bookie trap, who told her to go to that sign? If no one, then she is the person behind it. How did these cops not see her motive? Only one who had plenty to gain was her. The fact that second letter came AFTER the husband found out about the affair, tells me it’s the wife. Guess she wasn’t happy that her husband didn’t care once he found out she was a cheater. Also, if she really wasn’t having an affair before the letters then it’s definitely the wife, she must of had desire for this guy, then the letters got the conversation going between the two of them. Only she could have know chemistry was between the two. I could be wrong, but seems like she’s the number one suspect.


  14. Bearcat

    I am from Ohio and know people from the Circleville area. Most agree that Paul Freshour was the letter writer. Apparantley he was a conspiracy theorist and seemed to think that the goverment was out to get him. People who knew him suspected him early on of writing the letters.
    When it comes to the letters being written while he was in prison it couldve easily been a sympathetic family member or friend. Sources never state what his alibi was on the day he was off work and when his gun attached to the booby trap.
    This is Ohio, we dont have alot of complex crimes here.


  15. shani

    I tend to believe that the real target is the brother-in-law. I feel like someone needs to look into that.To me, it seems as thought someone intended to frame him the whole time.Just a thought.


  16. joseph

    I wonder if there any letters still around, to test for DNA of the stamp or the seal of the envelope, if either were licked I am sure those area contain some testable DNA, back then no one had a clue what DNA evidence existed in 1977 nor 1993.


  17. Anonymous

    It reminds me of the id channel show “web of lies” where there was threatening letters sent to the family until one ends up dead & turned out to be the spouse that set the whole thing up to get rid of the spouse & tried covering it up. I think Mary, her lover, & Paul’s ex-wife sent the letters & set up booby trap to get rid of their husbands


  18. Charles

    A man lost a decade of his life over this. Unbelievable…and scary how easily a person can be framed with no adequate exoneration from law enforcement.


  19. Secret

    Information changes all the time in a case. Things change. I don’t believe that Radcliff had anything to do with it although suspicious, every detail that was involved in this case doesn’t need to be shared with the civilians.


  20. Lindsay Browning

    Do we know how wrote the Circleville letters back in 1990’s?


  21. Stephanie

    It wasn’t just Mary and her husband getting the letters, there were many folks in Circleville that got letters. Mary’s case stands out and is getting most of the attention due to her husband dying also the affair. The focus should have been on everyone that received the letters and maybe they would have found out who it was. Obviously it was someone who knew everyone’s business. Not even superman can fix this world and what people do wrong in it. It’s sad a man died and I do agree with you all, the affair was going on before the letters, which is sad too. I think Mary’s lover wrote her the letters thinking her husband would find out about them and leave her, then he wouldn’t have had to share her. And obviously the person traveled to mail the letters. Them always bringing attention to “it was post marked Columbus”, that was irrelevant, doesn’t mean the person was from there. It was someone or someones who were in need of attention, were jealous over something they didn’t like going on, etc. It would be nice for them to find out who It was, to find out why they sent the letters. What they hoped to achieve. And why would they threaten the husband with harm when he was the one being cheated on.. that part of it didn’t make sense. And what were the odds that she’d stop at that sign and not some other sign to tear down? She just happened to pick the sign with the booby trap…. don’t buy it one bit.


  22. Jonny

    Dear Unsolved Mysteries,
    How do you think the writer discovered you were going to tell this story? Please respond to me.


  23. Jenn

    Uhh…Am I the only one who believes that it was the Sheriff? I mean, writing a letter that tells no one to harm the Sheriff, the ability to cover-up everything, and the ability to “set-up” someone, speaks for it’s self…


    • AL. A.

      What about religious vigilantism? It seems Circleville had a disproportionate number of biblical sinners. It has already been pointed out that the letters were written in a style sometimes used by law enforcement when writing police reports. The sheriff and his deputies would all have a pretty good idea of who was doing what with whoever. I know some law enforcement types are very religious. Maybe the sheriff and some of his underlings were using the letters to try and clean up Circleville without a bunch of expensive and iffy prosecutions?


  24. Nancy Nichols

    I was lead here after watching a segment about this on drunk history. It peaked my interest so I wanted to look into it more.


  25. Dj chatter

    How did they get pauls gun? I believe paul did it, and had someone send the letters while he was locked up


  26. brian

    Interesting case


  27. Erik

    I am surprised a movie hasn’t been made about this…


  28. Bryan

    I’ve read literally every comment on every archive. This one has a lot of non sense. This reminds me a lot of the elderly couple who I believe was from OH. They got letters sent to them, phone calls, doorbell ringing, etc… Any updates?


  29. Anonymous

    ” Oh geez , well since we are being accused of having an affair in these letters, we might as well have one ..” Mary is obviously a liar…very fishy on her part


    • Michelle

      Very fishy on her part. The fact that her husband was killed made it real easy for her to continue the affair. I don’t know about the letters but the other part sounds about right. I don’t think Paul Freshour had anything to do with it.


  30. El Scribo

    El Sickos


  31. Beccaboo

    I never thought it was Paul. In fact my heart broke for him watching the segment. He seems down to earth and genuine. Was he compensated for being falsely imprisoned?


  32. Leigh

    Who did the yellow El Camino belong to?


  33. Arlo

    Paul’s Ex-wife had the motive, the means, and is the most obvious suspect.

    The biggest failing of this investigation was that she was not looked into at all. Very shoddy police work there.


    • johnny

      pickaway county sheriffs are crooked i lived there all my life even there detectives got caught with stolen goods and got off the hook never mentioned at all


  34. riddlesolver

    its a murder cuz most people all said that he drink a lot but when they test him after he died they discover a lot of achole in him the suspect probably poison him at the bar where he drinks they’re really good friends tell him about his family and where he lives that how the suspect knew everything is I think its a murder


  35. somebody

    Pauls wife did it


  36. Sheriff Radcliff

    Please do not question my authority or my super investigative skills. I am a professional


  37. A superintendent

    We don’t go in schools. Just the buses. That’s why graduation rates are below the 70s 😉 Everything is a lie. Everything is fraud. Shoot heroin


    • Hail to the Chimp

      What an outrageous and dangerous message to send out to our youth! Everyone knows that cannabis is a much better, more accessible high for children.


  38. Christian

    One of the only people that knew they were having an affair could’ve been the janitor. He was at the school and probably caught the schools super intendant and the bus driver. He then starting writing the letters.


  39. lebron james

    it was her daughter


  40. Dameon

    She obviously is a liar..the affair was happening before the letters…


  41. jim

    Creepy …all of it.


  42. Hawaii

    Mary did it and used her feet to write the letters.


  43. Alfred Neumanhausen

    Mary set the crime up with the help of her lover.


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