Inside The Eerie Mystery Of The Circleville Letters That Terrorized An Ohio Town For Nearly 20 Years

Published July 23, 2023
Updated July 24, 2023

Starting in the late 1970s, the anonymous Circleville letters were sent to hundreds of residents, local businesses, government offices, and others, threatening to reveal the recipients' darkest secrets — or worse.

Circleville Letters

Pickaway County Sheriff’s OfficeThe Circleville letters claimed to know everything that happened in the small town. And the anonymous letter writer knew shocking secrets.

“I’ve been observing your house,” read the anonymous letter Mary Gillispie received in 1977, “and I know you have children.”

“Stay away from Massie,” the letter ordered.

Somehow, someone knew that Mary Gillispie was having an affair with superintendent Gordon Massie. And Gillispie, a local bus driver, wasn’t the only one receiving threatening letters.

Across Circleville, Ohio, residents found anonymous letters in their mailboxes. So did elected officials and local papers. But what did the Circleville letters want? And how far would the letter writer go?

The Letters to Ron Gillispie

Not long after Mary Gillispie received a letter exposing her affair, her husband Ron began getting mail of his own.

“Mr. Gillispie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie,” one of the Circleville letters read. “You should catch them together and kill them both… He doesn’t deserve to live.”

First Circleville Letter To Mary Gillispie

Pickaway County Sheriff’s OfficeBus driver Mary Gillispie began receiving letters in 1977 that threatened to reveal her affair with a school superintendent.

The small town of Circleville, a half-hour outside of Columbus, did not seem like a place where neighbors terrorized each other. Yet the anonymous letters targeted multiple residents of the town of 12,000.

The attacks on Mary Gillispie seemed the most personal.

“Gillispie, you have had 2 weeks and done nothing,” one letter to Ron read. “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.”

Then, on an August evening in 1977, a phone rang at the Gillispie house. Ron picked up. Moments later, Gillispie stormed out to his truck with a .22 caliber revolver in hand. He told his daughter that he was going to confront the Circleville letter writer.

After he left, Gillispie’s truck slid off the road and rammed into a tree. Gillispie died at the scene.

Ron Gillispie Car Crash

Pickaway County Sheriff’s OfficeSoon after driving off to confront the Circleville letter writer, Ron Gillispie was dead.

The local coroner ruled Gillispie’s death an accident. But Paul Freshour, Ron’s brother-in-law, considered it murder.

Before he died, did Ron Gillispie confront the person behind the Circleville letters? Police determined that Gillispie’s gun had been fired exactly once before his death. They never learned why Ron fired his weapon.

The Circleville Letters Continue

Even after Ron Gillispie’s death, the Circleville letters continued to arrive. And they continued to target Mary Gillispie, now a widow, and Gordon Massie.

“Everyone knows what you have done,” the letters taunted. “If you don’t believe us, just make them mad and find out for yourself.”

The attacks grew even more devious. Years after Ron’s death, in 1983, Mary Gillispie nearly fell into a fatal trap. One February day, Gillispie stopped her bus on the way to the school. Someone had put up a handmade sign on a nearby fence targeting her teenage daughter.

Gillispie tried to pull down the sign. But it was tied to a box. After she brought the box home, Gillispie opened it to find a loaded gun inside.

Paul Freshours Gun

Pickaway County Sheriff’s OfficeA booby trap containing a loaded gun nearly killed Mary Gillispie. But it also contained the clue police needed to begin unraveling the mystery.

The gun gave authorities a break in the case. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation was able to recover a serial number from the weapon. And the gun belonged to Paul Freshour, the man married to Ron Gillispie’s sister.

Paul Freshour, The Man Accused of Attempted Murder

Paul Freshour’s wife, Karen Sue, confessed to police that her husband had written the Circleville letters. The couple had been in the middle of a contentious divorce, and Karen Sue had evidence – she’d discovered letters hidden throughout their house.

Freshour denied writing the letters. He claimed the gun had been stolen weeks earlier. Yet a polygraph test declared Freshour a liar.

Police arrested Freshour, and in 1984, a jury convicted him of attempted murder. During the trial, an expert witness testified that Freshour had written the Circleville letters.

Circleville residents hoped that with Freshour behind bars, the letters would stop. But they didn’t.

The Circleville Letter

Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office“You have been watched,” warned one of the Circleville letters.

Hundreds of letters swamped Circleville after Freshour’s conviction. The prison warden declared that Freshour could not possibly have sent them – the prisoner had no access to pens or paper.

Paul Freshour even received an anonymous letter from the Circleville writer while he was behind bars.

A New Suspect in the Circleville Letters Mystery

“Who hated Paul enough to try to get him into trouble?” Freshour’s lawyer asked the jury during his trial, “If you read the divorce decree, who stands to profit financially, if Paul is convicted [and] goes to prison?”

When the Circleville letters continued, suspicion centered on ex-wife Karen Sue. She had reported her husband to the police. Did Karen Sue and her boyfriend, who matched a witness description from the booby trap crime scene, set up Paul Freshour?

A decade passed and the Circleville letters mystery only grew. In December 1993, when Unsolved Mysteries came to Circleville to investigate, the show also received an anonymous letter.

“Forget Circleville, Ohio… If you come to Ohio, you el sickos will pay.”

It was signed “The Circleville writer.”

Speaking with Unsolved Mysteries, Paul Freshour begged the show to look deeper. “I’d really 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.”

Then, in 1994, the same year Freshour was released from prison on parole, the letters mysteriously stopped arriving in Circleville mailboxes.

Anonymous Circleville Letter

Pickaway County Sheriff’s OfficeThe Circleville letters threatened to shame targets out of Ohio.

Who wrote the Circleville letters? Paul Freshour went to his grave swearing that he did not write the letters. But a recent forensic examination revealed similarities between his handwriting and the anonymous letters.

Decades after the final letters, the writer’s identity has never been conclusively proved. The local sheriff’s office closed the case. And the mystery of the Circleville letters may never be solved.


The Circleville letters remain a mystery. Next, read about cases that Unsolved Mysteries solved, and then learn about the investigation into the “From Hell” letter by Jack the Ripper.

Genevieve Carlton
Genevieve Carlton earned a Ph.D in history from Northwestern University with a focus on early modern Europe and the history of science and medicine before becoming a history professor at the University of Louisville. In addition to scholarly publications with top presses, she has written for Atlas Obscura and Ranker.