Crimes,  Mysteries

When malice generates fear and resentment: three mysterious cases

When malice generates fear and resentment: three mysterious cases

Whatever the country or culture, epistolary backbiting is commonplace. In some cases, anonymous letters are so full of resentment and hatred that the consequences are disastrous for the recipients and their families. The following three cases illustrate just as much the fear generated in victims as the vice of feisty authors.

Tulle’s Poison-Pen Letter Writer: The Anonymous Letters Of Discord

Tulle’s poison-pen letter writer is a French criminal case that took place from 1917 to 1922 in Tulle, Corrèze. During this period, the town’s inhabitants were the victims of an avalanche of anonymous letters, some of them particularly saucy, signed “The Eye Of The Tiger”, denouncing the doings of one and all. This case sowed fear and suspicion, creating a collective paranoia among the inhabitants of this small town. The case aroused great suspicion in the town and attracted the attention of the national press, which became fascinated by this news item that captivated the French.

An investigation was launched, culminating in a trial with national repercussions. The case was solved thanks to a revolutionary investigative method involving collective dictation by the investigators in collaboration with a graphologist. The author of the anonymous letters, Angèle Laval, an employee in the accounting department of the Corrèze administrative center, was unmasked and sentenced to a one-month suspended prison sentence and a 100 Franc fine. Her motive was an unrequited love affair with her department head. These anonymous letters contained insults, denunciations, pornographic and obscene stories. They were addressed to notables, administrative employees and ordinary citizens. In all, around 110 anonymous letters were sent between 1917 and 1922.

The Tulle's poison-pen letter writer case struck a little French town between 1917 and 1922

The case led to a number of suicides, and a controversy fomented by the press against the first investigating judge, François Richard, whose career collapsed when he was removed from the case. Angèle Laval had even sent slanderous letters about herself to cover up her crime. Psychiatrists described her as a “hysterical neuropath”, but responsible for her actions. This revelation stunned the people of Tulle, as Angèle Laval was perceived as a discreet, well-bred young woman. She seems to have developed a deep resentment in the years leading up to her epistolary outburst.

Defamation and collective paranoia: the Circleville case

The Circleville case involved the inhabitants of Circleville in Ohio

The Circleville Letter Case is a harassment case that began in 1976 in Circleville, Ohio. An unknown person sent threatening anonymous letters to several local residents, including the family of Mary Gillipsie. The letters contained defamatory accusations and threats against the recipients. Residents were struck by the fact that the author had very precise information about the people involved. The case took a tragic turn when, in August 1977, the husband of Mary Gillipsie, the school bus driver, received a letter accusing her of having an affair. In response, he decided to drive to where the letters had come from – Columbus, the capital of Ohio – but was killed in a car accident. In the anonymous letters, Mary Gillipsie was accused of having had an affair with Gordon Massie, the school principal. The sender went so far as to write:

“Stay away from Massie. Don’t lie when they ask you if you know him. I know where you live. I’ve looked at your house and I know you have children. This is no joke. Take this seriously. Everyone involved has been notified, and this will all be over soon”.

Faced with Mary Gillipsie’s impassivity, who chose not to reveal the receipt of this odious letter, the anonymous sender from Circleville reoffended by sending a second letter to the bus driver, one passage of which stated:

“Gillipsie, I gave you two weeks and you did nothing. Come clean and tell the school. If you don’t, I’ll run your story on CBS, on posters and billboards, until the truth comes out”.

Mary Gillipsie was specifically targeted by the anonymous sender in the Circleville case

Then the sender decided to send a third letter to Ron Gillipsie, whose blood ran cold as he got into his car and drove to Columbus to investigate for himself. The author was asking Ron to reveal his wife’s affair with the principal to the school board. His fatal accident gave a strong impetus to the investigation. The authorities stepped up surveillance in the town to try to prevent further incidents and protect residents, especially the recipients of the letters.

In 1983, threatening road signs were discovered along the roads of Circleville, bearing messages similar to those on the letters. The police conducted several parallel investigations to identify the author of the threatening letters and signs. The case generated considerable media interest, attracting public and media attention, which helped keep up the pressure to solve the mystery. This led to the involvement of Paul Freshour, who was sentenced to between 7 and 25 years’ imprisonment although he always maintained his innocence until his death in 2012.

Paul Freshour was Mary Gillipsie’s brother-in-law. He was suspected of being the author of the letters due to several troubling elements. Firstly, a firearm was discovered in a trap designed to kill Mary and enabled investigators to trace it back to Paul Freshour, reinforcing suspicions against him. Secondly, Paul Freshour was divorcing his wife, Karen Sue, who confessed to the police that her husband had written the Circleville letters. She also discovered letters hidden in their home, which helped incriminate Paul Freshour. Finally, despite his denials, Paul Freshour failed a polygraph test and was accused of trying to kill Mary Gillipsie. Circumstantial elements, such as his absence from work on the day of the trap, also helped to incriminate him, as did his handwriting. Freshour spent ten years in prison before being released. During his time behind bars, other letters were sent, including one addressed to him.

The Circleville anonymous sender sent multiple letters to Mary Gillipsie and other inhabitants

The case of the Circleville letters has given rise to much speculation and theorizing, but has never been solved because the author of the letters remains unknown, decades after the fact, as the evidence against Freshour seemed insufficient. The case sowed fear and mistrust in the small town of Circleville, where residents were accused of various reprehensible acts such as breach of trust, domestic violence, extramarital affairs and even murder. The case has left a lasting imprint on the town and the people involved, and continues to fascinate and provoke debate about the identity of the letter writer and the events surrounding what remains one of the most mysterious cases in recent American criminal history.

The Watcher: the haunting distress of a family under attack

The 657 Boulevard case is a true story that inspired the Netflix series “The Watcher” in 2022. The house at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, was the scene of disturbing anonymous letters received by the Broaddus family after they purchased the house, in 2014, for the princely sum of $1.3 million. The letters, signed by “The Watcher” led the family to never move into the house for fear of their children’s safety.

The 657 Voulevard new owners, the Broaddus, were targeted by an anonymous person called The Watcher

As soon as the sale was completed, the new buyers and their children received anonymous threatening letters with disturbing details, even though they had already started work on several projects in their new home. The letters seemed to come from someone who had been watching the house assiduously. The Broaddus family contacted the police, and when the investigation failed, decided to sell the house. They had great difficulty finding buyers, as the case had generated a great deal of interest in the region and received extensive media coverage, which discouraged potential purchasers.

The identity of “The Watcher” was never established despite police investigation and media attention. In March 2019, five years after the purchase, the house was put up for sale at a reduced price of $400,000 and the family finally sold the house in July 2019 without ever having lived there. Professional detectives initially investigated members of two families living immediately around 657 Boulevard, but these leads came to nothing. Several of the original suspects died over the years, and the progress of the investigation was marked by strong criticism of the Westfield police’s handling of the case. Westfield police refused the help of several investigators hired by the Broaddus, and the case was eventually turned over to the county prosecutor’s office, which took over the investigation from scratch.

The Broaddus family was harrassed y The Watcher

The Broaddus family expressed their wish that the new owners would find peace and tranquility in the house, while enclosing a photo of “The Watcher’s” handwriting in case any new letters were received. Before finding a buyer, the Broaddus also rented the house to a family with grown-up children and two large dogs, but this family also received a letter from “The Watcher”, adding to the anguish of the stakeholders. The Broaddus family’s neighbors’ accounts of the suspects in the 657 Boulevard case are varied and inconclusive. Westfield residents shared anecdotes about bidding wars for homes in the town, underscoring the importance of money and ego.

However, the main suspect remains Michael Langford, who lived with his 90-year-old mother, Peggy, and his siblings in the immediate vicinity of the Broaddus family. Langford was described as a harmless outsider by several neighbors. When Michael Langford was questioned, he denied any knowledge of the letters and was called in for further questioning, but in the end there was insufficient evidence to formally identify him as “The Watcher”. No conclusive evidence was found to link Michael Langford to the haunting letters received by the Broaddus family.

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These cases show just how much the poison of gossip can affect the fate of families caught in the net of an anonymous correspondent with dark motives. This kind of mischief is not new, and unfortunately seems to have a bright future ahead of it, even in the digital age.

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