Dr. James Howard Snook
Cause of Death: Legal Electrocution
Thanks to Andy Henderson of Forgotten Ohio without whom I would have never known this story or heard the name James Howard Snook, and to the Ohio Exploration Society, without whose dedication in finding the grave and doing the research neither Andy nor I would have our information.
Having long ago read the Forgotten Ohio page regarding the murder trial of Dr. Snook, a Ph.D. with an Olympic gold medal and professor at Ohio State who brutally killed the girl with whom he was having an affair, I was curious about someday finding his burial site. Dr. Snook was, in a way, a 1920s Columbus version of O.J. Simpson – his trial was a very big deal.
In short, Snook, a married, mild-mannered Ph.D. in veterinary medicine, had a torrid affair with a coed in the late ’20s. He eventually kept an apartment in the Short North for their trysts, but one night, they went to a shooting range near Fisher and McKinley roads instead (and if you Google Map the area, interestingly, it shows a Columbus Police Department shooting range in the area now. Same property?). It was there that he killed Theora Hix, 24, with many, many blows to the head with a hammer, stabbed her in the stomach, then slit her throat and dumped her body at the back of the shooting range.
His testimony painted a lurid picture involving drug use and scandalous sex practices (for the time … don’t get excited). In fact, his testimony was printed up by an enterprising court reporter and sold to people who couldn’t manage to get in the packed courthouse.
It took the jury less than a half hour to convict him, and he was sent to the Ohio Pen (one of the two Columbus buildings I regret deeply having gotten into photography too late to shoot. I used to pass that magnificent, spooky old hulk on my way to and from work for over a decade. Now, coincidentally, I work on the former site of it.) where he died in Old Sparky on February 28, 1930. He was spared an arguably worse death by just a few months, too; in April of that year, the worst fire in American prison history killed 322 inmates at the Pen.
He was buried quietly, in a private ceremony.
The grave had been hidden for decades, with the burial information card on file at Green Lawn stating twice “DO NOT GIVE OUT LOCATION,” to say nothing of the fact that he was buried under his first and middle names only, leaving off the distinctive surname. Somehow, the Ohio Exploration Society members figured it all out and tracked him down, posting the directions to the grave on their site. Until I became as familiar with Green Lawn as I am now though, the clues and directions might as well have read “knock yourself out, sister. Good luck to you.” It is a huge cemetery after all, the second largest in Ohio.
However, now that I am very familiar with Green Lawn, the clues made very quick work of finding the area. I left home at about 9:45 in the morning, drove to the cemetery (about halfway across town), drove through the cemetery gate at 10:08, and by 10:20, had found it, taken my pictures, and gotten back in the car. I was terribly impressed with myself, though all the credit goes to the websites I got the directions from. 😀 (And most especially to Jason at the OES, who knows why. 🙂 )
I held up the picture I’d printed off as a guide, and walked around the entire area; up and down about four rows, several times before I found it. All the stones in that area look pretty much alike. And then there he was.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Dr. James Howard Snook, executed murderer.
For more information:
The Ohio Exploration Society’s page about Snook
Find a Grave page for Theora
Find a Grave page for Snook
Another account of the story/photo of the grave
And even the New York Daily News
Some songs and radio spots for movies about fictional killers:
Radio Ad – Something Is Out There
Greenskeepers – Lotion (<- calling all Silence of the Lambs fans)
Radio Ad – Last House On The Left
The Talking Heads – Psycho Killer
Oh wait! I almost forgot! Tradition!