The Hammer Slaying of Roxie Green

Roxie Green as she appeared in the September 28th, 1938 edition of the Marion Star.
Roxie Green as she appeared in the September 28th, 1947 edition of The Marion Star.

The Victim

It’s an early Friday evening in the fall of 1947. 16-year-old sophomore Roxie Green has just returned to Prospect High School by school bus after attending a football game in Chesterville. Roxie and one of her girlfriends, Norma Jean Sparks, walk to Norma’s house in Prospect. After talking for a bit, Roxie says goodbye and begins walking the four-and-a-half miles to the Green home on Lauer Road. As she makes her way along Route 47, a man pulls up alongside her and asks her if she needs a lift. Taking him up on the offer, she jumps on the running board of the car and tells him where she lives. Roxie Green, however, never makes it home.

The Suspect

Roxie went missing on September 19th, and while it would be over a week before the people of Marion County learned what had actually happened to her, the sheriff’s department almost immediately had a suspect in her disappearance: a balding and “slightly built” 32-year-old Prospect man named Ray Shappard. The reason for law enforcement’s interest in Shappard was simple: A few witnesses had come forward saying they had seen an older model Ford in the area around the time Roxie disappeared, and Shappard drove a 1928 Model A Ford.

On Sunday, September 21st, 1947, Sheriff Leroy Retterer and his Deputy, Edward Fink, paid Shappard a visit at his parents’ home in Prospect. When Deputy Fink asked Shappard where he had been on the afternoon of September 19th, Shappard claimed he had been at work at the Scioto Ordinance Plant until clocking out at around 3:30. After work he had gone to a few bars in Marion and then to Prospect where he picked up his wife and child. Shappard took his wife and child over to her foster-parents’ place before leaving to pick up some groceries. Under questioning, however, he admitted that he had actually driven in the direction of Waldo to buy beer. He was gone for about an hour and Mrs. Shappard later told Sheriff Retterer that he had returned without any groceries. Members of law enforcement speculated that it was while he was driving to Waldo that he spotted Roxie Green walking home. However, the sheriff lacked the evidence needed to arrest Shappard, and he remained a free man while the search for Roxie Green continued.

Ray Shappard, Hammer Murder, Prospect, Ohio
On the evening Roxie Green disappeared, Ray Shappard’s Model A Ford was seen in the area.

Roxie Green’s whereabouts were still unknown on September 28th when Sheriff Retterer asked Shappard to come in for another round of questions. That night Shappard admitted he may have hit a girl with his car on the 19th, though he couldn’t really remember. When Sheriff Retterer carefully asked him where he would’ve hidden the body in such a situation, he named a section of woods southeast of Prospect where he frequently hunted. Wasting no time, Sheriff Retterer and a few other officers drove Shappard out to the woods he had mentioned, but they found nothing. Oddly, when they returned to Marion, Shappard said that he might be able to remember more if he got a good night’s sleep. The sheriff obliged by putting Shappard in a single cell for the night. The next morning Shappard asked someone to bring his wife to the jail because he needed to speak to her. It was shortly after talking to her that Shappard was ready to confess what he knew about Roxie Green’s disappearance.

A Murder Confession

The September 29th, 1947 edition of The Marion Star carried details of Shappard’s confession. Obviously, this is Shappard’s version of events and so while one may question whether it’s accurate or even believable, it’s certainly incriminating:

I started out from Prospect to get some beer. As I drove east on Route 47, I saw the girl walking along the road and stopped to give her a ride. She got on the left [running board] of my car. We started up the Lauer Road. I didn’t know just where she lived and as we passed a house, she jumped off. I couldn’t stop because the brakes were bad. I went down to the next house and turned around. When I drove back, I found her lying along the road. She was knocked out. I got out and put her in the front seat. I was going to take her to the doctor. I got back in the car and started south. When I got to Route 47, I turned east to the Rittenhouse Road and then went south again to the Norton Road. Before we got to Norton, she came to and began to holler and scream. I kept on driving east through Norton to this country road. She kept screaming and finally said she would get me for kidnapping. I got out of the car and she was out. I hit her over the head several times with [a] hammer and then threw her into the weeds.1

Even today, a murder of such brutality is hard to imagine. (According to the article appearing in the Star on September 29th, “a hole about three inches long and an inch wide showed plainly in the skull.”) And if the crime itself were not callous enough, Shappard’s actions after the murder were even more appalling. He told law enforcement that after leaving Roxie’s body near the side of Norton Road and getting rid of the hammer, he drove to Waldo where he had a few beers before returning to Prospect. Incredibly, he took his wife out dancing later that night.

Of course, upon hearing Shappard’s confession, the sheriff immediately placed Shappard under arrest and asked him if he could take them to the location of Roxie’s body. Shappard said he could. Sheriff Retterer, along with Marion County Prosecutor James Reed, once again took Shappard out to the southern part of Marion County, though this time Shappard directed them to a section of Norton Road just east of the Olentangy River that’s on the Marion-Delaware County line. Almost immediately they spotted Roxie’s partially hidden body. A short time later they recovered the blood-stained hammer as well.

Shappard’s Motive

Shappard’s motive for killing Roxie was never entirely clear. Officials speculated that after Shappard found Roxie unconscious, he decided to take advantage of her. That’s why he put her back into his car rather than run up to the Green house for help. After she came to in his car, Shappard claimed she began “yapping” and “threatened to get me for kidnapping.” Shappard panicked and that point and grabbed the hammer lying on the back seat. When asked directly if he had sexually assaulted the girl, Shappard first told police, “I don’t think so.” Later he denied assaulting the girl altogether. Because of the condition of Green’s body when it was finally recovered, Marion County Coroner E.H. Morgan couldn’t “ascertain whether there had been a criminal attack.”

Seeking Justice

Roxie Green is buried in the Marion Cemetery. Her classmates helped pay for the gravestone.

On Wednesday, October 1st, 1947, the day Roxie’s funeral was being held, Common Pleas Court Bailiff Fred Miller was busy assembling a grand jury to consider Shappard’s case later in the week.  Unsurprisingly, the grand jury indicted Shappard for the murder of Roxie Green.

By December of 1947 a jury had been selected, and the trial got underway on the 10th. It soon became clear that Shappard’s defense attorneys, Ralph and Dwight Carhart, were not going to argue that Shappard hadn’t killed Roxie. The sheriff had Shappard’s confession, after all. But the Carharts did argue that Shappard’s crime against Roxie was one of “impulse” rather than premeditation and thus they were hoping for a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder. For his part, County Prosecutor James Reed had no problem convincing the jury to return a guilty verdict.2 However, their verdict also carried a recommendation of mercy for Shappard. This meant that Shappard would receive a mandatory life sentence but would be spared death. On December 17th, Sheriff Retterer transported Shappard to the Ohio penitentiary in Columbus where he began serving his life sentence.


1 This was not even the first murder in Marion County where the weapon of choice was a hammer. History of Marion County relates a story of James Lefever, who, on May 14th, 1874, beat Frank Johnson to death with a hammer in Lefever’s Green Camp blacksmith shop. While Lefever claimed in court that a drunk and belligerent Johnson had threatened him first, the court apparently didn’t buy Lefever’s self-defense claim. He was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to life. For reasons unknown, the governor pardoned him just four years later.

2 One minor but interesting historical tidbit about the jury noted in The Marion Star was that one of the jurors, a truck driver named Carl West, was the first African American to ever sit “on a jury hearing a first degree murder trial in Marion.”

“Obscenity of the Worst Kind!” The Exorcist Comes to Marion

Though most of us think of the Palace Theatre as a venue offering up mostly family-friendly entertainment, there was a time when the management was willing to show something a little more daring.

It was 1974 and The Exorcist was causing a stir all over the country. The film, based on the bestseller by William Peter Blatty, concerns the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl. Even more disturbing, the events depicted in both the book and film are reputedly based on actual events. Even after almost four decades, the film still has the power to shock:

When the Palace began running previews for the film in the spring of 1974, a lot of people around town were unhappy with the thought that the Palace might actually show a film that, to quote a petition prepared by local church leaders, was “obscene, blasphemous and sacrilegious.” These church leaders eventually presented this petition to Marion City Council along with a letter urging Palace manger William Hatch not to run the film. They were hoping that Council members would sign the letter before they sent it to Mr. Hatch. In the end, five council members did just that. Council President Thomas Fetter was quoted in The Marion Star as saying the film was “obscenity of the worst kind.” Still four other council members didn’t sign the letter. In voicing his reason for refusing to sign such a letter, councilman John Maniaci said, “I have no right as an elected official to tell people they can’t go to the film if they want to.”
Exorcist Film, Marion, Ohio, Palace Theatre
The Exorcist is now generally considered an American classic. In 2010 it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.

In the middle of the controversy was Mr. Hatch, and one can sympathize with the tough position he was in. The film was, after all, already a blockbuster, and he stood to make money by showing the film. (According to Todd Berliner’s 2010 book Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema, the film was the third highest grossing movie of the 1970s. Only Star Wars and Jaws earned more money.) Of course, Mr. Hatch also must have felt a great amount of pressure not to show the film: The petition presented to Marion City Council had an estimated 8,000 signatures.

In the end, it seems Mr. Hatch decided to go ahead and run the film since a number of Marionites remember seeing it there. Ironically, because of the film’s terrifying portrayal of the devil, it may have actually caused an increase in the number of people turning up at church around that time. As Mary Ann Grimes Witt puts it, “My brother, Al Grimes, saw it at the Palace. I remember he came home and was so moved by the movie [that] he re-found his religion that day!”