In the town of Coschocton, Ohio teenage thrill seekers flock to a little place known as Murder Ridge. According to the legend, the ghost of a crazed serial killer named Cletus Reese roams the now rarely traveled byway of Route 36 in search of new victims who had the misfortune of crossing his path.
No one’s quite sure how many people Cletus killed. Some say eight, others say as many as 20. Whether it was eight or it was 20, his number of victims doesn’t really matter to the legend, all that matters is that their spirits continue to haunt the land where the Reese farm once stood. The land where Cletus Reese ate his victims, drank their blood and then buried them in a shallow grave, never to be heard from again.
There are whole books dedicated to the long forgotten and allegedly haunted places in Ohio. For anyone who has ever traveled through the Ohio countryside, you’ll understand why. At night the landscape seems to mimic something out of a horror move. The lack of streetlights through the hilly back roads, peppered with dilapidated old farms and the glow from deer eyes peering out at you from the wooded areas makes many rural cities within the state a prime location for a good ghost story.
Most of these local legends turn out to be completely fabricated or based on stories that occurred in another location altogether, but the story of Cletus Reese is a little different. While you may not believe in serial killing ghosts and haunted old farmland, Cletus Reese really was a little known serial killer in the 1950s.
The real story of Cletus Reese and the legend of Murder Ridge began on June 2, 1954. A Fresno school teacher and part-time traveling car salesman named Clyde Patton had mysteriously disappeared while giving a customer a test drive. That customer was found to have been Cletus Reese and it wasn’t long before authorities came knocking on the door of the Reese Farm, after Reese’s sister reported that her brother had just pulled up in a brand new Hudson and sensed something was amiss.
Reese claimed that he had never encountered Mr. Patton, but police still arrested him and took him into custody for questioning while they further investigated the case. After a day of searching, detectives located the body of Clyde Patton buried in a shallow grave. A thick tree branch Reese had used to bludgeon him to death was also located within the area.
With a slam dunk murder case on their hands, authorities told Reese what they had found on his farm. Reese finally admitted to the murder, but claimed that he had gotten into a physical altercation with the man and that he had accidentally killed him.
Investigators and volunteers continued to search the Reese Farm. During their search they uncovered three more bodies, including one body identified as a Danville farmhand who had been reported missing seven months prior to his discovery on Reese’s farm. Reese admitted to investigators that, “this had been going on for a long time.” but refused to say any more than that.
The interrogation continued on until the next day when Cletus finally came clean about the murders, sort of. He rambled to authorities about a woman named “Mrs. Truman” who had ordered him to kill. He claimed that one of his victims was a soldier who he had quarreled with about politics and shot him down with a Smith and Wesson. Evidence showed to the contrary that none of his victims had been shot and all had displayed signs that they had been bludgeoned to death.
As the remains of Reese’s victims continued to be identified, the past of Cletus Reese finally began to unravel. Paul Tish, the first of Cletus’ victims, was a patient who had escaped the Cambridge State Hospital a year prior to his body’s discovery. It would be the discovery of Tish that would provide investigators with a valuable clue into Cletus’ past.
It was learned that several years prior to his arrest, Reese had also spent time in the Cambridge State Hospital. He complained of hearing voices and had displayed a number of other unusual behaviors linked to schizophrenia. After spending some time at the hospital, doctors agreed to allow Cletus to go home under the care of his family. His family thought that maybe Cletus had been cured and life could go back to normal. It wasn’t long before his symptoms came back with a vengeance.
Paul Tish had fled the hospital and looked up his old friend Cletus for a place to stay. That decision would lead to his untimely demise. Other victims were found to have been visitors to the farm that he had picked off indiscriminately at the urging of “Mrs. Truman,” the homicidal voice Cletus claimed was driving him to kill.
Cletus was bound over to the grand jury, but they couldn’t find him guilty of the four first-degree murder charges he was facing. Instead he was ruled to have been suffering from schizophrenia with homicidal tendencies and was sent to live out the rest of his years at the now closed (and subsequently another popular haunt for ghost hunters) Lima State Hospital, where he would die in obscurity in 1966.
Though Cletus may have died 50 years ago, his legend lives on. Halloween night particularly is the night every teenager within the tri-county area flocks to the site known as Murder Ridge in hopes of seeing ghosts and to maybe become the next victim of the serial killing maniac known as Cletus Reese.