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History Lesson: A Columbus Olympian’s affair ends in murder

Doug Motz Doug Motz History Lesson: A Columbus Olympian’s affair ends in murderPamphlet about the sensational murder. Photo courtesy Doug Motz.
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Pamphlet about the sensational murder. Photo courtesy Doug Motz.

With the Olympics now over and OSU about to begin Fall Semester, I think it is finally time to write about Columbus’ most infamous murder that bridges both. She was Miss Theora Hix, a young OSU co-ed with a bright future that was taken from her on June 13, 1929. He was Dr. James H Snook a professor of veterinary medicine at OSU and a two-time gold medal winning Olympian.

James H Snook was born on September 17, 1879 in West Lebanon, Ohio to a family of well-to-do farmers. He attended Ohio State University and graduated from the Veterinary College in 1908.

After a brief stint as a professor at Cornell, Dr. Snook returned to OSU in 1910 and joined the faculty of the Veterinary College. He is even credited with developing a surgical tool still in use today called the “Snook Hook” that assists with spaying. He became a full professor in 1921.

He was always a terrific shot with a pistol and in 1920, participated in the Antwerp Olympics (They were supposed to have been in Budapest Hungary that year, but since the Austrians, Germans and Turkish were banned as part of their nations’ punishments for WWI, the games were awarded to war-torn Belgium).

Veterinary Hospital Ambulance, 1914. Photo courtesy OSU Archives.

These Olympic games saw the introduction of the now familiar Olympic Flag of 5 inter-locking rings, the Olympic oath and the release of doves signifying peace during the opening ceremonies. He was so good that he actually took home two gold medals – one in the 30 meter military pistol and one in the 50 meter with a win over the team from Greece – in the 7th Olympiad of the modern era.

Poster for the Olympic games. Photo courtesy Doug Motz.

After his return to Columbus, he married 6th grade teacher Helen Marple of Newark at the King Avenue United Methodist Church on September 11,1922. They had one child, Mary “Jill” Snook. In her book, Gold Medal Killer, Judge Theresa Liston describes the pair as:

…a good match. He was meticulous. He liked order and consistency. His clothes, he insisted, were to be kept impeccably clean and neat, and she willingly met his demands, being fastidious herself. She saw to it that the tidy, parsimonious professor always had a clean, starched collar, even when he was going to be on the shooting range. In competition he most often wore a three-piece suit and a flat cap or fedora, as did many of the other shooters of the day.”

James Snook and Theora Hix (inset). Photo courtesy NYDN.

But as the saying goes, sometimes still waters do lie very dark and deep. Enter OSU co-ed Theora Hix. They met when she was doing stenography work for the Veterinary school in June of 1926. She was 22 and he was 45.

Apparently, it must have been lust at first sight for the two of them became lovers 3 weeks after that initial meeting. According to Nancy Patzer writing in the September 1999 Short North Gazette:

Theora told the doctor that she was more knowledgeable about sexual matters than he was, and that he’d better “read up” about the subject. She offered titles of several books such as The Art of Love, a book written by a physician, for Snook to study, and he did.

The affair continued for the better part of 3 years and included the duo renting out a room at 24 West Hubbard Avenue. They told the landlady that they were salt sales folks and that they were married. Dr. Snook even used a variation of his own name (Howard Snook) when leasing the room.

Many accounts tell of a sort of dual-personality in Miss Hix. One being the demure co-ed, described in her High School yearbook as “quiet and un-assuming” who played tennis and was asked to be a sort of stand-in housemother to the girls in her rooming house at OSU.

The other personality described was of an aggressive, slightly sadistic woman with an over-large appetite for sex. It is also well documented that while having the affair with Dr. Snook, she often brought up her boyfriend Marion Meyers’ sexual superiority and larger penis size to him, which she claimed gave her greater satisfaction.

Perhaps she continued to maintain an interest in and dominance over Dr. Snook as he could provide her with a private chamber for their affair as well as supply her with the drugs she was interested in experimenting with.

During the trial, Professor O V Brumley of the OSU Vet School testified that he had seen bottles of Catharis vesicatoria (Spanish Flies) and cannabis indica in Dr. Snook’s office and that they were used in Vet Medicine. In the course of his testimony he admitted they were also used as aphrodisiacs.

Dr. Snook also told interviewers of the abnormal sex interest maintained by his mistress, hinted at the use of drugs and during one interview chronicled in the pamphlet The Murder of Theora Hix:

Our affair was not a silly love interest. It was practical and pleasing to us both. I never loved Miss Hix and she did not love me. She served my purpose and I served hers.

In every account I have seen, Dr. Snook was allegedly in the process of ending the relationship and on the night of June 13, 1929 – the pair drove to the west side to the New York central rifle-range in “Shirt-tail” alley a known make-out spot of the time. (Today it is better known as the James Jackson Police academy).

During one last fling in his 1928 Model T coupe, the pair got high, became overly aggressive and she was allegedly verging on doing serious, permanent damage to his genitals when he pleaded with her to stop. We will never know what her response was, but he could take it no longer and grabbed a ballpein hammer from the back of the car and proceeded to strike her 3-4 times in the head.

Snook's car where the murder occurred. Photo courtesy Doug Motz.

When he realized what he had done, he expertly slit her throat with his pocket-knife in a final act to prevent her from a more painful and prolonged death.

Events then snowballed quickly.

On June 14, Paul Krumlauf and Milton Miller discovered her body. Her remains were then identified by her roommates Beatrice and Alice Bustin of 1658 Neil Avenue and the following day, June 15; Dr. Snook was arrested at his home.

On June 16, Miss Hix’s parents arrived from Florida to bury their only child. On June 18, OSU President Rightmire dropped Dr. Snook from the OSU faculty and on June 20, after a great deal of grilling by the police, Dr. Snook confessed to the murder. He was indicted on June 22 and the trial was set for July 22.

To say that the trial was the greatest sensation of the summer of 1929 is an understatement. Hundreds if not thousand lined up to watch the proceedings. The national media descended on Columbus in droves to cover this infamous case. Genius Columbus Dispatch cartoonist, Billy Ireland, wanted the public to become more interested in the opening of the new Airport but to no avail.

The trial moved very swiftly and was concluded on August 14, 1929. After deliberating for only 28 minutes, the jury of 11 men and one woman came back with the conclusion that Dr. James Howard Snook was guilty of murdering Miss Theora Hix.

Old Sparky. Photo courtesy the Daily Mail. Dr. James Snook. Photo courtesy Ohio Department of Corrections.

On February 28, 1930 at 7:00, PM after a last meal of fried chicken, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, ice cream and coffee, Dr. Snook was executed in the electric chair at the Ohio Penitentiary by 2,000 volts of electricity over the course of 3 minutes. International News Service reporter H T Hopkins wrote of the execution:

“The fists drew up in knots and the bald head blistered terribly from the heat of the thunderbolt. Thin wisps of smoke curled up from the electrodes on his head and leg. The smell of burned human flesh pervaded the chamber into which two score people had crowded to watch the man die.”

Whether or not Dr. Snook acted in self-defense or if in fact, Miss Hix had exerted pressure over him to continue the affair, we will never know.

What I can say is that this sad chapter of Columbus history captivated people then and now in a way that is difficult to ignore.

For more information, please check out:

Gold Medal Killer by Theresa Liston

The Professor and The Co-ed by Mark Gribben

The Murder of Theora Hix – The Uncensored Testimony of Dr. Snook.

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