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Murder Ridge

Coshocton County, Ohio is known for its rolling hills and the small, canal-era tourist town of Roscoe Village. Thousands of people come here every year for the history and slow, country lifestyle. But one farm in the county holds a dark secret. 

In the 1950's, the disappearance of a teacher/part time used car salesman would wind up bringing the police to the residence of one man who turned out to be a serial killer hiding in plain sight.

Our story starts in 1952, with a World War II vet named Paul Tish.

Paul was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Ohio. His father passed away during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and his mother passed away not long after, leaving him in the Knox County Childrens home. He would be taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Lee Davis after a short stint in the children's home and they would raise him as their own. Paul would fall in love with the Davis's daughter, and they would be married before he joined the Navy and went off to fight in WWII.

During the war, he would serve in Frace, Italy and Okinawa before being discharged. When he returned home, everyone would say he seemed like a different person. Not long after, he would find himself divorced and in need of some mental health assistance. His family tried to help him, but they didn't know what to do and Paul would wind up in the Knox County Home before being sent to the Cambridge State Hospital. 

Paul hated the state hospital and just wanted to be home, leading to multiple escapes. Every time he escaped, he would return home right away and the Davis's would take him back, telling him it was for his own good. On December 8, 1952, Paul would once again escape from the state hospital. His family awaited his return home, ready to take him back, but he would never show up. The days turned into weeks, but Paul seemed to have really disappeared for good this time.

Fast forward to a year later - November 28, 1953.

Lester Melnick is sitting at small restaurant in Danville, Ohio enjoying a nice Saturday lunch. As he eats, he mentions to some of the other patrons that he is planning to meet someone that afternoon. What he is doing and who he is meeting, he will not say. An older man of 58, Lester works as a farm hand on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. James Flack. As he finishes his meal and walks out the door, no one in the shop realizes they just became the last people to see Lester alive.

A search party would be organized when everyone realized Lester was missing, but no leads would surface, and Lester would not be found.

7 months later, on June 2, 1954, Clyde Patton kisses his wife and tells his 4 kids to be good for their mother while he is out working. Climbing in the driver's seat, he is hoping the man he is showing the car to decides to buy it. Though he is a teacher during the school year, Clyde spends his summers selling cars part-time when he isn't spending time with his family. On this particular day he is driving from his home in West Lafayette, Ohio to a small farm in Newcastle Township to show a car to a potential buyer.

The next morning, Coshocton County Sheriff Gilbert Kempf would receive a call from a worried Mrs. Patton. Her husband had not returned the night before and she was worried something had happened. The sheriff would promise to go out and see what he could turn up. Once off the phone with Mrs. Patton, Sheriff Kempf would reach out to the car company that Clyde worked for and find out where he had been going the day before. Writing down the address, the Sheriff would make his way out to the farm of Cletus Reese.

Arriving at the Reese farm, Sheriff Kempf would knock on the door and be greeted by a burly man who looked like he knew what was coming. It wouldn't take much pressure from the sheriff to get Cletus to confess to murdering Clyde Patton.

Clyde Patton.jpg
Found Body 2.jpg
Found Body 1.jpg

Cletus Reese would be arrested for the murder and taken back to the station to be questioned further. Upon hearing of the arrest, Knox County sheriff Paul Cochran would travel to Coshocton County to inquire about the death of Lester Melnick, thinking the two cases may be related based on information gathered following Lester's disappearance. When questioned, Cletus would admit to killing Lester as well, but the details would be hard to get.

Lester's son didn't want to wait for the police to hopefully get the location of his father's body from Cletus and would head to the Reese farm, where the body of Clyde Patton had been discovered 5 days prior on June 5, to search for his father's body. About 200 yards from the main house, the junior Melnick would discover an impression in the dirt that looked like a possible grave and he would contact the sheriff.

Authorities would arrive back on the farm and start digging, uncovering a body that same day. This wasn't the body of Lester Melnick, however, this was the body of someone else. When Reese was brought to identify who was buried there he would only break down, saying that "this has been going on a long time". The initial estimate was that the body had been buried for at least a year.

Lester's body would be discovered two days later, on June 12, after another search was conducted. The body that Lester's son had found on June 10 would be identified on June 14 as that of Paul Tish. Paul's parents had come forward following the news of the unidentified body being found and suggested the authorities reach out to the doctor at the Cambridge State Hospital to help identify him as they were confident it was their son. Dental records would confirm that suspicion. 

1954 Cletus Reese Farm
Modern Day Cletus Reese Farm

Side by side, (left) the Reese farm from above during the investigation in 1954. Arrows indicate where bodies were found. (right) Modern image of the farm from approximately the same angle.

Now suspected of 3 murders, Cletus would be charged with 1st degree murder. But there was some question about his mental state.

 

Cletus had been a patient at the Cambridge State Hospital from August 16 to December 24, 1951 but had been released on a trial basis to the care of his family. While staying at the state hospital he had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, but the doctor that was treating him though that the best thing for him would be interacting with other people. He was also said to be suffering from hallucinations, saying soldiers were attacking and killing people on his land, but the doctor didn't think he was violent.

 

Cletus would be released into the care of his sister, Ethel, who let him stay on a piece of property she owned. This would be the farm he would live at until the day of his arrest.

 

Following the arrest and charges, Cletus was sent to the Lima State Mental Hospital to be evaluated and after 30 days in the institution they would find him mentally insane and unfit for trial. He would remain in the Lima hospital until his death on May 16, 1966. 

Post Arrest.jpg
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