William Sproat and Mary Jane Petry, Bowled Over

Posted: October 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

Rule 34 of the internet: if it exists there is porn of it. No exceptions.

Look upon my affliction, ye mighty, and despair.
For there is no object so banal—fudge, ball point pens, barbecue forks, red lipstick, wiener dogs—that the mere mention of its existence fails to saturate my brain with images of slayings past.
I am not proud of this fact nor am I ashamed of it; it simply is.
I consider this pathology my own personal Rule 34: if it exists it reminds me of murder.
The homicide, for example, currently caroming through my cerebellum was called to mind by the most commonplace of NYC objects: an invitation to a party at a hipster bowling alley.
You may consider that a spoiler or foreshadowing, as you wish.

[A Note on Sources, or A Blogger’s Lament: the reportage on this case is an omnishambles.
Every media outlet has different, often contradictory, details.
I will to adhere to facts as best I can and intersperse with discrepancies and counterstatements as warranted.
Variations of detail in initial crime reportage are common but in most cases ironed out straightaway—in this instance, for reasons unknown, the narrative failed to gel.  Journalists, bless their feckless hearts, never fail to disappoint me.]

William Sproat and Mary Petry

Mary Petry and William Sproat weren’t supposed to be in Columbus the weekend of February 27th, 1970 but they were.

The couple, both French majors and aspiring teachers, attended different Ohio universities: William, age 23, was a first-year graduate student at Ohio State University in Columbus;
Mary, age 20, was a junior at Saint Joseph College in Cincinnati, approximately 90 miles away.
The pair had been introduced by mutual friends in 1968 while attending a performance of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; they had dated exclusively the two years since.
William had originally been scheduled to visit Mary in Cincinnati the weekend of the 27th but requested a last-minute change of plans—he had a paper due and Mary agreed to travel to Columbus instead.
This seemingly-inconsequential decision would ultimately prove fatal for both.

Murder House by Day

Late Friday afternoon Mary carpooled with classmates to a Holiday Inn just outside Columbus; she then took a taxi to William’s off-campus apartment located at 178½ West 8th Avenue.
The cabdriver, subsequently cleared by authorities, watched her enter William’s residence at 6pm.
Mary was a nice girl and in 1970 nice girls didn’t cohabitate outside of wedlock;
thus at 7:30pm Mary—described as “deeply religious, very quiet, very gentle”—phoned a female friend, presumably from William’s apartment, to confirm she’d be by later to spend the night.
The fates had other plans.

“They (William and Mary) were clean, neat, and what would be called ‘square’ nowadays.” Columbus Police Lieutenant Robert Ruddock, Akron Beacon Journal, March 3rd, 1970

Murder House by Night

William’s roommate had made plans to sleep elsewhere and none of the other tenants at 178½ West 8th Avenue were home that evening;
if a hue and cry was raised no one was present to hear it.
At 10pm a third-floor tenant came home and noticed the door to William’s apartment—unit #C, second floor—ajar;
he declined to investigate.
The following afternoon—at either 12:15 or 1pm, depending on the source—William’s roommate Tom Mcguigan, a childhood friend, returned home, the door still ajar,
and found his apartment transformed into an abattoir.

“It was a typical college boy’s apartment, banners and things all over the walls.” Columbus Police Captain Francis B. Smith, New York Daily News, March 1st, 1970

Although the published information is frequently contradictory these few facts are (mostly) agreed-upon: the only items missing from the scene were a gold throw rug and a small amount of cash from the couple’s wallets.
The only item moved in the apartment,
a large stuffed chair, had been positioned against a window to pin the curtains closed.
Mary was found face-up on a bed in one of the bedrooms and William was found face-down on the bathroom floor.
The murder weapons, both originating in the apartment, were located near Mary:
a butcher knife with a 7½ inch blade and a cudgel fashioned from a crutch and a bowling ball, the Rule 34 trigger object du jour.

Further reportage presents some minor variations: William was hogtied wrists-to-ankles with wire hangers which may have been tightened with pliers;
some sources report he also had a wire hanger wrapped around his neck.
Whether the assailant came equipped with pliers or happened upon a pair at the scene is unknown.
Some unspecified effort had been undertaken to make William comfortable—I presume his head had been placed on a pillow—and he’d been gagged with a strip of cloth, origin unclear.

Newspaper accounts regarding the state of affairs in the bedroom differ widely. Mary had, according to some sources, been trussed with rope bindings later removed from the scene;
other sources report she’d been bound with with wire hangers à la William.
Mary’s blouse was tucked neatly into her skirt, most sources agree, but other specifics concerning her state of dress diverge;
she is sometimes described as fully clothed and sometimes as nude from the waist down.
Mary had been garroted and her throat cut, according to some sources, and she may have been gagged with an unspecified binding.
A veritable profusion of contradictions and misinformation, the reporting on this case is.

“There wasn’t any great struggle; the apartment was not torn up.” Columbus Police Lieutenant Robert Ruddock, Dayton Daily News, March 1st, 1970

The clashing reportage persists through the couple’s autopsies: both William and Mary had been stabbed in the back but the precise number of wounds—generally, but not uniformly,
described as 15-20 per victim—-varies by publication.
According to the Philadelphia Daily News  Franklin County Coroner William Adrion deemed the couple’s lacerations “very deep” and “in a sort of pattern.”
Mary’s skull had been crushed by repeated blows with the bowling ball bludgeon;
some sources state William was beaten with this weapon as well,
others claim he’d been kicked in the head.
Neither victim had biological matter under his or her fingernails and neither exhibited any type of defensive injury.
By the time they realized they were in danger, it seems, it was already too late for the couple to fight back.

The results of Mary’s rape kit are (predictably) unclear. Some sources state she’d been sexually assaulted while others state she had not—a Schrodinger’s rape, if you will.
Indicia of sexual assault notwithstanding,
investigators believe sex was the precipitating motive for the homicides.
William and Mary—with no known enemies and no previous romantic partners—appeared to have been targeted at random.
A rapist with a similar modus operandi was prowling the area and investigators believe a connection may exist between the string of sexual assaults and the couple’s murder.

According to OSU student newspaper The Lantern, the rapes and Sproat-Petry homicides were linked by the assailant’s lack of foreplanning—he utilized only items found at the scene—and an affinity for bondage:
three of the six rape victims had been bound and one had also been gagged.
The rapist, according to survivors, gained entry by asking to use the telephone;
if that ruse failed he asked to borrow writing implements to leave a note for a neighbor.
When the victim reopened the door to hand over pen and paper he attacked.
The Columbus Police Department released a composite of the rapist based upon the assault victims’ descriptions;
a forensic link between the rapes and Sproat-Petry murders, if one in fact exists, has never been publicized.

The media coverage, unfortunately, isn’t the only botched aspect of the Sproat-Petry murders; the Columbus Police Department, as so frequently happened in decades past,
bungled the initial forensic investigation.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification, called in four days after the murders, found several bloody fingerprints the CPD technicians somehow missed.
Despite this blunder evidence found at the scene was apparently well-preserved; as technology improved biological matter belonging to the assailant was isolated and a DNA profile created.
A 2008 article in the Columbus Dispatch  revealed the killer’s DNA has been entered into CODIS but the sample has not yet been linked to an offender.

“If we had been able to employ the technology back then that we have today we would have stood a much better chance of solving the case.” Ron Price, 30-year veteran of the Columbus Police Department, The Lantern, July 9th, 2000

I have no idea if these witnesses are reliable—their accounts appear only in the student newspaper—but two incidents occurred in the hours before the crime which may have been related to the homicides.
A female student reported fending off an attempted home invasion—surrounding circumstances unknown—and a local paperboy reported an odd sighting on the murder house’s front porch.
The paperboy, as reported in The Lantern,
delivered papers to one of the 178½ West 8th Avenue tenants and at approximately 8pm he attempted to enter the building to collect his wages.
An unfamiliar man barred his entry: “Get the hell out of here,” the stranger reportedly said,
and the paperboy complied.
The man’s description is absent from The Lantern  archives as is any remarked-upon resemblance to the OSU rapist’s composite.

The final development in the Sproat-Petry murders occurred six days after the crime, on March 5th.
A bloody gold throw rug was discovered in an abandoned Omar Bakery truck located eight blocks from West 8th Avenue;
unspecified evidence indicated the rug had been only recently placed in the vehicle.
William’s roommate Tom McGuigan was unable to definitively identify the rug but did confirm it looked similar to the one missing from the apartment.
The Columbus Police lab was able to determine the rug’s stains were of the same serological type as Mary’s blood but the primitive technology of the time precluded further testing.
Nearly fifty years later the provenance of the Omar Bakery truck rug, as well pretty much every other pertinent detail regarding the Sproat-Petry homicides, is still unknown, unclear, and/or unpublicized.

Also Rule 34: if it exists there are toys of it

When I first became obsessed with crime I believed my knowledge would serve as template for survival—I would identify and avoid the missteps which earned other, less-fortunate victims a one-way trip to the morgue.
As the Sproat-Petry homicides illustrate, however, sometimes there are no missteps—just mundane decisions which culminate in an encounter with a random killer.
I can’t tell you who murdered William Sproat and Mary Petry—hell, I can’t even successfully parse the mangled crime scene reportage—but I can tell you this:
I did not attend the hootenanny at the hipster bowling alley.
An evening spent lobbing murder weapons—envisioning every ball I handled awash in blood and bespattered with brains—seemed too morbid even for me.

In Living Color