The Professor & the Coed

Gribben, Mark. The Professor and the Coed: Scandal and Murder at The Ohio State University.  Charleston, SC; The History Press, 2010.

Does the name Dr. James Howard Snook ring a bell?  It may be a result of this reviewer not being familiar with the general history and folklore of Columbus, but Snook’s story is new to me.  He was an Olympic sharp shooter and pioneering veterinary science researcher at Ohio State in the late 1920s.  But, if remembered at all, it would be for having an affair and murdering med student Theora Hix in 1929, known as the “Crime of the Century” at the time.  Mark Gribben painstakingly puts together all of the pieces of the whole affair in The Professor and the Coed.

As mysteries go, the murder of Theora Hix would make a disappointing 48 Hours episode.  While the sordid details of the affair would fill an interesting segment or two, the Columbus police went from difficulty identifying the body to getting a confession from Snook within several days.  The trial lasted several weeks – Snook’s testimony was very explicit – but the jury deliberated and convicted Snook of first-degree murder (which by state law at the time resulted in execution for all convictions) in about thirty minutes.  There was never any doubt, or mystery, in the crime.

It is the simplicity of the case and the lack of unsolved questions that would typically leave the whole affair as little more than a foot note in a larger work of history – possibly a “Famous Murders in Columbus”.  But Gribbens does a thorough investigation and places the story within the phenomenon of a “Crime of the Century”.  Within the Columbus newspaper market, there a scramble to uncover outrageous details from the crime.  At one point, the prosecution allowed a few papers the chance to interview Snook (not a common practice today).  The other papers then scrambled to make up facts to compete for sales.

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