From the Coshocton Tribune, September 19, 2005


By Kristi Lowe

NEW CASTLE - An advertisement of a stove for sale brought back memories of a time Coshocton County would like to forget.

In the Aug. 22, 2005, edition of Reflections (a Coshocton Tribune publication), an ad read, "WOOD/COAL PARLOR STOVE-belonged to Cletus Reese. $200 obo ..." Janice Newell of Coshocton saw the ad and said there was no way she would ever take the stove.

Cletus Reese is a name that used to strike fear into those who heard it. But today, many have never heard the name.

"I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole," Newell said.

Reese, a 6-foot farmer weighing around 240 pounds, was probably the strongest man in Coshocton County in his time, but seemed like a nice, quiet guy. It was rumored that he had held up the front end of a car so a man could change his tire, and that he could dehorn cattle with the same ease.

According to a June 1954 article in the Tribune, Reese spent four months in 1951 in the Cambridge State Hospital, at the request of relatives. He was dismissed at the end of December on a trial basis, although a record of his case from the hospital revealed "he had a tendency to be violent at times, and at intervals he believed he was an FBI agent or police officer."

Even though Reese's hometown of New Castle knew about the hospitalization, no one gave it much thought. Neighbors did, however, find it peculiar how he often roamed at night, walking across the fields of his 200-acre farm, owned by his sister, Ethel.

On June 4, 1954, at the age of 36, Reese was arrested and held under investigation after the disappearance of a Fresno High School teacher, also a part-time automobile salesman, named Clyde Patton.

Patton had gone to Reese's farm to show him a couple cars. They went for two rides and on the return home from the second ride, Patton was no longer in the car. Reese's sister became suspicious and notified the sheriff.

The next day a body was discovered on Reese's farm. The skull was bashed in by an oak club that was found yards from the body. Reese gave no motive for killing Patton. He just said, "We had a fight and I beat him up."

Evidence later revealed the possibility of more people missing that Reese may have been in contact with.

While looking for a missing Lester Melick on June 13, 1954, a search party found a body that had been buried for more than a year. It was later discovered to be that of 32-year-old Paul Tish, an escapee of a mental hospital.

Within days, the body of 58-year-old Melick was found. He was a farm hand from Danville and had been missing since Thanksgiving the year before. He was seen at a local tavern with Reese, and then disappeared.

Reese finally broke down and admitted to the brutal killings, saying there were only three.

Prosecutor Robert A. Carton entered the charge of first-degree murder and a proposal for Reese to be committed to Lima State Hospital for observation for 30 days.

According to the 25th Anniversary Coshocton County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, Reese was found unfit to stand trial and was sent to an asylum for the criminally insane. The police had no reason to investigate the farm any further, and no other searches were held. Reese died May 17, 1966, at Lima State Hospital due to a heart attack at the age of 48. He is buried in the Darling Run Cemetery in Jefferson Township.

"It terrified me," Newell said of the story.

Newell was shocked to see the ad in the paper and wanted to know what the story was behind it.

Former New Castle resident Danuta Ballinger, now of California, was selling the stove that she obtained through a family member of the infamous Cletus Reese. The stove came straight out of Reese's house and she said it was in the original condition.

"I used it for a really long time," Ballinger said.

Since Ballinger was moving to California she had to sell the stove. It was sold for $100 to a Coshocton resident.

Reporter Kristi Lowe can be reached at 295-3437 or

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