The Snyder case: A 1948 murder, final part

May 22, 2013

LIMA — Richard E. Snyder was eating breakfast at his mother’s home in Louisville, Ohio, on Nov. 27, 1948, when two Lima Police Department investigators came calling with a warrant for his arrest.

Since an Allen County grand jury a month earlier had refused to indict the 26-year-old on first-degree murder charges in the death his wife, Snyder had reunited in Louisville with the couple’s two children and accepted a job at a Ford Motor Co. plant in nearby Canton. Now, Snyder was headed back to Lima to again face a first-degree murder charge and he was not happy, telling the investigators he was “tired of being horsed around.”

Eloise Rose Snyder, 26, was found dead early on Aug. 29, 1948, in the family car near the intersection of Grand and Jameson avenues, a single stab wound to her heart. Richard Snyder, who told police he last saw his wife alive the night before in downtown Lima, was arrested Sept. 1, 1948, while walking away from her grave in Ohio City. But police failed to produce any evidence for the grand jury and Snyder walked, despite protests from Lima Police Chief Kermit Westbay that more time was needed to develop vital evidence.

That evidence included several knives, including a hunting knife found near the scene, the heel of one of Richard Snyder’s shoes and several articles of Eloise Snyder’s clothing. There also were tissue and bone samples from Eloise Snyder that were sent off for analysis. On several occasions, authorities hinted drugs may have been involved. Westbay also claimed police held an “ace.”

The “ace,” it turned out, was Richard J. Immel, 28, a friend of Snyder’s from Louisville, who was being held in protective custody. According to a Dec. 4, 1948, article in The Lima News, “Immel came to Lima about a week after he read of the murder in a Cleveland paper. He said he contacted Long (defense attorney Charles W. Long) and said he had been sent to Lima by friends of Snyder in Louisville to aid the murder suspect.”

However, the article documenting Snyder’s appearance at a preliminary hearing in Lima Municipal Court continued, “The witness (Immel) testified that it was while he paid a visit to Snyder at police headquarters that the prisoner by his attitude ‘intimated’ to him that he killed his wife.”

Snyder was bound over to the grand jury on Jan. 13, 1949, although, according to the News, the state’s ace was turning into a joker. “Immel said he based his deduction (that Snyder killed his wife) on the fact that Snyder told him he needed $500 to fight the case,” The News reported. “He later said he merely was theorizing and was not sure Snyder made the reported confession.”

Snyder’s trial was set for March 14, but the case took a strange turn long before that.

On Jan. 24, 1949, Allen County Common Pleas Judge Moran B. Jenkins, who said he had “received a tip,” found a microphone hidden in a third-floor jury room at the Allen County Courthouse. “The room was used once for consultation purposes by Richard E. Snyder, accused wife murderer, and his attorney Charles W. Long.” The News reported. The microphone was attached to a wire leading to an unoccupied room on the second-floor of the courthouse.

Jenkins immediately named a three-member committee of the Allen County Bar Association to investigate the matter. L. Earl Ludwig, who headed the committee, told the News, “Two questions present themselves. Who did it? Why did they do it?”

The Lima News put in print what everyone was thinking about the “why.” Speculation, the News said, is “it may have been installed in an effort for someone to overhear Long and Snyder while in the room.”

After more than a week of closed-door testimony, the bar association committee put names to the “who.”

“Written charges of criminal contempt of court will be filed soon against Sheriff William H. Daily and two Lima detectives, J. Robert Neely and Richard L. Burkart," the News reported Feb. 8. “The brief report from the committee did not elaborate or reveal any of the evidence that had been collected since the microphone was discovered by the judge on Jan. 24.”

The three had refused on Feb. 4 to testify before the committee, “but rather than testify submitted letters stating they knew nothing about the incident,” the News reported.

A three-judge panel, including Jenkins, who the defense unsuccessfully attempted to have removed, would hear the case. The trial began Feb. 25 with testimony from an electrician and from courthouse employees. Testimony, according to the News, indicated detective Robert Neely obtained either the microphone found in an Allen County Common Pleas jury room Jan. 24, "or one like it’” from Theodore Hover on Jan. 10. Hover was a local motion picture operator and sound engineer.

On March 2, Neely admitted he and Burkart had installed the microphone at 11 p.m. Jan. 21. “Sole purpose of the installation was to record a conference the detectives expected to have Tuesday, Jan. 25, with Richard E. Snyder, Neely said,” according to the News. Neely said the microphone was never used and only he and Burkart knew about it. “Neely testified that he had no intention of listening to jury deliberations or any conversations between Snyder and his attorney, Charles W. Long.” Snyder and Long had used the room Jan. 17.

The trio was found guilty of contempt March 3 and fined $300 each. Neely and Burkart were removed from the Snyder case.

With the sideshow over, attention returned to the Snyder trial, which had been postponed. The trial would never happen. On March 28, 1949, the day his trial was to begin and seven months after he claimed to have last seen his wife alive, the state dismissed the case against Snyder.

Prosecutor I.B. Steele placed blame on Immel, the state’s star witness. “It was not until he began checking Immel’s various statements with one another that he came to the conclusion that Immel would have to be removed as one of the state’s witnesses, Steele said,” according to the News. “Without Immel, Steele said, the state of Ohio could not prove that Snyder killed his wife.”

The newly freed Snyder enjoyed a meal at a downtown steakhouse with his brother Woodrow while waiting for the Pennsylvania Railroad train that would take him back to Louisville. “I just can’t wait until I get my feet under mother’s table and enjoy a meal with Michael John and Barbara Jo (the Snyders’ children),” he said.

In November 1949, the Third District Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of the three law enforcement officers in the “mike case.”

That, however, was not that. One last bizarre chapter would unfold more than four years after Snyder hopped on the train for home.

“A complete review of the ‘Snyder murder case,’ which has baffled Lima police for five years, will start within a few days,” the News reported Oct. 6, 1953. “(Police chief) Westbay says medico-legal experts at a meeting of the Ohio Association of Police Chiefs told him suicide rather than murder may be the solution.” It also was reported for the first time that Eloise Snyder’s body contained a “minimum lethal dose of strychnine.”

“Dr. (Samuel) Gerber (Cuyahoga County coroner) pointed out that if the knife wounds were in the thick portions of the heart, bleeding could have been so slow the woman might have lived some time. Persons with wounds of this this type have been known to walk a quarter mile before collapsing,” according to a wire story on the case. The knife believed used in the stabbing was found 250 feet from the body.

As for the strychnine, Dr. Alan Moritz, a Western Reserve University pathologist, pointed out “it was familiar in suicide cases for the victim to use several different methods in order to make sure the attempt succeeded.”

“Ridiculous,” said former assistant Allen County Prosecutor Clarence G. Fischer, who assisted in Snyder’s prosecution.

“Anyone with a lick of sense knows there’s no truth to the suicide theory,” Charles McMillen, Eloise Snyder’s father, said.

On Oct. 9, 1953, Westbay, responding to the criticism, said he was “merely seeking competent medical advice on a complicated case” and backed off calls for a new investigation. Snyder went home, and the case remains unsolved.