LIMA — In late August 1948, Lima was in the clammy grip of a heat wave, polio was an ever-present fear and steam-powered locomotives still rumbled through the city.
In the warm early hours of Sunday, Aug. 29, cinders from passing locomotives on the Pennsylvania Railroad settled on the occupant of a car parked near the Hi-Speed gasoline station at Grand and Jameson avenues. When a bus driver found 26-year-old Eloise Rose Snyder’s body at 7:30 a.m., her “face and clothing were covered with cinders,” according to The Lima News.
Allen County Coroner Harry E. Lewis determined a “single knife thrust” to the heart caused death, although initially the wound was not found and investigators thought she’d died of a heart attack. The News reported police found “no blood on her clothing or on a blanket which covered the seat. Her dress was pulled above her knees and her step-ins were around her ankles.” Police later said there was no sexual assault; the body was posed to mislead investigators.
Mrs. Snyder had not been seen since the night before when she and her husband, Richard Earl Snyder, had gone out for a Saturday night on the town.
Richard Snyder was a 26-year-old World War II veteran. A native of Louisville in Stark County, he met Eloise in California near the end of the war and married her in Lima in November 1945. Eloise grew up in Lima and had married a Lima man, Donald E. Mock, in November 1941. Mock went missing during an air raid over Hanover, Germany, in July 1942, and was declared dead in 1944. The Snyders had a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son.
In his statement to police Sunday afternoon, Snyder said he and his wife drove downtown about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, from their home at 825 N. McDonel St. They parked on North Pierce Street near Central High School and walked to the American Legion. Snyder told police he drank a beer while his wife had a Coke. They then walked to the Ohio Theater on West North Street. Snyder said he didn’t like the picture playing and told his wife he was going to the Ranger Theater on North Main Street. “It was at the entrance to the Ohio Theater that Snyder last saw his wife alive,” the News reported.
Snyder said he was at the Ranger a short time when a carbuncle (a type of abscess) on his neck bothered him and he left. Snyder told police he walked home from the Ranger, arriving about 9:40 p.m. He said he then helped the babysitter get the children ready for bed before lying down in the upstairs bedroom and falling asleep about 10 p.m. At about 12:40 a.m., Snyder said, he awoke, went downstairs and asked the babysitter if his wife had called.
According to the News, Snyder told police he called his father-in-law, Carl McMillen, and also one of his wife’s aunts about his wife. He also called the bus driver, a family friend, and asked him to keep an eye out for her. The bus driver found her Sunday morning while driving his regular route. In his statement to police, Snyder said he and his wife had argued about money, though “only word battles.” Neighbors and relatives told police Snyder and his wife argued “over sexual and money matters.” Snyder, they said, had threatened to shoot his wife.
Lima police took several knives from the Snyder residence. These, along with the dress and brassiere Mrs. Snyder was wearing, were sent to the FBI for testing.
Cooler air from Canada brought relief to Lima in time for Mrs. Snyder’s funeral on Wednesday. Snyder was arrested by Lima detectives as he walked with his parents away from his wife’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, near Ohio City. According to the News, he was grilled for 15 hours, consistently denying he’d murdered his wife. He also, the News reported, consistently refused to take a lie detector test.
That same day, Sept. 1, Lima Police Chief Kermit Westbay, hinted at the possibility Mrs. Snyder was drugged before her death. Westbay advised the dead woman’s father to demand that coroner Lewis preserve her punctured rib and heart. McMillen’s brother, a lawyer, advised him to also request removal of certain parts of her stomach. On Aug. 31, Westbay had complained that the time of death could not be ascertained because the body was embalmed at Lewis’ funeral home 12 hours after it was found. Lewis, who was not a physician, said the body was embalmed only after he was unable to locate a doctor to perform a timely post mortem. Lewis added the purpose of the autopsy was to determine the path of the knife wound and embalming had no effect on this. Lewis also denied charges nine hours elapsed before it was known Mrs. Snyder had been murdered. He said cause of death was established within an hour after the body was found.
On Sept. 5, Snyder’s attorney, Charles W. Long, demanded police produce some tangible evidence of Snyder’s guilt or release him, a demand Long would repeat several times over the next month. Westbay would repeatedly reply he was awaiting results from the FBI crime lab.
New evidence surfaced Sept. 7, the News reported, when police using a “mine detector” obtained from the crime laboratory in Columbus “unearthed a knife which may prove to be the weapon used in the murder.” The knife was found in a field about 250 feet from the spot where Mrs. Snyder’s body was found.
On Sept. 11, the News reported two Lima detectives attempted to extract a confession from Snyder by grilling him beside his wife’s grave. “The visit to the grave was made last Tuesday, shortly before midnight,” according to the article. “The only persons present in Woodlawn, located on the outskirts of Ohio City, were Detectives Bernard Burkart and Waldo Stevick and Snyder. The suspect denied vigorously the accusation that he killed his wife, Burkart said.”
McMillen, Eloise Snyder’s father and executor of her estate, said in a News story Sept. 14 that her estate was worth $18,500. Her will left $300 to the parents of her first husband and the remainder to her parents. The following day, police hinted that money was the motive for the murder.
Westbay received the FBI report on the knives and clothes Sept. 18. Although mum on the details, Westbay said the information was vital. He also claimed he had an “ace,” although he wouldn’t tell the News what it was.
Snyder and Long scoffed and told the News on Oct. 10 they didn’t believe the grand jury would hand up an indictment. On Oct. 21 it didn’t, and Snyder was freed. Westbay said police had presented no evidence and had requested a continuance of the case to permit his department to follow up vital new leads. Jurors denied the request, he said.
Three days after Snyder was freed, the News editorialized: “Failure of public officials to lay their cards before an Allen County grand jury studying the death of Eloise Rose Snyder climaxes one of the most pitiful exhibitions of law enforcement in recent history.
“The bungling started with the finding of the body last Aug. 29,” the editorial continued. “It has continued since then on almost every side. In some instances it probably was lack of ability. In some it was lack of foresight. In some the only reasonable answer seems to be lack of interest.”
Snyder on Oct. 27 filed writ to gain possession of two insurance policies on his wife worth a total of $4,000 being held by her father.
Next: The chief plays his “ace,” Snyder is finally indicted and things get weird.