It’s an account of sex, drugs and murder that sent an Ohio State professor to the electric chair — but it’s a story that many on the OSU campus don’t know.
Mark Gribben, a Columbus author, is reviving an 80-year-old crime story in his new nonfiction book. Titled “The Professor and the Coed,” Gribben’s work tells of Theora Hix, a 24-year-old medical student, and Dr. James Howard Snook, an OSU veterinary professor. The married professor, who was having an affair with Hix, was put on trial for hammering his secret lover to death on West Campus in 1929.
Gribben, who formerly wrote freelance articles for Court TV’s website, found the case while searching for ideas to give the company. He proposed the idea to Court TV but was rejected. Still finding the case interesting, Gribben kept it in mind and later decided to cover it in a book of his own.
“I’m particularly interested in crimes that are unusual or, you could say, forgotten,” Gribben said. “I’m not interested in Charles Manson or Ted Bundy. That stuff has been gone over and over again. I’m interested in looking for crimes that have been forgotten by history.”
Gribben was further inspired to write the book because the spot of the crime was only a drive away.
“Living in Columbus, I could go to the scene of the crime,” Gribben said. “I could stand on the spot where Snook beat Hix with a hammer. I could stop by the house where Hix lived.”
Because the case took place in 1929, getting firsthand accounts of the trial was impossible. Gribben found himself alone on the project, with only the help of old newspapers.
“It was front page news all across the country because it was so sensational,” Gribben said. “It was everything readers wanted to read — it had sex, drugs and murder. It was the perfect news story.”
At the time of the trial, Gribben said the courtroom was filled with 40 newspaper reporters. The case was covered nationally and dominated the local press, according to OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine website. Because there was so much interest in the case, Gribben said the reporters went together and hired their own stenographers.
“The Columbus Dispatch actually ran the daily transcripts in their newspaper,” Gribben said. “Just by reading the newspapers I had access to the transcripts. It was just really amazing for a historian, to an author, to be given a gift like that.”
After about a year of work, Gribben researched and put together “The Professor and the Coed,” his third published book on crime. The local writer said the book has been well-received.
“I’ve had a couple of book signings at the local Barnes and Noble,” Gribben said. “Not to toot my own horn, but it’s selling well. I’m pleasantly surprised.”
In addition to being an author, Gribben, who graduated from Michigan State University, runs markgribben.com. The website, where he features crime stories, gets about 20,000 visitors a month. Like his new book, the website specializes in old crime.
“I think these are the interesting stories,” he said.
“True crime is a lot of what people are interested in. A lot of these fascinating old crimes get forgotten.”
Gribben said he is working on a book that focuses on a crime that took place in Cincinnati but says he will not put Columbus out of the running for future ideas.
“There are a lot of interesting cases here in Columbus,” Gribben said. “It’s not crime city, USA, but the area has an interesting past. Columbus has a lot of interesting skeletons in (its) closet.”
“The Professor and the Coed” was released to bookstores mid-June and is also available online.