Skip to main content

Dr. James Howard Snook

Dr. James Howard Snook

Dr. Snook with his gunDr. Snook was among the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Psi Fraternity's "Founding Fathers", his name appearing on the Charter. He was part of the United States pistol team who won an Olympic gold medal in 1920 at Antwerp. A 1908 graduate from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Snook returned as faculty to the College after a brief stint at Cornell University. He married in 1922, and continued his career as a Professor and an equine surgeon.

Dr. Snook is famous as the inventor of the "Snook hook", a novel spay hook.

In his personal life, Dr. Snook earned a reputation as a taciturn, somewhat reclusive man. His colleagues later remarked that not many had really known him. He didn't seem the kind of man to throw it all away for a woman half his age.

In the summer of 1926, Dr. Snook met Theora Hix, a 21 year-old coed who was enrolled in Medical School and working for the College of Veterinary Medicine as a stenographer to earn her tuition and board at a dormatory on the OSU campus. Stranded by one of Columbus' frequent summer thunderstorms, Theora and another secretary accepted a ride from Dr. Snook to their rooms at Mack Hall.

Eventually, Theora and Dr. Snook began a steamy affair, which was a most poorly-hidden secret among the small, close-knit community of the Veterinary College. The Dean of the College later testified that Dr. Snook's work began to take a turn for the worse as he apparently became increasingly distracted by Theora.

By early 1929, the lovers had rented a little lovenest (in Snook's real name) on Hubbard Avenue. Even in this endeavor, Dr. Snook demonstrated his frugal nature by insisting on a less comfortable room because it cost a dollar a week less. Theora and Dr. Snook enjoyed taking long automobile rides in his Ford coupe and practicing pistol shooting. Snook had given Theora a pistol three years earlier when she told him that she was awakened one night by an intruder in her first-floor dorm room. As to the events of June 13, 1929, we have only Dr. Snook's account, as there were no other surviving witnesses.

Dr. Snook's weaponsOn that evening, Dr. Snook had picked up Theora, taken her by the Hubbard Avenue room, then to the Scioto Country Club to retrieve his shooting glasses and finally to a rifle range a short distance away. He testified that she had been very angry about his plans to take his family to visit his mother in South Lebanon, Ohio... so angry, in fact, that she allegedly threatened not only Dr. Snook but his wife and daughter's lives as well. She suddenly reached for something in her purse as she stepped out of the car.

We shall never know Theora's true intentions that warm summer night, as Dr. Snook, reportedly startled by her sudden motion and frightened that she was reaching into her purse for the little Remington derringer he had given her, reached out for the first object he could find to defend himself: the ball peen hammer pictured to the left. He brought it crashing down upon Theora's brunette head. She struggled to get away (Snook later testified that he thought she was leaving to kill his wife and daughter), but Snook struck her again and again with the flat of the hammer as she reportedly cursed him.

Finally, Dr. Snook struck her with a stunning blow, and she fell semiconscious at his feet. "She was moaning. I didn't want to see her suffer." Snook later testified. To ease her suffering, Dr. Snook withdrew the small pocket knife pictured above from his pants, opened it, and reached over and cut her jugular vein. After a few more movements, her struggling ceased.

Dr. Snook, apparently in shock at what he'd done, left a broad trail of evidence leading toward himself, including tire tracks matching his car, blood stains in Theora's type in his car, more blood on his clothing, and Theora's broken keychain and keys left at the murder scene which led police to her safe deposit box and bank accounts (which contained more money than Snook's yearly salary, convincing the police that she had a generous boyfriend). The police's suspicions were proved right when the landlady from the Hubbard Avenue lovenest identified a photo of Theora as "Mrs. Snook". Perhaps most damning was a hat, exactly matching one her friends testified that Theora had worn her last night alive, which was found inside Snook's Hubbard Avenue room.

Dr. Snook at trialThe trial began on July 24, 1929. For weeks, it dominated the local press, and national news services sent reporters to Columbus' Franklin County Courthouse to cover the sensational trial (at which Snook is pictured to the left). The verdict, however, was never really in doubt. After deliberating for only 28 minutes, Snook's jury convicted him of the murder. Judge Henry L. Scarlett sentenced Snook to die in the State's electric chair at the Ohio Penitentiary (a site which was recently in the news in Columbus as the proposed location for a stadium and arena which Columbus voters turned down in May, 1997.).

Dr. James Snook was executed on February 28, 1930.