Who Murdered Dr. Roby?

On Friday night, September 18, 1931, Dr. Harry G. Roby had just arrived home for the evening. Shortly after 8:00, Dr. Roby pulled into his garage and exited his Plymouth sedan. Carrying several magazines, a newspaper, and a small parcel, Roby had just reached the threshold of the garage when he was struck in the head with a two-foot-long, one and one-half inch thick piece of galvanized pipe. Roby received two more blows as he lay on the ground. Any one of the three would have been fatal. Two boys, Robert Logan and Robert Hunter, friends of Roby’s son, Harry Jr., discovered the body and ran to the front door to tell Roby’s wife, Hazel. A gruesome scene met Mrs. Roby when she left to investigate the boys’ discovery. A short time later, the residence at 516 South Main Street was abuzz with police and neighbors looking for answers.

Harry George Roby was born on September 30, 1888, in Rochester, New York to Frank Roby and Rose Doherty. The 1910 U.S. Census reported he was working as an errand boy for a motor company in Rochester. Three years later, Roby was in Cincinnati, Ohio, a graduate of the Cincinnati School of Dentistry, and recently married to Florence Koester. The couple had one daughter, Rita Mae, but three years later the marriage fell apart. Florence divorced Harry and sued for alimony and custody of Rita Mae. The following year, Dr. Roby was practicing in Toledo, Ohio, and married his second wife, Hazel Shoemaker, on August 8, 1917. Harry Roby Jr. was born August 24, 1918, and on January 11, 1920, a daughter, Mary Lou, was born in Toledo, Ohio, and a short time later the family moved to Elyria, Ohio.

Around 1921 Dr. Roby and his family moved to Mansfield, Ohio. On October 14, 1921, an ad appeared in the Mansfield News announcing the opening of his new dental office. The office was located at 63 ½ North Main Street above Lucas Bros. Drug Store. Roby would also become involved in the local boxing scene by promoting bouts and managing local bantamweight, Al Dundee, briefly in 1925. On April 13, 1925, Roby was able to arrange a bout between Dundee and Frankie Gerano at the Coliseum in Mansfield, Ohio. Gerano had won gold in the Olympics in 1920 and was the current flyweight champion. Gerano won the contest in 12 rounds. The Robys had another son, James, on January 19, 1927 By all appearances, Roby led a happy, prosperous life. He had a successful business and was a respected citizen and sportsman, but not all was as it seemed.

On April 6, 1930, Roby’s dental office was robbed. The thieves took teeth valued at $180, gold valued at $75-$80, and a revolver. The next year, on July 25, 1931, Mr. Roby’s wife, Hazel, filed for divorce. Mrs. Roby charged her husband with extreme cruelty and stated that he repeatedly beat her. Mrs. Roby also stated her husband had been guilty of habitual drunkenness for the past three years. A week later, for some unknown reason, the divorce action was withdrawn. Seven weeks later, Dr. Roby would be beaten to death outside his garage. Three theories were considered following his death: 1. Robbery, 2. A hired racketeer who was sent to kill Roby, and 3. Personal vengeance.

The robbery motive was quickly thrown out.  Roby still had $130 in cash, a diamond stickpin, a wristwatch, and $105 in gold on him when his body was found.  It was also questioned why the assassin would deliver two more blows to Roby if robbery was the only motive.  The police had little evidence.  No fingerprints were found on the galvanized pipe and neighbors, even though the area was well lighted, saw nothing unusual on the night of the murder.  A few days later, a friend of Roby’s, an unnamed blond woman, came forward and said that Roby had told her he “was to be put on the spot” soon.  Police believe that the last two weeks of Roby’s life were lived in fear.  It was believed Roby received a letter warning him of his death.  His home and office were searched, but no letter was found.  Numerous people were brought to Mansfield from Toledo to be interviewed about the case.  Little seemed to come from the investigation and very little information was given to the press by police.

In late October, letters were received by Mrs. T. W. Miller, wife of the millionaire president of Faultless Rubber Co. in Ashland, Ohio, which attempted to extort $1,000. The writer threatened that if the Millers failed to pay, their son, Parker, would be kidnapped. Mansfield dentist, Dr. Suter, was questioned and taken into custody for writing the letters. In January of 1932, it was reported in the Mansfield News that James Newsome, a convicted gas station robber, had confessed to murdering Roby. Newsome said he didn’t know why he murdered Roby, but he was just seized with a desire to murder. Later he also admitted to writing the letters to Mrs. Miller. Newsome later rescinded his confession, but handwriting analysis did connect him to the extortion plot. Dr. Suter was exonerated and given a clean slate. Police still felt Newsome was a possible suspect and began to question all his known associates. On February 4, 1932, it was reported that Mrs. Roby and her children were moving back to Toledo, and, in March, Dr. Suter took over Roby’s old office at 63 ½ North Main Street. The case went cold. Nothing else happened with the case until a year later when the galvanized pipe used to murder Roby mysteriously disappeared from the police station.

The case was closed and no longer mentioned in the local newspapers until February of 1956.  25 years later, Mrs. Alma Noblin in Toledo, Ohio was murder in a startlingly similar way.  The victim was found in her basement with five blows to her head.  Nothing was stolen and the murder appeared personal.  Authorities did not believe there was a connection in the cases, but Mrs. Noblin happened to be the sister of Hazel Sortman, the former Hazel Roby.  This murder, like Roby’s, was never solved, adding another layer of mystery to one of the unsolved murders in Mansfield.


Sources:

  1. Mansfield News, 20 SEP 1931, p. 1.
  2. Roby, Dr. Harry G., Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. 
  3. Roby, Harry G., Ancestry.com. Michigan, U.S., Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  4. Mansfield News, 14 OCT 1921.
  5. Mansfield News, 14 APR 1925,  p. 8.
  6. Roby, James Farmer, Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. 
  7. Mansfield News, 26 JUL 1931, p. 10.
  8. Mansfield News, 02 AUG 1931, p. 18.
  9. Mansfield News, 20 SEP 1931, p. 1.
  10. Mansfield News, 22 SEP 1931, p. 1.
  11. Mansfield News, 16 SEP 1932, p. 1.
  12. Mansfield News Journal, 08 FEB 1956, p. 2.

2 thoughts on “Who Murdered Dr. Roby?

  1. Hi Jayson,
    Dr. Roby was my grandfather (though long dead before I was born) and the circumstances surrounding his murder have always fascinated me. My mother was his daughter, Mary. She was quite traumatized by his death, both the manner of it and losing the father who doted on her. We could never get her to talk about it and she rarely talked about her family in general. So most of what I knew as a child was overheard at family functions, etc. Then just once when we kids were adults she said she would tell us what she remembered of her childhood. She wrote it down (too painful to talk directly to us about it and she didn’t want to answer questions) and mailed it to each of us. Wow, they had quite a life while her father was alive! Her dad made bathtub gin and both her mom and dad ran whiskey from Pittsburgh to Cleveland …and got caught and, after paying a “fine” which was really a bribe, were released! And so many more adventures! I wish I could have known him. I had a great menory as a child and when I read her letter I was able to piece together the other info I’d heard before. I wish she had written a book, her life was that interesting.
    Thanks for writing this. To you I’m sure it was just another article, but to me it’s a piece of my life and a mystery that will never be solved.

    Like

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