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'Mary and Bill' podcast digs into a 50-year-old Ohio State cold case

A black and white photo, circa 1970, of three police officers wearing uniforms and caps typical of the time period. Two of the men are carrying a stretcher with a blanket-covered body. The third walks behind the stretcher, carrying a clipboard.
Columbus Dispatch
Columbus police carry out the body of Mary Petry. Justin Glanville spent three years researching her death and that of her partner Bill Sproat to make the podcast "Mary & Bill: An Ohio Cold Case."

The new podcast Mary and Bill: An Ohio Cold Case looks at the murder of two college students, Mary Petry and Bill Sproat, that happened in early 1970 near Ohio State’s campus. The case has gone unsolved for fifty-plus years, but as he created the podcast, creator and host Justin Glanville found out the police have made new progress and recently identified a person of interest.

The first episode of the six-part series was released today. Glanville joined Today from The Ohio Newsroom to talk about why he pursued the story and what he discovered.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The inspiration for the podcast

"When I was growing up, my parents would bring this case up sometimes, because they were friends with Bill Sproat, the male victim. So about three years ago, I decided to poke into it. The first thing I found out was that it had never been solved. I began to wonder why and I also wanted to know, was it still possible to solve it and what would it take."

 A young man stands in front of a fireplace, with tchotchkes lining shelves behind him. He is clasping one arm with his other hand and smiling at the camera.
courtesy of Pat Sproat Loeliger
Bill Sproat stands in his parents' living room in Havertown, Pennsylvania, circa August 1969.

The goals of the project

"I was not setting out to solve the case. I really was hoping to bring new attention to the case. I hope that one outcome of putting this podcast out into the world is that someone’s memory is sparked. Another goal I had was from the act of producing the podcast -- asking questions of the police, of others -- I hoped that that would bring new attention from the police on the case. And that, in fact, is what happened. The police have been really actively looking into what evidence still exists, the DNA that exists."

The family’s search for answers

"A lot of the momentum that has been built through the act of working on this is because I partnered really early on with the two sisters of the victims. They’ve been the ones, as we’ve worked on this together, to push the police to really pay attention to this. One of the things that Martha Petry and I found out together early on is that the police do believe the case can be solved and they even have a person of interest."

A woman kneels next to a dog, her head near its face. She has a hand on its ear and is smiling at the camera.
courtesy of Martha Petry
Mary Petry cuddles with the family dog, Jody, during a visit to Portsmouth in December 1969.

The connections throughout Ohio

"Obviously it happened in Columbus, but Mary was originally from Portsmouth, Ohio and was studying at what’s now Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. At the time, it was a women’s college. Bill had been an undergrad at Xavier University, also in the Cincinnati area, and had a lot of friends from there. And then some of their friends, and my parents, live in Northeast Ohio. That’s why I’m really glad we’re doing it as a collaboration with the Ohio Newsroom and that it will go out statewide, because this case really touches a lot of different angles in Ohio and it’s possible that people living in any part of the state might have memories."