How An Olympic Gold Medalist Died In the Electric Chair

Updated on January 9, 2015
The 1920 Antwerp, Belgium Olympic Games was the first to display the 5 Olympic Rings.
The 1920 Antwerp, Belgium Olympic Games was the first to display the 5 Olympic Rings. | Source

What Happens After the Olympics?

What occurs in the lives of dedicated competitors after their final Olympics events?

For some there is scandal. This is illustrated by four Women's Badminton Pairs in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. All four pairs sandbagged in their preliminary or semi-finals events, performing obviously below their capacities in order to gain an easier match down the line towards the Gold Medal.

All four pairs were disqualified after the required number of warnings were administered. It was sad to watch. It was a particularly bad show, since the pairs included China and South Korea, who lost face for their countries and endured harsh criticism back home after the games. There was punishment awaiting them at home, rather than the national-hero treatment.

The aftermath of the Games can be depressing.

Many competitors begin in early elementary school to practice a sport, before and after school, each weekend day, and everyday during school breaks.

Some athletes leave home to live with their trainers and while they receive academic tutoring, at least a full 8-hour work day is invested into their choice of competitive sport as well. Sometimes, the moms go with their children to live at a gymnastics camp or other training venue.

Entering one or two Olympic Games for competitors is full-time-plus employment, with more than full-time physical, mental, and emotional investment. A sudden stop of effort and dedicated preparation toward winning a single event of only 60 seconds' duration can be a shock. It occur in the most well adjusted competitors.

The post-Olympics shock may be magnified if the athlete comes in 4th Place and does not medal at all after years of work. What might result from such a shock?

Olympic Burnout and Recovery

From time to time, we hear about an Olympic Gold Medalist brought up on drunk driving charges after the end of a grueling Olympics performance. This usually occurs back home during the letdown following prolonged Olympic training and participation. It happened to Oksana Baiul (Winter Games 1994) and Michael Phelps (Summer Games 2008) without lasting calamity, but for someone in the future, driving under the influence might be deadly.

Some ex-Olympians also gain weight, as did the beloved singles skater Oksana, but she lost it eventually, even if the media did call her fat. She also did this despite Russian competitors calling her a criminal for her driving citation. Other sports figures gain weight and become ill as a result.

The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, reports a bout of depression between the Beijing and London Olympic years, with a 25-pound weight gain, an infamous photo of himself and a lit bong, and a loss of interest in swimming.

Increasing numbers of swimmers interviewed alert the public that swimming competitively physically HURTS. It is not easy and the body can only peak so many times before a competitor burns out mentally. After training since an early age and winning numerous medals in four Olympiads (16 years), the Phelps mind and body were likely screaming, "No, we cannot start over and do it again!"

The overall effect was the delay of training for some of the men's swimming events of London 2012. However, Michael avoided further burnout, recovered, and won additional medals in 2012. Not all of the burned out sports competitors fared so well during the Modern Olympics of the last 100 years.

One Gold Medalist committed murder.


10.0 Vaults

Floor Exercise

Life After Competition and Murder Among the Buckeyes

Ohio and The Ohio State University have produced many famous Olympians - over 200 in all and additional Olympic Class competitors each year. Training is hard work and succeeding after competition is over can be harder work.

Among these OSU athletes is the track and field star Jesse Owens, the black man who won four Gold Medals in 1936 Germany in front of Adolph Hitler. After the Olympics, Owens had difficulty finding any living-wage employment.

After attempting several types of careers, Ownes became a racehorse owner.

Other Ohio Olympians have also experienced difficulty in maintaining employment after the Olympics, but still another set has produced successful coaches, business owners, and speakers. This includes the 1984 All Around Women's Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton. She has a happy marriage, a business, a charity foundation, and four children; and she still looks 16!

Jumping ahead to London 2012, the Silver Medal in Women's 3-metre Springboard Synchronized Diving went to Abby Johnston from Upper Arlington/Columbus, Ohio and Kelci Bryant from Duke University. Both seem happy and ready to resume education and careers. We wish that was true for all our athletes.

Who can forget Ohio's LeBron James in the 2012 Summer Games and the controversy surrounding his NBA career? Despite changing teams and moving out of Ohio to the anger of fans, and moving back to the Cleveland team and angering fans again, his future basketball career is sound.

Twins Paul and Morgan Hamm, medalists in Men's Gymnastics had more serious difficulties - Paul with assault against a taxi driver and both with injuries.

Others have experienced shattering life changes of a greater magnitude - including murder.

Gold Medal Winner

Dr. Snook lost control of his life and became a murderer.
Dr. Snook lost control of his life and became a murderer. | Source
Gold Medal Killer: The Shocking True Story of the Ohio State Professor -- an Olympic Champion -- and His Coed Lover
Gold Medal Killer: The Shocking True Story of the Ohio State Professor -- an Olympic Champion -- and His Coed Lover

I find this book captivating in its story telling, opening a window onto facts about OSU staff that I had never imaged before.


Pistols in Belgium and Ohio

After the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, one of the Gold Medal USA Pistol Team members entered into an affair that he felt he could not end.

Ohioan James Howard Snook, born in West Lebanon, Ohio became a veterinarian after, training diligently at the Veterinary School at OSU in Columbus. He made other accomplishments as well, becoming the head of the Veterinary Department and inventing a surgical tool used in animal spaying.

Snook was well accomplished and lived happily, from all appearances, with his wife and family. His life seemed positive for a decade after his wonderful Olympic win, but after seven years, about 1927 before the Stock Market Crash, something was wrong.

Dr. Snook participated in a three-year affair with female medical student Theora Hix.

Alleging that he feared Hix would kill his family (he had taught her to shoot a pistol), Dr. Snook maintained that he hit her in the head with a hammer, slit her throat, and killed her solely in order to protect his loved ones.

The jury did not believe this story -- The ensuring murder trial included graphic descriptions of intimate activities considered shocking and perverse, even in The Roaring Twenties. Also shocking is that Theora Hix reportedly had several other lovers at the same time as she had the affair with the veterinarian. Dr. Snook was executed in Ohio's electric chair at the old Ohio Penitentiary on Neil Avenue in Columbus in February 1930, at the beginning of The Great Depression.

Buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on the Near South Side of Columbus, Dr. Snook's headstone does not list his surname. This omission perhaps is done 1) to protect the name of the veterinary tool he invented - the Snook Hook - or 2) to prevent his grave and body from being vandalized by the public.

Many believe that they have seen the ghost of Dr. James Snook as he haunts Green Lawn Cemetery at night.

Is Green Lawn Haunted by Dr. Snook?

Dr. James Howard Snook was buried in Section 87 at Green Lawn Cemetery after an early morning funeral service at King Avenue Methodist Church, just south of the OSU Campus at King and Neil Avenues, and a few blocks north of the penitentiary. Family disguised his tombstone to read "James Howard. 1879-1930."


  • The Columbus Dispatch Archives; 1930.
  • Ohio Exploration Society. Dr. James Howard Snook. 2000. Retrieved 7-31-2012.
  • The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. James Howard Snook. Retrieved 7-31-2012.
  • Wilson, Rusty. The Ohio State University at the Olympics: A Biographical Dictionary of Athletes, Alternates, Administrators, Coaches and Trainers. McFarland; 2009.

The Ohio State University at the Olympics: A Biographical Dictionary of Athletes, Alternates, Administrators, Coaches and Trainers
The Ohio State University at the Olympics: A Biographical Dictionary of Athletes, Alternates, Administrators, Coaches and Trainers

More information on author Rusty Wilson and the hundreds he interviewed at the web site The book keeps one's attention and educated us about the accomplishments and foibles behind Olympic training and participation.


Dr. James H. Snook Activities Sites

OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Columbus OH:
Veterinary Medicine Library, 1900 Coffey Road # 225, Columbus, OH 43210, USA

get directions

King Ave. Methodist Church:
King Avenue United Methodist Church, 299 King Avenue, Columbus, OH 43201, USA

get directions

Site of the Snooks funeral before dawn. If held later, crowds would have protested a church funeral.

Hubbard Avenue Columbus OH:
W Hubbard Ave, Columbus, OH 43215, USA

get directions

Location of a boarding house that Dr. Snook rented for meeting Theora Hix near OSU Campus Medical Complex.

Fisher Road and McKinley Avenue Columbus OH:
Fisher Rd & McKinley Ave, Columbus, OH 43204, USA

get directions

Site of a weed patch in which Dr. Cnook taught Theora to shoot. Two teenaged boys discovered her body here one day.

Site of the Old Ohio Penitentiary Columbus OH:
W Spring St & Neil Ave, Columbus, OH 43215, USA

get directions

The area now is home to Nationwide Arena and an Entertainment Complex

Greelawn Cemetery:
1000 Greenlawn Ave, Columbus, OH 43223, USA

get directions

An Ohio Historical Area

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Patty Inglish MS


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      • starbright profile image

        Lucy Jones 

        6 years ago from Scandinavia

        I found your hub very interesting. Voted up.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        I agree that the boy's condition might have been medical. I knew him only ages 4-6, but he never seemed to speak or interact with others much or to have much awareness of his surroundings.

        Plus, to enter the Olympics from USA, students must gain admittance into the USA Taekwondo organization, and not all applicants are accepted. Then they have to fight for a spot on a 4-person team. That's not many slots. That all was a big promise to make.

      • Cardisa profile image

        Carolee Samuda 

        6 years ago from Jamaica

        That is so sad. That boy must have some emotional baggage carrying around. That Taekwondo school made a promise they couldn't keep and there is no way to be sure you will have someone in the Olympics unless they display raw talent. This child's problem could be medical.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

        Patty Inglish MS 

        6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        ThoughtSandwiches - Some Asian countries have a proverb that I adopted: "When you reach the top of the mountain, climb higher!" This is a sort of planning for the next dream, I think.

        If you ever see a scene made of cork in a thin glass case in a Chinese restaurant, this is a sort of proverb as well - 'anything perfect is dead.' So, there is always somewhere else to proceed, if we can see where to look for it.

        Michael Phelps felt bad about swimming a race without a medal at all, but he got his sense of humor back and won a couple more in 2012. I think he did so much in Beijing, it is impossible for mind and body to do ALL of that again.

        Cardisa - I think it cannot be an easy life to train for so many years for 1 or a few events to be performed a few times over 8 or 16 years of Olympics. There is not much life except school and sport. Where does one begin afterword, I wonder? It must be disorienting, at least. I hope that Mr. Bolt and the others will be OK.

        Difficult also are some trainers that make promises to a trusting public. In my neighborhood, a morbidly obese child at age 4 (a boy that was constantly overfed by his mom) was recruited into a Taekwondo school that promised 100% that the boy would be in the Olympics in 10 years. After a few years of high-priced training, the school dropped him as untrainable, because of increased obesity. The family moved, but I hope they received help, especially the child, who was not healthy.

      • Cardisa profile image

        Carolee Samuda 

        6 years ago from Jamaica

        Wow, I was glued to every word and I am just realizing what goes on with our athletes after these bigger than life events. Usian Bolt is said to party, drink and become quite the party boy when he's home. Some folks are worried he may not perform at his usual standard. I can imagine Alia Atkinson's feelings right now after a bronze medal slipped just out of her reach.

        As a spectator we assume that these people are fine and when they do something out of the ordinary we say they are just being that way because they are stars. I will never again criticize another athlete who does something weird or out of the ordinary after competing in one of the events.

        There are many who have also committed suicide, go on drugs and become virtually useless. Thanks for sharing this, you really enlightened me.

      • ThoughtSandwiches profile image


        6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

        hi Patty,

        This is very interesting information that I was completely in the dark about. As I was reading it I was caught up in the thought that no matter what your accomplishments in need to keep on striving (rather like...what have you done lately type of thing).

        I can easily imagine how difficult it would be (mentally) to keep pushing after the burnout phase hits. What do you do after you reached the pinnacle of your dream...find ANOTHER dream? That's not always easy.

        Excellent job!



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