Jean Shrader: Victim in a Weird Murder Case

This week, I present the unusual case of the murder of Jean Shrader. The case is remarkable not for the murder but for its legal resolution.

The Murder of Jean Shrader

On the night of October 22, 1981, a man saw an unusual sight in a downtown Columbus, Ohio, parking garage. He watched in horror as another man dragged a woman’s body from her car into a fifth-floor stairwell. By the time police arrived, the man had disappeared, and they found the body of 25-year-old Jean Shrader in the stairwell.

An autopsy revealed that Jean Shrader had been strangled with a thin rope or perhaps a wire.

Jean Shrader (Columbus Dispatch)
Jean Shrader (Columbus Dispatch)

Jean’s husband, John J. Shrader, came under suspicion almost immediately. He had slender red marks on his hands that investigators—and Jean’s parents, Dale and Carol Wolford— believed he received while murdering his wife. Despite suspicions, authorities never obtained enough evidence to charge him with murder.

In 1983, John Shrader sued Equitable Life Assurance Society for more than $100,000 in insurance benefits. Jean’s parents countersued, claiming he shouldn’t collect the money because he was the killer. Thus, the stage was set for what the press called Shrader’s “civil murder trial.”

The “Civil Murder Trial” for the Death of Jean Shrader

John Shrader’s job was cleaning airplanes. He claimed he got the suspicious marks when he burned himself on an electrical cord while buffing a plane. He even had a witness who had seen the injuries the day before the murder.

Shrader’s case came apart like a cheap suit when his witness recanted and said Shrader had offered him $50,000 to testify. Shrader clammed up and refused to answer any more questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The court ruled for Jean’s parents, determining that John Shrader had “unlawfully terminated the life of his wife.”

Epilogue

The Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor’s office said after the ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Mr. Shrader.

In May 1985, John Shrader was convicted of perjury and bribery and sentenced to six years in prison.

Robin Yokum, a former police reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, includes a chapter on the Shrader case in his book, Dead Before Deadline.

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