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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

A 53-year-old Ohio cold case gets new hope for answers thanks to time and perseverance

Pat Sproat Loeliger and Martha Petry stand together in Columbus, Ohio.
Pat Miller
Ideastream Public Media
Pat Sproat Loeliger (left) and Martha Petry are the surviving sisters of Bill Sproat and Mary Petry.

In the fast-paced world of news, it's not often that we journalists get to look back on three-and-a-half years' worth of reporting a single project.

But that's how long I've been working on "Mary & Bill: An Ohio Cold Case," the multipart podcast examining the unsolved 1970 double homicide of Mary Petry and Bill Sproat — a young couple killed just off the campus of Ohio State University.

Three and a half years is long enough ago that when I listen back to my recordings from the start of the project, I hear the world as it existed before COVID-19 (a little less anxious). As I existed before becoming a parent (a little more rested).

The length of time I've been able to devote to pursuing this project is what's allowed "Mary & Bill" to become more than just a "whodunnit?" Among other things, it's also a document of what it takes to reenergize a 53-year-old murder investigation — in a time when police departments are struggling just to hire staff.

A student identification card for Mary Petry, who died in a double homicide in 1970.
Pat Miller
Ideastream Public Media
Mary Petry, a French major at the College of Mount St. Joseph, used this student identification card during a summer abroad.

I also got to witness, first-hand, developments in the case — developments that you'll hear about as you follow the episodes, which are being released weekly through September 6. (You can download them on all the big podcast platforms, stream them on our website, or hear abridged versions Wednesdays on the "Sound of Ideas.")

Maybe the most important thing I got to document over those three-and-a-half years was the incredible perseverance of Martha Petry and Pat Sproat Loeliger, the surviving sisters of Mary and Bill. They have worked tirelessly with both me and the Columbus Police Department to find answers in the deaths of their siblings — unfazed by bureaucratic delays, investigative dead ends and a global pandemic.

The two sisters told me, in a conversation for an upcoming episode, that they hope their journey and the progress they've made toward resolution can be an inspiration to all those who have darkness in their past — i.e., all of us, even if, for most, the darkness might not be quite so awful as the murder of a sibling.

"Reach out to people," is how Pat Sproat Loeliger put it. "Take a risk. Talking about the past might be awkward and painful, but it's a catharsis."

And it's why, after the first three and half years of our time working together, we have good reason to believe we'll finally get answers.

If you have information about the murders of Mary Petry and Bill Sproat, please visit our tip line or contact the Columbus Police Department at (614) 645-4036.

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.