The Shotgun Lady

Some time ago I wrote about “The Bag Lady,” Elaine Higgins, a very popular post about someone whom everybody recognized on sight, or by the nickname, downtown in the 1970s and 80s but otherwise knew very little about.

Well, I’ve got another “name” story for you, one I had never heard of (probably because I was nine years old at the time), except this one is much worse, and ends tragically.

The story starts with a 77-year-old woman named Marion Schwank, who, in 1972, lived on a 200-acre “trash-laden farm” at 24062 Hull Prairie Rd., two or three miles due south of Perrysburg, in Wood County’s Middleton Township. She was known as the “Monkey Woman,” because her frequent companion was a rhesus monkey (a pet of her late husband, Martin H. Schwank), and the less-than-flattering “Shotgun Lady,” which I will explain as we go.

But here’s how The Blade’s David Shutt summed up the situation in August of 1972:

Like many popular myths, her legend was composed of half-truths. According to her few friends, her only living relative, and police, a different story emerges – one of a little old lady who followed a bizarre lifestyle on a trash-laden farm in northern Wood County and wanted only to be left alone.

Her tormenters never respected her wishes. Carloads of youths from Toledo, Perrysburg, Maumee, Rossford and Stony Ridge sped up and down in front of the 77-year-old woman’s house at 24062 Hull Prairie Rd. almost nightly, yelling obscenities and throwing bottles.

According to the story, Marion Schwank (nee Heinz), of Toledo, married Martin Schwank in 1936. She had worked in Toledo as a pharmacist, moved out to the farm after she married, and struck a neighbor as a “very educated person to talk to.”

But, as her husband’s heath declined, the condition of the property got worse. And when Mr. Schwank died in 1965 (or so), things went downhill rapidly.

“The neighbors said Mrs. Schwank became a scavenger, and the two-story, gray-shingled farmhouse she left now is a curious amalgam of every conceivable kind of accumulated trash,” The Blade wrote. “Mingling with the tall bushes and apple and cedar trees are rusting cars, an old yellow school bus, a stove, a refrigerator, and piles of buckets, barrels, wood and paper…The house itself appears to be crammed to the eaves with similar materials…”

And, so it would seem, the word spread about the eccentric place far from town in Middleton Township. Carloads of youths would drive out to tempt fate and see the place, and maybe even see her. If they dared to come onto the property, intruders would often be greeted with a double-barreled shotgun.

Thus the other nickname.

“Neighbors said that the night drivers, who turned out their headlights as they sped along the bumpy country road, usually started after 10 p.m. and often continued the back-and-forth runs monotonously until the early morning hours.”

“She was a very different person, but very nice, and very kind,” Robert Shank, a Perrysburg mortician, told The Blade.

Donna LaMarche, who lived about a half-mile north of the farm, described Schwank as kindhearted. “One Christmas, I guess I felt sorry for her. I fixed up a box of Christmas cookies and things and took it down there. She came out with the shotgun. I said ‘I belong to the kids (referring to her six children, whom Schwank waved to and gave candy to sometimes).’ I kissed her and she started to cry.”

LaMarche also said this about Schwank: “She was an excellent shot. One night last week, she shot out a tire on one of those cars. She always aimed low.”

But the constant harassment wore on Schwank, LaMarche said, making it difficult to sleep at night amid fears someone might kill her.

Police were often in the area; in fact, Wood County Sheriff Earl Rife told The Blade the department responded to every call from the area, which were made by neighbors since Schwank didn’t have a phone.

Then, on Sunday, August 13, 1972, at 10:18 p.m., Deputy William Boden was dispatched to the Schwank home after residents complained that three cars had been speeding on Hull Prairie Road. Boden stopped a car driven by Mark Ohlman, 16, of Hill Ave. in Toledo, at Five Points Rd. and Hull Prairie Rd., questioned them, and then drove north to find Schwank’s body lying by the side of the road, her shotgun lying close by.

The three people in the car, who had returned to the scene, admitted their car had hit Schwank. They were taken to the county jail and were released after the driver’s father posted a $5,000 material witness bond.

About six weeks later, the aforementioned driver was found to be a “juvenile offender” for “unlawfully and unintentionally causing the death of a person while violating the traffic laws of the State of Ohio,” and I would stress the word unintentionally there. He was fined $50 and costs, and had his license suspended for six months, which was the maximum punishment at the time.

I gather that the old house is gone, since the Wood County Auditor’s website lists a house listed at that address as being built in 1991. So the memories of Marion Schwank have mostly faded into the past.

“Her way of life was different from our way of life, but to her it was fine,” Shank told The Blade. “People criticized her for it and that was bad. She was, I suppose you would say, eccentric.”

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