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Mark Sebastian Jordan's new Ceely Rose book answers questions, questions answers

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Mark Jordan Ceely Rose

Local author, performer, playwright and "storyteller" Mark Sebastian Jordan has written a new book on the life of Ceely Rose, a southern Richland County woman who killed her parents and brother in 1896. Jordan is seen here visiting the gravesite of David and Rebecca Rose and their son, Walter, buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery near Malabar Farm.

LUCAS -- Mark Sebastian Jordan knows more than anyone about the murderous Ceely Rose, the shocking true crime story about a troubled young woman who killed her entire family in 1896.

But even as the 51-year-old playwright, historian, entertainer and storyteller completed his new book, "The Ceely Rose Murders at Malabar Farm," Jordan is proud that his comprehensive research into the scandalous killings raises even more questions that likely can never be answered.

"I think part of what I tried to do is to get out the facts, as much as they can be ascertained at this point," said Jordan, who now lives near Loudonville.

"But I also wanted to raise some questions and say, 'There are a lot of interesting wrinkles that go on here that we'll probably never be able to answer.'"

The paperback book, published by The History Press, will be released in the next few weeks and will be available on Amazon for $21.99.

Mark Sebastian Jordan

Mark Sebastian Jordan

LIFELONG INTEREST

In 1982, Jordan was a 12-year-old boy in Shelby, "with a taste for the macabre," when he first heard the story about Rose, then 23, who poisoned her father and mother, David and Rebecca, and her older brother, Walter, due to her twisted obsession with a local man named Guy Berry.

Berry was not interested in Rose, but felt sympathy for her, a physically large woman who was often the butt of jokes from members of the community. Rather than just tell her the truth, Berry said their parents would never allow them to be together.

That set into motion in Rose's mind a plan to eliminate the obstacles -- the two families that didn't approve the budding romance. 

The family lived in a house on what is now part of Malabar Farm State Park and operated a gristmill on the property. Ceely Rose, who had been told of the dangers of rat poison, laced the family's cottage cheese with the fatal ingredient. The poison quickly killed David, 67, and Walter, 38, died a few days later.

Rebecca, 61, was sickened, but survived. Despite the fact she knew what her daughter had done, Rebecca didn't contact authorities. She made plans for she and her daughter to move, but Ceely poisoned her again, this time killing her a few weeks after David and Walter had died.

Rose headstone

A headstone at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery marks the final resting place for David Rose, Rebecca Rose and Walter Rose, all of whom died in 1896 after they were poisoned by Ceely Rose.

Jordan said Ceely Rose was clearly mentally challenged, a fact borne out when she was found not guilty by reason of insanity after a trial, despite her own confessions to the murders. Rose was sent to the Lima State Hospital, where she spent the rest of her life, dying on March 14, 1934, a day after her 61st birthday.

She was buried at the hospital cemetery, forever about 100 miles away from her family, whose final resting place is the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

Pleasant Valley Cemetery

The Pleasant Valley Cemetery is the resting place for several of the people involved in the telling of the Ceely Rose story.

Today, the former Rose family home has become a popular site for those interested in haunted locations.

"I'm no psychologist. So I cannot say with any authority about Ceely's (mental) condition, but as a writer and as a gatherer of information, I am inclined to think she was mentally ill.

"I've had medical professionals look at the case and they say it's pretty clear Ceely Rose was to some degree developmentally disabled. That much is evident from the descriptions.

"But that doesn't explain why she did the things she did. I think there is a very real possibility that in a modern psychological setting, Ceely would be described as a psychopath," Jordan said. "The only thing that really ultimately mattered to her was getting what she wanted and everyone else be damned."

DEEPER DIVE

Jordan, whose first stage play was about Ceely Rose, was contacted in 2019 by The History Press, officials of which had been impressed with his historical writings for Source Media properties, especially Knox Pages.

They asked the former newspaper reporter if he would be interested in writing a book for them.

"I told them I was very interested," Jordan said with a laugh. "I said, 'I could write a lot of books, actually.' They asked if I wanted to write something from one of my historical columns. I told them I had a story that's even bigger, that is more famous and so compelling it needs to have a book written about it.

"(Ceely Rose) is the one I've been meaning to write for a great many years. I sketched out a proposal, send it in to them and they approved," Jordan said.

Jordan likely could have written the book without doing additional research. But that's not his method.

"I love to get out there, get my feet on the ground, my eyes on the landscape and try to capture something from seeing the scenes. I don't feel you really know a story until you have visited the places," Jordan said.

"I wanted to have the full experience."

Ceely Rose book

The new book by Mark Sebastian Jordan will be available on Amazon on June 28.

Joined by a research-oriented friend, Steve McQuown, Jordan traveled to Pike County, in southern Ohio, which is where Ceely Rose was born and her family's story began. After much research of land records, Jordan and McQuown located the likely site of the Rose family home.

"There was a hole in the ground that is probably where the cabin was," Jordan said.

A Civil War veteran, David Rose was not in the best physical shape, according to Jordan. Most of the 80-acre farm was not usable land due to the steep hills, save for a small patch on the top of a ridge that could have allowed for a few animals and a small vegetable garden.

David and Rebecca Rose had another daughter, Julia, who died around 1880, after giving birth to a child. So how did the Rose family end up in Richland County, Ohio, about 130 miles away, moving to a location where they knew no one and had no family?

"That's the mystery that can't be cracked," Jordan said. "I think it has something to do with Julia's death, because that's a mighty interesting coincidence that they sell the property and leave around the time their daughter dies.

"In those days, you normally moved to someplace where you had family or friends, but they had neither (in southern Richland County). How did (David Rose) even hear of the mill? That makes me wonder whether they were trying to get away from what their lives had been and go to someplace where no one knew them," Jordan said.

CEELY OBSESSIONS

Guy Berry was not Ceely's first obsession with a man. In fact, Jordan said, his younger brother, Claude, around 12 years old, once told Rose, 'Why don't you leave my brother alone. He's never going to marry you.'

"Ceely looked very crestfallen for a moment and then she said, 'All right, I'll marry you then,'" Jordan said.

Rose expressed romantic interests in other young men in the valley, including Clem Herring, who would later sell his property to Louis Bromfield, creating Malabar Farm.

"Clem was a handsome young man and Ceely tried to get his attention. She even wrote him a love letter and gave it to him. He thought it best to just not respond. She began stealing his mail, just to try to force him to pay attention to her," Jordan said.

"She fixated on other another farmer, but he just outright laughed in her face when she gave him a love letter. It was after that she transferred her focus to Guy Berry, trying someone a little bit younger and maybe giver he a little less trouble."

Rose was described as a full-grown woman with an underdeveloped mind, perhaps that of a small child, Jordan said.

"All of these (adult) hormones kick in and she is trying to control it with what one of her teachers later said was the mind of a first grader," Jordan said. "These crushes, these obsessions with men, raises the question: How was she pulled so strongly in these directions?

"It's something we'll never be able to prove one way or the other, but it does beg the question: Had she been (sexually) molested? Did kids take advantage of her because of her childish mind? Had there been abuse within the family? We don't know.

"That's one of the questions that has always loomed over this case," Jordan said.

RESEARCH OR WRITING AND A PANDEMIC

For a man who made his living as a public speaker and writer, the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating -- but perhaps perfectly timed for the book project.

"By late 2019, I had pushed myself very close to the point of exhaustion. I remember a stretch in October where I had 25 speaking gigs in 30 days. Plus, I was conducting tours at (the former Ohio State Reformatory) and doing bus tours up in Cleveland related to the torso serial killer case in the 1930s," Jordan said.

It was satisfying work, but draining for Jordan, an actor/director and music critic whose playwriting credits include stage productions on the lives of Bromfield and the eccentric Phoebe Wise.

"It was pushing me to a dangerous edge. So the good part about the pandemic for me was it a forced break ... a chance to recharge the batteries and a chance to write this book," he said.

The reset and quarantine, however, was not easy. It came with a price.

"It was hell for someone who has developed their life to be a performer and storyteller. I am my truest self when I am telling a story to people in an audience," Jordan said. "When I found myself completely and utterly cut off for a such long period of time, it was bewildering for me and devastating."

He threw himself into the Ceely Rose research, including hours of in-person record searching and internet research. The actual writing was on top of that.

Which does Jordan find more rewarding?

"That's not easy to answer because I love them both. When you are doing the research, you get to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes ... tracking down clues, tying things together.

"It's a great fascination of mine to see what I yank away from the edge of oblivion and put back together to make a story," Jordan said.

"However, having said that, the actual process of writing, reanimating the characters in the story and making it compelling, is ultimately what I feel I am here for. It really is the main thing."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"