If a household machine was on the fritz, Permon Gilbert was the man who would get it fixed. The 46-year-old appliance repairman lived in Hamersville, Ohio, a town of slightly more than 500 people, 35 miles southeast of Cincinnati and only a few miles from the Kentucky border.
Permon was always on call, working for the Sears-Roebuck company during the week and answering independent house calls on weekends. On May 22, 1982, his last call ended in murder and mystery.
A day after he responded to several service calls, Permon’s nude body was found on the side of a rural road. He had been beaten and shot twice in the chest.
Police developed four theories as possible motives for Permon Gilbert’s murder, but no one has been charged after 39 years.
The morning of Saturday, Mary 22, 1982, was like any other as Permon left home around 8:30 a.m. to answer several service calls.
He told his wife, Joann, he would be back around 3:00 p.m.
Permon’s calls took him to Mt. Orab, Georgetown, and Aberdeen, 21 miles southeast of Georgetown.
After completing his calls in southwestern Ohio, Permon drove eight miles across the Ohio River into Maysville, Kentucky. He purchased cigarettes and several small food items at Clyde’s Supervalu supermarket and flowers at the shop next door.
He briefly chatted with both store clerks, Ann Breeze and Donna Phipps. The women recalled the time was shortly after 1:00 p.m., and neither noticed anything amiss with Permon.
These were the last sightings of Permon Gilbert.
Permon’s body was found the following day, May 23, in a ditch just south of his native Bethel, approximately seven miles from his home in rural Hamersville and 35 miles from where he was last seen in Maysville, Kentucky. He had been shot twice in the chest. He was nude, and because no cloth fibers were found in the bullet wounds, police believe he was not wearing a shirt when he was shot.
An autopsy determined Permon had been murdered at approximately 6:00 a.m., seventeen hours after he was last seen.
The following day Permon’s locked van was found 22 miles from where his body had been discovered. His watch, toolbox, parts, and supplies were inside; nothing from the van appeared to be missing, but his appliance uniform, Masonic belt buckle, and wallet were never found.
Fingerprints and hair samples not belonging to Permon were found inside the van but have not been matched to anyone. Police initially believed robbery was the motive for his murder. It’s unknown how much money he was carrying, but he typically didn’t carry large sums.
In the course of their investigation, police developed three other possible motives for the murder of Permon Gilbert. All of the theories seem more fit for the killing of a Hollywood celebrity than an Ohio repairman:
1) Drugs: Permon was a licensed pilot who co-owned a small plane which he flew from a landing strip on his farm. Joann said he told her two men had approached him several times to transport drugs, but Permon refused and warned he would go to the police if they continued to bother him.
2) Organized Crime: Permon’s younger brother Vernon had several brushes with the law resulting from his drug habit. Three months before the murder, Vernon testified in a case against organized crime. During this time, Permon told Joann he felt someone was following him.
3) Crime of Passion: The appliance repairman had a reputation as a ladies’ man, and many women found him attractive. His home appliance repair business placed him in many households, often alone with a woman.
Investigators determined the drug and organized crime theories were unlikely.
The drug-runners who approached Permon were minor league, and the amount of drugs they wanted him to transport was small. It doesn’t seem likely these low-level dealers would be willing to murder.
Permon had no involvement with his brother’s illegal activities. When the mob wants someone dead, they generally go straight to the source of their ire– i.e., they would have killed Vernon, not Permon.
Most investigators believe the crime of passion theory has the most credence.
At the Maysville, Kentucky, flower shop where he was last seen, Permon inquired about a female employee who would not come into work until later that day. Donna Phipps, the clerk on duty when Permon arrived, offered to help him, but Permon said he wanted to speak to that specific clerk. I could not find a source stating this woman’s name.
If the crime of passion theory is true, the clerk could have been a woman with whom he was having an affair. Permon, found nude, may have been killed by an outraged husband or boyfriend in a fit of rage who caught him with his wife or girlfriend.
Joann Gilbert, however, did not believe Permon was having an affair, contending his death was related to his refusal to be a drug-runner.
She died in 2012 without learning who murdered her husband.
Permon’s son, Permon Jr., is also deceased. I could not find a date of his death; Joann’s obituary said he preceded her in death.
Daughters Joni, Gina, and Jennifer are still hoping to find answers to their father’s murder.
All four theories of Permon Gilbert’s murder being related to robbery, drugs, organized crime, or a crime of passion are only speculation. No evidence has been found to support any of them. Thirty-nine years after his murder, no motive or suspect has been established.
A $25,000 reward is offered for information leading to the killer of Permon Gilbert. If you have any such information, please contact the Clermont County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office at 513-732-7545.
• Cincinnati Enquirer
• The Ledger Independent
• Unsolved Mysteries
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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