The Wrong Kind of Victim: James Eldridge's Tragic Life

Bob Vitale
James Eldridge

Governors, mayors and members of Congress are among the 154,000 people laid to rest in the rolling fields of Green Lawn Cemetery. Off its winding pathways and under its shady oaks, the lives of Central Ohio pioneers, war heroes, authors, athletes and icons of business are remembered with statues and obelisks and granite memorials. Some of the names carved in stone or stamped in bronze—Sullivant, Huntington, Battelle, Rickenbacker, Rhodes—are memorialized outside Green Lawn’s iron gates as well.

But not everyone here has a dignified burial. In a dark, 12-by-5-foot closet in the basement of the cemetery’s Huntington Chapel, the cremated remains of more than 500 people lie in near-anonymity in an area known as “permanent storage.” Green Lawn trustee Randy Rogers knows some of their stories and speculates on others. Some of the children, he thinks, were placed here by parents who planned posthumous reunions but never shared those ideas with the people who outlived them. Some outlived their money. Some were estranged from family before their deaths. Some, he’s sure, were abandoned by family because of how they died.

This is where you’ll find the unclaimed remains of James Eldridge, who was killed more than four decades ago in Downtown Columbus. Like the others in permanent storage, Eldridge’s final resting place is a plastic bag that was placed inside a metal urn. His is bronze, a mid-priced step above the basic tin models that Rogers compares to coffee cans. The urn, like all the others, sits inside a cardboard box, one of the many that line the closet’s wooden shelves.

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The name James A. Eldridge, once a fixture on local radio and in area newspapers, is written in marker on that box. It’s a forgotten name now, but his life and violent death still have lessons to teach about fear, secrets and intolerance during an unenlightened age.

“Many at the Gazette knew Jim had a shadow life of some sort,” Chillicothe Gazette news editor Jim Bruney wrote on March 17, 1978, two days after the newspaper’s former opinion-page columnist and book critic was killed in his Columbus apartment on the sixth floor of the Great Southern Hotel.

Eldridge, an Indiana native, had moved to Chillicothe, his wife’s hometown, when the couple married in 1970. He was 50 at the time and brought to Ohio a long professional resume that included work in journalism, public relations, public policy and politics with stops in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. He delivered lectures on both sides of the Atlantic and had researched a book about a fellow Hoosier who was the mother of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.