Author profile: J Paul Suter (Newspaper article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1951)

Quiet Youngstown Executive Writes Thrillers for Pulps 



J. Paul Suter of Youngstown, who as secretary and treasurer of several organizations works with a modern adding machine and a computer, has written more than 200 murder, mystery and ghost stories for pulp magazines.

Suter, a mild-mannered, dig­nified, gray-haired gentleman of 66, is secretary-treasurer of the Stambaugh Estates, Inc., the Stambaugh Auditorium Association and the Scioto Land Co. here. He goes to church regularly and is active in Y. M. C. A. affairs.

But he also leads a Mr. Hyde existence on paper. Suter has written and had published more than 200 blood-curdling, hair-raising murder, mystery, detective and weird tales for pulp magazines. Publications in which his stories have appeared include Black Mask, Dime Detective, Weird Tales, Real Detective Tales, Success, Flynn’s and Detective Story. He gets his ideas for the stories in church while trying to keep his mind the sermon. At least that is what he tells you, but you take it with a grain of salt.

Plots from Sermons

“Seriously, though. I get ideas for some of my plots from sermons.” he said. “It may be a word or a phrase that gives an idea for the title. Then I work backward. I make up the plot as I write and often I have to rewrite the story.

“One of my first stories I called The Little Blonde Nightmare. One of our daughters, Rosalind, who was then just a baby, was muttering in her sleep one night. Mrs. Suter said she must be having a nightmare.

“That gave me the idea for the title and I worked out a murder story from it concerning a circus knifethrower. I’ve forgotten who murdered him but he was killed very dead.”

Used Doyle’s plot

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote of a plot he had never used successfully. It begins with a man and his wife departing for church. The husband returns to the house for his prayer book and is never seen again.

“I wrote a story using that plot,” Suter said. “I called it The Dial of Ahaz but the publisher changed it to The Impossible Crime. It was included in a collection published under the title, of Creeps By Night. “Irving Cobb and Stephen Vincent Benet had stories in that volume. It has had a good sale but not because of the Suter contribution.

In one of his stories, The Loud Voice of Time, Suter confounded those who like to solve whodunits before they reach the end of the story by putting the finger on the chief of police as the murderer. He got the title by rephrasing the title of a hymn.

Murder on a Bus

“Suter still rides the Elm Street bus to and from his home here and once wrote a tale called Man on the bus. “I started thinking about what might happen if the driver got to the end of the line and found his only passenger was a corpse,” Suter explained. It turned out to be a pretty good murder mystery.

In The Absent-Minded Cannibal, a tale Suter based on an explosion in a Youngstown grocery store, the author delved into reality for part of his plot. “The explosion actually took in 1926 or 1927, I believe,” Suter observed. “An accumulation of gas caused the blast which shattered many windows near the store. In my story, the explosion was deliberately planned. I used the word cannibal loosely In the title because the criminal did not eat his victims. He was bloodthirsty, however. He liked to see human carnage.”

He has Two Sleuths

Some mystery writers stick to one amateur or professional sleuth who solves the crimes in their tales. Suter had two. One who appeared in many of his tales, was Rev. McGregor Daunt, a Presbyterian minister who had his counterpart in real life as a friend of the author’s. “My friend never solved anything, but Rev. Mr. McGregor never let me down,” Suter said. “He was a humdinger of a detective.

Suter’s other sleuth was Horatio Humberton, an undertaker. Humberton’s chief ambition in his fictional life was to embalm a body so perfectly that no one would want to bury it. “He never succeeded in doing it but he solved my crimes for me,” Suter added. “Humberton had a hearse driver who was a speed demon. He always wanted to drive the hearse, loaded or not, as fast as he could without piling it up against a pole.

Wrote for Children

The Suters have four daughters and a son. A daughter, Alice, is in the WACs and another conducts a weekly column for the Clarksville Tribune published at Clarksville, Ind. Rosalind is a secretary here. Mrs. Suter often chides her husband because, before the children arrived, he wrote children’s stories but after his family started to grow, he turned to murder, detective and weird stories.

Suter, an admirer of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has a file of the first 100 volumes of the Strand magazine, in which the Sherlock Holmes stories first appeared.

Has Dickens Originals

“Many mystery and detective tales have been written since Holmes appeared on the scene but none has quite the same flavor as Doyle’s work,” Suter remarked. The author also has 25 volumes of a magazine published by Charles Dickens.

“Dickens called the magazine Household Words but changed the name later to All The Year Round.” Suter said. “His son published it for five years after Dickens died in 1870. In one issue of the magazine, the famous classic Tale of Two Cities ends at the bottom of one page. On the next page, Woman In White begins. This story by Wilkie Collins is considered one of the world’s best mystery stories.

Note: The only book in print for Suter is this collection of Horatio Humberton stories from Steeger Books.

1 comment

  1. Thanks for digging this up Sai. It's always of interest reading about these writers. Even the more obscure and less well known like J. Paul Suter often wrote hundreds of stories over the decades.

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