John M. Killits
John Milton Killits, the son of Andrew W. and Clarissa Crumley Killits, was born October 7, 1858, in Lithopolis, Ohio. In 1880 he graduated from Williams College and went to Red Oaks, Iowa, where he published the Red Oakes Express from 1881 to 1883. He then became editor of the United States Signal Bureau publication and served as secretary to the Chief Signal Officer at Washington until 1887. During this time he studied law at Columbian, now George Washington, University and graduated with a master of laws degree in 1886.(Toledo Blade, 13 September 1938).
On June 21, 1887, he married Alice N. Steuart and returned to Bryan, the area of his childhood, where he practiced law until he was elected Prosecutor of Williams County on the Republican ticket in 1893. He served until 1899 and resumed private practice until he was elected Common Pleas Court Judge in 1905. He held this post until his appointment to the Federal bench on June 24, 1910.(Ibid.).
John M. Killits was an author, a publisher, and was nationally known for his opinions in a number of famous cases tried before him in federal court.(Toledo Times, 14 September 1938). The first major criminal case he tried in federal court involved eleven blackmailers from various parts of Ohio. The accused were charged with using the mail to extort money from fellow Sicilians. The defendants, who had ten attorneys on their side, were convicted and sentenced to long terms.(Toledo Blade, 13 September 1938).
In 1920, Judge Killits found himself in control of guards and deputies that were appointed to keep order during the Willys-Overland strike. He insisted on strict discipline and regular reports by the deputies and workers involved. In this dispute he restricted the number of pickets, the number of exits from the plant, and insisted on peaceful picketing.(Ibid).
In 1921 Killits presided over the million dollar Post Office robbery that occurred on February 17. Thirty-four people were implicated in this Toledo scandal. Some of those involved were not apprehended for a few years following the robbery.(Ibid). In 1923 Dr. Frederick Cook, who claimed to be the first to discover the North Pole, was involved in an oil fraud case that involved millions of dollars. This case was prosecuted under the mail fraud statute and took Judge Killits to Texas for trial.(Toledo Times, 14 September 1938).
In 1926 Killits was called to Cleveland to preside at the trial of Joshia Kirby, a Cleveland millionaire who was charged with fraud.(Toledo Blade, 13 September 1938). In 1937 Killits presided over his last famous case in federal court. Nan Britton, the author of "The President's Daughter" claimed libel against a hotel keeper who had sold a book titled "A Reply to The President's Daughter." This book involved the late President, Warren G. Harding.(Ibid).
Judge Killits, a member of the city's first and second charter commission, died of a heart attack on September 13, 1938, at the age of 80. Services were held September 15, 1938 for this nationally known federal jurist who served on the Toledo U.S. District Court bench for 28 years.(Toledo Blade, 14 September 1938). Alice Steuart Killits, widow of the first federal judge to serve in Toledo, died on July 14, 1952 at the age of 88.(Ibid., 14 July 1952).
A Blade writer wrote in the September 13, 1938 edition that "Judge Killits was a jurist of the old school. He was exacting, firm, severe. Honest, he expected other men to be honest; fearless, he had little tolerance for timidity. This man, long a distinguished figure in Toledo, has passed on. He will be remembered because of the quality of his mind and because of his extraordinary adherence to whatever course he believed just." (Toledo Blade, 13 September 1938).
John M. Killits's grave
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)