Thomas Lee Dillon,
was born 9 July 1950,
in Canton, Ohio. Dillon is a serial sniper who shot and killed
five people in southeastern Ohio, beginning on 1 April 1989 and
continuing until April 1992
Dillon was captured in 1992 when a friend recognized
a behavioral profile compiled by the FBI. Dillon is incarcerated at the
Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, for five consecutive sentences of
30 years to life for aggravated murder.
The Malefactor's Register
draftsman for a municipal water department, Thomas Dillon liked to
cruise the back roads of southeastern Ohio pretending he was something
he was not. In his fantasy life, Dillon pretended he was a
multi-millionaire, a life-saving scientist who cured AIDS, or a Super
Frequently driving hundreds of
miles immersed in his own thoughts, Dillon also liked to envision
himself as a special forces soldier, out hunting for enemy combatants.
What no one knew for three years during the late 1980s and early 1990s,
was that as far as his soldier/hunter fantasy was concerned, Dillon had
crossed over into reality.
Between April 1989 and April 1992, Ohio authorities were baffled as a
serial sniper killed campers, outdoorsmen, and joggers with impunity. A
joint local-state-federal taskforce was established to take charge in
the investigation of the murders of five men shot with a high-power
The first killing occurred near
New Philadelphia, a quiet community about 100 miles south of Cleveland,
on April 1, 1989, when Donald Welling, 35, was shot while jogging.
Dillon claimed it was simply an urge, prompted by a voice in his head,
that prompted the shooting.
“He said, ‘What’s up?’ just before
I shot him. Just from me to you, just five feet away. This guy was just
trying to be friendly and he blew, you know, I killed him. It wasn’t
premeditated, I told you guys that,” he confessed later. “Just, I was
just driving along and came up on him and that’s it, Welling…And just, I
heard, a voice in my head said, ‘Open fire on him.’ And I did. And in 10
seconds, from the, the time I heard that voice ’til I shot him and
The next two murders occurred in
relatively rapid succession. Twenty-one-year-old Jamie Paxton was shot
to death while he was hunting outside St. Clairsville, an Ohio community
near the state border with West Virginia. The next killing occured in
Muskingum County on November 28, 1990 when 30-year-old Kevin Loring of
Massachusetts was slain also while he was hunting.
On March 14, 1992, 49-year-old
Claude Hawkins, a blue-collar father of four children was murdered as he
fished in Coshocton County.
“(I) drove by and he waved at me. I heard a voice that day that said,
“Go back and get him,” Dillon said about Hawkins’s shooting. “I saw him
fishing down there, I heard a voice in my head say, ‘Go back and get
him.’ Went down there and killed him. Shot him right in the back.”
In April 1992, West Virginia
resident and father of three children Gary Bradley, 44, was struck down
fishing near the county seat of Noble County.
All except Loring were shot on a weekend — two each on Saturday and
Sunday — with a high-powered rifle, most likely from a nearby road,
investigators said. Loring, who had three children, the oldest of whom
was eight, was killed on a Wednesday (at a time Dillon was on vacation),
and the bullet that shattered his skull was never found.
“His hat blew straight up about 20 feet,” a remorseless Dillon confessed
later to police. “I knew I had to blow his whole head off.”
At each of the murder scenes there
was little to go on. The killer left virtually nothing like spent
casings or other forensic evidence, and no witnesses ever saw any cars.
It would take a letter to a local newspaper written by the killer a year
after he shot Paxton that gave authorities sufficient reason to believe
they were seeking a serial killer.
I am the murderer of Jamie Paxton,
he announced in an anonymous two-page photocopied typescript addressed
to the Times Leader, as well as to Sheriff McCort and to the Paxtons.
The letter had been mailed from outside the Martins Ferry post office.
Jamie Paxton was a complete stranger to me. I never saw him before in
my life and he never said a word to me that Saturday. The motive for the
murder was this - the murder itself. …
Paxton was killed because of an
irresistable (sic) compulsion that has taken over my life. I knew when I
left my house that day that someone would die by my hand. I just didn’t
know who or where. … Technically, I meet the defintion (sic) of a serial
killer (three or more victims with a cooling off period in between) but
I’m an average looking person with a family, job, and home just like
yourself. Something in my head causes me to turn into a merciless killer
with no conscience. Five minutes after I shot Paxton I was drinking a
beer and had blacked out all thoughts of what I had just done out of my
mind. I thought no more of shooting Paxton than shooting a bottle at the
Even the interest prompted by the
letter didn’t provide any breaks in the probe. The FBI’s Behaviorial
Sciences Unit was asked to prepare a profile, with the hope that it
would stimulate the moribund investigation.
The two-dozen points in the profile described the killer not only as an
educated white male (Dillon had a college degree), but as someone with a
predilection for crimes, such as arson and killing pets and farm
animals. The profile, however, was not perfect. It predicted that the
killer lived within a short distance of all of the crimes (Dillon lived
as far away as 150 miles), and that the murderer would be in his 20s.
Dillon was 42 when he was arrested. He might be a nominal family man,
but was likely a loner, the report continued. He had a drinking problem
and a history of compulsive vandalism and arson. Stress would trigger
the shootings, which usually would be committed while he was drunk.
Like many serial killers, Dillon
began acting out against animals and started setting fires to appease
his demons. He would later admit setting more than 100 fires and killing
more than 1,000 pets and farm animals. His trips through the backwoods
of Ohio were always taken alone and he would stop on his way to buy
It was a an August 1992 tip from a high school friend who became
disturbed about Dillon’s animal slaughters and preoccupation with serial
killers that finally broke the case.
“He asked me if I thought he
could, or had, killed somebody,” the late Richard Fry told the Akron
Beacon Journal in 1993. “The way he looked at me chilled my blood. I
thought he had a secret to tell. It was the look on his face and in his
As teens, the two men would drive through the countryside taking shots
at road signs and critters and lighting small fires, but Fry recalled
that Dillon began getting more violent and cruel by shooting family pets
they happened across.
Dillon was not only cruel to animals, Fry recalled. Once, Dillon shot a
chipmunk in his back yard, grabbed the dead animal and chased his son
around the yard. When the little boy tripped and fell, Dillon rubbed his
face with the bloody rodent.
Fry called a Tuscarawas County
detective and finally after 39 months, the task force had a solid lead.
The first clue linking him to the crime was that his off-duty and
vacation time matched the dates of the killings. The FBI followed Dillon
for about a month and watched him buy guns, drive around aimlessly and
shoot at stop signs, animals, electric meters and even take pot-shots at
populated areas. Most telling, Dillon visited Loring’s grave in
“When I went to New England last
year with my wife … I looked up on microfilm in the Plymouth Library
where the guy lived and everything,” Dillon told police after his
arrest. “He was from the Duxbury area. I just read, you know, to see
what–who the hell he was. I didn’t know who he was.”
Throughout the summer and early
fall, Dillon was shadowed by authorities who were only able to pin a
cattle-shooting on him. As hunting season approached, they decided they
had to move in to stop any further killings.
Authorities arrested Dillon on a
federal weapons charge — he was awaiting sentencing for possessing a
silencer — and announced that he was their suspect in the serial
shootings. At a press conference they asked anyone with firearms
transactions with Dillon to come forward.
On December 4 a gun dealer brought
in a Swedish Mauser rifle he said that Dillon had sold him on April 6,
the day after Bradley was murdered. Ballistics tests indicated that it
was the rifle used to kill Bradley and Hawkins. On Jan. 27, Dillon was
indicted on capital charges in both cases.
In return for the state dropping
the death penalty specifications, Dillon pleaded guilty to five counts
of murder and was sentenced to five consecutive life terms.
“I have major problems,” he said at the time. “I’m crazy. I want to
kill. I want to kill.”
He blamed a turbulent childhood for his problems.
Dillon also publicly said he was
afraid to be sent to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in
Lucasville, site of a murderous riot just a few years before he was
caught. In response to his concerns, family members of his victims began
a petition drive to have him sent there. More than 8,000 Ohioans signed
the petitions, which the State of Ohio honored.
The psychologist who examined
Dillon at the request of his defense attorneys summarized why Dillon’s
story is so frightening.
“What you see … is someone who looks and presents in a way that seems
frighteningly normal,” Dr. Jeffrey Smalldon told CBS News. “And the
reality is that most of the people who commit crimes like those that
Dillon committed come across just that way.”
A Sniper's Mind
60 Minutes II Visits Another Serial Sniper
By David Kohn - CBSNews.com
Oct. 23, 2002
This week we’ve all heard a great deal from cops and psychologists
trying to analyze the mind of the Washington-area sniper. But rarely in
these cases do you ever hear from a sniper himself.
Thomas Dillon was a serial sniper who terrorized Ohio in
the 1990s. He used a high-powered rifle to randomly murder five people.
When he was caught, Dillon confessed, and his thoughts on serial murder
What is a serial sniper really like? If you're prepared to hear from a
raving madman, maybe you're not prepared for Thomas Dillon. Scott
Dillon confessed his crimes to the task force of FBI agents and sheriffs
that finally caught him.
Dillon described one of his sniper murders: the shooting of a man he’d
never met before.
“How far away was he from you when you shot him?” an investigator asked
“Seventy-five feet, maybe,” Dillon answered.
Investigator: Where did you shoot him at?
Dillon: right between the eyes.
Investigator: Is that where you aimed for?
Investigator: Did you walk up to him and look at him?
Dillon: No. Didn't come close.
Investigator: But you're sure he was dead?
Dillon: Yeah, yeah. His hat blew straight up about 20 feet. I knew I - I
had to blow his whole head off.
“What you see on the videotape is someone who looks and presents in a
way that seems frighteningly normal, and the reality is that most of the
people who commit crimes like those that Dillon committed come across
just that way,” says Jeffrey Smalldon, who may know the mind of sniper
Thomas Dillon better than anyone. He’s the psychologist the defense
hired to figure out whether Dillon was insane.
Smalldon says that Dillon was “very smart, an IQ of
around 135, in the superior range of intelligence.”
But, Smalldon says, Dillon was not insane, because he knew what he was
doing was wrong. What Dillon did: murder at least five strangers from
1989 to 1992.
You never would have picked him out of a crowd. He was married with a
son, a college education, and worked 22 years as a draftsman. Everyone
knew that Dillon liked to hunt; they just didn’t know what he was
Dillon would find his victims along the byways of rural Ohio. There was
no rhyme or reason to how he selected his targets, he just climbed in
his pickup truck on weekends and would drive a 100 miles or more until
he found someone utterly alone, a hunter, fisherman, a jogger. When he
came upon them he would turn his truck around, pull out his rifle, take
aim and, as he later told the police, he would never miss.
Investigator: “You only shot the two times? There were no misses in that
Dillon: Never miss.
Investigator: Never miss?
Dillon: Never miss.
Investigator: Basically you’re a pretty good shot?
Dillon: That's why we're here, isn't it?
“Everybody was fearful,” says Michael Miller, the
prosecutor in the case, says the fear and frustration in Ohio was not
unlike Washington today. “I mean, it isn’t that you can stay away from
these things because they were indiscriminate. You never knew when they
were going to happen.”
Dillon left little evidence, Miller says: “Some of the people who were
killed obviously had the projectiles in them. Some didn't. Some were
badly damaged. But he left virtually nothing so far as spent casings or
anything of that nature. It was just not there nobody ever saw anything.
Nobody saw automobiles, there was very little to go on.”
In his confession he said that he shot his first victim 13 years earlier,
a man sitting at home watching TV.
“So this guy with his back to the picture window of his house. He was
sitting on the sofa. So, this thought came to me, he said, ‘Stop back
up, and said shoot this guy.’ So, I shot at him through the picture
window,” Dillon said.
Why open fire? Dillon told the officers that in some shootings a voice
in his head told him to take aim:
“This sort of voice in my head said, "go back and get him,
go back and get him. I took my rifle, went down there, jumped the guard
rail, went down through the pine trees, shot him in the back.”
But this voice was Dillon’s own, Smalldon says: “When I asked him about
that, he finally admitted, well, like ‘It wasn’t another voice, I know
it was me. It was my own voice. It was a voice in my head.’”
Dillon set more than 100 fires and killed more than a thousand pets and
farm animals. Smalldon says he was living in a fantasy world of his own
creation: “He talked on and on about the various fantasy roles that he
had envisioned himself in over the years. They ran the gamut from being
president of the United States to being lead singer for the Doors, or
the Beatles, to being brought out of retirement by the Cleveland Browns
to lead his team to the Super Bowl. But they were all linked together by
the theme of power, prestige, influence and grandiosity.
"Now, I also found that his fantasy life has a much darker component
than the examples that I’ve cited. Certain of his fantasies involved
himself as a combatant in a war situation.”
Kevin Loring had the extreme misfortune of intruding on Dillon’s
delusions. He took his family on vacation from Massachusetts to visit
relatives and to hunt in Ohio. He’s the one Dillon bragged about
shooting right between the eyes.
Why did Dillon shoot Loring? “I don’t know, just
something came to me, you know, I just, spur of the moment thing,” he
If Dillon didn’t care about his victims when they were alive, he became
fascinated with them after they were dead. He went to Loring’s hometown
in Massachusetts to learn about the man he murdered.
“I went to New England last year with my wife and I looked up the
microfilm on the Plymouth Library where that guy lived and everything,
he was from Duxbury area, I just read you know, see what, who the hell
he was, I didn’t know who he was,” he said to police.
Dillon visited the graves of those he killed. He even wrote this
anonymous letter to a newspaper describing his murder of Jamie Paxton.
He writes, “I am the murderer of Jamie Paxton…I felt the Paxton family
should know the details of what happened. I thought no more of shooting
Paxton than shooting a bottle at the dump.”
“I heard a voice that just said, ‘Do it,’ you know. I just, I got out. I
had a rifle with me. It was a 308. I got out. He came off the hill for
me. I just, I opened fire on him,” Dillon said.
What compelled him to write to the newspaper? He told the officers he
felt bad that Paxton was only 21.
Dillon said to investigators: “I felt bad about the kid, you know, I
didn't know he was that young. I couldn't see how old he was from a
distance. I thought he was 30, 35. I didn't know he was that young….
blew that kid away you know, he had his whole life ahead of him and I
blew him away, you know, I felt sorry for him.”
Smalldon thinks there was another reason that Dillon
wrote: “He was drawn by the urge to inset himself into the investigation.
To, in effect, say ‘Here I am’ and he brags in that letter, not just
‘Here I am but here I am, catch me if you can.’”
They might not have caught him, if it hadn’t not been for two strokes of
luck. A friend of Dillon’s ultimately became suspicious of him.
“He had read about the killings. He knew that Dillon liked to drive
around those areas and weekends and so forth in his car. He knew Dillon
had weapons. He knew Dillon had shot and killed animals. He felt that
Dillon was the type of person who could do something like this,” says
A sniper task force followed Dillon for months. Eventually they arrested
him on a weapons charge. That put his picture in the paper. And a gun
dealer remembered he once bought from Dillon, a gun called a Mauser.
“When he saw his picture he remembered the individual. He still had the
Mauser and he called the task force. That Mauser was ultimately taken to
the FBI lab and it was confirmed that it was used in one of the
homicides,” says Miller.
Miller offered a deal. Plead guilty and confess and the state wouldn’t
seek the death penalty. The videotaped confession goes on for nearly
four hours. At one point, a sheriff offers some photographs. Dillon is
eager to see.
Investigator: You want to see the autopsy pictures?
Dillon: “Just - I want to see 'em all. Show 'em all to me.”
Dillon: I never saw 'em in color. What the hell.
Investigator: Okay, we'll show you some pictures.
Dillon: Not the neatest job in the world, was it? Hmm.
Investigator: The shooting? And-- yeah, it's not--
Dillon: No, this autopsy. Geez. Dirty job, i'll tell 'ya.
Still, when they ask why he killed, Dillon never seemed
to have an answer. Asked if he had any feelings toward his victims,
Dillon answered: “No feelings whatsoever. They were just there. The
wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I think he’s holding back because he wants to remain a puzzle,”
Smalldon says. “He would ask me ‘Have you ever met anyone as complicated
as me? Can you understand this? Am I, is this behavior as perplexing to
you as it is to me? There’s never been a crime like this in Ohio has
there? No motive. No contact with the victims. How could you figure that
out?’ And then he would shrug and say ‘I don’t know.’”
“I really think that he felt he was something special,” says Miller.
“And when he was arrested and the plea and so forth, he’s not a guy that
used a jacket to cover his head, you know, he looked into the camera
almost with a smirk on it. I mean he was proud of himself and proud of
his period of fame. And I think he would have done it again.”
That’s what Dillon told the task force.
Investigator: If you had not been caught, more than likely there'd be
From prison, Dillon has continued to write Smalldon. He now says he
wishes he’d gotten help when he needed it, and he’s sorry for how the
murders ruined his own family, at least.
Still Smalldon says many mysteries remain: he thinks there is “a good
chance that he may have” committed other murders.
Man who'd aim at anything is finally the law's target
By David Knox, Jolene Limbacher and Kim McMahan
January 24, 1993
On a cloudless Saturday in November, a detective
aboard an FBI surveillance plane got a sick feeling as he watched what
was unfolding on a remote Harrison County road.
From high above, Detective Sgt. Walter Wilson could
easily monitor the red Toyota pickup truck and its driver, Thomas Lee
Dillon, the man suspected of being the sniper killer of as many as five
men as they jogged, hunted or fished in rural Ohio.
Ahead was a T-intersection. To the right, a jogger.
Though it was barely past 9 a.m., Wilson knew Dillon
was already loaded with beer. What he didn't know was whether Dillon was
packing any weapons.
Wilson watched nervously as the pickup reached the
Dillon turned left.
The knot in Wilson's stomach relaxed.
The surveillance continued for several uneventful
hours. So ended another frustrating day for the Tuscarawas County
The case has been a murder investigator's nightmare:
All of the victims were alone, chosen at random and killed with high-powered
weapons - each in a different county in east-central Ohio.
Worse yet, the killer seemed to know exactly what
authorities were up against.
"Don't feel bad about not solving this case," taunted
a letter to a Belmont County newspaper just before the first anniversary
of the slaying of Jamie Paxton, a 21-year-old deer hunter killed on Nov.
10, 1990. Authorities are certain the letter was written by the killer.
"You could interview till doomsday everyone that Jamie Paxton ever met
in his life and you wouldn't have a clue to my identity....With no
motive, no weapon, and no witnesses you could not possibly solve this
Authorities said Friday they have taken a step toward
that: Dillon, 42, was indicted on two counts of aggravated murder in the
1992 deaths of fishermen Claude Hawkins and Gary Bradley. If convicted,
Dillon could be sentenced to death. Investigators said he remains the
prime suspect in the other three deaths.
Dillon's attorney, Roger M. Synenberg of Cleveland,
said Friday he hadn't seen the indictment and couldn't comment about the
How investigators built their case is a study in
dogged persistence, tips and luck - and a question Dillon asked of a
friend: "Do you think I've ever killed somebody?"
He has a big fan in his mother-in-law
On the surface, Dillon appeared to be an unlikely
suspect. A husband and father, he had worked 22 years for the city of
Canton, living a quiet life in a middle-class ranch house in southern
Stark County's Pike Township.
His mother-in-law, Anne Elsass, speaks lovingly of
him. "We're a very close-knit family," she said.
But authorities and some people who know him give a
startlingly different picture: He was a gun fanatic who had fired so
many times he had lost some of his hearing. His bullets found their mark
not just in paper targets and tin cans, but also in windows, street
lamps and more than 1,000 dogs, cats and other animals he boasted of
killing over the last 20 years.
Authorities also believe he could be responsible for
many of the reported 108 arsons of barns and abandoned houses since 1988
in Tuscarawas, Harrison, Carroll and Coshocton counties.
"I'm a confirmed pyromaniac," Dillon bragged to a
fellow hunter in the early 1980s.
But investigators didn't even know Dillon's name
until they received a phone call Aug. 26.
"I'd like to meet with you," the informant remembers
telling Detective Wilson. He said he had seen reports about the task
force that had been formed to solve the killings "and I just think I got
a guy" who should be investigated as a possible suspect.
The informant, who agreed to be interviewed on
condition his name not be used, said he has known Dillon since their
junior year at the former Glenwood High School in Plain Township.
Several other classmates remembered Dillon as
extremely intelligent but a loner with few friends. His 1968 senior
yearbook lists no extracurricular activities.
"Tom was removed from the group," said classmate
Ronald Skelton. "He was a person who marched to the beat of a different
drummer - separated from the mainstream."
Thomas Breit said that Dillon was quiet - especially
in a group. "I always liked him," Breit said. "I got a kick out of him -
he made me laugh."
Informant gave detective glimpse at the hidden
But the informant gave Wilson a glimpse of Dillon
others hadn't seen.
"I used to go out hunting with him because we were
gun enthusiasts," the informant said. "In the beginning, it was all
pretty legitimate....But then we started hitting these dumps in southern
Stark County. We'd go down there hunting rats and things.
"I remember we ran into a couple of scraggly dogs one
time. They were all diseased - they were sick. I remember they had open
sores. Tom said, 'Do you think I ought to kill them?' And I said, 'Well,
you'd probably be doing them a favor.' I remember him shooting them. I
didn't think too much about it - wild dogs can be vicious.
"Then he started shooting dogs - just dogs along the
road. I said, 'Tom, shooting a wild dog is one thing, but that dog
doesn't look very wild to me.' He said, 'You can't let them damn things
be running around.' I let it go by once or twice, but then I said, 'Tom,
you got to quit it. Or I won't go out with you. Those are somebody's
pets. Somebody loves them. It's just not right to do that.' "
Dillon began keeping count of the animals he killed
on a calendar in his bedroom of his family's home on 37th Street
Northwest in Canton. And what did he think of people? The informant said
Dillon also kept a calendar for all the girls he'd had sex with in his
Everything a target: street lights also shot
Animals weren't Dillon's only targets.
"I saw him shoot out a street light one night with a
shotgun," the informant said. Another time, Dillon told him he'd cut off
the speakers at a drive-in theater and thrown them through the windows
of another high school.
Another incident Dillon related to the informant was
"Back in the year we graduated, we were having a
problem with some other high school. One of these standoffs - you throw
something at my car, I throw something at your car. But nobody ever
throws a punch."
One night, one of the other guys kicked his car. Tom
"pulled out this gun and took a shot at this guy," the informant said.
"I asked him this: 'Did you really mean to hit him?' And he said, 'Yes,
I meant to hit him.' "
The vandalism continued after Dillon graduated from
high school, first while taking classes at Kent State University's Stark
campus and later while home on vacation from Ohio State University.
The informant wasn't the only one aware of Dillon's
"In the summer months, we would all hang out at
Willow Springs swimming pool on 55th Street," said a man who remembers
Dillon. "I just ran around with him a couple years. We all drank
"I never saw him shoot a gun. But I heard other
people talking about him - 'Ah, crazy Dillon went out drinking and he
was shooting a pistol out the window or he shot the windows out of a
school.' I heard things like that a couple times."
Just "plinking" at faraway farmer
The informant and two others remember a much scarier
story going around the swimming pool and told over beers.
Once, while driving back from Atwood Lake in Carroll
County, "Tom pulled off the side of the road and pulled out this gun and
started shooting at this farmer," the informant said. "Apparently the
farmer was a good way off - two, three hundred yards."
One of the others in the car protested, "What the
hell are you doing?"
Dillon explained that he couldn't hit a target at
that distance with a pistol.
"So I'm just plinking at him," he said.
The animal killings continued after Dillon graduated
from Ohio State in 1972, went to work as a draftsman for the Canton
Water Department and married Catherine Elsass, a nurse from Alliance, in
By the early 1980s, Dillon was boasting that the
count on the death calendar had reached 500. The confidential informant
said he had had enough.
"I just didn't have anything more to do with him," he
said. "In fact, if I'd see him someplace, I didn't even wave to him or
talk with him."
Called a bad hunter, he shot at host's cats
The informant wasn't the only person to break off
relations with Dillon.
"Dillon was a bad hunter," said a man who hunted with
him for several years but became increasingly disturbed by Dillon's
behavior. "He would shoot at farmer's cats after getting permission to
hunt on their land. He just didn't care."
Dillon once boasted of killing a deer caught in high
water while crossing a river. He brought the deer home without field
"He gutted the carcass in his yard and made a mess of
it," the hunter said. The hunter said he helped out by hosing the
But Dillon didn't seem to understand the concept of
friendship: He never offered to do a favor or asked for one.
"It was always a trade," he said. "I'll do this, if
you do that."
The hunter also thought it unusual that Dillon "never
talked about women' - either in a locker-room way or any other manner.
"He never mentioned his wife and love in the same
sentence," he said.
Even carried weapons while riding a bike
Dillon did display passion for weapons, the hunter
said, and "was always changing guns." While Dillon occasionally bought
weapons at gun shows, most came from private sales, through classified
ads and mail order from gun dealers.
The hunter said Dillon almost always carried weapons
- "even when he rode a bike."
Dillon didn't just collect guns. The hunter estimated
Dillon fired about 1,000 rounds a year in target practice - so much that
he damaged his hearing. He also used a crossbow.
Despite all the practice, the hunter said, Dillon was
only a mediocre marksman - especially when the target was a living thing.
Dillon seemed to get a physical thrill out of killing,
the hunter said. He recalled Dillon once used a knife to finish off a
"He was shaking. He was in a frenzy - wild-eyed."
Dillon didn't have any qualms about talking about
killing animals - "He'd just blurt it out."
In the late '70s and early '80s, Dillon would
sometimes take dead animals home. "I can remember one pretty good-looking
German shepherd," the hunter said. "It still had arrows stuck in him."
The hunter said Dillon would talk about "grossing
people out at work" with his tales of killing, but said he didn't seem
to understand why people would find the stories disturbing.
Nor did Dillon understand why anyone would object to
the way he teased his son, the hunter said.
Once in the mid-1980s, when the boy was 5 or 6,
Dillon shot a chipmunk under their backyard grill.
The boy was nearby. "He was curious," the hunter
Dillon grabbed the dead animal and began chasing his
son around the yard until he tripped and fell, the hunter said. "He
ground that chipmunk in his face."
Neighborhood Problems: Police told dog was killed
By the mid-1980s, Dillon's activities had attracted
attention near home, several residents said. One man said he complained
to police because Dillon had killed his dog.
There were indications Dillon was taking his gun
The informant ran into Dillon in Newcomerstown in
southern Tuscarawas County in about 1986.
"This was the first I'd spoken to him in a long
time," the informant said. "I said, 'What in the world are you doing
clear down here?' He said, 'Oh, just driving around - this and that.' "
The informant didn't believe him.
"When I saw him in Newcomerstown, I thought, 'He's
moving farther south because he's still up to his old ways.' "
Despite his suspicions, the informant renewed his
friendship with Dillon in 1989. Again, their common bond was an interest
"They moved the Ohio Gun Collectors Association gun
show up to Cleveland, and I wasn't a member," the informant said. Dillon
invited him to be his guest.
"He said he had stopped killing animals, so I said,
'I guess we can be friends again.' "
The gun shows were held five or six times a year and
on the long drives together, Dillon and the informant would discuss guns,
hunting - and sometimes, serial murders.
Dillon talked about how easy murder could be
Both Dillon and the informant had read many books
about serial killers.
"I remember one time...he and I were driving and he
said, "Do you realize you can go out into the country and find somebody
and there are no witnesses? You can shoot them. There is no motive. Do
you realize how easy murder would be to get away with?"
"I said, 'Yeah, but why would you do it?' "
On a trip to a gun show last summer, Dillon asked a
more disturbing question.
"We were talking about (Florida serial killer) Ted
Bundy and how can a guy get away with all that. Tom said, 'Do you think
I've ever killed somebody?' "
"The question really caught me off guard. I said,
'No, I don't think so.' " Dillon repeated the question.
"The way he said that to me was really scary," the
informant remembered. "I'd never seen him like that before. I thought to
myself, 'Has anybody been shot?' "
After seeing reports, informant called FBI
In August, the informant read in a newspaper that
authorities had linked the slayings of five outdoorsmen in Ohio to a
lone killer and that a federal, state and local task force had been
established. A few days later, the informant saw an account on a
television crime news program.
Several days later - after wrestling with the
decision - the informant called the FBI number listed in the newspaper
story. He left a message on an answering machine. When the FBI didn't
return his call, he tried one of the other numbers in the newspaper -
the Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Department. He reached Detective Wilson
on Aug. 26.
By that time, the Southeastern Ohio Homicide Task
Force had received dozens of tips. None had panned out.
On the surface, the informant's tip about Dillon
looked like another dead end.
Called a dedicated and intelligent employee
With the exception of minor disciplinary action for
tardiness and absenteeism in the '70s, Dillon's 22-year work record was
"Tom is a dedicated and highly intelligent employee,
and these qualities are reflected in his work," wrote his supervisor,
J.D. Williams, in a Dec. 2 letter to Dillon's attorney after his arrest.
"He gets along well with the other employees and his attitude is always
Dillon had only two known brushes with the law.
In 1969, while he was a student at Ohio State, Dillon
was investigated for possessing a military weapon - an antique Russian
mortar. Authorities decided not to press charges after determining that
the mortar was more of a collector's item than a weapon. The second
incident was more recent.
In August 1991, Dillon was cited by a game warden for
illegal target practicing near a state hunting area in southern Stark
County. While target shooting is a misdemeanor - Dillon was fined $200
in Canton Municipal Court - the incident led to more serious charges. In
a search of his pickup truck, the warden seized a .22-caliber pistol
with a silencer.
In March, Dillon was indicted on federal charges of
possessing an illegal silencer. Four months later, Dillon pleaded guilty.
Dillon's attorney, Synenberg, said he was optimistic
that his client wouldn't serve any jail time because he had promised in
the plea bargain to get rid of his weapons and not buy any more.
"Mr. Dillon has lived a law-abiding life," Synenberg
wrote in a motion requesting leniency that portrayed Dillon as "an avid
and lifelong gun enthusiast" who made a mistake but presented no threat
But when Detective Wilson began to dig, he found
ample evidence to support the confidential informant's claims of
alarming numbers of animal killings and vandalism.
Dillon's co-workers and neighbors were interviewed by
members of the task force. One co-worker, who said he had known Dillon
for 20 years, said Dillon's nickname was "Killer" because he often "bragged
about shooting dogs and cats," according to court records.
The co-worker and a second city employee described
Dillon as a loner. He did not have a good relationship with his wife,
they told investigators. Court documents did not elaborate.
The co-workers also provided a possible link between
Dillon and the murders of the outdoorsmen: Dillon kept maps on his table
and filing cabinet of many of the east-central Ohio counties where the
Bought 18 weapons from licensed co-worker
A second enticing link was established when Dillon's
history of firearms purchases showed he had bought numerous weapons from
a co-worker who had a federal firearms dealer's license. The dealer's
records showed Dillon had bought 18 weapons in the last several years,
including four .30-caliber-type rifles and two Mausers of the kind used
to kill four of the five outdoorsmen.
Dillon also was knowledgeable about police procedures.
In 1980, he had attended Ohio Peace Officers Training in Lawrence
Township in Stark County, doing well in the course and graduating with
an expert rating in marksmanship.
The portrait of Dillon drawn from the interviews
closely matched a psychological profile of the serial killer produced by
The profile said the serial killer was a white man at
least 30 years old who was an avid hunter and owned at least several
weapons. The killer, the profile said, lived within easy driving
distance of the slayings.
The killer had above-average intelligence but was
introverted and without many friends, and would "resolve personal
problems in a cowardly fashion." He might have a drinking problem and "engage
in obscene telephone calls, arson fire, vandalism by shooting out
windows or tires of vehicles."
"What you have is a hunter of humans," said a noted
forensic psychiatrist who has been involved in such celebrated cases as
Ted Bundy and Jack Ruby.
Whoever killed the outdoorsmen "did it for his own
satisfaction and pleasure," said Dr. Emanuel Tanay, a professor of
psychiatry at Wayne State University in Detroit.
"If it's pleasurable to kill dogs and cats at random,
the much better prey is humans. They're a bigger trophy. People enjoy
killing. Let's face it. That's why they do it."
Killing of a dog provided first link
While the profile pointed to Dillon, it wasn't
evidence. Authorities had nothing to connect Dillon to any crime - much
A dog killing provided the first link. On Sept. 20,
someone saw a red Toyota pickup truck near the spot where a dog was
killed in Tuscarawas County. A .25-caliber slug was removed from the
animal's body. The informant had told Detective Wilson that Dillon owned
a similar gun. Wilson asked the informant whether he could buy it. He
did, and a ballistic match was made.
Now Wilson, who had been trailing Dillon alone for
several weeks, had enough to get the go-ahead for expensive surveillance.
Tuscarawas County Sheriff Harold McKimmie said
Wilson's preliminary work convinced the "other task force members that
Dillon was a viable suspect." Wilson's biggest job was getting the task
force interested in Dillon, McKimmie said.
"From early on, I felt strongly about him," Wilson
"He appeared to be your everyday guy. But underneath
the surface, he wasn't. Not even close."
Task force tailed him in air and on ground
Beginning in mid-October, the task force tailed
Dillon from the air and on the ground about a dozen times - to gun shows
and on weekend jaunts of 75 to 125 miles over country roads in Belmont,
Harrison, Tuscarawas, Holmes, Coshocton and Carroll counties. Officials
said Dillon often bought beer, sometimes as early as 7:15 a.m.
Once, task force members witnessed an example of
On Nov. 8, investigators in the air saw Dillon stop
several times and point what appeared to be a gun. The tailing cars
later examined Dillon's apparent targets: four shattered electric meters
on oil well pumps, and a stop sign. Dillon also stopped next to a car
with a for-sale sign on it, picked up a large rock and threw it through
On Nov. 11, task force members lost sight of Dillon
on his way home from Belmont County. Later that day, they learned that
two cows had been killed with a crossbow in Tuscarawas County.
Authorities knew Dillon sometimes used a crossbow. The informant helped
obtain several of Dillon's arrows. They matched those recovered from the
Officials believe Dillon killed numerous cattle in
Plea bargain violated, so arrest decision made
On Nov. 21, authorities followed Dillon to a gun show
in New Philadelphia, where he bought a .22-caliber rifle.
The task force faced a tough decision: The purchase
of that gun and a .25- caliber handgun at a gun show in Cleveland on
Nov. 7 was enough to arrest Dillon for violating his plea bargain on the
But there still was nothing to link him to the
killings of the outdoorsmen.
They could wait - but what if authorities lost Dillon
again on the winding roads? Ohio's gun deer season would open Nov. 30,
drawing some 300,000 hunters into the woods.
Authorities decided not to take the chance. Dillon
was arrested Nov. 27 as he emerged from a convenience store in
At first, the gamble looked like a bad one: searches
of Dillon's home, vehicles, camper, office and safe deposit box failed
to turn up either firearms or other evidence linking him to the slayings.
But at his arraignment in federal court in Akron,
where prosecutors argued to keep him in custody, Dillon was named the
prime suspect in the serial killings. The storm of publicity that
followed brought the task force the break it needed. On Dec. 4, a Stark
County man told authorities he had bought a Swedish Mauser from Dillon
at a Massillon gun show - on the same day Gary Bradley was killed in
Ballistic tests matched the bullets recovered from
Bradley and Claude Hawkins, authorities say.
The arrest shocked family members. Dillon's mother-in-law,
who lives in Washington Township near Alliance, speaks lovingly of him
and refuses to believe that he is a murderer.
Anne Elsass, a retired teacher and guidance counselor
at Alliance High School, said Dillon is a witty, kind man who has always
had a yen for guns.
Elsass denied that Dillon and her daughter have a
shaky marriage and that he has mistreated his son. She said she was
unaware that he spent evenings and weekends driving country roads
looking for something to shoot.
Elsass said her family stands behind Dillon 100
percent and that she wants to be a character witness when he goes to
She said her daughter, Catherine, who has worked for
20 years as a nurse at Timken Mercy Medical Center in Canton, has turned
to her work and faith in God to deal with the revelation that her
husband might be a serial killer.
Though Elsass has refused to believe allegations
against him, she concluded in an interview in her home: "If they're true,
"My stomach is churning," she confided. "I have to
keep my spirits up for Cathy. Maybe part of me wants to deny this. Tom
was always pleasant. He was always joking. He seemed like a son to me."
Authorities said Friday they are still gathering
evidence to seek indictments against Dillon in the other three cases.
"The indictment that is being announced today is a
very small part of the investigation," Dave Hanna of the FBI's Columbus
office said at a news conference.
Sheriff McKimmie says Dillon is "a cold, calculating
man. Only Tom Dillon knows everything that he has done."
Humans: The True Story of Thomas Lee Dillon
by David Lohr
The Hunt Begins
Ohio’s rural counties, with their rocky and wide-open spaces, are
perfect for outdoor recreation. Coal miners, factory workers and farmers
make up most of the population, and many take advantage of the streams
and forests during hunting and fishing seasons. These counties were at
one time a place where residents would leave their doors unlocked at
night and violent crime was considered a problem of big cities. But all
that began to change in the spring of 1989.
November 10, 1990, 21-year-old Jamie Paxton, a steelworker, awoke just
before dawn. It was a frosty Saturday morning, but Jamie had plans
outdoors. Ohio’s annual bow hunting season was in full swing, and he
was not going to miss the opportunity to bag a deer. Jamie lived with
his parents in a cozy white frame house in Bannock County, Ohio.
Following breakfast, just before seven o’clock, the handsome young man,
nearly six feet tall with blue-green eyes and dark brown hair, headed
out the door with his crossbow.
mother, 49-year-old Jean Paxton, had expected her son home by
mid-afternoon. When he failed to show, she assumed he had a successful
hunt and would pull up the drive any minute with a buck in his trunk.
p.m., as Jean went about her household chores, she looked out the window
and saw a sheriff’s car pull up. She dashed onto the porch where her
husband Mickey was clutching a post for support.
tell me!” she screamed. “Don’t even tell me. Jamie’s dead!”
had been found by friends on a brushy hillside along Route 9, dead from
apparent rifle-bullet wounds to his chest, right knee and buttocks.
killing of Jamie Paxton horrified the quiet community. Hunting
accidents were not uncommon to southern Ohio, but Sheriff Tom McCort
knew that this was no accident. “When we saw more than one wound, we
knew it could not be a accident … plus it was a bullet wound rather than
an arrow, and gun season was not in yet,” Sheriff McCort explained.
killer had left no clues behind. Investigators checked the area for
spent cartridge cases, tire tracks, footprints, anything that might shed
some light on the killer identity. Sheriff McCort said that his
deputies also “checked the area around the body looking for the spent
projectiles that had passed through the body.”
Investigators were bewildered by the senseless killing and after
interviewing and polygraphing friends, family members and acquaintances,
they were even more baffled. “Everyone in the area knew Jamie Paxton.
No one that we knew of, or even to this day, had ever disliked the young
man,” said McCort.
Paxton decided that mourning Jamie was not enough. She wanted to know
who had killed him and why. Jean Paxton used the only method at her
disposal to try and get the answers she and her husband so desperately
time after Jamie’s murder, Jean began a letter-writing campaign, sending
letters to the killer via the Martin’s Ferry Times Leader
murderer(s) of my son, Jamie, Would it be easier for you if I wrote
words of hate? I can't because I don't feel hate. I feel deep sorrow
at losing my son. You took a light from my life November 10 and left me
with many days of darkness. Have you thought of your own death? Unless
you confess your sin and ask for God's forgiveness, you will face the
fire and fury of hell. When you are caught, I will be sorry for your
family. They will have to carry the burden of your guilt all their
Investigators had told Jean that the killer was probably ruthless and
would not be moved by her pleas. But she persisted.
been nearly a year since you killed my son," she wrote in October 1991.
"Has your life changed in the past 11 months? Our family hasn't lived
since last November 10. We are surviving one day at a time. There is
one question on our minds all day long and every time we wake up at
night: we want to know why Jamie was killed."
work finally paid off. The killer sent an anonymous, typed letter
addressed to the Times Leader, Sheriff McCort and the Paxtons.
After providing previously undisclosed details of the murder scene, he
"I am the
murderer of Jamie Paxton. Jamie Paxton was a complete stranger to me.
I never saw him before in my life, and he never said a word to me that
was killed because of an irresistible compulsion that has taken over my
life. I knew when I left my house that day that someone would die by my
hand. I just didn't know who or where. Technically I meet the
definition of a serial killer, but I'm an average-looking person with a
family, job and home just like yourself.
“Something in my head causes me to turn into a merciless killer with no
conscience. To the Paxtons, you deserve to know the details.
very drunk and a voice inside my head said, ‘do it.’ I stopped my car
behind Jamie's and got out. Jamie started walking very slowly down the
hill toward the road. He appeared to be looking past me at something in
my rifle to my shoulder and lined him up in the sights. It took at
least five seconds to take careful aim. My first shot was off a little
bit and hit him in the right chest. He groaned and went down. I
wanted to make sure he was finished so I fired a second shot aimed half
way between his hip and shoulder. He was crawling around on the
ground. I jerked the shot, and hit him in the knee. He raised his head
and groaned again. My third shot also missed and hit him in the butt.
He never moved again.
minutes after I shot Paxton, I was drinking a beer and had blocked out
all thoughts of what I had just done out of my mind. I thought no more
of shooting Paxton than shooting a bottle at the dump.
you hate my guts, and rightfully so. I think about Jamie every hour of
the day, as I am sure you do.
feel bad about not solving this case. You could interview till doomsday
everyone that Jamie Paxton ever met in his life and you wouldn't have a
clue to my identity. With no motive, no weapon, and no witnesses you
could not possibly solve this crime.”
letter was signed, “The murderer of Jamie Paxton.”
Belmont County Sheriff's Office now had its first lead. Jean Paxton’s
love for her son, and her antipathy for his killer, had exposed a serial
killer the authorities had no idea even existed, and when he struck
again the pieces began to fall into place.
A Hunter Hunted
Saturday, March 14, 1992, 49-year-old Claude Hawkins decided to do some
early morning fishing after finishing up his midnight shift at
Pittsburgh Plate and Glass Company. Married and the father of four,
Hawkins loved fishing and had a favorite spot just below Will’s Creek
Dam northwest of Belmont, Ohio, in Coshocton County. He was found dead
a short while later, shot in the back at close range.
Hawkins murder occurred on federal land, the FBI was called in. Special
Agent Harry Trumbitis, from the Columbus field office was one of the
officers assigned to the case. “Usually you would find some type of
shell casing in the area. I remember looking very hard, metal
detectors, hands and knees, for any shell casings and that. None were
ever found, and so that was something that you know if, in fact, we had
somebody who was evidence conscience enough to pick up the shell casing
after they shot and killed somebody, we were dealing with a different
brand of person here.”
was convinced that Hawkins’ murder was not a solitary event. On March
26, 1992, in New Philadelphia, just south of Canton, officers from four
counties, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and the FBI gathered to compare
notes. As the meeting progressed, the assembled officers discovered
that the earliest of possibly related homicides occurred on April 1,
9:30 a.m., on a back road in Tuscarawas County, about 100 miles north of
Belmont County, 35-year-old truck driver Donald Welling had been out
jogging near his home when someone put a .30-caliber rifle bullet
through his heart from approximately 10 feet away. At the time, local
authorities could not find a motive or any evidence to help them solve
Paxton’s murder was also brought up, and a link seemed apparent.
Investigators concluded that the killer had been inactive for 19 months
before Paxton’s murder in Belmont. They also discovered that 18 days
after Jamie’s murder, on November 28, 1990, there had been another
murder in Duxbury, Massachusetts.
Kevin Loring, a 30-year-old refrigerator technician who was married and
the father of three children, had been murdered by a single gunshot
wound to the face. He had been hunting deer in a strip mine area in
Muskingun County, west of Belmont County and south of Coshocton County.
murder of Loring had been deemed a hunting accident, but there was
little question now as to what had actually happened. It did not take
long for investigators to realize that a serial killer was roaming the
back roads of southern Ohio.
Hannibal Lector Squad
morning of April 5, 1992, 10 days after the New Philadelphia meeting,
another outdoorsman was found dead. Gary Bradley, a 44-year-old
steelworker with a wife and three children from Williamstown, West
Virginia, had been shot in the back while fishing in Noble County,
adjacent to Belmont County. The serial killer had apparently struck
May, a secret five-county federal and local investigative task force was
established. The group met at the FBI field office in Columbus, where
officers from each of the five counties presented details of their
so-called “Hannibal Lector Squad,” a group of three personality
profilers from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia,
formed a profile of the killer, concluding that he was “a white male
over 30, a gun enthusiast, avid hunter and owned at least several
killer would have above-average intelligence but was introverted and
without many friends, and would resolve personal problems in a cowardly
fashion. He might have a drinking problem and engage in obscene
telephone calls, arson fire and vandalism by shooting out windows or
tires of vehicles. He likely would take sadistic delight in mutilating
and killing animals of all sorts. Stressful events would trigger his
criminal episodes, which usually would be committed while he is drunk.”
The killer, the profile said, “lived within easy driving distance of the
killed the outdoorsmen "did it for his own satisfaction and pleasure,"
said Dr. Emanuel Tanay, a professor of psychiatry at Wayne State
University in Detroit. "If it's pleasurable to kill dogs and cats at
random, the much better prey is humans. They’re a bigger trophy. People
enjoy killing. Let's face it. That's why they do it."
mid-summer, the task force had investigated and ruled out at least 100
possible suspects, but they were not much closer to finding the killer.
30, 1992, which would have been Jamie’s 23rd birthday, Jean Paxton sent
another letter to the paper. She described how she had baked her son’s
favorite cake that day, “but Jamie wasn’t there to enjoy it. There’s a
small child in our family whose biggest worry was ‘who’s going to blow
out the candles on Jamie’s cake?’…The next time there’s a birthday party
in your family I hope you think of the cake on our table and know you
are the reason Jamie wasn’t there to blow out the candles.”
August, investigators concluded that the killer was not going to risk
sending in another letter himself and decided to go public. In a press
release to the media, they explained that they suspected a serial killer
was hunting outdoorsman in a loose cluster of eastern Ohio counties.
headline of the Saturday, August 22, edition of The Plain Dealer
read, “Slayings linked in rural Ohio.” The article stated that five
sportsmen had been murdered, and investigators suspected a single serial
sniper in their deaths. The paper also included a copy of the FBI’s
26, 1992, Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Walter Wilson got a
call from 43-year-old Richard Fry. Apparently Fry had read the August
11, 1992, report in the newspaper.
to meet with you," Fry told Detective Wilson. “I saw the reports about
the task force that had been formed to solve the killings and I just
think I got a guy who should be investigated as a possible suspect.”
The man was nervous about coming in to the station, so Detective Wilson
agreed to meet with him at a private location outside of town later that
their meeting, Fry explained to Wilson that the profile sounded a lot
like an old high school buddy of his, Tom Dillon, an employee of the
Canton Water Department. In the 1970s, Fry said, he and Dillon often
drove around eastern Ohio together, drinking beer, shooting road signs
and committing minor acts of arson. Fry recounted his conversation to
David Knox and two other Akron Beacon Journal reporters.
the year we graduated, we were having a problem with some other kids at
high school. One of these standoffs ─ you throw something at my car, I
throw something at your car. But nobody ever throws a punch. One
night, one of the other guys kicked his car. Tom pulled out this gun
and took a shot at this guy. I asked him this: 'Did you really mean to
hit him?' And he said, 'Yes, I meant to hit him.'
to go out hunting with him because we were gun enthusiasts. In the
beginning, it was all pretty legitimate ... But then we started hitting
these dumps in southern Stark County. We'd go down there hunting rats
remember we ran into a couple of scraggly dogs one time. They were all
diseased. They were sick. I remember they had open sores. Tom said,
'Do you think I ought to kill them?' And I said, 'Well, you'd probably
be doing them a favor.' I remember him shooting them. I didn't think
too much about it, wild dogs can be vicious.
started shooting dogs, just dogs along the road. I said, 'Tom, shooting
a wild dog is one thing, but that dog doesn't look very wild to me.' He
said, 'You can't let them damn things be running around.' I let it go
by once or twice, but then I said, 'Tom, you got to quit it. Or I won't
go out with you. Those are somebody's pets. Somebody loves them. It's
just not right to do that.'
to discuss serial killers too," Fry added. "Especially Ted Bundy. Tom
was fascinated by Bundy.” In time, Fry said, Dillon became more
while driving back from Atwood Lake in Carroll County, Tom pulled off
the side of the road and pulled out this gun and started shooting at
this farmer. Apparently the farmer was a good way off ─ two, three
hundred yards. One of the others in the car protested, ‘What the hell
are you doing?’ Dillon explained that he couldn't hit a target at that
distance with a pistol, so I'm just plinking at him," Fry said.
didn't have anything more to do with him, in fact, if I'd see him
someplace, I didn't even wave to him or talk with him.
into Dillon again in Newcomerstown in southern Tuscarawas County in
about 1986. This was the first I'd spoken to him in a long time. I
said, 'What in the world are you doing clear down here?' He said, 'Oh,
just driving around, this and that.'
saw him in Newcomerstown, I thought, 'He's moving farther south because
he's still up to his old ways.'
moved the Ohio Gun Collectors Association gun show up to Cleveland, and
I wasn't a member, so Dillon invited me to be his guest. He said he had
stopped killing animals, so I said, 'I guess we can be friends again.'
remember one time … he and I were driving and he said, ‘Do you realize
you can go out into the country and find somebody and there are no
witnesses? You can shoot them. There is no motive. Do you realize how
easy murder would be to get away with?’ I said, 'Yeah, but why would
you do it?'
trip to a gun show last summer we were talking about Ted Bundy and how
can a guy get away with all that. Tom said, 'Do you think I've ever
killed somebody?' The question really caught me off guard. I said,
'No, I don't think so.' And he said ‘that just proves you don't know me
very well.’ The way he said that to me was really scary. I'd never
seen him like that before. I thought to myself, 'Has anybody been
on to say that Dillon lived with his family in Magnolia, about 75 miles
from where Jamie Paxton was murdered.
not take long for them to find ample evidence to support Fry's claims
about Thomas Dillon’s penchant for animal killings and vandalism.
September 20, 1992, a witness saw a red Toyota pickup truck, similar to
Dillon’s, near the spot where a dog had been killed in Tuscarawas
County. A .25-caliber slug was removed from the animal's body. Fry
confirmed that Dillon owned a .25-caliber rifle and, at Detective
Wilson’s request, bought it from Dillon. Days later, a ballistic match
Wilson ran a check on Dillon's history of firearms purchases, he learned
that Dillon had bought numerous weapons from a licensed federal firearms
dealer. The dealer's records showed that Dillon had bought 18 weapons
in the last few years, including two Mausers of the kind used to kill
four of the five outdoorsmen.
Wilson dug deeper into Dillon’s past, beginning with his employment
records. With the exception of a trivial disciplinary action for
absenteeism in the 1970s, Dillon's 22-year work record was good. But
his criminal record was more interesting.
while a student at Ohio State University, Dillon had been investigated
for possessing a Russian mortar military weapon. Authorities did not
press charges, citing that the mortar was more of a collector's item
than a weapon. A second, more recent and illuminating incident had
occurred in August 1991. Dillon had been cited by a game warden for
illegal target practice near a state hunting area in southern Stark
search of his pickup truck, the warden seized a .22-caliber pistol with
a silencer. Dillon later pleaded guilty to possessing an illegal
silencer and was released on bond on condition that he not possess any
firearms. He was awaiting final sentencing. The more the task force
dug into Dillon’s past, the more likely a suspect he became.
Catching a Killer
force began tailing Dillon from the air and on the ground in mid-October
1992. During their surveillance, officers followed Dillon on weekend
jaunts of 75 to 125 miles over country roads in Belmont, Harrison,
Tuscarawas, Holmes, Coshocton and Carroll counties. Dillon often
stopped for beer and would sometimes begin drinking as early as 7:15
November 8, 1992, investigators got to witness an example of Dillon’s
vandalism firsthand. He went on a shooting spree, targeting electric
meters, oil well pumps and stop signs. Dillon also stopped next to a car
with a for-sale sign on it, picked up a large rock and threw it through
force members lost Dillon on his way home from Belmont County on
November 11, 1992, but later that day, investigators discovered that
numerous cows had been killed with a crossbow in Tuscarawas County.
Authorities had been informed that Dillon sometimes used a crossbow.
Richard Fry helped obtain several of Dillon's arrows, and they were the
same model and style as those recovered from the dead cows.
Authorities followed Dillon to a gun show in New Philadelphia on Nov.
21, 1992, where he bought a .22-caliber rifle. The purchase of the gun
was enough to arrest Dillon for violating his bond on the silencer
charge, but there was still nothing to link him to the killings of the
outdoorsmen. Investigators faced a tough decision. By waiting to arrest
him, they risked losing him and giving him the chance to kill again.
deer season would open November 30, 1992, drawing more than 300,000
hunters into the woods. Authorities decided not to take the gamble.
They arrested Dillon outside a Tuscarawas County convenient store on
November 27, 1992, hoping that a search of his home would reveal other
Unfortunately, searches of Dillon's house, Toyota pickup truck, camper,
office and safe deposit box turned up nothing. Five days later, at his
bond hearing, prosecutors revealed that Dillon was the prime suspect in
barrage of publicity that followed Dillon’s arrest finally gave the task
force the break they needed. On December 4, 1992, a Stark County man
came forward and told investigators that he had bought a 6.5x55mm
Swedish Mauser rifle from Dillon at a Massillon gun show on April 6.
The man turned the rifle and a receipt over to investigators. Ballistic
tests matched the bullets recovered from Gary Bradley and Claude Hawkins
with the rifle.
January 22, 1993, a Noble County grand jury indicted Dillon on two
counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, and his
bond was set at $1 million. Noble County Prosecutor Lucian Young wanted
to seek indictments in all five slayings, but because of publicity about
Dillon, he went ahead with two, planning to file other charges at a
at the Stark County jail placed Dillon on “homicide watch” after two
strips of blanket were found in his cell. One of the strips had
reportedly been fashioned into a noose. Dillon claimed the strips were
used to cover his eyes while he slept. Shortly after that incident,
Dillon told a mental health counselor that “he would strangle inmates if
he had the chance, and he wouldn’t shed a tear.”
A Sadistic Life
Lee Dillon was born in Canton, Ohio, on July 9, 1950. His father
succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease and died when Dillon was just 15 months
old. Psychologist Jeffrey Smalldon said that Dillon viewed his mother
as a cold woman who never praised or punished him. "Dillon … has no
memories of his mother ever hugging him, kissing him or telling him she
loved him," he said.
Classmates from Glenwood High School in Plain Township remembered Dillon
as extremely intelligent but a loner. His 1968 senior yearbook lists no
removed from the group," said classmate Ronald Skelton. "He was a person
who marched to the beat of a different drummer, separated from the
classmate, Thomas Breit, said that Dillon was quiet, especially in a
group. "I always liked him," Breit said. "I got a kick out of him. He
made me laugh."
loved to hunt. He simply liked to kill and enjoyed watching animals
suffer. As a teenager, Dillon began keeping count of the animals he
killed on a calendar in the bedroom of his home on 37th Street Northwest
in Canton. He also kept a separate calendar listing all of the girls
he'd had sex with.
high school, Dillon attended Kent State University's Stark campus and
later Ohio State University.
summer months, we would all hang out at Willow Springs swimming pool on
55th Street," said a man who remembers Dillon. "I just ran around with
him a couple years. We all drank together. I never saw him shoot a gun.
But I heard other people talking about him ─ 'Ah, crazy Dillon went out
drinking and he was shooting a pistol out the window or he shot the
windows out of a school.' I heard things like that a couple times."
graduated from Ohio State in 1972 and went to work as a draftsman for
the Canton Water Department. In 1978, he married Catherine Elsass, a
nurse from Alliance, Ohio.
early 1980s, Dillon began boasting to friends that the count on his
death calendar had reached 500. He had also attended Ohio Peace
Officers Training in Lawrence Township in Stark County, where he
graduated with expert marksmanship.
mid-1980s, several of Dillon’s neighbors complained to police because
Dillon was killing their dogs.
was a bad hunter," said a man who hunted with Dillon for several years.
"He would shoot at farmers’ cats after getting permission to hunt on
their land. He just didn't care. He once boasted of killing a deer
caught in high water while crossing a river. He brought the deer home
without field dressing it. He gutted the carcass in his yard and made a
mess of it," the hunter said. “Dillon didn't seem to understand the
concept of friendship. He never offered to do a favor or asked for
one. It was always a trade," he said. "I'll do this, if you do that …
he never talked about women, he never mentioned his wife and love in the
same sentence," he said. “He was always changing guns and carried
weapons even when he rode a bike."
hunter estimated that Dillon fired approximately 1,000 rounds a year in
target practice. Dillon shot so often that he had permanently damaged
his hearing. “He seemed to get a physical thrill out of killing,” the
hunter said. “He once used a knife to finish off a wounded groundhog.
He was shaking. He was in a frenzy, wild-eyed."
Confusion and Chaos
family members were shocked by his arrest. His mother-in-law, Anne
Elsass, a retired high schoolteacher and guidance counselor, refused to
believe that her son-in-law was capable of murder. Dillon “is a witty,
kind man who has always had a yen for guns,” she said. Even though she
refused to believe initial allegations against him, she told the
Akron Beacon Journal, "If they're true, they're true.”
said her daughter Catherine worked as a nurse at Timken Mercy Medical
Center in Canton and would rely on her faith in God to get her through
the ordeal. "My stomach is churning," she confided. "I have to keep my
spirits up for Cathy. Maybe part of me wants to deny this. Tom was
always pleasant. He was always joking. He seemed like a son to me.
We're a very close-knit family," she said.
February 9, 1993, 100 spectators gathered outside the Noble County
Courthouse as Dillon, handcuffed and in shackles, was escorted inside.
The proceeding was short, and Dillon pleaded not guilty to murder
charges in the deaths of Gary Bradley and Claude Hawkins.
murder charge was filed against Dillon on May 22, 1993. He was charged
with aggravated murder in the death of Jamie Paxton. “This is what
we’ve been waiting for the last two and a half years,” said Jean Paxton,
“It looks like the end’s in sight.”
days after having been charged with Paxton’s murder, Dillon was
sentenced to three years and ten months in prison, the maximum, on the
unrelated federal firearm charges.
could be tried for the three capital murders, Dillon placed a call from
jail to a WTOV television reporter on July 3, 1993, and confessed to the
murders. A similar call had also been placed to an Akron Beacon
Journal reporter. “I have major problems. I’m crazy. I want to
kill. I want to kill,” he said.
following day, Dillon’s attorneys put together a plea bargain, in which
Dillon would confess to all three murders on the guarantee that he would
not receive the death penalty, and that no further charges would be
brought against him.
12, 1993, Thomas Dillon entered his pleas before Judge John Nau in Noble
County Common Pleas Court. He showed no emotion as he answered,
“Guilty,” to each charge. Under the plea agreement, Nau sentenced
Dillon to life in prison with no chance of parole for 165 years, the
mother, Jean, said she was relieved the case was over. “Today is the
beginning of the end for Thomas Dillon,” she said. Nonetheless, she was
upset that Dillon showed no remorse. “We were given a life sentence the
day he decided to kill our son,” she said. “I think he’s a pathetic
coward. He’s taken the coward’s way out of everything.”
County Prosecutor Lucien Young III said the plea agreement was the “most
practical solution,” even though he preferred a sentence of death. “I
kind of felt like he ought to die,” he said. Dillon’s lawyer, Roger
Synenberg, countered claims that Dillon felt no remorse. “He has some
regrets about this, but he’s also got to put it all behind him,” he
o'clock the next night after the sentencing, the Paxtons' telephone
rang. It was Thomas Dillon. He told Jean Paxton that her "pathetic
coward" comment had hurt him. "That's what you are, Thomas," she
replied. "And if you start with your cocky attitude, I will hang up.
I've heard enough of that for the past several months. I'm not
interested in what you have to say. But there are things I want you to
know. Thomas, have you ever heard the expression 'Tears are the safety
valve of the heart'?" He had not, so she talked about repentance and
prayer. "Quit your profanity, stop the loopy simpering in front of the
cameras and pick up the Bible before it's too late,” she said Paxton
continued speaking to him for an hour, finally concluding, "We have
spoken long enough. I can't hate you, but I can never forgive you for
what you've done to our lives."
1993, Dillon admitted to setting 160 fires and committing other acts of
vandalism in Eastern Ohio during the preceding five years. Noble County
Sheriff Landon Smith estimated that Dillon’s fires caused more than $2
million in damages. The fires were set in Coshocton, Belmont, Guernsey,
Carroll, Columbiana and Tuscarawas counties.
pleaded with authorities not to be sent to Ohio's toughest facility, the
maximum-security prison in Lucasville in November 1993. “If I go to
Lucasville, I’m a dead man,” Dillon said. When news of this comment
reached Jean Paxton, she collected 8,000 names on a petition. Dillon was
sent to Lucasville.
SEX: M RACE:
W TYPE: N MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific
outdoorsmen in random, motiveless attacks.
165 years for five Ohio murders, 1993.