Tag Archive for Ohio

Frighteningly Normal

A mild-mannered 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 Bowl-winning quarterback.
 
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 rifle.
 
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. 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 killed him.

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 occurred 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. Dillon introduced himself 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.

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 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 dump.

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 beer.
 
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 eyes.”
 
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 Massachusetts.
 
“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.”
 
Dillon died of cancer in prison in 2011.
 

A Lethal Mix of Booze, Bullets, and a Bankroll

After spending the day drinking (by his own estimate, a case of beer) while installing a door on his Columbus, Ohio home, David Fox headed across the street to the Tip Top Lounge with his long-time friend Renzo Padovan for a few more drinks.
 
The after-work libations took place after Fox had taken out his 9mm handgun and engaged in target practice in his basement. Before they went to the bar, he put the handgun in a kitchen drawer.
 
They didn’t go looking for trouble, but as is often the case when money, guns and alcohol mix, trouble found them anyway.
 
While at the bar, Fox unwisely flashed a large wad of bills that he received for agreeing to do some carpentry work. According to testimony, more than a few patrons saw the $3,700, and several decided to make it their own.
 
After ordering Chinese food and returning to Fox’s home, the two men drank some more beer and smoked some crack in between egg rolls and dim sum. While they were lounging, Montel Young, a local prostitute who had been in the bar while Fox and Padovan were there, stopped by and offered her services to the two men for $20.
 
While Padovan waited his turn, Fox received oral sex from Young, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door. Fox opened the door and was accosted by three men, one asking for “my auntie” and another for “my sis.” Two of the men had pistols and a third had a shotgun, which he used to bead Padovan unconscious.
 
The robbers then demanded Fox’s bankroll and when he hesitated, they began to beat him, breaking some of his teeth, his nose and opening a large cut on his forehead. In his statement to police, Fox said Young deliberately tripped him as he tried to flee from his attackers. She also held him down as the thieves searched him for money.
 
Fox blacked out briefly, but recovered in time to see the robbers fleeing his home and Young bending down to pick up some of the bills that had fallen during the struggle. Permanently blind in one eye and his vision blurred by blood, Fox still managed to get to the kitchen to grab his gun and staggered toward the door. He retreated back inside as after hearing one of the robbers threaten to kill him, and opened fire.
 
Padovan, who was slowly returning to consciousness, told police he remembers seeing Fox retrieve his gun, but was unable to tell who fired or how many shots were fired. He did rememeber seeing Young laying on the floor, holding her stomach, crying “I’ve been hit!”
 
After the robbers fled, Fox chased them out the back door of his home and, abandoning Padovan and Young, drove to his uncle’s house, where he was subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment.
 
The police officer who took Fox’s statement at the hospital reported that Fox was very intoxicated and kept falling asleep during the interview. Several times Fox said he had been set up by Young, but never reported that Young had been shot during the robbery.
 
Released from the hospital the next day, Fox returned home, only to find Young dead on the floor of his home and Padovan gone. He covered the prostitute’s body with a sheet and called Padovan, who advised him to get rid of the gun and call police.
 
When the police arrived, Fox told the same story he told at the hospital, but omitted the fact that he had actually fired at his attackers. Shortly afterward, Fox fled to Texas because he feared retribution by Young’s family. He later admitted he also fled because the police investigation was beginning to focus on his possible criminal acts.
 
Young died as the result of a single 9mm gunshot to the armpit that severed vital blood vessels. Although the weapon Fox owned was never found, ballistic tests using the results of his target shooting in the basement established that the bullet that killed the prostitute came from the same gun.
 
In May 2000, Fox was indicted for aggravated murder. In Ohio, the difference between “regular” murder and aggravated murder involves “prior calculation and design.”
 
His friend Padovan was the principal witness against him.
 
As to prior calculation and design, Ohio courts have repeatedly found that “no bright-line test exists that emphatically distinguishes between the presence or absence of prior calculation and design. Instantaneous deliberation is not sufficient. Prior calculation and design requires a scheme designed to implement the calculated decision to kill. Prior calculation and design can be found even when the killer quickly conceived and executed the plan to kill within a few minutes,” the courts have ruled.
 
Fox was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 20-years-to life for the murder and another three years for the use of a firearm in the course of his crime. In 2002, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court had erred by convicting Fox of aggravated murder.
 
“The evidence before the trial court suggests that Mr. Fox shot Montel Young in a fit of rage, blaming her for the robbery and beating which had just been inflicted on him,” the appeals court ruled. “However, the evidence does not clearly indicate that Montel Young was in fact responsible for the robbery and beating which occurred. If she was not responsible, Mr. Fox did not have the legal right to vent his rage at her and have his offense reduced to voluntary manslaughter from a murder finding.”
 
As a result, Fox was resentenced to 15-to-life for murder.
 
Not satisfied with that result, Fox appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which declined to hear his appeal. He filed a federal habeas petition, which was rejected by the U.S. District Court and finally by the U.S. Court of Appeals.