Serial killer Thomas Dillon dies

COLUMBUS – Serial killer Thomas Lee Dillon, imprisoned for killing five outdoorsmen including Bannock resident Jamie Paxton, has died in the prison wing of The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, after being ill for three weeks.

The 61-year-old Dillon, whose death occurred Friday, was serving five consecutive life terms after pleading guilty to five counts of aggravated murder in 1993. Before being hospitalized, he was in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville.

The Times Leader received a letter in 1991, which has been credited with helping in the murder investigations. In that typewritten letter, Dillon identified himself as “The murderer of Jamie Paxton.”

A Stark County resident, Dillon’s shootings occurred in 1989, 1990 and 1992 in Tuscarawas, Belmont, Muskingum, Coshocton and Noble counties. Paxton was killed in November 1990 while hunting deer.

The task force investigating the killings linked a series of animal slayings in southern Ohio to the serial killer.

Letters helped in the investigation of the killings, according to an article, “The Killing Field,” by Joe Treen in People magazine in January 1993.

According to Treen, “The task force received perhaps its biggest break long before the group was even formed.” He added it came from Jean Paxton, Jamie’s mother. After her son was killed, she began to write letters, posting some on a simple wooden frame in the field, and some were published by The Times Leader.

In the letters, Paxton’s mother described her 21-year-old son and his “good-natured grin” as well as interests including his perfect attendance at the Bannock United Methodist Church.

Treen told how she addressed one letter to “Someone out there (who) knows this letter is directed to them.” After asking whether her son’s killer had noticed anything different about his hands, she added that his hands had changed for “they are the hands of a murderer. You can’t wash Jamie’s blood from them. It will be there till the day you die.”

The Times Leader received a letter from Dillon Nov. 4, 1991, six days before the first anniversary of Paxton’s death.

Treen, who quoted from The Times Leader’s letter, noted that the “letter was a treasure trove for the FBI’s behaviorial-sciences unit in Quantico, Va.” He told what analysts deduced from the letter.

Dillon in his letter to the newspaper wrote about the Belmont County shooting, noting, in part, “I knew when I left my house that day that someone would die by my hand. I just didn’t know who or where.”

Blaming his compulsion on alcohol, Dillon also wrote, “I was very drunk, and a voice inside of my head said, ‘Do it.'”

Belmont County Sheriff Fred Thompson served as an investigator for the department in 1990 and headed up the probe of Paxton’s death. He said Paxton’s compound bow was still in his car when his body was found along Belmont 64 near Uniontown.

Thompson said he was handling the investigation as a single homicide when he received a call from Coshocton County about an unexplained murder of a fisherman there. He also learned a man in Tuscarawas County had been shot and killed while jogging. Thompson met with authorities from both counties and set up a task force that eventually included the FBI and Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Investigators decided to warn the public when deer season approached again. It was then that a friend of Dillon’s came forward, saying Dillon’s behavior had been suspicious. Additional investigation led to Dillon’s arrest.

Comparing the serial killer to “Jekyll and Hyde,” Thompson pointed out Dillon appeared to be an ordinary family man through the week, but only ventured out in search of victims on Saturdays.

Thompson said he spoke with Paxton’s mother Saturday, and both agreed Dillon’s death brings “final closure” to the case.

“Tom Dillon has caused enough grief and heartache in southeastern Ohio that he’ll never be able to pay for his debt.” Thompson said.

Tom McCort was Belmont County sheriff when Dillon took Paxton’s life, and he termed the entire situation “tragic.”

“The people he killed were innocent, good people,” McCort said. “And there was never a motive – it was just a thrill. He had no remorse.”

McCort expressed sympathy for the Paxton family and those of Dillon’s other victims as well as for Dillon’s wife and then-teenage son, who were present for Dillon’s trial.

“He (Dillon) hunted people,” said McCort. “He did this randomly through other counties…He was sick. He started off shooting small animals, shooting cattle, burning barns. Then he just worked his way to his up.”

In addition to Paxton, Dillon’s victims included Donald Wells, 35, of Strasburg in Tuscarawas County, shot in 1989 while jogging; Kevin Loring, 30, of Duxbury, Mass., killed 18 days after Paxton while hunting in Muskingum County; Claude Hawkins, 48, Mansfield, shot in 1992 while fishing in Coshocton County; and Gary Bradley, 44, Williamstown, W.Va., who died in 1992 while fishing in Noble County.

Pokas can be reached at timesleader@timesleaderonline.com.


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