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Thomas Lee Dillon: The Harrowing Crimes Of The "Roadside Sniper"

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a spate of seemingly random murders of fishermen and hunters spanning several rural counties in Ohio left police bewildered. An unidentified killer appeared to be stalking quiet backroads with a high-powered rifle, hunting humans - that killer turned out to be Thomas Dillon.

Thomas Lee Dillon killed at least five innocent victims in his murder spree.
Thomas Lee Dillon killed at least five innocent victims in his murder spree.

Initially, the police weren't looking for a murderer, the ruthless killer left almost no evidence behind when he carefully executed his victims. It took three men to die before police concluded that the victims weren't being killed in random hunting accidents. After detectives connected the fifth death, the FBI attempted to identify the silent killer by releasing a criminal profile.

A friend of Thomas Dillon, Richard Fry, who had been growing increasingly concerned with the unhinged behavior of his friend, contacted the FBI and put forward Dillon as a potential suspect. It was this information that led the FBI to eventually arrest Dillon in November 1992.

Dillon was quickly dubbed the "Roadside Sniper" by the media, and once he was securely behind bars the police were then tasked with uncovering the motivation behind the seemingly random murders. One of the most disturbing parts of the story was the fact he didn't appear to have a motive, when officers quizzed Dillon on why he would kill five completely innocent strangers, his response was: "They were just there."

The Disturbing Younger Years Of Thomas Dillon

Thomas Lee Dillon was born on July 9, 1950, in Canton, Ohio. His upbringing got off to an unfortunate start when his father died when he was just 15 months old. In later interviews, Dillon recalled his feelings towards his mother to a psychologist, he described her as a cold woman who never told him she loved him, hugged him, or kissed him.

By the time Dillon was a teenager, he had already developed an unhealthy obsession with killing. He kept a calendar on his wall of all the animals he had killed, this started with turkeys and deer, however, after he graduated from Ohio State University he landed a job as a draftsman at the city of Canton's water department, which is when his killing turned to family pets and livestock.

Dillon's colleagues at the water department gave him the nickname "Killer" as he would frequently boast about the number of animals he had killed, claiming it was over 1,000.

From an outside perspective, it would appear that all the warning signs of a future killer were visible, however, no one suspected that Dillon would later begin hunting humans.

Thomas Dillon Progresses From Animal Killer To Human Killer

Donald Welling, a 35-year-old man who was out jogging in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, just a half-mile from his home in April 1989 became the first known victim of Thomas Dillon.

Dillon would later describe the encounter to police, he recalled: "He said, 'What's up?' just before I shot him. A voice in my head said, 'Open fire on him.' And I did."

His next victim was Jamie Paxton, 21, who had just left his home to go bowhunting in November 1990. Dillon callously shot Mr Paxton three times and left his dead body in a field to be found later by his friends.

A year after the young man's tragic death, Mr Paxton's mother wrote an open letter to the local newspaper addressing the unidentified killer. Unbelievably, Dillon responded anonymously, he said:

"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. Five 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."

Authorities finally concluded that the murders were all connected after 30-year-old Kevin Long, Dillon's third victim, was killed just several weeks after Paxton. All the murders had been committed in different counties, which Dillon later told police was done intentionally to cause jurisdictional issues.

The police investigation was stepped-up when Dillon shot dead his fourth victim in March 1992, when he killed Claude Hawkins on federal land, which resulted in the FBI getting involved in the case.

His fifth and final known victim, Gary Bradley, was shot dead the next month.

The FBI released a full report and criminal profile of the suspected serial killer in a local newspaper - this was when Dillon was reported by his friend, Richard Fry.

Serial Killer Thomas Dillon Finally Brought To Justice

The anonymous letter that Dillon had written concerning the murder of Jamie Paxton was used by the FBI to form their profile of the killer. Detectives at the FBI concluded that based on his use of words, the killer was a white male, over 30 years of age, and had at least a high school education. They also knew he owned a gun, liked to drink, and took enjoyment from driving on rural backroads.

When Richard Fry read the local newspaper and saw the profile, Thomas Dillon immediately struck in his mind. Fry was close with Dillon when they were much younger, however, he had distanced himself from the future killer when he went down the path of committing crime and shooting family pets.

Years later the pair reconnected, Fry thought Dillon had put his past behind him now he had a wife and a son.

Richard Fry had recently become concerned about Dillon's behaviour, as he appeared to be "acting like his old self again". Dillon once asked Fry: "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?"

Fry became scared of Dillon and his unhinged behavior, so when he saw the FBI's profile, he contacted police immediately and gave them his name.

The FBI began surveilling Thomas Dillon. In early August he had been arrested for using a silencer in a wilderness park, and as part of a plea agreement, he agreed to hand over all of his weapons to authorities.

In November 1992, Dillon attended a gun show and purchased a firearm.

When officers arrested him, they found him carrying a handgun, this gave them the ability to obtain a search warrant for his home in the hope they would discover evidence connecting him to the five murders.

No physical evidence proving Dillon was the killer was found on his property, however, police did uncover that he had recently sold one of his guns. They tracked down the man who bought it and found the weapon was the same one used to kill his final two victims, Claude Hawkins and Gary Bradley.

Dillon was arrested and charged with the murder of the two men, but in a deal with prosecutors to avoid any potential of the death penalty, he confessed to all five murders.

Thomas Lee Dillon was sentenced to life behind bars, and he remained in prison until his death in 2011.

All of the victims of Thomas Dillon were complete strangers, and completely innocent, he had no motive behind any of the murders, he chillingly said later: "I have major problems. I'm crazy. I want to kill. I want to kill."

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