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Prime Suspect Indicted in Slaying of Outdoorsmen

January 22, 1993 GMT

COSHOCTON, Ohio (AP) _ A gun collector who got the nickname ″Killer″ for boasting about shooting hundreds of animals has been indicted in the deaths of two of five outdoorsmen, investigators said Friday.

Prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for Thomas Lee Dillon, a 42-year-old Canton Water Department draftsman who has been in custody since Nov. 27 on firearms charges.

Dillon was charged with two counts of aggravated murder. More indictments could come later, the FBI’s Dave Hanna told reporters.

Relatives of victims attended the news conference but showed no emotion.

Dillon’s lawyer, Roger Synenberg, issued a statement saying that Dillon denies any involvement with the slayings.

A task force of local, state and federal authorities has been investigating the shootings of at least five men who were hunting, fishing or jogging alone in eastern Ohio between April 1989 and April 1992.

Evidence was presented to a Noble County grand jury this week.

Dillon was indicted in the deaths of Gary Bradley, 44, and Claude Hawkins, 49. Both were killed while fishing last year.

Dillon emerged as a suspect after agents tailed a man they said spent his weekends drinking beer, cruising remote roads and shooting at utility poles and road signs, and killing more than 1,000 animals.

According to court documents, Dillon’s fellow employees said he boasted of killing dogs, cats and cattle, earning him the nickname ″Killer.″

Dillon also told an informant that ″it would be easy to shoot someone,″ and that slayings in several different counties would cause jurisdictional problems for investigators, according to court documents.

Authorities have linked three other deaths to him. The victims were Jamie Paxton, 21, killed in 1990, while hunting; Donald Welling, 35, killed while jogging in 1989, and Kevin Loring, 30, killed while hunting in 1990.

A person claiming to be Paxton’s killer had written a letter to The (Martins Ferry) Times Leader a year after Paxton’s death. The letter gave details that authorities used to link the shootings.

Hanna said Dillon was the main suspect in Loring’s death even though little evidence exists now.

All except Loring were shot on a weekend with a high-powered rifle, most likely from a roadway, investigators said. Loring was killed on a Wednesday, and the bullet that shattered his skull was never found.

Hanna has said more killings could have been overlooked as hunting accidents. He said investigators are looking at two deaths in lower Michigan in 1990 and one in northeastern Indiana in 1991 as well as two in northeastern Ohio in 1980 and 1983.

Dillon was arrested Nov. 27 for buying a handgun at a Cleveland gun show three weeks earlier. In July, he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors involving two counts of possessing an illegal silencer. The agreement prohibited him from possessing firearms.

He is a 1972 Ohio State University journalism graduate. For years, he lived uneventfully with his wife and 11-year-old son for years in Magnolia, a community of about 1,000 people in northeastern Ohio’s hills.

Dillon told investigators he had owned as many as 500 guns but is not a marksman.