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Victim's mom, killer's friend helped nab Ohio sniper

Mug shot of Thomas Lee Dillon

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some residents of Ohio know what it is like to live with the fear of being the next victim of an unknown sniper.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a killer who came to be known as the "Outdoorsman Sniper" terrorized the state. His victims were primarily men who hunted and fished in Ohio.

Thomas Lee Dillon shot and killed five men before he was caught.

People said he didn't look like a killer. Dillon played the role of a quiet loner and dedicated family man. He took vacations with his wife and son. But Dillon also lived in a fantasy world where he was the star.

"I don't know that I've ever encountered anyone with [such a] rich and elaborate fantasy world as Thomas Lee Dillon had. And, almost invariably, they were fantasies of unlimited influence, power, control," said forensic psychologist Jeffrey Smalldon.

Dillon owned hundreds of guns. At first, he used them to slaughter stray animals, but soon he moved on to killing the neighbors' pets.

Dillon also bullied his only son, beat his wife and visited dozens of prostitutes.

But when all of that couldn't create the thrill Dillon needed, he moved on to his ultimate control fantasy: hunting humans and deciding whether they should live or die.

One of his victims was 21-year-old steel mill worker Jamie Paxton.

After his murder, Jamie's heartbroken mother wrote letters to her local newspaper, publicly scolding the then-anonymous killer.

"In one of the letters, I told the person that they had Jamie's blood on their hands. And no matter how many times they washed their hands, Jamie's blood was still there," said Jean Paxton. "I asked them, 'How can you touch members of your family with hands that have killed?'"

After a year of reading her letters, Dillon wrote the paper back anonymously, claiming he was the killer and giving this explanation:

"Paxton was killed because of an irresistible compulsion that has taken over my life to turn into a merciless killer with no conscience. I thought no more of shooting Paxton than shooting a bottle at the dump," he wrote.

But he did try to connect with his victim's family.

"He did go to the site where Jamie -- where he killed Jamie one time and he kicked over some crosses and tore out a tree and he was angered by something he had read in the newspaper about the closeness of our family and the love that we still held even though he tried to destroy our family," Jean Paxton remembered.

Two years and three murders later, Dillon was caught. His letter to Jean Paxton had prompted an FBI profile that helped lead to his capture.

Former Akron Beacon Journal reporter Jolene Limbacher believes one of the killer's friends turned him in.

" I think that they finally nabbed him because one of Tom's oldest and best friends that he had known through high school -- his name is Richard Fry -- Tom and Richard Fry had shared a common interest in firearms and in hunting," she said.

Limbacher said Fry became alarmed after Dillon repeatedly asked him, "Do you think I could have killed somebody?"

"I think that Tom was just being boastful. Tom was a practical joker. You never knew when to take Tom seriously. I don't think he had any intention of being caught. I just think that was his banter and that's just what he did with his best friend," she said.

Even from behind bars, Dillon still wanted to exert control, this time over the reporter.

She received jailhouse calls, lengthy letters and meticulous cartoons from Dillon for five months and was able to get inside the mind of a serial sniper.

"He enjoyed reading the autopsy reports of the victims. He enjoyed knowing how much blood filled their chest cavity. He seemed to get a great deal of pleasure out of knowing that he shot the head off of one of them," the former reporter remembers. "They were his trophies."

"They love to control. They love the thrill of the hunt. They love the ecstasy they get from killing, and I'm sure that Tom is probably thrilled that he is being compared to the sniper. Tom never wanted to be a footnote," Limbacher said.

CNN Correspondent Maria Hinojosa contributed to this report.

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