WASHINGTON (AP) - A criminal justice scholar said the roaming sniper believed responsible for killing six people and wounding two in the Washington area reminds him of a man who shot and killed five southern Ohio hunters and fishermen from 1989 to 1992.
W. Scott Thornsley of Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, recalling the case of Thomas Lee Dillon, said police got a break in the case through a remark by a former friend of Dillon.
Both men enjoyed hunting, and Dillon's one-time friend told authorities the two of them used to drive around rural areas shooting at animals and discussing how to get away with random murders.
The FBI began following Dillon and saw him visit a victim's grave, held him on an unrelated weapons charge and matched the slugs on the rifle Dillon sold after the last killing. He's now serving life in prison.
"I have major problems," Dillon once explained. "I'm crazy."
The Washington-area sniper is an odd fit in America's vast and varied experience with murder, making him hard to understand and therefore hard to catch.
Americans have seen witless rampages by the dozen. But a lethal undertaking against any group of strangers, regardless of their race, sex, age or occupation, and carried out with such exacting precision, is rare.
Authorities aren't used to a sniper aimless in every way except in the aim of his gun.
"Most have a firm fixation," Robert K. Ressler, a specialist in criminal psychology and a former FBI behavioral analyst, said of serial killers. "This guy is very indiscriminate."
Experts in serial murder say serial killers usually leave tracks of some sort apart from physical evidence -- hints to others about what they intend to do or have done, signs of their dangerous disaffection, some twisted logic that can eventually be discerned as a useful pattern by investigators.
"Most spree murderers enjoy close contact with victims ... seeing fear in victims' eyes," Thornsley said. The Washington-area sniper is shooting from a distance, he noted. "This is a very unusual case."
"Police may have to wait for the killer to make a mistake," Thornsley said of the Washington-area shootings.
He said police should ask people: "Has anyone ever spoken to you about what it would be like to shoot someone, like a sniper, in a suburban area, and get away with it?"
Some investigators say another case that loosely resembles the latest attacks happened in 1994 on Long Island, N.Y. Like the Washington-area sniper, Peter Sylvester shot one round at a time, over several days in his case.
He killed a man inside a diner, blasted the glass at a gas station and wounded a woman inside a Burger King from sniper perches outside.
As random as the shootings were, Sylvester offered one motive after his arrest -- that he was shooting strangers to provide cover for the murder of one person he really wanted to kill before he was thwarted.
Sylvester was caught when police found the person who sold him the rifle and matched bullets to the gun. He said in his defense that he was a bad shot: "The only reason I pulled the trigger was, I was confident I was going to miss."
Northwest Washington neighborhoods were terrorized in 1993 by an eight-week series of random shotgun attacks that killed four people. The man, found to be insane, shot from his car in 13 of his 14 attacks. An off-duty officer arrested him minutes after his final slaying.
The eight Washington-area shootings believed to be linked began a week ago when windows were shot at a Maryland craft store, with no one hurt. Less than an hour later, a man was shot dead in a Maryland grocery store parking lot.
Victims have ranged in age from a 13-year-old boy critically injured in Maryland on Monday to a 72-year-old man shot and killed last week while standing on a street. The attacks have happened between 7:41 a.m. and 9:15 p.m. -- six in Maryland, one in Washington and one in Virginia.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)