SEX, LIES AND MYSTERY IN A SMALL TOWN

8:48 pm Crime Stories

Sunday, July 9, 1995

Page: 1A
By DAWN SHURMAITIS

It’s lunchtime at Public Avenue Deli in Montrose and the talk over turkey
club sandwiches, as usual, concerns the doctor, the lawyer, the wife and
the shooting.

The latest buzz among the secretaries lined up at the register is the
graying doctor’s tearful challenge to state police to charge him — after
19 years — with murdering his best friend, the doctor.

“You have no idea how traumatic it’s been. Arrest me so we can go on with
this trial and I can forget the last 19 years,” Dr. Stephen Scher pleaded
June 27 at a press conference in Waverly.

The day before, Susquehanna County Coroner Robert Bartron announced
prominent lawyer Martin “Marty” Dillon did not die in a hunting accident in
1976 but was a homicide victim.

The suspected killer? Scher, the husband of Dillon’s widow, Patricia.

The rumored motive? Sex.

Scher insists he is innocent but says townspeople already have convicted
him in their hearts and in the local press of killing Dillon so he could
marry Dillon’s wife, the prettiest girl in the Montrose High School Class
of ‘65.

Attorney Peter T. O’Malley of Scranton vigorously defends Scher, his client
since 1976, and is already threatening to sue just about everyone — state
police, the county coroner, even the district attorney’s office — for 19
years of “fabrication, lies, harassment, mental torture.”

“Two men go into the woods and one comes out. Someone has to pay for it,”
says O’Malley, a barrel-chested, chain-smoking defense attorney who came
out of retirement this year to help vindicate Scher and quell the rumors.

Wednesday, O’Malley took another bold step. He filed a petition on Patricia
Scher’s behalf asking the court to exhume her former husband’s body a
second time for a third autopsy.

The Susquehanna County Court will have a hearing July 21. If approved,
O’Malley plans to hire Dr. Cyril Wecht, a nationally known pathologist, to
conduct the autopsy.

“The widow of the deceased … wants her own autopsy to remove any shadow
of a doubt that her husband, who has been accused by innuendo, committed a
homicide,” O’Malley says.

When a death — sudden, messy, complicated death — comes to a small town,
residents seize the story, exchanging rumors as easily as they would
recipes.

“This story’s got everything — sex, drugs, violence, conspiracy and
cover-up,” says Chuck Ficarro, co-publisher of the Susquehanna County
Transcript.

The weekly newspaper has devoted much of its front page to the Dillon case
since April 26, when the dead man’s father persuaded a judge to dig up
Dillon’s body from Holy Name of Mary Cemetery for a second autopsy, which
resulted in the homicide ruling.

Ficarro, like most people in Montrose, is convinced the doctor is “guilty
as sin.” But he’s equally certain Scher will never be convicted.

“There were so many screw-ups,” Ficarro says, “the state police and the
commonwealth are going to have a hell of a time proving anything.”

Damaging evidence

Still, many Montrose residents are betting Scher will be arrested within
the month.

If a trial occurs, O’Malley admits chances of his winning an acquittal are
“not strong.” He ticks off the most damaging evidence:

Dillon was shot with Scher’s gun.

Scher said he and Dillon were shooting clay pigeons just before the
accident, but the fatal shell was not the type used for target shooting.
The shell in Dillon’s chest was the kind used for hunting.

The rumored affair between Scher and Patricia Dillon.

An FBI report says Scher’s boots and pants were covered with blood
“spatter.” The FBI, which state police consulted, concluded Scher must have
been within 3 feet of Dillon when the gun fired, another apparent
contradiction to Scher’s story.

O’Malley, however, plans to introduce another element if the case goes to
trial: suicide.

He says Scher gave Dillon samples of anti-depressant drugs because he was
suffering from crying jags and moodiness. Scher and Pat Dillon were the
only ones who knew Dillon was depressed and threatening to drive his car
into a wall.

Dillon’s former secretary, Bonnie Mead, calls the theory bunk.

“There was no depression in that man. He was so busy he didn’t have time
for a cup of coffee,” Mead says, recalling Dillon’s enthusiasm for his job
and love for his kids and his dad.

The three — Larry, Marty and little Michael, used to spend weekends at
Watkin’s Glen race track in New York.

“He was truly a joy to work for. A joy,” Mead says.

The rumors fly

Publicly, most residents are reluctant to call Scher a killer. But if you
promise not to use their names, they lean in close.

“Most people believed this was murder way back when,” says a former
employee of the district attorney’s office. “There was a sloppy
investigation and a cover-up. Why? That’s what everyone wants to know.
People want to put this to rest.”

Ficarro has a theory, one his newspaper has hinted at but has never proven
or substantiated: The doctor and the lawyer had inside information on a
group of influential and politically connected Montrose residents possibly
involved in something illegal, possibly drugs.

Or, he says, maybe it was because Dillon and Scher knew about the infamous
“Key Club.”

Back in the ‘70s, says Ficarro, a small group of married Montrose men and
women would travel to the Holiday Inn in nearby Binghamton, N.Y., and throw
their hotel keys in a basket. After a night of drinking, the husbands would
choose keys — and subsequently a wife — from the basket.

When Dillon died, Ficarro’s theory goes, no one wanted police asking
awkward questions about rumored affairs, so anyone who knew anything
clammed up. The Investigation dwindled to nothing.

It was only at the constant urging of Dillon’s father, Lawrence “Larry”
Dillon — a two-term Montrose mayor — that state police kept the shooting
investigation officially open.

But little was done until this year, when police fueled by the exhumation
hearing and latest autopsy report began asking fresh questions in Montrose
and in New Mexico, where Pat Scher moved after marrying the doctor in 1978.

Today, the couple lives in Lincolnton, N.C., where the popular Scher, now
56, opened his second allergy practice. His wife, 48, teaches Sunday
school. Newspapers there quote supporters as calling the investigation a
“smear campaign.”

Most of Pat Scher’s relatives followed her to New Mexico. But her aunt,
life-long Montrose resident Edith Karveller, has suffered local gossip for
years. She says she strongly supports her niece and the doctor.

“The story is just a crock of bull,” Karveller says.

State police investigating the shooting are refusing comment. Michael
Jordan, commander of State Police Area 2, agrees more could have been done
in 1976 but refuses to elaborate.

“We have to be very careful not to judge an investigation that’s 19 years
old by the standards we use today,” Jordan says. “But certainly, that
investigation, in my opinion, could have been better conducted.”

Popular family

Montrose — population 1,987 — hasn’t changed much in the last 19 years.

It’s still the seat of the county government and home to the only traffic
light in Susquehanna County.

The year Dillon graduated — 1964 — is remembered more than three decades
later because that was the year the Montrose Meteors took home the state
basketball championship. Residents still point proudly to the championship
banner hanging in the high school gym.

The Dillons and the Karvellers — Pat’s family — were average,
middle-class, well-liked. Marty Dillon’s dad was councilman, then mayor,
and a used car salesman. Pat Karveller’s late father taught school.

According to the yearbook, Pat, like Marty Dillon’s kid sister, was a
cheerleader.

Instead of spending his senior year in Montrose, Marty Dillon left that
July for a year’s study in Germany. So special was Dillon’s trip abroad,
his yearbook picture was twice the size of any other student’s and set off
on its own page.

Marty Dillon and Pat Karveller knew each other in high school but didn’t
start dating until college. Marty graduated from Villanova Law School in
1971. Pat got her degree in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania in
Philadelphia.

By 1976, Marty and Pat had two children, Michael and Suzanne. Marty had
joined the law firm of Robert Dean, considered the “dean” of Montrose
lawyers. Marty specialized in divorce and real estate. Pat worked as a
nurse at Montrose General Hospital.

Back then, the Dillons’ best friends were Stephen and Edna Ann Scher.

Scher, a Toronto native and University of Michigan graduate, moved to
Susquehanna County from Miami in 1968. He says he chose the rural community
because his wife raised dogs and Montrose was near the dog show circuit.

It was tough going at first. Scher says that’s because he was an outsider.
A Canadian. And a Jew.

Scher says he introduced himself to Dillon because he wanted to befriend
another young professional. The men enjoyed beer drinking, hockey games and
skeet shooting.

Soon, the Schers and the Dillons were vacationing together in Wyoming and
Las Vegas. When the Dillons bought a home, the Schers gave them a beer tap
as a housewarming gift.

“We did everything together,” Scher says.

Before long, Pat Dillon was working as Scher’s nurse at the hospital. And,
by all accounts, Marty Dillon — Lion’s Club member, family man, local kid
done good — was on the fast track. The year he died, supporters had
already printed bumper stickers that said “Dillon for DA.” Some predicted
he’d be on the county bench before age 40.

In December 1975, the doctor decided to end a crumbling marriage and asked
Dillon to represent him. In his divorce papers, Scher accused his wife of
hatred, neglect and malicious insults.

The worst of those insults, according to the papers, were “false
accusations of an affair with Patricia Dillon.”

Everyone in town whispered about Pat and the doctor, according to Mead, the
former secretary. She says Dillon knew about the talk but was too fearful
of public embarrassment to confront his wife. Divorce was out of the
question.

“That man was born and raised Irish Catholic,” Mead says. “Divorce? Never.”

The shooting

Every other Wednesday in the mid-’70s, Scher and Dillon went skeet shooting
with a group of three other young professionals at a hunting camp 20
minutes north of Montrose at the end of a series of winding dirt roads.

Dillon’s father owned the woodsy camp, which he named “Gunsmoke” after the
television show featuring sheriff Matt Dillon.

The afternoon of June 2, 1976, three men canceled, leaving Scher and
Dillon. The doctor says he didn’t want to go either, but Dillon insisted.

As usual, the men took turns drinking beer and shooting clay pigeons.
Eventually, Scher says, talk turned to the rumored affair. Scher, adamant
he was innocent and disturbed by the small-town gossip, told Dillon he was
leaving Montrose.

“He told me I was a big chicken,” Scher says.

After two hours of shooting, Dillon complained of a sore shoulder and asked
to borrow Scher’s gun, which was lighter. During another break, Scher says,
Dillon walked off alone to look for a pesky porcupine that had been
burrowing under the camp trailer.

The doctor says he heard a click, then a shot.

“I wandered up the path and found him lying there. I flipped him over and
blood squirted everywhere.”

Scher says he stuck his hands in Dillon’s chest and tried heart massage.
When resuscitation failed, he wandered around for a while, in shock, before
running through the woods to a farm to call an ambulance.

Dillon, his heart blown apart by tiny pellets from a 16-gauge shotgun, bled
to death.

With the farmer and ambulance crew as witness, his friend already dead,
Scher smashed the gun against a tree, saying “This gun will never kill
anyone else.”

A distraught Scher told investigators Dillon must have shot himself
accidentally. Investigators decided Dillon tripped over an exposed root or
his own shoe laces, which were untied.

Instead of the hospital, the ambulance took Dillon’s body to Bartron’s
Funeral Home. The next day, the county coroner, who is now dead, declared
the death accidental. His ruling was largely based on Scher’s account.

The day of the shooting, Pat Dillon was at home on Kelly Street with her
kids and parents. She remembers her dad was mowing the lawn when she got
word.

Dillon was 30 when he died. That same day, says Pat Scher, his insurance
company approved changing the beneficiary of his $100,000 life insurance
policy from Pat to the children, then ages 5 and 2. Dillon had made the
request two weeks earlier.

Pat Dillon inherited the house and the couple’s assets.

Thirty-six hours after the shooting, after giving state police his bloody
clothes and a statement, Scher hired O’Malley. He says he got the referral
from Pat Dillon.

Case gets another look

From the start, word around town was the shooting was deliberate.

Seven days after Dillon’s death, according to documents submitted during
the exhumation hearing, county detective Willard Collier wrote to then
District Attorney Ed Little.

In his letter, according to the County Transcript newspaper, Collier said
the scene and the trajectory of the shot didn’t support the theory that
Dillon fell, firing the gun into his own chest.

Collier, now dead, also wrote he suspected Scher because of the look on the
doctor’s face, his explanation of the accident and the destruction of the
gun.

Nothing happened.

Within seven months, his divorce final, Scher moved to Las Cruces, N.M., to
open a practice. Pat Dillon moved to Philadelphia with her children to
teach nursing.

Soon, the two were communicating long distance.

“Steve was a friend to me when I was alone with two babies,” Pat Dillon
Scher says. “He was one of the few people who helped me. He sent winter
coats. He wrote me notes.”

Their romance, says Scher, started the latter part of 1977. They’ve been
married 17 years and, 10 years ago, adopted a son, now 14.

In 1991, the Schers moved to North Carolina. Scher says Los Angeles
motorcycle gangs were making New Mexico too dangerous a place for kids. The
doctor and his wife raised the two Dillon children, Suzanne, now 21 and a
costume designer, and Michael, now 24 and managing his stepfather’s
practice in New Mexico. Twice a month, Scher flies west to see his
patients.

For years, the Dillon kids, who kept their father’s name, returned to
Montrose every summer to visit their grandparents. The visits and the
communication stopped last year, says Pat Scher, when Larry Dillon filed
the exhumation petition.

The Schers say the accusations, rumors and police questioning upset their
daughter, Suzanne, so severely she required psychiatric care.

“They are hurt, angry and confused,” Pat Scher says. “They can’t understand
why their flesh and blood wants to dig up their father.”

Pat Scher was stunned by the result of the autopsy.

“I thought the truth would win out,” she says. “We’ve prayed and trusted
and hoped the system would work and it isn’t.”

Support for husband

Pat Scher is still a beauty.

Dressed in a royal blue blazer, white skirt and low heels, her black hair
cut stylishly short, the wounded wife sat still and quiet during the
90-minute press conference held two weeks ago so her husband could proclaim
his innocence to a roomful of reporters.

Pat Scher didn’t move until her husband — shoulders stooped, face drawn —
describes finding Dillon, pale and bloody, on the ground 19 years, 25 days
before.

“I tried to save him. He was my best friend,” the doctor said, his voice
breaking. Pat Scher’s hand trembled as she took a long drink of ice water.
Tears formed but did not fall.

When the press conference ended, Pat Scher described her first husband as
kind and gentle.

She uses the same words to describe her current husband.

“I’ve watched him function as nothing but a healer,” Pat Scher says. “I’ve
seen him carry dead patients because he’s worried the undertaker will be
too rough.”

Looking for answers

Most of the Dillon family is refusing to talk to the press out of fear any
comments would jeopardize an arrest.

“They’re not pointing any fingers,” says Bill Nash, Dillon’s second cousin.
Nash lives in Choconut near the hunting camp.

He says the Dillons have devoted years to persuading police to take another
look at the case but “nobody would do anything.” Once the grandchildren
were grown, Larry Dillon decided to aggressively pursue the exhumation.

“They’d come of age and could form their own opinion,” Nash says of the
timing.

In April, Susquehanna Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth Seamans heard 4
hours of testimony before approving the exhumation over Pat Dillon’s formal
protests. The casket was dug up at dawn and the body taken back to
Bartron’s, where it had been prepared for viewing 19 years earlier.

Today, the Dillons have hope, says Nash. They were heartened by the
coroner’s report and the possible intervention of the state attorney
general’s office. Susquehanna County District Attorney Jeff Snyder
requested the state’s help two weeks ago.

“They want their day in court,” Nash says. “They want to get some answers.”

The Dillons — Larry, Jo and daughter Jo Ann — still live in town. The
former mayor remains a fixture on Public Avenue.

“People in this community want this put to rest in the proper way,” says
one of the secretaries in line at the deli. “Ninety-nine percent say it’s
about time. We’ve been living with this thing too long.”

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