Sex, Lies, Murder, Intimidation, Drugs, a Defrocked Priest: This Case Has It All

The following may be the worst story I’ve ever reported.  After writing this, I think I’ll need a shower.

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Ten years ago, defrocked priest Joseph Pilger was brutally murdered, beaten to death in his home by an intruder with a pickaxe.

Until now, this is how the story’s been told: 

Pilger was a former priest who had a history of sexual abuse of children.  He had pled guilty in the 1960s and then had received treatment at a clinic which treated pedophiles.  Efforts to rehabilitate the priest were unsuccessful, though.  Then in 2003, Pilger—having turned his back on God and on his vocation—was murdered.

According to courtroom testimony, the killer was a man by the name of Jason Russell, who reportedly encountered Pilger performing a sexual act while looking at a picture of Russell’s six-year-old son.  Enraged, Russell beat the clergyman to death.  Russell was arrested, confessed to the crime, and is currently serving a 30-year sentence in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.  It seemed an open-and-shut case.

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End of story?  Not so much.

Joseph J. Pilger

On Wednesday, November 20, television station WKYT in Lexington, Kentucky received a letter from Andy Turner, another prisoner in the same correction facility, claiming responsibility for the murder and claiming that the wrong person was convicted and remains in prison for the crime.  Copies of the confession were also sent to the Lexington Police and to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.

According to Turner, he was the one who killed Pilger; and for the past ten years he’s been living with the burden of knowing someone else was convicted for his crime.  He claims he was buying drugs from Russell, and that Pilger often gave him money.  This time, though, Pilger refused to help; and for that, he was murdered.

In his written confession, Turner explained:

“My initial plan after he told me he was cutting me off was to rob him and Jason, then go back to Louisville.  Well, it didn’t work out like that.”

Jason Anthony Russell

Turner explained that in his fury, he went into the garage and grabbed the pick-axe, then murdered Pilger in a rage.  It was only then that Jack Russell, the man currently in prison for the crime, showed up.  Russell saw what had happened, and Turner needed to persuade him to remain silent.

“He knew what I did to Joe, so I had to make sure he wouldn’t say anything so I threatened his son, told him if he told on me that I’d hurt his son…  I have never told anyone about this until now. I’ve had to live with it for almost 10 years now and I can’t let it eat me up inside any longer.”

WKYT reports that the Lexington Police and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office have each confirmed they did receive the letter and are reviewing it.  Officials at the Kentucky Department of Corrections have confirmed there is an inmate named Andy Turner at the Kentucky State Penitentiary.  Pending investigation, they are not yet able to confirm whether he’s the person who sent the letter.




A Litany for Old St. Josaphat

A sad update to my November 18 post regarding the spire atop Detroit’s historic St. Josaphat Church, which sustained major damage in last week’s windstorms.

Things aren’t looking good for the iconic 112-year-old steeple, which will likely have to be removed permanently.  The steeple was seen swaying in the wind during the storm.  It now has missing shingles, certainly, but also appears to be listing, and the large golden cross at the top appears to be cracked.

Although no one has said this aloud, things don’t look too good for the church, either.  The cost to install a simple flat top in place of the steeple exceeds $60,000; and while generous donors may step up to assist in this effort, this is, after all, a parish which has had to consolidate with two other downtown churches due to declining attendance.

For now, the church building is condemned until it is deemed to be safe.  It will remain closed until at least early 2014, and worshippers are being instructed to go, instead, to one of the other clustered churches:  Sweetest Heart of Mary (down the street, on the east side of I-75), or St. Joseph’s in Eastern Market.  St. Josaphat has been a beautiful symbol of faith along the I-75 corridor; but with the loss of the steeple, and with its few congregants getting established at other churches, I wonder if this isn’t a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

This week Detroit videographer Harry Arnold (Video by Detroit Drone / Horizon Film) visited the steeple utilizing a camera-equipped drone.  The drone cam offers some great close-up shots of the 200-foot spire, revealing the missing tiles and foreboding curvature.  There are also some expansive views of the neighborhood near I-75 and East Canfield.

And a sweet goodbye:  The musical accompaniment is the Litany of the Saints, a prayer dating back to the 1200s which is chanted at Catholic funerals and cemeteries.

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Therese of Lisieux Could Sew!

Three-year-old Thérèse sat at her mother’s feet, watching as her mother quickly moved the bobbins and pins on the small pillow.  Only when she was older would Thérèse realize that her mother was the finest lacemaker in all of Alençon, and that Alençon, France was where the finest lace in the world was created.

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I’m telling you a story I recall from my own childhood.  I was perhaps five or six when I received a children’s book about St. Thérèse the Little Flower; and I read it over and over, memorizing some of my favorite parts.  I learned that Zélie Martin, Thérèse’s mother, was a lacemaker by profession, and that she operated a small business on the Rue Saint-Blaise, where she created the elegant and costly lace for which Alençon was known.

Zélie Martin had once hoped to enter religious life and to serve the sick at the Hôtel-Dieu, the hospital in town.  When the prioress of the canonesses regular discouraged her inquiry, she learned the trade of lacemaking instead, and she set up her own shop when she was only 22.  She went on to marry a jeweler and watchmaker, Louis Martin.  Both of the Martins were devout Catholics.

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Anyway, it would seem that little Thérèse acquired her mother’s talent for needlework.  While in the Carmel, the humble saint created some of the most intricate liturgical vestments.

Father Z recently posted this photo of a beautiful and ornate chasuble which Thérèse had crafted by hand.  The chasuble was made from an old brocade dress which had belonged to her mother, Madame Martin.  The ground color is deepest green; and St. Thérèse hand-painted the Holy Face and the vines and roses.