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When a best friend backstabbed.

At 3pm on a hot June afternoon in 1976 30-year-old attorney Martin Dillon drove his red BMW coupe up to a white wooden family house in Church Street, Montrose, Pennsylvania, where his friend Dr Stephen Scher was waiting. It was part of a ritual that had gone on for years. Both men were part of an informal group known as the "Wednesday Afternoon Club" which involved driving 12 miles north of Montrose to a remote piece of forest land called Gunsmoke, owned by Marty Dillon's parents. There half a dozen friends would gather to take turns shooing clay pigeons with breaks for drinks and hamburgers cooked on an improvised barbecue.

But on this June afternoon, there would be only two men driving up to Gunsmoke - the rest were busy or out of town. And only one man would drive back. During the summer of 1976 Dillon and Scher were at pains to be polite to each other, at least in public. But beneath the surface things were very different. For two years Dr Scher had been carrying on a passionate affair with Marty Dillon's wife Pat. Only the previous week matters had finally come to a head when Dillon had given his wife an ultimatum: stop the affair or I will divorce you. Pat Dillon had chosen her husband and now the pair were painfully trying to rebuilt their marriage.

But none of this was mentioned when Marty Dillon came to pick up Stephen Scher. The two men, disturbed to find that they would be the only ones shooting at Gunsmoke that afternoon, were still determined to behave as though nothing had happened. Around 3.45pm, the BMW, with Dillon at the wheel, swung onto a dirt road that led up a mountainside to Gunsmoke. They stopped briefly at the house of Andrew Russin, a retired engineer who kept an eye on the property for Marty Dillon's parents.

Russin saw the men had a pack of cans and some hamburger meat. Dillon told him they were going to shoot some clay pigeons and probably would be passing on their way home about 6.30pm. Russin never saw him alive again. When the BMW returned to Russin's house around 7pm, Russin at first didn't recognise the tall husky man at the door. "I'm Dr Scher," the man said. I saw you earlier. I've just come down from Gunsmoke. There was an accident and Marty's dead. He was shot."

After calling for police and medical help, Russin agreed to go back with Dr Scher to Gunsmoke. They found the body of Marty Dillon lying on an overgrown path. He was dead. "He fell on his gun," Scher said. "He shot himself." Then he wrapped his arms around a nearby tree trunk and began to cry. When County Coroner John Conarton arrived with police at the scene, Scher told him: "I can't believe he's dead. He was my best friend."

Later he told the Coroner that Dillon was walking with a loaded gun when he tripped, fell and the gun went off. "I saw him lying on the ground face down. I ran up and turned him over and saw he was bleeding from the chest. I gave him mouth to mouth but I knew he was dead."

An inquest later returned a verdict of accidental death after Dr Scher had given evidence that Marty Dillon had been running with the gun, tripped over an untied shoelace and died when his gun went off. But his father Larry Dillon didn't believe it had happened that way. Marty had been shooting since he was a child and was brought up to treat guns with almost excessive care. He would never have run with a cocked and loaded weapon. Pat Dillon was numb with grief. She had met Dr Scher at a hospital where they both worked, fallen in love with him, given him up in order to try to save her marriage and now the man she had intended to be faithful to for the rest of her life had been taken away from her.

There were also whispers that Scher might have been responsible, although she simply didn't believe that. And when she went to identify Marty Dillon's body, Stephen Scher was at her side. Six weeks after the death of her husband, Pat Dillon and her two young children moved to Philadelphia where she got a job in a hospital. She wanted to start afresh in a new life but she couldn't. Stephen Scher was pursuing her again. He visited regularly at weekends and talked about the future. He had divorced his wife Anne, and had no reason to stay in Pennsylvania.

A month later he terminated his hospital contract and moved to a medical centre near Philadelphia. Soon they were in near-daily contact. Larry Dillon who was convinced Stephen Scher had killed his son in order to get back Marty's wife, was deeply upset by this development.

But there was worse to follow: in June 1978, just two years after Mary Dillon's death, Pat and Dr Scher secretly got married. Larry Dillon's reaction was to urge police to reopen the investigation. He told detectives: "I know Steve Scher killed my son. If you look hard enough you will find the evidence you need."

In the meantime, the Schers were living well in the busy township of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the doctor had a lucrative hospital job. They had a big house and silver Mercedes and Scher was a kind and caring stepfather.

But Larry Dillon had no intention of giving up his crusade for truth and justice. Now he was spending his life savings on private investigators and forensic experts who eventually produced a report confirming what Larry had known all along: that Marty Dillon could not possibly have died in the way Dr Scher described. It was to take another 17 years of battering at the authorities before Larry Dillon and his legal team got what they sought: an order to exhume Marty's body. When this was finally done in March, 1995, the results created a sensation. In its steel coffin in the local graveyard, the body had remained remarkably intact and pathologists were able to see the precise course the fatal shots had taken.

The shots, according to experts, had been fired at Marty Dillon from at least five feet away. There was no way the fatal wounds could have been accidentally inflicted by the victim tripping and falling over. The truth which had remained hidden in a coffin for nearly two decades was finally revealed: Marty Dillon had been murdered. The next day, on the advice of his lawyers, Dr Stephen Scher gave himself up to Pennsylvania police and was charged with murder. "For 19 years I have been saying that I did not kill this man and I still say it," he declared. "The police will find they have no real evidence against me."

But when he finally appeared in court in Montrose in June, 1997, accused of first degree murder, Dr Scher found he was mistaken. Forensic examination of Marty Dillon's body could prove the death was no accident. To the last, Stephen Scher maintained his innocence. "I did not kill the father of my children," he said when he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail. "My conscience will always be clear."

Old and frail, Larry Dillon was in court to hear the verdict he had fought for 20 years. "I get no pleasure from this," he said. "A man going to jail for life and leaving a young family is a sad, sad thing.

"But there has finally been justice for a cold-blooded killer who for two decades had laughed at the law and thought he'd got away with murder - the murder of my son." Dr Stephen Scher, who was serving a life sentence for the 1976 murder of his friend, Martin Dillon, died in prison in the year 2010.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Aug 9, 2012
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