Abusive former Henderson priest was beaten to death in 2003

Evansville Courier & Press

April 18, 2019

By Jon Webb

No list of predatory priests can tell the whole story.

Both the Evansville and Owensboro dioceses have unveiled inventories in the last two months of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse against minors. The lists contain names, where the priests served and the number of allegations against them.

But they could never convey the hurt these men unleashed, nor the twisted secrecy that allowed the abuse to metastasize.

A lot of information is left unsaid. And in the case of the list Owensboro released last week, that includes a murder.

Joseph Pilger served as a pastor in slews of parishes across several Kentucky dioceses, including at St. Ann in Morganfield from 1964-65 and at Holy Name in Henderson from 1967-69.

Owensboro lists 13 substantiated allegations against him. At one point, he was wanted on 84 felony counts of sexually abusing minors, stemming from a 1993 case where he abused four children in Union County in the 1960s, the Associated Press reported.

He eventually pleaded guilty. He could have served 30 years in prison, but because of a plea deal, he only got probation.

And on Dec. 5, 2003, at his apartment on the southeast side of Lexington, he was found beaten to death with a pickax.

Police eventually arrested then-26-year-old Jason Anthony Russell – a former Henderson man who at one point had been living with Pilger. He pleaded guilty and was handed 30 years in prison.

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