Retired Priest Found Dead at His Home

By Scott Sloan
Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)
December 6, 2003

Lexington police are investigating a homicide at the home of a 78-year-old retired Catholic priest and convicted sex offender.

Police were called about 6:15 p.m. yesterday to the home of Joseph J. Pilger at 260 Pleasant Pointe Drive near Patchen Drive.

Police declined to identify the victim, but confirmed that he was in his late 70s. Neighbors, however, identified the victim as Pilger, who, they said, had been living at the residence since about 1999.

Pilger's landlord discovered his body after repeatedly attempting to contact him, police said.

Police were treating the death as a homicide and declined to certify the victim's name until family members can be contacted.

Members of the area's neighborhood watch group said they knew of Pilger's criminal background but still found him to be likable, affectionately calling him "Father Joe."

Lt. Dwayne Holman said pinpointing the trauma suffered by Pilger was difficult.

"It's hard to say. He's an old guy, so I don't want to speculate," Holman said.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said he expects an autopsy to be conducted today in Frankfort. No preliminary cause of death was available.

Pilger's next-door neighbor, Karen Owens, said a young man in his late teens had apparently been living with Pilger during the past month. She said she saw him talking on his cell phone one day in Pilger's front yard. No one knew the man's name or connection to Pilger.

Pilger had lived alone for the rest of the time, Owens said. She said her neighbor "pretty much stayed inside."

Neighbors said Pilger has a nephew in Cincinnati.

Owens said Pilger's car, which had been at his residence earlier in the day, was missing last night. State driving records show Pilger drove a white 1999 Buick Century.

Police declined to comment last night on Pilger's past as a sex offender.

He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1995 for abusing three brothers and their cousin in 1968 and 1969, when he was their pastor in Morganfield in Western Kentucky. The victims were younger than 15 and serving as altar boys at the parish.

Pilger faced an 84-count felony indictment relating to the accusations in September 1993.

After a plea bargain, Pilger received five years' probation beginning in January 1995. A judge ordered Pilger to obtain court-approved counseling and warned him that, if he violated his probation, he would face a 15-year prison sentence.

Court records in Fayette County showed only traffic offenses since his conviction.

Earlier this year, Pilger was named in a sex-abuse lawsuit against the dioceses of Lexington and Covington. Daniel Willett of Florida claimed he was abused by Pilger in 1962 at St. Paul's School in Lexington.

Pilger declined to comment on the allegation in April.

Neighbors said Pilger's faithful beagle was found lying near his body.

Owens said, "He took that dog with him everywhere."


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