WOODBURY, N.J. (AP) — A man charged with beating to death a New Jersey resident he says sexually abused him as a child now claims he has killed a total of 16 people, including his ex-wife and three others in New Mexico, officials said. Authorities have not corroborated his claim.
Sean Lannon, 47, said he killed the four whose remains were found in a vehicle at an airport and “11 other individuals” in New Mexico, Alec Gutierrez, an assistant prosecutor in Gloucester County, New Jersey, said at a detention hearing Friday, NJ.com reported.
Gutierrez said Lannon had confessed to luring several victims to a home in New Mexico and dismembering some of them.
Authorities said in court documents that Lannon made the admission in a phone call to a relative, who told investigators he expressed remorse. Lannon has been charged only with the death in New Jersey, and his lawyer says his client was provoked. He’s been named a person of interest in the four New Mexico slayings.
Police Lt. David Chavez in Lannon’s hometown of Grants, New Mexico, said authorities have no indication that his claims about 11 other killings are true and that they aren’t aware of any missing-person or homicide reports that would fit his narrative.
“Is it possible? Sure, it’s possible. Is it probable? No, probably not,” Chavez told the Albuquerque Journal, saying authorities would investigate.
It was a twist in a case that spans the country but has many unanswered questions, including how Lannon was connected to the New Mexico slayings. Officials from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, several police agencies in New Mexico, and police and prosecutors in New Jersey either didn’t respond to requests for comment Saturday or didn’t immediately have more information.
The case began on March 5, when the bodies of Lannon’s ex-wife and three other people were found in a vehicle in a parking garage at Albuquerque International Sunport, New Mexico’s largest airport. It’s not clear how they were killed.
Police say three of them were reported missing in January from Grants, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of Albuquerque. The victims were identified as Jennifer Lannon, 39; Matthew Miller, 21; Jesten Mata, 40; and Randal Apostalon, 60.
Jennifer Lannon, Miller and Mata were friends, and Apostalon lived out of his car and was known to give rides for money, Grants police said. The bodies were found in Apostalon’s car.
Jennifer Lannon’s brother, Chris Whitman, told Albuquerque TV station KOB that he was shocked to hear his former brother-in-law claimed responsibility for multiple killings.
“They were together for about nine years, and it’s just mind-boggling because it’s someone I welcomed into my home and we had Thanksgiving dinner together,” he said.
Whitman told outlets that the couple had reconciled after their divorce and that his former brother-in-law left their three children with family in New Jersey and said he planned to find a job and then return to New Mexico to search for Jennifer Lannon.
On March 8, three days after the remains were found in New Mexico, the body of Michael Dabkowski was discovered in his New Jersey home, just south of Philadelphia, after a welfare check. Sean Lannon is accused of breaking in and beating the 66-year-old to death with a hammer, according to an affidavit.
Lannon told investigators that Dabkowski had sexually abused him as a child and that he had gone to the home to retrieve sexually explicit photos. Dabkowski mentored Lannon and his twin brother through a Big Brothers program in the 1980s, NJ.com reported.
A search for Lannon ended with his arrest in St. Louis on March 10. He was driving a car stolen from Dabkowski.
In court in New Jersey on Friday, public defender Frank Unger challenged probable cause for the murder charge, arguing that Dabkowski had allowed Lannon into his home and that what followed amounted, at worst, to manslaughter provoked by passion, NJ.com reported.
He said Lannon didn’t want anyone “to have control over me any longer” in trying to take back the photos. Dabkowski had “documented those sexual assaults, those rapes, by taking pictures of himself with Mr. Lannon in sexually compromised positions,” Unger said.
The public defender said Lannon retrieved two hammers from Dabkowski’s garage and gave them to the victim, saying, “You’re going to need these. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I would suggest that this fact alone illustrates this was not purposeful murder. He did not even bring a weapon to the home,” Unger said, arguing that Dabkowski attacked his client and then was killed.
Unger wanted the judge to release Lannon before trial, saying he had no prior convictions and is an Army veteran with an honorable discharge.
Lannon was born in Massachusetts and spent most of his early years in suburban Philadelphia’s Gloucester County before he was deployed to Germany, Unger said. He has family in southern New Jersey, including his mother and sister.
But Gutierrez said Lannon “admitted his efforts to conceal evidence” in killings in New Mexico.
The prosecutor added that Lannon had previously spent a week in jail in New Mexico for failing to appear in court. It wasn’t clear what he had been cited with.
The judge ordered that Lannon remain behind bars.
Unger, an attorney for Sean Lannon’s family and Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region didn’t immediately respond Saturday to messages seeking comment.