While investigating the 1984 double homicide of Bob and Kay Swartz, detectives from the Anne Arundel County Police Department narrowed down their suspect list to one person who would have had enough rage to carry out such gruesome slayings – the couple’s adopted son, Michael. He was the most challenging of their three children.
Although Michael seemed like the obvious suspect because of his history with his parents, DNA was found at the crime scene matching one of his other siblings. The world soon found out that life inside the Swartz house was very different than it appeared to be on the outside.
On January 17, 1984, the Cape St. Claire emergency workers rushed to the Swartz home to find the siblings Annie and Larry Swartz crying and confused. Their adoptive parents had been brutally murdered at their home, and the scene was gruesome. Robert Swartz was dead in the basement, and Kay was in the backyard.
Larry, 17, said his sister, 8, woke him up after she couldn’t find their parents. Then, he saw their mom in the backyard and immediately called the police. Investigators found a shocking crime scene with blood everywhere, but how did Robert and Kathryn Swartz get to that point?
Starting a Family
While attending the same college, Robert (Bob) and Kathryn (Kay) crossed paths and started dating. The two bonded because they both came from strict homes with strong Catholic values that their parents rigidly enforced. They wanted to start a family after getting married, but Bob and Kay struggled to conceive.
The couple decided to adopt because they wanted to help troubled children. They brought home two six-year-old boys who came from challenging backgrounds. Michael was older than Lawrence (Larry) by a few months, but things seemed to be going well at first. They thought their family was complete.
Larry Was the Favorite
Larry was the first child adopted by the couple. He had spent most of his life bouncing between foster homes before being adopted. Kay was his sixth mother, and he hoped she and Bob would be his forever family. Larry’s birth mom was a waitress from New Orleans who couldn’t take care of him.
Although they adopted two more children after Larry, he was their favorite for a while. He wasn’t the brightest student, but Larry excelled on the soccer field. He was quiet and mild-mannered, but he had a learning disability. Kay and Bob had high ambitions for Larry, which later caused tension.
Liked in the Community
Bob was a computer technician who often helped his neighbors with their chores. Kay was a high school teacher, and she tutored the neighborhood children who had a tough time with their studies. Many people knew them as a devout couple who ran “marriage encounter” sessions at the church and wanted to help children from troubled backgrounds.
However, some people said Bob and Kay were strong-willed and exacting. When anybody went against Bob at the church, he reacted strongly. He was stern and thought things should be done his way. That strictness showed up in his dealings with his son Michael.
Michael Was Troubled
Kay and Bob’s second adopted son was Michael. He was only a few months older than Larry, but he was a challenge from the start. Michael had also been in multiple foster homes after being abandoned by his mother. It caused him to act out, and he gave his parents a hard time.
Michael was emotionally immature, had anger issues, and rebelled against his parents’ rules. He didn’t do well in school or live up to Kay and Bob’s expectations. He knew Larry was the favorite child, and it made him angry that his adoptive parents didn’t love them both equally.
A Rigid Household
The Swartz family appeared to be a model family, but as Larry and Michael got older, it became evident that Bob and Kay were ill-equipped to be positive role models for the teenage boys. They gave the boys strict rules and subjected them to criticism and scolding.
Things at home went downhill as their grades at school floundered. They started being physically abused, with Michael taking the brunt of the beatings. Larry felt the pressure to be perfect and make up for Michael’s downfalls. The situation only got worse when Annie joined the family.
Seeing that the boys received a good education was a priority to Bob and Kay. However, it was a constant source of disappointment and family arguments. Michael was smart and a quick learner early on. They decided to move him from the second to the fourth grade.
The school surprisingly allowed it, but the change did not help. Michael was emotionally immature, and his grades dropped when he moved classes. He had fits of anger and didn’t understand right from wrong. Michael’s disciplinary problems increased, making his parents upset.
Not the Favorite Anymore
When Michael and Larry were 13, Bob and Kay brought home four-year-old Annie from South Korea. She quickly became their new favorite and took attention away from the two brothers. Bob and Kay doted on Annie because they had always wanted a daughter.
Having Annie at home made Larry and Michael closer. They stuck by each other when the abuse was at its worst, but Michael always wanted to go against everything his parents said. The frustrations between the boys and their parents escalated further.
Larry Was a Mediator
During arguments, Larry acted as a mediator and tried to calm his parents. Michael did the opposite by talking back and agitating the fight. Unfortunately, Bob had zero tolerance for Michael’s behavior and would beat him when he acted out. Bob had a fierce temper.
Larry managed to escape the physical abuse, but the verbal and psychological abuse intensified. He wanted to keep the peace at home, but Michael was determined to do the opposite. He didn’t know how to keep his brother from getting in fights.
The Attention Turns to Larry
When Michael asked if he could hang out with his friends, Bob and Kay said no. Therefore, Michael decided to sneak out. When he returned later that evening, his parents locked him out and said he was no longer welcome in their home.
After Kay reported him as a runaway, Michael was placed in another foster home. It took a toll on Larry because he became the new subject of his parents’ rage. He didn’t understand why they had it out for him, and he missed Michael.
He Did Everything His Parents Wanted
Larry wanted his parents to love him, so he tried to be perfect. He was popular with his classmates, friendly, and tried to become a priest to impress his parents. Unfortunately, he was kicked out of seminary for poor grades, and the Swartz’s became more critical.
Bob and Kay constantly fought with Larry no matter how hard he tried to get in their good graces. Larry became angry because they threw his brother out of their home, and he thought they would easily do the same to him.
Larry Was Insecure
Although his relationship with his mother had once been good, it rapidly disintegrated after Michael left. The more Kay screamed at Larry, the harder he would try to get back on her good side. He thought they would abandon him as they had Michael.
Bob and Kay started to find fault in most things Larry did and who his friends were. No matter what he did, Larry was never good enough in their eyes. He tried as hard as he could, but he was always met with criticism and punishments.
The Night of the Murder
Larry wondered why his parents didn’t love him. The night of January 16, 1984 was a typical evening at the Swartz house. Kay and Larry got into an argument about a girl Larry went on a date with, and Kay disapproved.
Shortly after, Bob got on Larry’s case for touching his computer and deleting work he had completed. The argument escalated to ferocious levels. When it was over, Larry went up to his room and drank rum from his stash. The rage was bubbling up inside him.
The Fight Turned Into Murder
Instead of squelching his anger, the alcohol only fueled Larry’s rage towards his parents. When he went downstairs again, Kay asked him about his test that day. Larry told her he thought he failed, and she replied with a belittling and sarcastic comment.
As a response, Larry picked up a nearby ax and smashed it over her head. He then stabbed her seven times with a kitchen knife. He knew Bob would come up soon, so he went to the basement and stabbed him 17 times.
Once Bob and Kay were dead, Larry busied himself by making it appear that someone had broken into the house and killed his parents. He dragged his mom out through the patio door, across the snow in the backyard, and laid her by the swimming pool.
Larry removed her clothes and left just one sock on her right foot. He then removed the murder weapons by throwing them into the wooded area behind the house. Larry also put his bloody clothes in the washing machine and cleaned them.
Larry was enraged when he killed his parents. Something took over him, and all his anger towards them came out through the murder. It was a perfect example of overkill by stabbing Bob around his chest, heart, and neck. He wanted the pain they caused him to stop.
It is also believed that Kay couldn’t scream because he stabbed her vocal cords. The neighbors had no idea what was going on in the Swartz house until the ambulances showed up the following morning. He put on a good act the next day when the police arrived.
The investigation team led by homicide detective Gary Barr of Anne Arundell County started looking through the crime scene. There was a lot of blood around the house, but one mark stood out to him. There was a bloody handprint on the glass window, but Kay’s hands were clean.
Bob was killed in the basement, so he never had a chance to come up. A trail of footprints from Kay’s body led them to the ax, but the handle was wiped clean. There was no other evidence at the scene.
Annie was just eight when the murder took place. She told investigators that she had a dream on the night of the murder. Annie said she was awoken by her father’s screams for help in the dream. When she left her room to investigate, there was a man.
She told investigators that a very tall man with curly hair told her it was a bad dream. Annie then went back into her room to sleep. When she woke up the following day, she didn’t know she had actually seen the killer.
An Obvious Suspect
When investigators learned that there was a third child, they homed in on Michael. He was 6’4”, so it fit Annie’s description. Friends and family told the police that Michael threatened to murder his parents before they kicked him out, so all signs pointed to him.
Michael seemed like the perfect suspect because he had so much anger towards Bob and Kay. They abused him and betrayed him by making him believe they would be his forever family. Police started to look into his whereabouts on the night of the murder.
Hitting a Dead-End
After Kay and Bob kicked Michael out of their home, Social Services placed him with another family. He ultimately ended up in a reform school but got into more trouble there. As a result, Michael was sent to a state mental hospital for evaluation.
The security was lax, and he could have left the mental hospital. However, on the evening of January 16, 1984, hospital logs indicated that Michael was in a locked ward, nowhere near his parents’ home. It was a dead-end for the police, who believed he was the killer.
Uncovering Their Controversial Past
A hotline was set up to aid the investigation. The police discovered that people filed reports against Bob for protesting at an abortion clinic. Neighbors said Larry and Michael were unhappy because their parents were mean, but no one knew the extent of the abuse.
Neighbors also told police that Bob and Kay would punish Michael, who was a gifted musician, by refusing to allow him to play the piano. They were strict parents, and some of their neighbors had seen how harsh they were with their sons.
When Larry spoke to Barr, he tried to blame the murders on Michael because of his stormy relationship with their parents. However, the inconsistencies stuck out to Barr. Larry first told police his parents were dead but said he only saw his mother’s body.
He said he saw her through the window, but her body wouldn’t have been visible through the kitchen or living room. Investigators thought Larry was confused because he was in shock. However, suspicions were confirmed when the palm print came back, and it belonged to Larry.
Besides the palm print, detectives found a detailed shoeprint matching Larry’s shoes near his mom’s body. The shoes were marked with blood belonging to one of his parents. They also discovered a grey sweatshirt marked “Broadneck” and jeans in the washing machine.
Annie said she saw someone wearing jeans and a sweatshirt standing with an ax near her mom’s body. Larry also attended Broadneck High School. Between the handprint match and the blood found on his shoes, Larry had no excuses to get out of it. He was the murderer.
Once the evidence stacked against him, Larry decided to confess. Just before his trial, he pled guilty to second-degree murder, receiving a 20-year sentence with an eight-year suspension. Investigators sympathized with Larry because of the verbal and physical abuse he suffered from Bob and Kay.
Larry was sent to the Patuxent Institution, a Maryland prison known for its therapeutic programs. He served a little more than eight years and received parole. Although he committed a heinous crime, the parole board thought Larry had been rehabilitated and wasn’t a harm to others.
People Couldn’t Believe He Did it
When the news broke that Larry confessed, many people who knew him were shocked. He was well-liked but rarely talked about his family life with friends. Some said they didn’t even know Larry had a brother and sister. He also only said good things about his parents to others.
He was kind to his sister and slept on the floor with Annie when she first came to the Swartz home. She was used to sleeping on mats on the floor, so Larry stayed with her until she got adjusted to everything.
Shortly after Larry was released from prison, detective Barr said he learned something significant from the case. He realized he needed to spend more time with his own children and leave the homicide division. It made people rethink how they treated their children.
Although Bob and Kay seemed like friendly people involved with the church who helped their neighbors, they didn’t treat their children with love. The case made many of the people involved more aware of how they communicate with their families.
The Blame Game
Bob and Kay took it personally when Michael wouldn’t conform, so they became more rigid and cruel with Larry, hoping for a different outcome. But Bob’s brother, Jacob Swartz, doesn’t blame Bob and Kay for what happened.
Jacob blames the adoption workers for the family’s troubles. He said they failed to adequately warn his brother and sister-in-law about Larry’s emotional problems. When they added Michael, who had similar issues, Jacob said it worsened the situation. However, he didn’t see the way the children were treated.
Michael Also Killed
Ten years after Larry was arrested for the murder of their parents, Michael was also convicted for murder. He called the police with details about the murder of Robert Austin Bell. According to neighbors, Bell was a freelance repairman of air conditioners and motors.
After spending time at a state mental hospital, Michael tried to change his life. He became a carpenter, but his childhood affected him deeply. After he was cleared as a suspect in his parents’ murders, he became a suspect in a different case.
The Murder of Robert Bell
Michael and two other men knew Bell from the neighborhood. Ronald Scoates was friends with Bell and knew that he had a large jug of quarters in his home. Scoates and Michael went to his home under the ruse of asking for a loan.
One was supposed to grab the quarters while the other distracted Bell. Meanwhile, Henry Stettler IV was outside in the getaway car. However, something went wrong, and Bell was stabbed several times. A newspaper carrier discovered him on the kitchen floor when he came to collect payment.
He must have had a guilty conscience because Michael called the police to tell them about the murder. He led investigators to the knife used in Bell’s murder. It was wrapped in a bloody towel. He had no adult criminal record, but Michael didn’t want to keep this secret.
Michael said Scoates had been drinking heavily and wanted money. He told investigators that they decided to go to Bell’s home. However, while Michael was shaking Bell’s hand, Scoates started stabbing him for no reason, and Michael joined in.
After the murder, Michael said he couldn’t believe he was part of something like that, which led him to call the police. During his trial, Michael’s lawyer said there was reasonable doubt that he didn’t participate in the stabbing. All the bloody shoeprints in Bell’s house belonged to Scoates.
The prosecutor told the jury they could be confident with their decision to convict Michael because he had blood on his shorts. Michael was also seen pulling a knife from under the getaway car’s back seat. He told Stettler they killed Bell.
Another Bloody Palmprint
Like in his brother’s case, a bloody palmprint sealed Michael’s fate. One of the most critical pieces of evidence in convicting Michael was his bloody handprint found on the frame of the back door at Bell’s house. It showed he had participated in the crime.
The state attorney said that was enough to convict Michael of the crime. It was like history was repeating itself because Larry was also found guilty due to the palmprint on the back window of their family home. Sadly, his fate was sealed.
Even the Judge Cried
It only took the jury about three hours to find Michael guilty of first-degree felony murder. They acquitted him of the more serious charge of premeditated first-degree murder and two lesser conspiracy charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
As the judge read Michael’s sentence, he struggled to fight back tears. An hour before Michael found out his fate, he stood crying while sharing his life story. He had a Bible and copy of Sudden Fury, the 1989 book about his parents’ murder, sitting on the defense table.
Michael Rediscovered His Faith
During his sentencing trial, Michael told the court that he had rediscovered God. He started to heal from his awful childhood after leaving home. While he never understood why Bob and Kay were so cold, he said, “I’ve come to the conclusion they loved me.”
Michael said his parents didn’t know how to show their love. He also revealed that he forgave Larry for murdering Bob and Kay. Michael admitted, “I’ll always hate what he did, but he’s my brother, and he’s all I’ve got.”
Life After Prison
When Larry got out of prison in 1993 at age 29, he was adopted by a new family. Why someone would get adopted at age 29 is bizarre, but he might have wanted a sense of security. Unfortunately, his new home operated like his old one.
The father of the family started writing to Larry in prison, and they struck up a friendship. However, Larry didn’t know the man was a drunk and abused his wife and daughters. It was a small blessing because Larry’s presence made him act loving to hide his true self from Larry.
His New Family
Larry had no idea about the horrors his new mom and sisters experienced before he was adopted into the family. Their father lied to Larry and put on an act. Unfortunately, as Larry tried to rejoin the world, work, make friends, and date, his new adopted dad became more controlling.
There were a lot of arguments between Larry and his father. It made for a horrible living environment. The family disowned him when Larry and his girlfriend had a secret wedding and told his parents they were moving to Florida.
Larry Moved On
Although his second adopted family disowned him and cut him out of their will, Larry went on with his life. He and his new wife moved to Florida and had a child. He got divorced but found some comfort when his second father started talking to him again.
Larry eventually found someone new and got remarried. Considering how horrible the first half of his life was, Larry was happy to be free from the past. He enjoyed his life, but he passed away from a heart attack in 2005 at age 38.
What Happened to Annie?
Because Annie was only eight when her parents were killed, she was sent to another foster family. Kay and Bob’s will named Helen Rodden as Annie’s legal guardian. Rodden was Kay’s sister, but she wasn’t able to gain custody of Annie and withdrew from the custody battle.
Instead, the state named James and Eileen Smithmyer as Annie’s temporary guardians. They were friends with the Swartz’s. Annie became a part of their family, so the Smithmyer family adopted her. They didn’t want to uproot her life again after such awful experiences.
Michael Is Still in Prison
While Larry passed away and Annie is living with another family, Michael is still in prison. He will spend the rest of his life in jail unless a lawyer can appeal his conviction. Although he had no intention of murdering anyone, Michael made a mistake.
Many people hoped he would be able to reconnect with Larry in 1993, but Michael was already in jail. It is sad how parents can negatively affect their children’s lives. All Michael and Larry wanted was love and affection.