Second Swartz Murder Trial Opens

Michael May Follow Brother Larry Tojail

June 09, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

When Bob and Kay Swartz were found stabbed to death at their Cape St. Claire home -- victims of a murder that would later become the subject of a best-selling book -- all eyes turned toward the couple's adopted son, Michael.

After all, Michael, then an incorrigible teen-ager so gangly and wild-haired his relatives said he looked like he came from another planet, had casually described his fantasy of sticking a knife into his father's back.

He'd once beaten a reform school roommate bloody with a slab of wood, and less than a month before the killings, he'd been commited toa mental hospital after allegedly holding a knife to a counselor's neck at a shelter for runaways.

But 17-year-old Michael had an alibi for his parents' deaths: He spent Jan. 16, 1984, the night of the murders, locked up in the Crownsville Hospital Center.

The killer was another adoptive son, Larry Swartz, also 17, who had longed to ridhis life of his abusive parents. He crept up on his mother, cracked her skull with a maul and stabbed her with a butcher knife. He then turned the knife on his father.

The killing -- and a foster care system that united two young boys with cold, demanding and unforgiving parents -- were described in "Sudden Fury," a 1989 book by former Evening Sun reporter Leslie Walker that made the New York Times best-seller list. The book is also the basis for a screen play being preparedfor NBC-TV.

Now, seven years after the murders, a new chapter is unfolding in the saga of the Swartz brothers. While Larry sits in a prison in Jessup, looking at the short end of a 12-year sentence, Michael sits in the county jail, charged with murdering a man during a robbery and faced with the prospect of a prison term of life without parole.

As it turned out, Bob and Kay Swartz raised not only their own killer but another son who is also accused of murder.

Michael David Swartz, now 25, is scheduled to stand trial Thursday in the death of 52-year-old Robert Austin Bell. Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said during a February court hearing that Bell was stabbed 45 times last July 9 during a robbery at the man's house in the 100block of First Street, Crownsville.

Many who know the Swartz brothers say they would not have been surprised to see Michael getting into trouble. In his youth, his hot temper and reputation for thievery had landed him in reform school.

But a murder charge? Since his parents' murders, he'd worked for several years as a cab driver before taking a construction job. He'd taken up with a woman in her 40s, a girlfriend who could lend stability and a mature influence to his life. He was even helping to promote "Sudden Fury" and was scheduled to appear on the Sally Jessy Raphael show with the book's author.

But on July 9, 1990, Michael Swartz was charged with first-degree murder;prosecutors announced their intention to seek a prison term of life with no chance of parole.

Timothy D. Murnane, who as an assistant public defender had represented Swartz when he was a suspect in his parents' slaying, remembers his reaction to the news.

"It was one of those real, real deeply disturbing and dispiriting types of things for that to erupt again. It opened up all those old wounds," Murnane said.

"It's as sad, if not sadder, than the Larry Swartz case," said Warren B. Duckett Jr., who as county state's attorney prosecuted Larry and, while doing so, befriended Michael. He later arranged for Michael to visit Larry in prison.

Duckett, now a Circuit Court judge, stressed Michael must be presumed innocent, but, he said, "I felt I had gotten to know him. I really felt he'd gotten on the right road.

"You think you know somebody. You don't like to think that person could commit that crime, or even be involved in that.

"Michael Swartz is a big, raw-boned, macho Baby Huey," Duckett said. "He's raw-boned, like an uncut stone. He's macho because he likes to act like he's hot stuff, flexing his muscles and stuff. He's Baby Huey because his personality is blobby. He's wimpy.

"I feel somewhat responsible. I think I could have done more to help him," Duckett added. "I could have continued to befriend him."

Duckett was among those connected with the Swartz case who say they thought Michael's girlfriend would help keep him out of trouble.

Susan Hilton, 44, said she met Michael about four years ago, when both were working as cabbies. The sight of the 6-foot-6 Michael tooling through town in his cab was a common one for about six years.

About two years before Michael's arrest last summer, they began living together.

She said he worked asa carpenter for a builder until he hurt

his shoulder. He then went to work pumping gas at Tucker's Exxon on West Street in downtown Annapolis.

Mary Tucker said Swartz worked at her gas station for about two weeks in May 1990. But, she said, Swartz never returned to work after injuring his shoulder a second time when he lost control of amotorcycle, knocking over two tire racks at the station.

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