Larry Swartz, a criminal who, at the age of 17, stabbed his father to death and bludgeoned his mother with a wood maul. However after serving nine years of his 12 year sentence, another dysfunctional family, offered to adopt Swartz, who by now was 29. He agreed. The problem with this heroic move was that these parents already had two little girls and didn’t seem too concerned about protecting them. Not only that, those little girls were already living in a nightmare of their own.
1984 – Cape St Clair – Maryland. Robert “Bob” Swartz and Kathryn Anne “Kay” Sullivan met at the University of Maryland and found that they had a lot in common. They both came from structured, disciplined backgrounds. Neither had spent much time dating ; they were devout Catholics, pro-life activists and highly committed to their careers.
The Swartz’s were unable to have children and at the age of 6, Larry was their first adopted son, When they adopted Larry, he had been shunted from foster home to foster home. Kay was his sixth mother. His natural mother had abandoned him. She had been a waitress in New Orleans and his father was alleged to have been an East Indian pimp. Larry spent his life in foster homes. Not a very auspicious beginning.
Eight-year-old Michael was the second child that joined the family. He moved from one foster home to another and developed into a rebellious child. He spent two years on a probationary period in the Swartz’s’ home before being legally adopted. That can’t have been a good feeling. Larry and Michael were only six months apart in age, with Michael being the oldest. A bond between the two brothers developed quickly and they became best friends.
When the boys were around 13, the Swartz’s adopted their third child, four-year-old Anne. She was born in South Korea and had been abandoned by her parents. Annie was cute and sweet and the family adored her. She became the new favorite child of Bob and Kay, bumping Larry to second place. Weird.
Seeing that the boys received a good education was a priority to Bob and Kay, but it was also a constant source of disappointment and family tension. Michael was a smart child and a quick learner. He excelled in school so the Swartz parents decided he was under-challenged and they had him jump from the second to the fourth grade, a highly unusual move to say the least. Frankly I’m surprised the school allowed the Swartz’s to move their son two grades. Of course, the change did not work out. Michael was smart, but emotionally immature. Not surprisingly, his grades dropped and his disciplinary problems increased. He was impulsive, had fits of anger, disobedient and he did not seem to understand right from wrong.
Larry was a quiet, mild-mannered child who followed the rules at school and at home. He rarely caused any disciplinary problems and had a close relationship with his mother. He was clearly the favorite son. Unlike Michael, Larry was a poor student. His parents became concerned about his academic struggles and had him tested. It was determined that he suffered with learning disabilities. He was placed in special education classes which had a positive effect on his performance.
The Swartz’s rigid expectations led them to constantly criticize and threaten their three children and beat Michael quite frequently. As the boys entered into adolescence, the mood within the household became volatile. Bob and Kay were strict disciplinarians with rigid house rules. To say they lacked good parenting skills was an understatement and the challenges of raising the boys was overwhelming.
Both boys were subjected to constant criticism and harsh scoldings. Bob and Kay often punished the boys, especially Michael, over minor rules that had been broken. When Michael wouldn’t conform, the Swartz’s took it personally and vowed that Larry would turn out differently. When it came time to deal with more serious problems, like Michael being disruptive at school, the punishments at home became more severe.
During family fights Larry acted as a mediator and tried to calm his parents. Michal did the opposite. He talked back and agitated the fighting. Bob had a fierce temper and zero tolerance for Michael’s behavior. It did not take long for the verbal insults to turn into physical abuse. Larry managed to escape the beatings, but the verbal and psychological abuse intensified. The Swartz’s were determined not to let Larry end up like Michael and they kept close ties on his activities. Being around the constant fighting and the physical abuse took a toll on Larry and he tried to think of ways to keep his parents happy.
Michael seemed to always stay in trouble with his parents, mainly because he would not follow their stringent rules. One night he asked them if he could go and see a few of his friends. The answer was no, so Michael sneaked out of the house. When he returned home around 10 p.m., he was locked out. After knocking failed to get his parents to unlock the door, he began to yell. Finally, Kay opened the window and informed Michael that he could no longer come home.The next day Kay reported Michael as a runaway to his social worker. He was given the choice to move into a foster home or go to juvenile court which would have likely meant going to a juvenile detention home. Michael elected to move into a foster home. As far as the Swartz’s were concerned, Michael was no longer their son.
Larry could not believe that his parents had disowned Michael. It not only angered him that a parent could just throw out their child, but it also caused him to feel severely insecure. He was scared that one day he would also be cast out of his home, especially since now that Michael was gone, he became the family scapegoat. His relationship with his mother, which at one point had been good, was rapidly disintegrating. The more she screamed at him, the harder he would try to figure a way back into her good graces, but nothing seemed to work. It seemed to Larry that the only people who did not like him were his parents. He was popular at school and had a reputation among his peers and his teachers as being nice-looking, easy-going and polite.
However, his mild manner and friendly nature with other people made little impression on the Swartz’s. Just like they had with Michael, Bob and Kay began to find fault in most things that Larry did and who he had as friends. Michael and Larry remained in touch with one another and talked for hours together on the telephone. They would share the frustrations and anger that they felt about their parents.
In a desperate attempt to regain his position as his parent’s “favorite” Larry told them that he wanted to be a priest. It worked. The Swartz’s were thrilled and Larry was sent to a seminary to begin his first year in high school. Unfortunately, that plan backfired after Larry failed to make the grades. The school recommended that Larry not return after failing to maintain the necessary grade average during his first two semesters. The clashes with his parents intensified after he returned home. No matter what he did, Larry was never good enough.
Arguments between Larry and his parents became a regular occurrence. They fought with him over his sport’s activities, including his being the co-captain of the junior varsity soccer team. They felt it took away from his studies. He was often grounded and only permitted to go to school, church and attend his wrestling matches and soccer events. Socializing with friends was restricted and when he did manage to go on a date, they were always critical of the girls he asked out. The result was that Larry’s performance in school deteriorated. At 17, his C average was now a D and his hope for getting his driver’s license was completely dashed. Larry also began hiding liquor in his bedroom and often got drunk after fleeing to his room after a fight with his parents.
Most teens start annoying their parents about allowing them to get their driver’s license as soon as they reach the legal age to drive. Larry was no exception. For the Swartz’s, the discussion of getting a driver’s license centered on Larry’s grades in school. They agreed to allow him to go to driver’s education if he had all C’s on his report card. Had Larry made any C’s would have been an accomplishment given his academic history, but by the following semester, he managed to get all C’s except for one D. Bob stood his ground and refused to give in because of the one D grade. Seriously. Larry continued to try and the following semester he received two D’s and the rest C’s. Again, it was not good enough for Bob and Kay.
The night of January 16, 1984, seemed typical of many other nights in the Swartz’s’ home. First, Kay and Larry had a disagreement about a girl Larry had taken out a date. Kay, of course, did not approve of her and did not want Larry dating her again. Shortly after that argument ended, Bob blasted Larry for messing with his computer which destroying some work he had completed. Bob was furious with Larry and the fight escalated to ferocious levels. When that argument was over, Larry went up to his bedroom and a mickey of drank rum. If he was hoping to squelch his anger, it did not work. Instead, the alcohol seemed to fuel the resentments and rage he felt towards his parents.
The following morning, at around 7 a.m., Larry contacted 9-1-1 for help. When the Cape St. Claire emergency people arrived they found Larry and Annie holding hands by the door. Larry was very composed as he calmly led the emergency people into the house. First they found Bob’s body, which was lying inside a small basement office. He was covered in blood and had several gash marks on his chest and arms. Next, they found Kay’s body in the backyard. She was nude except for one foot with a sock on it. It appeared that she was partially scalped and her neck had several deep lacerations. Against police protocol, one of the paramedics covered Kay’s body with a blanket.
Larry told the paramedics that Annie woke him up because she could not find their parents. He said he saw Kay laying in the yard, and called for help. Three days after his parents’ funeral, Larry confessed to his lawyers that he was the killer. Larry told them about the argument with his mother about the girl he took on the date and about his father getting angry with him over the computer. He said he went to his bedroom and drank rum, then he went downstairs and spoke to his mother who was watching television. She asked him about the tests he had taken at school that day and Larry told her he thought he flunked one, but did okay on his other tests.
According to Larry, Kay’s response was sarcastic and belittling. Larry’s response to Kay was to pick up a nearby wood-splitting maul and smash it over her head. He then stabbed her multiple times around the neck with a kitchen knife. Bob came to see what was going on and Larry plunged the knife into his chest. He continued stabbing Bob around his chest and heart multiple times, a fine example of overkill.
Once Bob and Kay were dead, Larry busied himself trying to make it look like a crime that was committed by someone who had broken into the house. Someone like Michael. Larry explained that he dragged his mother out through the patio door, across the snow in the backyard and laid her out near the swimming pool. He removed her clothes and then in a final act to humiliate her, he moved her body into an obscene position and assaulted her with his finger. Ick. He got rid of the murder weapons and his bloody clothing by throwing it into the wet, wooded area behind his house. When he returned to the house he went to Anne’s room. She woke up during the commotion, but Larry assured her it was a nightmare and told her to go back to sleep.
Trial and Conviction
Judge Williams referred to the murders as one of the most tragic events in the history of the county. He showed compassion when speaking of the troubles that went on in the Swartz’s’ home and that although Larry appeared normal, the court-ordered psychological testing proved that he was in great need of treatment. Acting compassionately, Williams sentenced Larry to two concurrent 20-year sentences and suspended 12 years from each.
New Adoptive Family
In a family who were completely unknown to Larry lived two little girls, ages 13 and 8 The 13-year-old eventually wrote her memoir about this experience. The very nature of both the bizarre adoption and the abuse she, her sister and her mother suffered were echoes of Swartz’ life. An entry in the older child’s diary read:
My mother, a rapacious reader, picked up the “Sudden Fury” book (authored by Leslie Walker) and read it my father ended up reading it as well. The book detailed the case and tried to illuminate Larry’s formative years — abandoned by his mother as a baby, Larry spent his life shuttling through the foster care system and suffering physical and verbal abuse. The next thing we knew, my father, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, started writing to Larry in prison — a prison roughly two hours away from our home on the Eastern Shore. The letters progressed, they struck up a friendship, and eventually we started going to visit with Larry. The murderer. In prison.
This, all of this, is clearly, unequivocally, bat shit crazy. WHO DOES THIS? I know that somewhere, somehow, there has to be someone with a similar experience, right? But I’ve never met anyone that has, or heard of anything like this happening…. Larry was actually very nice to us. I mean, really nice. Most of the time, it was like we forgot what he had even done.
Larry was released in 1993 after serving nine years in prison. This is where the story takes another bizarre twist. After he was released from prison, at the age of 29, he moved to Florida, and was adopted by this bizarre family. Why a 29-year-old man wants to be adopted is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was the sense of security he got from having a new family. However this family would prove to operate exactly like the Swartz’s.
Years after Larry’s adoption, the two unhappy young women disowned and “divorced” their abusive father: Let’s look at the true pics: my father drunk and vicious, smashing up a bedroom suite, or beating the dog, or whipping my sister and me with a belt, or getting blind drunk and forcing us into the car, where he’d drive and scream at us for hours, or, in a series of nightmarish images, like some flipbook from hell, let’s see my father wrap his hands round my mother’s throat and strangle her. See me and my sister punching and kicking at his legs, trying to stop him? See our little teeth biting ineffectually at his pant cuffs?
He and my sister grew to be really close. He wasn’t this terrifying killer dude — to be completely honest, I found my own father a million, billion times scarier. And actually, my dad toned down his behavior a lot, once Larry came to live with us. With Larry, my father tried to act loving and sane; in order to perpetuate that lie, he couldn’t treat us as horribly as he normally would have. So that was kind of an unexpected side benefit to the whole thing.
As time went on, shit got weirder and weirder. The more Larry tried to rejoin the world, to work and hang out with people and date, the more controlling and obsessive my father became. There was at least one fistfight, a lot of yelling, just bad times all around. The final blow came when Larry and his girlfriend had a clandestine wedding and informed my parents they were moving to Florida. That was it for my parents. They cut Larry out of the will and disowned him.
Larry moved to Florida and had a child, though he and his wife got divorced. As the years passed, my dad eased up, and would occasionally talk to Larry on the phone. Larry eventually ended up happily remarrying. The last few years of his life were good ones. He died, of a heart attack, in 2005. He was 38 years old.
Michael didn’t do so well. At the age of 25 he began serving a life sentence in Jessup for the murder of 52-year-old Robert Austin Bell over a jar of quarters. Deputy State’s Attorney William D. Bell stated Michael stabbed Bell to death 45 times.
A book and a movie based on the Swartz murders were produced including:
(1) Sudden Fury – a book by Leslie Walker
(2) A Family Torn Apart – a T.V. movie based on the Swartz murders
They say no one deserves to die a brutal death, especially at the hands of their own kin. In this case, I believe the Swartz family raised their own killer. It was just a matter of time.