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Profile of Larry Swartz: The 'Sudden Fury' Murders

Pushed Beyond His Limit or Cold and Calculating?

By

Larry Swartz struggled his whole life, first as a foster care child, then as one of two boys adopted by Robert and Kathryn Swartz. At first he was his parent's favorite, but in time that changed and he became their next victim.

Robert and Kathryn Swartz

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 in the dating circuit; they were devout Catholics (Bob had converted to Catholicism); they were pro-life activist; and they were highly committed and serious about their careers.

After getting married they settled down in Cape St. Claire, Maryland. Kay was a teacher at the local high school and Bob worked with computers.

Kay was unable to have children so they decided to adopt. The thought of opening their home to unwanted children fit right in with their active participation with pro-life groups.

Lawrence Joseph Swartz

Lawrence "Larry" was six years old and the first child to join the Swartz family. His birth mother had been a waitress in New Orleans and his father was alleged to have been an East Indian pimp. Larry had spent his life in foster homes.

Michael David Swartz

Eight-years-old Michael was the second child that joined the family. Prior to that, he had moved from one foster home to another and had developed into a rebellious child. He spent two years on a probationary period in the Swartzs' home before being legally adopted.

Favoritism

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.

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 his first few years in school so the Swartzs decided he was under-challenged and they had him jump from the second to the fourth grade.

The change did not work out. Michael was smart, but emotionally immature. His grades dropped and his disciplinary problems increased. He was impulsive, often had fits of anger, disobedient and he did not seem to understand right from wrong.

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.

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.

Abuse

As the boys entered into adolescence, the mood within the household became volatile. Bob and Kay were strict disciplinarians with rigid house rules. They also lacked good parenting skills 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 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 would recoil and try to calm his parents. Michale would do just the opposite. He often talked back and agitated the fighting. Bob had a ferocious temper and zero tolerance for Michael's rebellious behavior. It did not take long for the verbal lashings to turn into physical abuse.

Larry managed to escape the beatings, but the verbal and psychological abuse intensified. The Swartzs 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 obsessed on trying to think of ways to keep his parents happy.

Anne Swartz

When the boys were around 13, the Swartzs 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 entire family adored the toddler. She also became the new favorite child of Bob and Kay, bumping Larry to second place.

Hit the Road

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 decided to sneak out of the house.

When he returned home around 10 p.m., he discovered that 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 Swartzs were concerned, Michael was no longer their son.

Next in Line

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.

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, his parents were always on his back about something.

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 Swartzs. 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.

His relationship with his mother, which had always been good, was 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.

 

Backfire

In a desperate attempt to regain his position as his parent's "favorite" Larry told them that he decided that he wanted to be a priest. It worked. The Swartzs 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.

Driver's Education

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 Swartzs, 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.

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.

Destructive Criticism

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.

As for Michael, he had been court-ordered to go to a psychiatric facility for testing after he continued to get into trouble at the foster home. The Swartzs never faltered about not wanting anything to do with him and he was now a ward of the state.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

The night of January 16, 1984, seemed typical of many other nights in the Swartzs' home. First, Kay and Larry had a disagreement about a girl Larry had taken out a date. Kay 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 destroyed 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 drank rum he had hidden. 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.

A Call to 9-1-1

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 that looked out the kitchen window, saw Kay laying in the yard, and immediately called for help.

The Crime Scene

When the detectives from Arundel County Sheriff's Department arrived, they immediately secured the crime scene.

A search of the home produced several clues. First, nothing of any value seemed to have been stolen. A blood trail led outside, indicating that Kay's body had been dragged to where it was found. In addition, a bloody palm print was found on the glass of the patio door. They also uncovered a bloody maul out in a wet, wooded area behind the house.

A neighbor alerted the detectives to blood that he saw in the front of his home. Investigators followed a trail of blood and footprints from the man's house, through the neighborhood and into the woods. The footprints included human shoe prints, paw prints from probably a dog and a bare footprint and one that may have been made by someone wearing a sock.

It appeared that Kay Swartz was attacked and then managed to escape the house, but was then chased through the neighborhood by her assailant until she was caught and murdered.

The Interviews

The detectives turned their attention to Larry and Annie. Larry told them the same story he told the paramedics about looking out the window and seeing his mother laying in the snow, except this time he said he looked out of the dining room window, not the kitchen window.

He was also quick to implicate his brother Michael as a possible suspect. He told the detectives that Michael hated his parents since the time that they forbid him to return to their home. He mentioned that the family dogs knew Michael and probably would not bark at him if he entered the house. He told them that Kay confided to him that she feared Michael and that Michael had joked before about stabbing their father in the back.

Annie told detectives that she heard noises around 11:30 p.m. that sounded like her father calling for help. She then described a man that she saw in the backyard. His back was to her, but she could see that he was tall, with dark curly hair and that he was wearing jeans and a grey sweatshirt. She went on to describe a bloody shovel that he was carrying over his shoulder. For as young as she was, she remembered a lot of details.

When asked if the man was as tall as Michael was, Annie answered yes. Michael was over six feet tall and towered over Larry.

Michael's Alibi

Checking out the whereabouts of Michael on the night of the murders was easy for the detectives. According to the staff at the Crownsville Hospital Center, Michael had been locked in the dormitory during the night. Michael also told detectives that he had been locked in the dorm.

One of the staff members said that he saw Michael the previous night at around 11:15 p.m. Based on the time that Annie said that she saw the man in the yard, that would have given Michael only 15 minutes to get to his house and kill his parents. The detectives knew that there was no way the killer was Michael. He never could have made it to the Swartzs' home that quickly.

Cool, Calm and Overly Helpful

All of the paramedics, police and the detectives held the same impression of Larry on the day that they found the Swartzs' bodies. For a kid who had just found his parents murdered, he was amazingly cool and calm, to the point of appearing disconnected to the horror that had gone on inside his house.

The detectives were also suspicious of his attempt to make Michael look like a suspect. There was also the batch of papers concerning Michael's legal problems, which had conveniently (too conveniently) been left in open view in the living room.

A Confidential Confession

Three days after his parents' funeral, Larry confessed to his lawyers that he was the killer.

He described the events prior to the attack.

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 and then he went downstairs and passed by 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.

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.

Final Act of Revenge - Humiliation

Larry explained how he dragged his mother out through the patio door and 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 then assaulted her with his finger.

He then got rid of the murder weapons and his bloody clothing by throwing it all back into the wet, wooded area behind his house.

When he returned to the house he went to Anne's room. She had woken up during the commotion, but Larry assured her it was a nightmare and to go back to sleep.

He did not mention chasing Kay through the neighborhood and when asked about it, Larry said he had no recollection of that happening.

The Arrest

The detectives knew that if they found out who left the bloody palm print on the glass door, that they would probably find the killer. It did not take long for the FBI to make a match. The palm print matched Larry's palm print, a fact that did not surprise any of the detectives.

Larry was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. His bail was set at $200,000.

The Trial

Larry sat in jail for 15 months before going to trial. On the day before it was to begin, his lawyers and the prosecutor reached a plea bargain. Judge Bruce Williams questioned Larry on the witness stand, verifying that he understood that he was going to plead guilty to the two counts of murder. He then announced his sentence.

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 Swartzs' home and that although Larry appeared normal, that the court-ordered psychological testing that he had gone through showed that he was in great need of treatment.

He sentenced Larry to two concurrent 20-year sentences and suspended 12 years from each.

Freedom

Larry was released in 1993 after serving nine years in prison. He moved to Florida, married and had a child. In December 2004, at the age of 37, Larry had a heart attack and died.

The case was the inspiration behind the best-selling book by Leslie Walker, "Sudden Fury: A True Story of Adoption and Murder". In addition to the book, there was a 1993 television movie based on the murders, "A Family Torn Apart," which starred Neil Patrick Harris of "Doogie Howser, M.D." as Larry Swartz.

 

What Happened to Michael Swartz?

Michael continued to get into trouble and at the age of 25, he was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, for participating in robbing and murdering a man. It was said that he murdered the man for a jar of coins.
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