Larry Swartz - How it all Began

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On the afternoon of January 17,1984 entered the front door and glanced at headlines of the newspaper which was lying on the foyer table. The news is often bad, so I normally just glance and opt not to ruin my day. This time was different. I don’t recall the words as much as I remember the effect they had on me. This time the headlines made me feel as though a strong man had just socked me in the gut. My stomach tightened and my head reeled. Bob and Kay Swartz, a couple I knew from church, had been savagely murdered in their home last night. The story described in graphic detail how Bob was slain in his den and then Kay was chased around the neighborhood in her nightgown in the snow, bludgeoned, stabbed, and penetrated with a broom handle. The front-page photo showed their seventeen year old son Larry, holding Annie, his younger sister, and comforting her.

 

I had known Kay and Bob for ten years. I remember being impressed by the fact that when they knew they could not have children of their own, they chose to adopt children who were considered unadoptable. The first adoption was Larry. His father, an East Indian and his mother, an American, abandoned Larry in an empty apartment when he was only 18 months old. From that time on Larry was shuffled from one foster home to another until he was six years old when Bob and Kay adopted him. They adopted Michael, their second child, six months later. He was seven. Michael’s father was African American and his mother Native American. Their third adoption was Annie, who was Korean by birth.

 

Bob and I both taught 9th grade Sunday school, and occasionally combined our classes for a shared lesson. It was hard to imagine how such a thing could have happened to them.

 

Two nights after the murders I had one of my strange dreams. I have always had vivid dreams. Some are more visual than others. Some are entertaining, like stories. Occasionally they are 3-D Technicolor and have a powerful visceral impact on me. When I have one of these dreams, something inside me says I need to pay attention.  The problem is, I usually have no clue what I am supposed to pay attention to and sometimes the symbolism is so weird it defies logic. 

 

In this dream the recently murdered Kay Swartz came to talk to me. We were in a kitchen. In my mind I knew she was dead, but in my dream she was very much alive.

 

I said, “Kay, are you all right?” 

She said, “I’m fine”.

Then I said, “Is Bob all right?”

and she said, “He’s going to be all right”.

She looked pleadingly at me and said “Larry is a good boy.”

 

Then, all of a sudden she turned, opened the kitchen door and screamed at some children playing in the back yard. She let out a stream of obscenities and said, “get out of my yard.”  I was shocked.  This was not the Kay I knew.

 

I woke up dazed and confused. I had met Larry and Michael shortly after their adoptions.  Both were about seven years old and the Swartzes were celebrating Larry’s baptism and first communion. After that I only saw them occasionally at church. I had no reason to believe Larry wasn’t a good boy. It was his brother Michael, who seemed troubled, but then I didn’t know the family all that well. Why would Kay come to me in a dream?

 

The headlines in the next day’s paper said Larry had been arrested for the double murder of his parents. That was the beginning of a very new and different chapter in my life.

 

I couldn’t get the dream out of my mind. I believed on some level that Kay wanted me to help Larry, but I wasn’t sure what I might be able to do. When it got to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night, I broke down and went to visit him at the Detention Center.

 

Up until this time my only view of the law was good guys and bad guys. The bad guys got locked up and I never had a reason to visit one. This may be attributable to the fact that when my Dad retired from the Army, he was a deputy Sheriff for about 12 years, then retired to Kilmarnock, Virginia where he continued to work for the Sheriff’s department as a volunteer.

 

Visiting the Anne Arundel County Detention Center was a first for me. There was nothing remarkable about the facility.  It was relatively new, clean, spacious and well organized. I only had to show my identification, tell them who I wanted to see, and wait. I remember a long wall. The top half was glass, bulletproof I imagine, and the bottom half was cinderblock painted a neutral shade.  There were stools lined up along the wall and every few feet a telephone hung on the wall. Each space bore a number.  I was told to go to my assigned number and wait there. Looking through the glass, all I could see was a long narrow vacant room painted in a neutral shade. After a short wait, inmates started being escorted to their assigned places on their side of the glass.  Larry was escorted out and I could tell he did not recognize me so I reminded him of who I was. I did not ask questions, I only told him I was there in case he needed a friendly face.  We visited for the allotted 15 minutes and the guard came to retrieve him. We agreed that I would come again sometime.

 

For a seventeen year old being charged as an adult for a double homicide, Larry impressed me as quiet, pleasant and mild mannered. I left the detention center wondering if his mother was right. What if he didn’t even do this? I couldn’t speculate on his guilt or innocence all I wanted to, but what I was being asked to do was to support him and after that one visit I made a commitment to do just that. I could never have imagined at that time what kind of an impact that decision would have.

 

Another member of our church, attorney Ron Baradel came forward to represent Larry, pro bono. As a friend of the family he had previously helped Kay and Bob with legal matters pertaining to adopting their children.

 

After that things became intense. So much happened that when I try to put it on paper, I feel like I am in a windstorm holding a massive weaving that unravels and twists as the wind catches it. The many colored threads fly every which way and get all tangled up.  I know that if I could stop the wind, I could patiently sort out the threads of the tale and make sense of it, but just as I begin to make headway, the wind comes up and sends it all back into disarray. Since I can’t seem to make order of the chaos that reigned from the time of Larry’s arrest until his trial, I’ll save that for another time and fast forward to the meat of the story.

 

After months of preparation and negotiation a plea bargain was struck. Larry was sentenced to 20 years with eight years excused. That meant he received a 12 year sentence for a double homicide and according to law would be eligible for parole in eight or nine years.  At the time, I did not believe he had committed those murders, so I didn’t view that as a victory.  I would later come to realize that in all likelihood he did indeed commit the crime and the sentence he received was unprecedented. Ron certainly knew what he was doing.  He became Larry’s guardian and arranged for him to serve his time at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland.

 

Patuxent is the only prison of its kind in the United States. Originally designed to house Maryland’s most dangerous criminal offenders, it is staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to provide psychotherapeutic treatment.

 

When Patuxent opened in 1955, inmates were sent there involuntarily, and regardless of the length of their sentence, it was possible they would never get out. By the time Larry was incarcerated changes in the law required inmates to volunteer for the program and undergo an evaluation period before being considered eligible persons (EP). Sentences were no longer indeterminate.

 

For the first six weeks Larry participated in the program at the entry level and his eligibility to continue the program depended on the treatment staff’s evaluation of him.