Profile of Larry Swartz and the Sudden Fury Murders

Pushed Beyond His Limit or Cold and Calculating?

Larry Swartz
Family Photo

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

Robert and Kathryn Swartz

Robert "Bob" Swartz and Kathryn Anne "Kay" Sullivan met while both were students at the University of Maryland. Soon, they discovered they had a lot in common, most notably childhoods marked by structure and stern discipline. As devout Catholics, neither had been active in the dating scene in either high school or college.

After getting married, the couple settled in Cape St. Claire, Maryland. Kay got a job teaching high school and Bob started working 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" Swartz 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-year-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 Swartzes' 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.

Bob and Kay wanted both boys to receive a good education, but their ambitions became a source of family tension. Michael was a smart child and a quick learner. He excelled in his first few years in school, so the Swartzes decided he was under-challenged and insisted he jump from the second to the fourth grade.

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

Larry on the other hand was a poor student. His parents became concerned about his academic struggles and had him tested. It was determined that he was learning disabled. He was placed in special education classes, which had a positive effect on his performance. Larry was also 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

The mood within the household turned volatile as the boys hit adolescence. Bob and Kay were strict disciplinarians with rigid house rules. They also lacked good parenting skills and were becoming overwhelmed with the challenges inherent in raising two teenagers.

Bob and Kay subjected both boys to constant criticism and harsh scoldings, and they often punished their children for even the most minor infringements of the rules. When it came time to deal with more serious problems, like Michael being disruptive at school, the at-home punishments became more severe.

During family fights, Larry would try to calm his parents. Michael 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 not the verbal and psychological abuse. The Swartzes were determined not to let Larry end up like Michael, and they kept a close watch on his activities.

Being around the constant fighting and the physical abuse took a toll on Larry, and he obsessed about ways to keep his parents happy.

Annie Swartz

When the boys were around 13, the Swartzes adopted their third child, four-year-old Annie. She was born in South Korea and had been abandoned by her parents. Annie was cute and sweet, and the entire family adored her. She also became the new favorite child of Bob and Kay, which bumped Larry down to second place.

Hit the Road

One night Michael asked his parents if he could visit some friends. The answer was "no," so Michael snuck 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 let him inside, he began to yell. Finally, Kay opened the window and informed Michael that he was no longer welcome at 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 Swartzes 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 shared their frustration and anger over how their parents were treating them.

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. Now that Michael was gone, his parents were always on his back about something.

Larry couldn't understand why his parents didn't seem to like him. He was popular at school and had a reputation among his peers and his teachers as a nice looking, easygoing, and polite young man. However, his mild manner and friendly nature made little impression on his parents. Just as they had with Michael, Bob and Kay soon began to find fault with everything Larry did and the friends he chose to hang out with.

His relationship with his mother, which had always been good, began to disintegrate. 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 "favorite child" status, Larry told his parents that he wanted to be a priest. It worked. The Swartzes were thrilled, and Larry was sent to a seminary to begin his first year of high school.

Unfortunately, that plan backfired. After failing to make the necessary grade point average after two semesters, Larry was encouraged by the school not to return.

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 Swartzes, however, this hinged entirely on Larry's grades. They agreed to allow him to take driver's education if he make all Cs or better on his report card.

By the following semester, Larry managed to get all but one C. Bob stood his ground and refused to give in because of the single D. Larry kept at it. The following semester he received two Ds and the rest were Cs. Again, that was not good enough for Bob and Kay.

Destructive Criticism

Arguments between Larry and his parents became a regular occurrence. They fought with him in particular over his extracurricular activities. They didn't care that their son excelled at sports and was co-captain of the junior varsity soccer team—in fact, they were adamant that sports was a distraction from his studies. He was often grounded and was only permitted to go to school and church and to attend his wrestling matches and soccer events. Socializing with friends was restricted. When Larry did manage to go on a date, his parents unfailingly criticized the girl he went out with.

Larry's performance in school deteriorated as a result. At 17, his C average was now a D average. His hopes for a driver's license were completely dashed.

In order to numb his pain, Larry began to hide 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 Swartzes never wavered in their decision to cut all ties with him, and Michael became a ward of the state.

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

The night of January 16, 1984, was a typical night in the Swartz home. Larry had been dating a girl that Kay disapproved of and she told him she didn't want him to see her again. Shortly after that argument ended, Bob blasted Larry for messing with his computer, which had erased some work. The fight escalated to ferocious levels.

Larry went up to his bedroom and began to drink from the bottle of rum he had hidden there. If he was hoping to squelch his anger, it did not work. Instead, the alcohol seemed to fuel the resentment and rage he felt towards his parents.

A Call to 9-1-1

The following morning, at around 7 a.m., Larry placed a call to 9-1-1. The Cape St. Claire emergency workers arrived to find Larry and Annie holding hands at the door.

Larry calmly let the paramedics into the house. First, they found Bob's body 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, lying in the snow. She was nude except for a sock on one foot. It appeared that she had been partially scalped, and her neck had been deeply lacerated in several spots. 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 he 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 that trail, along with a series of footprints, from the neighbor's house through the neighborhood and into the woods. The footprints included human shoe prints, paw prints from what was likely a dog, one bare footprint, and one that may have been made by someone wearing a sock.

It appeared that Kay Swartz survived her initial attack and 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 lying 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 for disowning him and sending him back to foster care. Larry pointed out 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 once joked about stabbing their father in the back.

Annie told detectives that she heard a voice 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 gray 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

But Michael had an alibi. According to him and the staff at the Crownsville Hospital Center, Michael had been locked inside the dormitory during the night. One of the staff members confirmed that he'd seen Michael 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 the house and kill his parents. The detectives knew that there was no way that Michael was the killer. He could never have made it to the Swartz home that quickly.

Cool, Calm, and Overly Helpful

Everyone who came to the Swartz home that morning—the paramedics, police, and the detectives—remarked on Larry's emotional state. 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 been left in open view in the living room.

The Arrest

The detectives knew that if they found out who left the bloody palm print on the glass door, 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.

Annie went to live with family friends in Annapolis.

A Confidential Confession

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

He outlined the events prior to the attack, describing the arguments he'd had with his parents. He said he went to his bedroom, started drinking, and then went downstairs, passing his mother, who was watching television. She asked him about some tests he had taken at school that day, and Larry told her he thought he had flunked one but done okay on the others.

According to Larry, Kay's response was sarcastic and belittling. In response, Larry picked up a nearby wood-splitting maul and smash it over her head. He then stabbed her multiple times in the neck with a kitchen knife.

Bob came in 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 them into the wet, wooded area behind his house.

When he returned inside he went to Annie's room. She had woken up during the commotion, but Larry assured her it was a nightmare and told her to go back to sleep. Larry did not mention anything to his lawyer about chasing Kay through the neighborhood. When asked about it, Larry said he had no recollection of that happening.

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 trouble that went on in the Swartz home. He said although Larry appeared normal, his court-ordered psychological testing showed that the teen 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 from prison in 1993, after serving nine years of his sentence. Inexplicably, a family who had read about his case adopted him as their son. He lived with his new family for several years before leaving. He moved to Florida, married, and had a child. In December 2004, at the age of 38, Larry had a heart attack and died.

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

Michael's Unhappy Ending

Michael continued to get in trouble, and as he got older his criminal behavior became more severe. At the age of 25, he was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, for participating in robbing and murdering a man. His bounty? A jar of coins.

Teens Killing Parents

A number of articles about children who kill their parents have been published over the years, many of them in Psychology Today. Most experts agree that it's the fastest-growing form of family homicide, committed primarily by males between 16 and 19 years of age. The reasons are unknown, although some doctors posit the high divorce rate may play a role. It is an area of crime that continues to be studied in great depth.