Of late I’ve found myself obsessed with the concept of overlapping murders.
By “overlapping murders” I mean two entirely separate homicides committed by separate predators
that have absolutely nothing in common except for the fact that both crimes impact the same cast of characters.
Statistically speaking the chance of such occurrences are infinitesimal,
yet when overlapping crimes do occur I find myself fascinated, my mind struggling to provide a link
where no link in fact exists. In my mind I picture these situations as Venn diagrams,
and I feel that if I minutely examine the nexus of the crimes I’ll be provided a profound truth about the essence of murder,
yet in the end my ruminations yield nothing but sadness for everyone involved.
Here is one example:
Floyd Swartz and Amber Swartz Garcia
Kim Swartz must have believed that May 3rd, 1980 would be the single worst day of her life.
On that day her police officer husband Floyd “Bernie” Swartz was shot dead
by James Richard Odle,
a recent parolee in the midst of a drug and murder spree;
the new widow was twenty-eight years old, six months pregnant, awash in grief and alone.
Odle’s campaign of slaughter had begun three days earlier
with the murder of his girlfriend’s roommate;
freshly released from prison and fearing a revocation of his parole,
Odle brutally stabbed and choked Rena Aguilar
because he feared she’d inform authorities of his involvement in a recent auto theft.
(The irony of committing murder to stay out of jail was apparently lost on the drug-addled Odle.)
Rena managed to identify her attacker before she bled to death,
and when Odle was spotted in the area a few days later law enforcement was alerted and Bernie and his partner dispatched to the scene.
There the two police officers corralled Odle into a small wooded area; a shootout ensued,
and Bernie was shot in the neck after bravely shifting positions
in hopes of getting a better shot at the trigger-happy, LSD-fortified parolee.
On August 12th, 1983 James Richard Odle was sentenced to death for his crimes,
and he resides on death row in San Quentin Prison to this day,
his appeals bogged down in the impenetrable morass of the California justice system.
Three months after Bernie’s death Kimberly gave birth to a daughter named Amber;
the labor was difficult and Amber was born with a hearing impediment,
but hearing aids ameliorated this impairment and Amber grew into a bubbly, inquisitive child
with a mile-wide smile and hair the color of corn silk in the blazing summer sun.
On the afternoon of June 3rd, 1988 Kim allowed seven year old Amber to jump rope
alone in the front yard while awaiting the return of a neighbor who had recently given birth.
Roughly fifteen minutes later Kim went to check on her daughter and found the yard empty;
Amber was nowhere to be found, and the flaxen-haired tyke would never be seen again.
Against all odds, seven years after her husband’s murder, the lightening of adversity had again
set Kim Swartz’s life ablaze.
Despite a thorough investigation no connection could be found linking James Richard Odle with Amber’s abduction;
at the time of Amber’s disappearance her father’s murderer remained shackled on death row,
bereft of the resources and connections
necessary for an inmate to reach through cell bars and wreak havoc in the free world.
Further inquiry revealed no shortage of suspects in Amber’s disappearance, however,
most notably a local eccentric named Tim Bindner who inserted himself into the investigation in a classic maneuver
snatched directly from the FBI profiling textbook.
A complete stranger to the Swartz-Garcias,
Bindner appeared on the family’s doorstep three days after Amber’s disappearance;
his offer to search for her daughter’s “body” startled Kim, as at the time she still presumed Amber to be alive.
As depicted in the gripping account Stalemate: A Shocking True Story of Child Abduction and Murder by John Philpin,
detectives encouraged Kim to pursue a friendship with the odd interloper,
hoping Bindner would eventually incriminate himself
or inadvertently reveal the location of Amber’s remains.
Several young girls had recently gone missing along California’s Interstate 80 Corridor,
and Bindner seemed to relish the attention bestowed by his status as the number one suspect in the crimes;
he festooned his decrepit van with the girls’ missing posters,
sent taunting missives to investigators,
and scheduled a media interview in a graveyard at 4am.
As one reporter stated, “Whether he is the person who took the girls, I don’t know,
but I felt that he went out of his way to make me think that he had.”
Although he was inarguably guilty of being a narcissistic lunatic,
the police were ultimately unable to develop any evidence which concretely tied Bindner to the abduction of Amber
or any of the other missing girls,
and Amber’s case eventually grew as cold as the heart of a man who would willfully impede
the search for missing children
and callously toy with a grieving mother for sport.
In a startling development, on July 6th, 2009, twenty-one years after Amber’s disappearance,
Pinole Police Chief Paul Clancy
announced the investigation into her abduction had been closed.
Convicted pedophile and child killer Curtis Dean Anderson had confessed to murdering Amber;
he claimed he’d kidnapped her at random “for company” during a long drive, and later dumped her body along Highway 10 near Benson, Arizona.
No trace of Amber’s remains could be found, however,
and Anderson, who proudly proclaimed, “I like playing with the cops,”
possessed a reputation for peddling bogus information.
As he told aThe San Francisco Chronicle reporter after his purported confession to Amber’s abduction,
“Maybe I did all these things, and maybe I didn’t.
Maybe I’m full of shit.”
Kim Swartz remains unconvinced of Anderson’s guilt.
As she told a Chronicle reporter regarding her missing daughter,
“We don’t have her. We don’t have anything of hers, not the jump rope,
her shoes, her clothes, her finger bone. So … it’s pretty much the same for us.”
Anderson died of multiple organ failure on December 12th, 2007 in Corcoran State Prison,
taking whatever secrets he held regarding Amber’s fate with him to the grave.
Forever denied closure from her daughter’s alleged kidnapper,
Kim Swartz also lacks the comfort of knowing an investigation into her daughter’s case continues.
Her husband dead, her daughter missing, the cruelty of Kim Swartz’s fate boggles the mind and gnaws at the heart.
I am appalled law enforcement closed the investigation into Amber’s disappearance without locating her body—Bernie Swartz made the ultimate sacrifice for the Pinole Police Department,
and in my opinion California law enforcement’s great debt to the Swartz-Garcia family
remains woefully unpaid.
(Addendum: in October of 2012 the Pinole Police department bowed to public pressure and reopened the investigation into Amber’s disappearance.)