When Bob and Kay Swartz were found stabbed to death at their Cape St. Claire home -- victims of a murder that would later become the subject of a best-selling book -- all eyes turned toward the couple's adopted son, Michael.
After all, Michael, then an incorrigible teen-ager so gangly and wild-haired his relatives said he looked like he came from another planet, had casually described his fantasy of sticking a knife into his father's back.
He'd once beaten a reform school roommate bloody with a slab of wood, and less than a month before the killings, he'd been commited toa mental hospital after allegedly holding a knife to a counselor's neck at a shelter for runaways.
But 17-year-old Michael had an alibi for his parents' deaths: He spent Jan. 16, 1984, the night of the murders, locked up in the Crownsville Hospital Center.
The killer was another adoptive son, Larry Swartz, also 17, who had longed to ridhis life of his abusive parents. He crept up on his mother, cracked her skull with a maul and stabbed her with a butcher knife. He then turned the knife on his father.
The killing -- and a foster care system that united two young boys with cold, demanding and unforgiving parents -- were described in "Sudden Fury," a 1989 book by former Evening Sun reporter Leslie Walker that made the New York Times best-seller list. The book is also the basis for a screen play being preparedfor NBC-TV.
Now, seven years after the murders, a new chapter is unfolding in the saga of the Swartz brothers. While Larry sits in a prison in Jessup, looking at the short end of a 12-year sentence, Michael sits in the county jail, charged with murdering a man during a robbery and faced with the prospect of a prison term of life without parole.
As it turned out, Bob and Kay Swartz raised not only their own killer but another son who is also accused of murder.
Michael David Swartz, now 25, is scheduled to stand trial Thursday in the death of 52-year-old Robert Austin Bell. Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said during a February court hearing that Bell was stabbed 45 times last July 9 during a robbery at the man's house in the 100block of First Street, Crownsville.
Many who know the Swartz brothers say they would not have been surprised to see Michael getting into trouble. In his youth, his hot temper and reputation for thievery had landed him in reform school.
But a murder charge? Since his parents' murders, he'd worked for several years as a cab driver before taking a construction job. He'd taken up with a woman in her 40s, a girlfriend who could lend stability and a mature influence to his life. He was even helping to promote "Sudden Fury" and was scheduled to appear on the Sally Jessy Raphael show with the book's author.
But on July 9, 1990, Michael Swartz was charged with first-degree murder;prosecutors announced their intention to seek a prison term of life with no chance of parole.
Timothy D. Murnane, who as an assistant public defender had represented Swartz when he was a suspect in his parents' slaying, remembers his reaction to the news.
"It was one of those real, real deeply disturbing and dispiriting types of things for that to erupt again. It opened up all those old wounds," Murnane said.
"It's as sad, if not sadder, than the Larry Swartz case," said Warren B. Duckett Jr., who as county state's attorney prosecuted Larry and, while doing so, befriended Michael. He later arranged for Michael to visit Larry in prison.
Duckett, now a Circuit Court judge, stressed Michael must be presumed innocent, but, he said, "I felt I had gotten to know him. I really felt he'd gotten on the right road.
"You think you know somebody. You don't like to think that person could commit that crime, or even be involved in that.
"Michael Swartz is a big, raw-boned, macho Baby Huey," Duckett said. "He's raw-boned, like an uncut stone. He's macho because he likes to act like he's hot stuff, flexing his muscles and stuff. He's Baby Huey because his personality is blobby. He's wimpy.
"I feel somewhat responsible. I think I could have done more to help him," Duckett added. "I could have continued to befriend him."
Duckett was among those connected with the Swartz case who say they thought Michael's girlfriend would help keep him out of trouble.
Susan Hilton, 44, said she met Michael about four years ago, when both were working as cabbies. The sight of the 6-foot-6 Michael tooling through town in his cab was a common one for about six years.
About two years before Michael's arrest last summer, they began living together.
She said he worked asa carpenter for a builder until he hurt
his shoulder. He then went to work pumping gas at Tucker's Exxon on West Street in downtown Annapolis.
Mary Tucker said Swartz worked at her gas station for about two weeks in May 1990. But, she said, Swartz never returned to work after injuring his shoulder a second time when he lost control of amotorcycle, knocking over two tire racks at the station.
"He had straightened himself out. He was doing good," Tucker said. "My heart goes out to him in one sense."
Tucker said Hilton, who often brings her cab to the station for service, had been a positive influence on Swartz.
Hilton said: "I tried, let's put it that way. But Michael is hard-headed and he was going to do what he wanted to do. I expected trouble because of Lou."
Hilton was speaking of Henry Louis Stettler IV, the son of H. Louis Stettler III, chief deputy state treasurer. In February, Stettler, 27, pleaded guilty to being an accessoryafter the fact in Bell's slaying. As part of his plea agreement, he is expected to testify for the prosecution in Swartz's trial and in the trial of another co-defendant, Ronald Lamar Scoates.
For Scoates, who was on parole from a murder conviction in Florida when chargedin Bell's killing, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Lawyers for Scoates in May asked a judge to move the trial from Anne Arundel County; state law grants a defendant in a capital murder case an automatic change of venue on request. That trial has been moved to Queen Anne's County.
Hilton described Stettler as a drinker who was a "very bad influence" on Michael. She said Michael had "pretty much gotten away from" drugs, but when Stettler lived with them for more than a month, he more often than not had a beer in his hand, urging Michael to join him.
Referring to Stettler's plea agreement, Hilton said: "He got off easy, didn't he? He got off very easy. As far as I'm concerned he was just as much involved as the others."
Swartz gavehis version of events to authorities shortly after he called police following the slaying, saying he had witnessed a murder and was afraid the killers
were coming after him. Swartz's confession was the subject of a legal battle last month when defense attorney James D. McCarthy Jr. asked a judge to bar it from the trial, noting that he hadasked for a lawyer while in police custody. In a May 22 ruling, Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. said prosecutors could not use the statement in Swartz's trial.
Swartz told police he, Scoates and Stettler had been drinking when they went to Bell's house, intending to steal a five-gallon jar of quarters.
He said Scoates grabbed two knives and put them in his waistband before they went to Bell's house. Once there, Stettler waited in the car while Swartz and Scoates went inside, Swartz told police.
"At one point, Ronnie turned to me andhanded me a knife and told me, 'Here, help me out,' " Swartz told police. "I lightly underhanded stabbed the guy in the kidney area at least twice. I backed off, and Ronnie finished him off."
Swartz toldpolice that while Scoates went upstairs to loot the house, he ran tothe car and told Stettler of the killing. Swartz said that when Scoates returned to the car with a pillowcase full of loot, he told Stettler, "If you snitch on me, I'll kill you."
After buying liquor, the men returned to Scoates' house on Munroe Court in downtown Annapolis. But as Stettler and Scoates packed to leave for New York City, Swartz fled to the nearby Annapolis Hotel, where he called the police and reported the killing.
Hilton said, "I'm proud of the fact that he did turn himself in right away. It shows he wasn't for it."
Swartz called Hilton the following morning and told her of his arrest. Hilton, not knowing whom else to call, reached Leslie Walker.
Walkersaid she suggested Hilton call Richard M. Karceski, who, with RonaldA. Baradel, represented Larry. But Karceski, who donated his legal services in Larry's case, said he would be unable to do the same for Michael.
Walker rushed to Annapolis for Michael's bail review hearing. She had become friendly with Michael while promoting her book. Hilton said that Michael had been planning to go with Walker to New York to plug the book the day he was arrested for murder.
Hilton saidshe visits Michael in jail every chance she gets; Walker said she visited him after his arrest, but she hasn't seen him since last year. Walker, who last month took a job as an assistant Maryland editor at the Washington Post, said she's just been too busy with her work to visit Michael. In an article last summer, the Post described her as a journalist drawn into her own story -- a tag she rejects. But she wonders whether Michael's life is such that she is one of his closest friends, a potential character witness in his trial.
While friends -- for that matter, much of the community -- rallied around Larry whenword spread of the misery he had endured as a child, Michael seems to be strongly supported only by Hilton. Hilton was the only friend toshow up for a May court hearing here. Michael, no longer looking like an alien, wore a suit and had short hair.
Walker said Larry and Michael have been writing to each other since Michael's arrest. She said Larry was sad to hear of the arrest, but she could not elaborate.
Last December, Larry signed himself out of the Patuxent Institution program and was transferred in February to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup. Leonard Sipes, spokesman for the state Division of Corrections, said Larry had a parole hearing in January and is scheduled for another in July 1992. With good time credits, Larry could be eligible for release as early as 1993.
Larry Swartz did not respond to a written request for an interview.
That accused murderer Michael is routinely mentioned in the same breath as a convictedkiller hurts Michael's chance for a fair trial, his attorney said.
In a hearing last month, McCarthy cited "sensational" pretrial publicity in asking that the trial be moved. Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who will preside over Michael's trial, denied the request.
Linking the cases also strikes Hilton as unfair.
"As far as I'm concerned, as far as Michael is concerned, it's hurting him," Hilton said. "It makes the public prejudiced against Michael.
"The only thing connecting the two cases is they're adoptive brothers," she said. "They're not even blood."
But Walker, who covered Larry's case as a reporter for the Evening Sun and, through her work on the book, has been involved in the case for seven years, said Hilton is overlooking one connection: Larry is not only Michael's brother but also the killer of Michael's parents.
"When his parents were killed, Michael was left a 17-year-old orphan," she said. "Young adults, when they start out in life, if they have a family support system, they have a better chance. Whatever family support system Michael might have had was lost."