Lawrence J. Swartz, who gained national notoriety as a teenager in the killings in 1984 of his adoptive parents at their Cape St. Claire home, died of an apparent heart attack Wednesday in Florida, where he had lived the past several years, his lawyers said. He was 38.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and served nine years in Maryland penal institutions.
The killings occurred Jan. 16, 1984, and became the subject of a national best-selling book, Sudden Fury, and a 1993 NBC movie, A Family Torn Apart.
According to an Evening Sun article, he was born in New Orleans to "a pimp and a teenage drifter and abandoned 20 months later in a Silver Spring apartment complex." He spent the next six years in four foster homes and was subjected to physical abuse.
He became one of three adopted children of Robert Lee Swartz, a computer technician, and Kathryn Anne Swartz, a Broadneck High School English teacher -- who were later described as strict and religious parents.
"His mother and father were not bad people, which is not to say they were good parents, either," said lawyer Richard M. Karceski, who was part his defense team.
It was the teen who called police to the house that morning. Mrs. Swartz, 42, had been stabbed seven times in the neck and bludgeoned with a wood-splitting maul. Her nude body was found outside in the snow. Mr. Swartz, 52, was dead in a downstairs clubroom, stabbed 17 times with a steak knife.
"It was one of those situations where spontaneous combustion was the unfortunate byproduct of the dynamics," said Joseph F. Murphy, another defense lawyer and now chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals, recalling the case yesterday.
"Larry was one of the most courteous and quiet individuals I've met," Mr. Karceski said yesterday. "And yet he could be so violent to his parents. You could just imagine what was in him, welling up."
News accounts said that at the age of 3, the boy exhibited emotional problems, eating food out of garbage cans and getting up in the middle of the night to make sure the foster family he was living with was still there. He was diagnosed at the Kennedy Institute as being learning disabled.
Many of the details in the 1989 book by Leslie Walker, who had covered the case for The Evening Sun, were not revealed at the time, as the teen admitted to second-degree murder in a plea deal. He was sentenced to 20 years, with eight of them suspended, and sent initially to Patuxent Institution, which provides psychiatric therapy.
He completed his high school education and two years of college before being paroled in 1993, another of his lawyers, Ronald Baradel, said at the time. His brother by adoption, Michael D. Swartz, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 stabbing death and robbery of a Crownsville man.
"Life inside the [Swartz] house was quite a bit different than it appeared to have been from outside," Mr. Baradel had said. "They were well-intentioned, well-meaning people, but they were particularly ill-equipped by personality to deal with the kind of problems these children were dealing with."
Lawrence Swartz subsequently married, and at his death had an 8-year-old child, according to his attorneys, who did not have additional information.