Neighbors shocked by deaths

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- Parents in one Perryville neighborhood are keeping their children indoors while they try to understand the murder of an 8-year-old girl and the suicide of her father, who died Saturday morning.

Neighbor Kelly Yates knew something terrible must have happened when she saw the coroner's van parked at 811 Lucy St. She had difficulty explaining to her children how something so bad could happen right where they live.

"I was very shocked, surprised and disgusted," she said. "I've been keeping my 7- and 9-year-old in the house. I told them everything was OK, but we're going to stay inside for a while. That was as close to home as I ever want to get."

Police say Kendra Swan was sexually assaulted and strangled to death by her father, 26-year-old Jamie Swan, whose body was later found hanging inside a barn on Perry County Road 359.

He apparently first tried to kill himself in two other ways -- by cutting his arms and running a hose from his exhaust pipe into the pickup cab -- before hanging himself with a stereo speaker wire from a tractor.

"He tried every means possible before he was successful in killing himself," said assistant police chief William Jones. "He was probably down there a good hour before he did it."

Weekend visit

Kendra arrived Friday for a weekend visit -- only the second or third time she had been left in her father's care since her parents' divorce, said police chief Keith Tarrillion. None of the neighbors talked to could recall seeing the girl outside the home before.

She was last seen by a grandparent at about 1 a.m., when Swan took her to a bedroom. Hours later, a relative discovered her lifeless body and that her father was gone.

"The family told us that he had left the home in the early hours, but they had not seen him leave," Tarrillion said. "At that point, our suspicions turned toward him."

Swan's black Chevrolet S-10 pickup was spotted shortly before noon Saturday near the metal barn, about 13 miles from town. No alcohol or drugs were found, police said.

Bloodstains remained on the tractor and on the piece of farm equipment from which he cut the hose. Police did not find the knife or sharp object he used, but it could be hidden in the tall weeds that cover the area.

No one is sure why he picked the barn. The landowners did not know him, and police haven't found anything that ties the location to Swan.

"There is not going to be an answer why it happened," Smith said. "The person who knows the answer is deceased."

Swan's criminal history included convictions for assault, writing bad checks and burglary. Much of it centered on Perry County, starting from the time he was 17, Smith said.

Investigation ongoing

Police have sent a crime lab some tissue and hair samples and DNA samples from family members present in the home, Tarrillion said. After a meeting of investigators on Friday, he expects to make another announcement about the findings in the case.

On Monday, the street in front of the home was filled with parked cars. A man inside said the family refused to comment. Attempts to contact the child's mother, Gina Darwin, and her family in Chester, Ill., for comment were also unsuccessful.

Over the last several days, many people have driven by to look at the house, creating traffic problems and even more questions from her children, said Yates, the neighbor.

"I find it sick," she said. "They turn in our driveways and park in the street. They should find something better to do."

Larry Buff lives across the street from the house. He said the family moved in about two years ago, and he sold Swan's mother a car. But he has not spoken to them since before the deaths.

"You can't figure it out," he said. "What do you say? It's really heartbreaking."

Kendra's death was Perryville's first homicide in nearly three years, Tarrillion said. In 2000, five people were killed in unrelated incidents.

Yates is hoping things settle down quickly along her street and in her town.

"This is a good, quiet neighborhood," she said. "And we'd like to keep it that way."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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