James Edward Swann Jr. (1 Viewer)


James Edward Swann Jr.

A.K.A.: "The Shotgun Stalker"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: "Possessed" drive-by slayer of victims shot at random
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: February-April 1993
Date of arrest: April 19, 1993
Date of birth: 1964
Victims profile: Two men and two women
Method of murder: Shooting (20-gauge shotgun)
Location: Washington, D.C., USA
Status: Found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in 1994

James E. Swann, Jr. was once referred to as the “Shotgun Stalker” in the area of Washington, D.C. in 1993. On April 19, 1993 a police officer saw Swann run a couple of redlights and when they tried to stop him he ran from police.

He was caught and they found the shotgun in his truck that had just been fired. He was later convicted of four murders and 10 attempted murders.

James E. Swann Jr., then 29, the "shotgun stalker" who terrorized the District's Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods over two months in 1993, killed four and wounded five in 14 attacks. He was caught after a police officer spotted him running red lights.

Swann was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital. Psychiatrists said he was driven to attack by disembodied screaming voices that only he could hear.

James Edward Swann, Jr., a.k.a. "The Shotgun Stalker", (born 1964), is an American serial killer whose random drive-by shotgun shootings in Washington, DC in 1993 earned him his nickname in the press. Swann was living in Iselin, New Jersey before the attacks.

He drove to Washington to carry out the attacks, which took place in the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. Each of the attacks followed a standard format: Swann would slow his car down next to a pedestrian and fire a 20-gauge shotgun at the target before driving away. Four people were killed and five injured in 14 attacks by Swann before he was apprehended by the Metropolitan Police on April 19, 1993.

Swann was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to Saint Elizabeths Hospital. He claimed to have been driven to the killings by voices in his head, including that of the ghost of Malcolm X, who told him to kill people in Northwest Washington -- the "civil rights side of town" -- because they had been responsible for the civil rights leader's assassination in 1965.

Shotgun stalker ruled insane, not guilty

September 27, 1994

James E. Swann Jr., the shotgun stalker who terrorized two Washington neighborhoods last year, was declared not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday in 14 attacks -- including four slayings -- after psychiatrists told a judge that Swann was driven to shoot people by screaming, disembodied voices only he could hear.

Forensic psychiatrists retained by the defense and by the prosecutors agreed in a D.C. Superior Court hearing that Swann was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the 1993 attacks. The shootings began Feb. 23 and ended with Swann's arrest on April 19.

Under District law, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered Swann, 30, confined indefinitely in St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility. Swann is entitled to a hearing once every six months at which he can ask Kollar-Kotelly to release him. He would have to convince the judge that his mental health had improved and that he was no longer a danger to the public.

In a videotaped interview with one psychiatrist, Swann said he would "hear these voices, and I wouldn't know where they were coming from, and they would command me to hurt people, to kill people." On the tape, which was played in court yesterday, he said the voices commanded him to shoot people in Northwest Washington "in the name of" Malcolm X, a slain black nationalist leader.

Swann, in a rambling, convoluted response to a question, told psychiatrist Park Dietz that Malcolm X existed as an "evil spirit" and wanted people killed in Northwest Washington because he believed them to be responsible for his 1965 assassination in New York.

When the voices in his head conveyed Malcolm X's desire that he shoot people, Swann said, he could not resist. The voices screamed -- "the chastisements," Swann called it -- and would let up for only one or two days at a time after he had shot someone. "They would just keep chastising me and chastising me," he said, until "it felt like my head was going to explode."

Swann, who is black, chose his victims without regard to their race or sex. In 13 of the 14 attacks, he was in a car, and he either shot at or threatened to shoot pedestrians walking alone. Most of the attacks were at night, and nearly all occurred in a 10-block radius in the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.

The eight-week series of attacks began about 8:45 p.m. on Feb. 23 when Swann pointed a shotgun out the driver-side window of a small car and fired at, but missed, a woman walking on Holmead Place NW. About 15 minutes later in a similar attack, a 22-year-old man was shot in the face and left partially blind in the 1400 block of Oak Street NW.

As the attacks continued and D.C. police recognized a pattern, one of the biggest investigations in the department's history got underway. Squads of detectives sifted and sifted again for clues at the shooting scenes, while scores of patrol officers, in uniform and street clothes, prowled Colombia Heights and Mount Pleasant round-the-clock, waiting for the stalker to make a mistake. Police urged residents to stay indoors after dark and, mostly, they complied.

Swann was stopped by an off-duty police sergeant and arrested April 19, minutes after 61-year-old Nello Hughes, the last victim, was slain in a daylight drive-by shooting in the 3600 block of 13th Street NW.

Besides the four people slain, five were seriously wounded.

The second killing occurred on March 23, in the sixth attack, when Elizabeth "Bessie" Hutson, 28, was shot while walking her dogs in alley between 19th Street and Park Road NW. Her father, Thomas R. Hutson, a political and economic counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Barbados, sat in the courtroom's first row at yesterday's hearing.

Hutson said later that he had long wanted to ask Swann why he committed the attacks. But after watching the videotape yesterday, he said there apparently is no rational answer. "I think the phrase would be 'overwhelming impairment,' " he said. "Either that or it's an overwhelming con job."

The U.S. attorney's office yesterday did not dispute the contention by Swann's lawyers that his psychiatric disorder was so profound in the winter and spring of 1993 that he could not be held criminally responsible for the attacks.

"He was plainly not guilty by reason of insanity" under D.C. law, said prosecutor Daniel S. Friedman. "All the doctors agreed. And we don't disagree with that finding. When all the doctors agree, there's no room for a trial, and justice is served by the fair application of the prevailing legal standard."

However, "it is entirely another question whether the prevailing legal standard {in the District} is the best," Friedman said, suggesting that the city's insanity-defense law ought to be toughened.

Under D.C. law, to have been found not guilty by reason of insanity at a trial, Swann would have to convince jurors he was unable to recognize that his conduct was wrong because of mental illness -- or that if he did understand it was wrong, he was unable to "conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."

After hearing the psychiatrists' testimony, Kollar-Kotelly ruled that Swann understood that what he was doing at the time of the shootings was wrong. But she concluded that he was unable to control himself because he feared the voices in his head would kill him if he did not obey them.

"I'm just glad that it's over," Swann's mother, June Swann, of New Jersey, said outside the courthouse. She said that after her son's mental illness began to show itself and grow worse in the late 1980s, "we tried desperately" to persuade him to seek professional help. But he refused. "If there was any way this could have been avoided, I would have done anything possible," she said. Referring to relatives of the slaying victims, she said: "I hold those four people's families up in prayer every single day. That's all I can say. I've been a wreck since this started."

Swann, a New Jersey native, moved to Oxon Hill to live with his sister a few years ago and worked periodically as a security guard. He moved out of the sister's apartment after a dispute in early 1993. During the eight weeks in which the attacks occurred, according to Friedman, Swann was living in various places in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. He commuted to Washington to shoot people when the voices in his head ordered him to do so.

The psychiatrists who testified yesterday said they heard numerous accounts of bizarre behavior when they interviewed Swann's relatives and former employers. Swann began to show signs of mental illness as a teenager. Eventually he started talking to himself and bursting into laughter for no apparent reason at work and family gatherings, the psychiatrists said.

Swann was fired from a security guard job because he insisted on walking backward while patrolling the aisles of a drugstore, according to testimony.

On the videotape, Swann said he began to hear voices in his head one morning, apparently in early 1993, after waking up in a Harlem hotel in New York.

When he tried to resist the voices' demands that he shoot people in Northwest Washington, the voices not only screamed at him, but the "spirits" to which the voices belonged threatened to kill him.

He said they squeezed his heart until he felt it was going to burst and pressured his rib cage until the pain was nearly unbearable.

The Shotgun Stalker: a 1993 nightmare in "the civil rights side of town"

Washington, like any other U.S. city with a large inner-city poverty population, has a high homicide rate (195 homicides in 2005, down substantially from the high of 482 recorded in 1991). But homicides involving strangers are the exception; most of these deaths involve disputes among acquaintances, turned into killings by the ready availability of guns.

Most threatening to people whose mates and acquaintances aren't violent is the "robbery gone bad", as happened in Mount Pleasant in September, 2005, when Gregory Shipe was shot dead on Irving Street, probably by a teenager attempting a robbery.

The "shotgun stalker", in early 1993, was a threat of a wholly different order. Here was a man who targeted total innocents, residents minding their own business, walking on the streets of Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights.

Such a shooting is a nearly insoluble crime: there is no motive, no connection between the murderer and the victim, no forensic evidence, and this man was careful to shoot with no witnesses about to identify him, or his car. (Shotgun pellets bear no gun-identifying marks.) Because these shootings were utterly random, everyone and anyone was a potential victim, no matter how innocent, no matter how well-behaved, no matter how street-smart and cautious. This quite naturally terrified residents who ordinarily might be hardened to the occasional shooting in Columbia Heights.

The first target was a woman walking alone on Holmead Place, at Monroe Street, at 8:45 pm on February 23, 1993. A gun barrel appeared from the window of a slow-moving car, then a shot rang out. The shooter missed. The would-be victim called police, who declined to take the matter very seriously, dismissing the gun as a pellet or BB gun, the perpetrators teenage vandals, the target a window nearby, and the woman as merely happening to be nearby.

Even as these officers interviewed the first intended victim, the stalker fired again, now on Oak Street, a very short distance away. But the officers speaking to the woman had turned their radios down for their interview, and were unaware of this second shooting, 20 minutes after the first. The victim this time, a 22-year-old man, was hit in the head, and very seriously injured, losing one eye and much of the use of one arm.

Unfortunately, because this victim was young, male, and black, MPD detectives dismissed this as an ordinary drug turf dispute, despite the victim's denials that he was involved in drug dealing. (He had planned to start a job at a nursing home the day after he was shot.) Not for another month did the officers learn of the earlier shooting on Holmead Place.

This was perceived, it seems, as merely the "normal" level of violence associated with this part of Columbia Heights. (Today, 13 years later, the 3500 block of 14th Street remains a crime "hot spot".)

On March 4, two weeks after these two shootings, the stalker returned, shooting another pedestrian on Holmead Place. This time the victim was a 43-year-old man, shot in the head. Again, the police attributed this attack to drug warfare.

The situation changed abruptly on March 17, when a woman was hit by shotgun pellets from a passing car, similar to the February 23 shooting, but now in Mount Pleasant. This changed the calculus: shootings, and drug wars, may be "normal" in Columbia Heights, but that's not the case in rapidly-gentrifying, upscale Mount Pleasant. Almost a month after the first shooting, police began to wonder if there was something exceptional taking place. Still, they speculated that the victim perhaps just happened to be standing in the crossfire between warring drug gangs.

On March 23, precisely four weeks after the first shooting, the stalker struck again, this time killing Elizabeth "Bessie" Hutson, 28, as she walked her dogs in an alley paralleling Park Road in Mount Pleasant. This was on the far west end of Mount Pleasant, between 19th Street and Rock Creek Park, far away from any street-gang disputes in Columbia Heights.

For the first time, the MPD realized that they had a random shooter in the neighborhood, gunning down perfect innocents, and they connected this series of shootings to the first incident on Holmead Place. "That shooting made the link," said the police district commander.

I recall seeing the notice of that shooting in the morning Post, and realizing myself that this was something very much out of the ordinary. (I knew nothing, of course, of any of the previous shootings.) I warned my wife, and our young cousin resident on our top floor, to be extra careful. To this day, Emily is convinced that she saw the blue Toyota associated with this shooter one evening as she parked across the street from our home, and she warily waited in her car for that car to disappear before getting out to walk to our house.

On April 4, the stalker took another shot, once again at a woman walking on Holmead Place. On April 10 he returned to Holmead Place, shooting at three pedestrians in the area in turn, killing one, a 35-year-old man.

On April 19, two months after the first shooting, the stalker returned to Columbia Heights, taking shots at three pedestrians, in broad daylight, even as hordes of MPD officers patrolled the area. On 13th Street, a 61-year-old woman was shot dead, the stalker's fourth homicide.

Finally a lucky break came: the stalker, leaving the scene of this last shooting, was spotted by Kenneth Stewart, an off-duty MPD officer, who spotted him running a red light on Sherman Avenue at Kenyon Street. Officer Stewart, northbound on Sherman, turned around and gave pursuit.

The stalker turned into the Atlantic Plumbing parking lot, hoping to elude his pursuer. Stewart blocked the exit with his own car, trapping him in this lot on Florida Avenue (see photo). The shotgun, lying on the back seat of the now-infamous blue Toyota, tied the driver, James Swann, to the shootings. I understand that patrons of the Sparkle Car Wash, adjacent to the parking lot, applauded the capture.

And so ended the two-month nightmare in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, after a total of 14 shootings, including four homicides.

Why did he do this? It was utter insanity: Swann heard voices, including the "evil spirit" of Malcolm X, which commanded him to shoot people in Northwest Washington. Why these neighborhoods in DC, where Swann, a resident of New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, had no connection? Somehow, this "evil spirit" believed the people of northwest DC, "the civil rights side of town", to be responsible for his 1965 assassination in New York.

Curiously, there was nothing racial about this rampage, and almost all of Swann's victims were black. Swann drove here from New Jersey to do his violence, and I guess he just came down 16th Street and turned off, choosing our neighborhoods more or less at random. He used a 20-gauge shotgun that he had purchased just under a year earlier, at a K-mart in Oxon Hill.

It all made no sense. Swann was declared "not guilty by reason of insanity" in 1994, and committed to Saint Elizabeth's. As of 2005, he was still there. We can only hope that he remains today held safely in confinement, in a mental hospital somewhere.

Two aspects of this miserable incident stand out. First was the level of fear instilled in residents, because no one was safe, everyone was threatened, no matter how innocent, no matter how careful. Most homicide victims are people who are intrinsically at risk, because of their associates, because of their activities, or because of their poor choice of mates.

The great majority of homicide victims in the District are young, black, and male, so those of us who are not, and who live "clean" lifestyles, can feel fairly secure (against homicides, if not against automobile break-ins). The shotgun stalker changed all that, putting everyone at risk, black or white, young or old, cautious or careless.

Second was the failure of the Metropolitan Police to take the first shooting incidents seriously, because they involved victims who were perceived to be "at risk" due to their locations. Shootings on Holmead Place in Columbia Heights were shrugged off as simply part of life on that street (which remains today, 13 years later, on the rough side). Shootings in Mount Pleasant, especially far on the west end, are a different matter, because such things are not supposed to happen in this "good" neighborhood.

Perhaps the day will come when shootings, and gunshots, are rare in Columbia Heights, as well as Mount Pleasant, and will command a high level of police attention, instead of a dismissal as no more than the ordinary violence of the neighborhood.

One more note of interest in this wretched episode: the plainly insane Mr Swann had found occasional employment, as a security guard!

SEX: M RACE: B TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific

MO: "Possessed" drive-by slayer of victims shot at random.

DISPOSITION: Not guilty by reason of insanity, 1994.

James E. Swann Jr. is arrested in 1993. He was declared not guilty by reason of insanity after shootings that killed four people.

Users who are viewing this thread