|“||They [the voices in my head] would just keep chastising me and chastising me. ...It felt like my head was going to explode.||”|
— Swann about his killing spree
James Edward Swann, Jr., a.k.a. "The Shotgun Stalker", is a mentally-ill spree killer who committed a string of drive-by shootings that terrorized two neighborhoods in Washington, D.C in 1993. The spree killed four people and injured ten others.
Little is known about Swann's early life, other than he was born sometime in 1964 and lived in Iselin, New Jersey. Even during his teenage years, he showed signs of him suffering from a mental illness, talking to himself and suddenly bursting into laughter without any reason whatsoever. Also, his father, James Swann, Sr., was a retired U.S. Navy enlistee and Treasury Department employee. In his adult life, Swann was able to receive periodical work as a security guard despite his mental condition but was later fired after insisting on walking backward while patrolling a drugstore. A few years prior to the murder spree, he moved to Oxon Hill into his sister's residence. In early 1993, he was kicked out by her following a dispute and Swann began alternating between living in cities at New Jersey and New York as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
According to Swann's testimony, he began hearing voices in his head one 1993 morning after waking up in a Harlem, New York hotel. Swann soon became haunted by spirits, one of which belonging to Malcolm X, who ordered him to shoot and kill people in Northwest Washington, D.C., stating that they were all responsible for his February 21, 1965 assassination. Swann refused, but the "spirits" threatened to kill him, prompting him to drive to Washington, D.C. with nothing but a 20-gauge shotgun that he purchased a year earlier in tow. On February 23, 1993, he committed his first drive-by shootings, at the Columbia Heights neighborhood. The first victim was an unidentified woman, whom he shot at at 8:45 p.m., but missed. She escaped and called 911, but authorities believed the act to be a simple teenage prank. Twenty minutes after the first shooting, Swann fired at a 22-year-old man, this time hitting him in the face, wounding and partially blinding him. Since the victim was a young, black male, authorities dismissed this shooting as being drug-related, for Columbia Heights was riddled with crime, mostly drug-dealing gangs. However, it was confirmed the victim had no ties to any gangs. Three days after the first shooting spree, Swann committed his first murder, but not by a drive-by shooting; this time, he directly entered a barbershop and executed a patron while he was still in his chair. Again, the police dismissed the shooting as being drug-related in spite of the victim not having ties to any gangs.
On March 4, Swann shot and injured a 43-year-old man through another drive-by shooting, with the event being dismissed as drug-related like the two shootings from before. However, police began to suspect another motive behind the shootings, one not involving drugs, when on March 17, Swann shot and injured then-23-year-old Hope Hallock, a resident at the Mount Pleasant neighborhood; Mount Pleasant, unlike Columbia Heights, was upscale and having a low crime rate. Six days later, Elizabeth "Bessie" Hutson, 28 years old, became Swann's second murder victim, being shot and killed by him as she was walking her dogs. Since the latest shooting was extremely far away from drug-gang territory, police confirmed that the shooter wasn't motivated by drugs in any way at all. Units began patrolling the areas, while the media began dubbing Swann as "The Shotgun Stalker". On April 4, Swann returned to Columbia Heights and opened fire upon a female pedestrian, but missed. On April 10, he began firing on random pedestrians, injuring two and killing a 35-year-old man. According to a recent testimony by forensic psychologist Raymond Patterson, Swann would always drive out to Harlem after the shootings, stopping midway for a meal and to pay for a prostitute.
Capture, Institutionalization and Aftermath
Nine days after the April 10 shooting spree, Swann once again targeted multiple pedestrians, but missed all of them except for one: 61-year-old Nello Hughes, Swann's fourth and final murder victim, as well as the last victim of his string of drive-by shootings. Immediately after his murder of Nello Hughes, Swann ran a red light while fleeing from the shooting. The nearby Officer Kenneth Stewart, despite being off-duty from his watch for The Shotgun Stalker, followed him to Florida Avenue, where Swann pulled over at a parking lot near the Atlantic Plumbing Supply building and attempted to flee. However, he was immediately caught by Stewart and arrested. A 20-gauge shotgun similar to the one used in the shooting spree was recovered in the back seat. Swann was put on trial for his crimes and was eventually found not guilty by the reason of insanity by September 27, 1994. Psychiatrists have concluded that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly gave the order to have Swann confined to the maximum-security unit of a psychiatric facility, St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Almost seventeen years later, on February 25, 2011, Swann reappeared in court, asking for a one-time, 12-hour-long release so he can visit his father for his upcoming birthday. Swann Sr. had commonly visited him since his institutionalization.
Defense witnesses claimed that during his stay at St. Elizabeth's, Swann earned an Associates degree for Computer Science and he had plans of pursuing a Bachelor's degree. Director of psychology at the University of Virginia, Daniel Murrie, claimed that after surveying a review of Swann's mental history, he found that he hadn't suffered from a psychotic episode since 2003, and the aggression associated with the psychosis had completely dissipated. It should be noted, however, that Swann continued to have hallucinations as recently as 2008. Prosecutors and St. Elizabeth's officials have disapproved of the possibilities of a release. Also disapproving the request were wounded and attempted victims, including Hope Hallock, who testified against Swann's request. Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Kennedy warned the court of Swann's psychotic, manipulative, and remorseless personality and added that Swann had been frequently wearing a T-shirt sent by his father that read "Thrill to Kill", bragged about his shooting spree to other inmates, and attempted to have film producers make a movie about his life. In the end, Judge Fred B. Ugast denied Swann's request for a release, stating that his schizophrenia and recently-diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder continues to pose as a threat to himself and other innocent people. Swann is currently institutionalized in a medium-security unit at St. Elizabeth's.
Swann targeted random pedestrians (most of them were coincidentally black, however) in Washington, D.C., neighborhoods that were culturally diverse and representing civil rights. Driving a small blue Toyota down a road, he would slow the car down and drive up next to a potential victim, point a 20-gauge shotgun out of the passenger window, and open fire before driving away. In the case of his first murder during the spree, Swann abandoned most of his M.O., instead walking inside a building and personally executing the victim.
All of the following were attacked in 1993 at Washington, D.C.
- The first Columbia Heights shootings:
- February 23:
- Unnamed woman (attempted; shot at, but missed)
- Unnamed 22-year-old man (injured; shot in the face, partially blinding him)
- February 26: Julius Bryant, 58
- March 4: Unnamed 43-year-old man (injured; shot in the head)
- February 23:
- The Mount Pleasant shootings:
- March 17: Hope Hallock, 23 (injured; was struck by shotgun pellets and blinded in the right eye)
- March 23: Elizabeth Hutson, 28
- The second Columbia Heights shootings:
- April 4: Unnamed woman (attempted; shot at, but missed)
- April 10:
- Edward Fleming, 35
- Two other unnamed pedestrians (injured both in turn)
- April 19:
- Three unnamed pedestrians (attempted; shot at each in turn, but missed all three)
- Nello Hughes, 61
On Criminal Minds
Swann appears to have inspired Norman Hill, as both were spree killers whose first crimes involved them attempting to kill a woman, were mentally ill, and committed their attacks through drive-by shootings with shotguns. However, the cases are only similar in those aspects. Otherwise, their cases were completely different, for:
- Swann targeted random pedestrians (mostly blacks, coincidentally), while Norman specifically targeted older, blonde, Caucasian female motorists (though he wasn't hesitant to attack other people as well),
- Swann was active in neighborhood streets, while Norman was usually active on freeways,
- Norman modified his shotgun, while Swann didn't,
- Swann drove all the way from his home to D.C. to commit his spree, while Norman stayed put in his hometown,
- Swann was motivated by voices in his head, while Norman acted out on his anger in being emasculated by his wife and daughters and delusions of persecution, and
- Swann's mental illness left him unable to hold down a decent job, while Norman's mental illness didn't interfere with his work (although a brief psychotic episode nearly caused him to commit a massacre at his workplace).