Murder, kidnapping leave more questions than answers
Richard E. Swanson lost his life over $761. As a night clerk at the South “Y” Shell station, the 16-year-old would spend many solitary hours helping the occasional stray customer.
A woman would later tell police that she waved to Swanson around 4:50 a.m. as she drove to work on Aug. 14, 1980. Besides his murderer, police believe that driver was the last person to see Swanson alive.
Around 6:10 a.m. a customer, unable to find a clerk, alerted an officer parked in the South “Y” parking lot. A quick search of the station revealed nothing but a locked door to a small inner office. At 6:29 a.m., with the help of the station owner, the door was opened to reveal Swanson laying bound and gagged on the floor. The duct tape used by his assailant completely covered his nose and mouth effectively suffocating the teen.
South Lake Tahoe Police Detective Sgt. Les Scott was working patrol the night of Swanson’s murder.
“There were no eye witnesses. It is my opinion that the victim didn’t know his attacker, but I believe the robber knew he would kill Richard when he covered his face in duct tape. How could he not realize that it would suffocate him,” Scott said.
The station was full of fingerprints making it hard for evidence technicians to obtain a good print of the murderer. Years later new technology would increase the odds.
“Back then we didn’t have the technology to grab prints from the sticky side of duct tape. Now we do. The fingerprints are now in the system, but there are no matches as of yet,” Scott explained.
Swanson’s death shocked the community and spawned the creation of the Secret Witness program. Less than a week after Swanson’s murder there was a $5,000 reward in place for information leading to an arrest. Through community donations the reward would grow to $10,000.
Swanson lived in Meyers and was going to start his junior year at South Tahoe High School in the fall.
“I knew Richard Swanson. He was a great kid, a hardworking kid, and he was killed for $761,” Scott said. “There isn’t an officer here or one that comes on in the future who won’t know about Richard Swanson’s case.”
A parent’s worst nightmare realized
Jaycee Lee Dugard is more than a face on a milk carton for most South Lake Tahoe residents. She is their child. In her picture they see their worst nightmare realized. They see that no one is ever truly safe, even in a small, close-knit mountain community.
On June 10, 1991, before the eyes of her horrified stepfather, Jaycee was pulled kicking and screaming into a two-toned steel-gray sedan. The 11-year-old Meyers Elementary School student was walking up the hill on Washoan Boulevard to her bus stop. Carl Probyn, Jaycee’s stepfather, was working in the garage that morning. He would later tell investigators that he noticed a sedan make a slow, awkward U-turn near the house and head back up the hill toward Jaycee. The car pulled in front of the fifth-grader and a passenger door opened. A woman about 30 years old with dark skin and long black hair jumped out and grabbed Jaycee. Probyn believed he saw a white man at the wheel.
Probyn tried to pursue on a bike, but was quickly left behind. The community and law enforcement went on tense alert. Helicopters patrolled the skies, casino security guards searched their parking lots, and El Dorado County Sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents stopped and questioned numerous drivers in gray sedans.
A sighting at Fallen Leaf Lake matching the suspect car’s description brought a faint glimmer of hope. The caller told of a couple driving on Fallen Leaf Lake road around 3:30 p.m. the day of the abduction. They reported seeing a girl dressed in pink sleeping in the backseat. Extensive searches of the area over the following weeks proved fruitless.
The story of Jaycee’s abduction would eventually receive national coverage through various publications and television programs. The case files fill an entire wall in the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department. Terri Probyn, Jaycee’s mother, spent years keeping Jaycee’s disappearance in the public eye and the city of South Lake Tahoe worked right along with her. Committees were formed to put together mailings. Pink ribbons, Jaycee’s favorite color, were hung about town in remembrance.
Even with the transient nature of South Lake Tahoe, eight years later Jaycee is far from forgotten. In display cases and on bulletin boards faded, yellowed posters remain. And in the investigations unit and minds of the deputies of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department Jaycee’s case is still open; waiting for an ending.
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