Police line still works | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Police line still works

A 16-year-old Meyers boy’s murder has spurned two decades of community involvement in law enforcement.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Secret Witness Program, an anonymous crime hotline originally set up to find the killer of Richard E. Swanson, a South Tahoe High School student who was killed Aug. 14, 1980.

Swanson was working as a night attendant at the South “Y” Shell Station when he was murdered.

The teen was seen alive for the last time at 4:50 a.m. before the police found him bound and gagged in a small inner office at 6:29 a.m. The killer had covered Swanson’s nose and mouth with duct tape, suffocating him.

Following the murder, the boy’s father Ron Swanson, said his home was flooded with cards and money asking the Swansons to set up a hotline to field any anonymous tips that could lead to the arrest of the boy’s killer.

Local businesses and residents donated $10,000 and the Secret Witness Program was born.

Although no substantial leads ever materialized in the teen’s death, Swanson said he’s happy the program has continued to help others over the years.

“I’m very proud of the program,” Swanson said. “This was something that just started with a small group of people and grew. I’m proud to see signs around town that say in memory of Richard E. Swanson.”

Secret Witness Board member Don Miner said Richard Swanson’s murder sparked the entire community into action.

“It just really incensed the sensibilities of the community to have something that heinous in our own backyard,” Miner said. “We thought if we could ban together in a cooperative faction, not as a vigilante group, not as a posse group, but as an information source for solving crime, something good would come out of it.”

South Lake Tahoe Police Cmdr. George Brown said Secret Witness has aided his department in making numerous arrests and in recovering stolen property.

He said the program received 82 calls last year, five of which paid rewards by leading to the arrests or recovery of property. He said this is a typical success rate for the program.

“I think it has been a helpful tool,” Brown said. “It could be even more helpful if more people would take advantage of the service. I know there’s a lot of knowledge that exists out there about certain incidents and crimes.”

Jerry Eames, Secret Witness Board member, said he got involved with the program because his son was friends with the Swanson boy. Eames said the phones don’t ring very often anymore and the program doesn’t pay much in reward money. However, he said the recent decline does not negate the years of arrests the program has prompted.

“It’s an extra tool for the police department they couldn’t have if it wasn’t for the service,” Eames said.

Brown said no matter how few the calls or arrests that come from them, the Secret Witness Program has been an invaluable asset to the department. He said people have called Secret Witness about cases in other jurisdictions as well.

“If the information benefits just one case each year than the program is worth it,” Brown said. “It’s enough to make a difference.”

Ron Swanson said he has not given up hope that information regarding his son’s murder will emerge. Swanson urged anyone who might have any information on the case to call Secret Witness. He said it’s confidential and there is still a $10,000 reward if information leads to an arrest.

“An arrest would bring somewhat of a closure to it,” Swanson said. “Over 20 years you dwell on these things. It never goes away.”

If you have any information about crimes in the area or the Aug. 14, 1980 murder of 16-year-old Richard Swanson, please call Secret Witness at (530) 541-6800.

Donations can be sent to Secret Witness at P.O. Box 14282, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96151

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