Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Clara Schwartz: A Deadly Game


December 2001 was a difficult month for the DC area. While the Washington Post reported that serious crimes were down in the city, they also noted that the suburbs had seen a disturbing increase. That month, a man was shot in his car in front of his two children on Christmas Eve in northwest Washington. He was sitting outside a church when a gunman walked up and pulled the trigger. In the same area, a man was fatally stabbed in his home, while in southeast Washington, another man was shot outside a shopping center. In nearby Virginia, the shocking death of a prominent scientist made headlines around the country.

Robert Schwartz, 57, was nationally renowned in the field of biometrics and DNA research. The Associated Press's Matthew Barakat reports that Schwartz had been working for the past 15 years on DNA sequencing analysis at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Virginia. Ironically, while the discovery of DNA identification in the 1980s revolutionized crime investigation, especially for extreme crimes such as rape and murder, Schwartz himself fell victim to one such incident.

Robert Schwartz farmhouse

On Monday, December 10, 2001, Schwartz did not show up for work. His coworkers phoned a neighbor to check on him. He had lived alone since his wife had died and was usually quite punctual, so they were worried. They had good reason to be. His corpse was found facedown in his log-and-slate farmhouse, situated near Hamilton, which was around forty miles west of Washington, D.C. He had been stabbed repeatedly (one report said thirty times, another forty-five) with a sharp knife-like implement some time on December 8, two days earlier, and left where he had died. Investigators who arrived at the scene could clearly see an 'X' carved into the skin on the back of Schwartz's neck, according to the Bloodbank newsletter. This mark seemed to indicate that the murder was ritualistic, although the clue wasn't clear..

Kyle Hulbert, mugshot
Kyle Hulbert, mugshot

But Schwartz's neighbors were helpful. They had seen three teenagers, two boys and a girl, arrive at the farm during the time in which the murder was estimated to have occurred. The kids had gotten stuck in the mud and had called a tow truck. Giving their names and addresses made it easier for authorities to find them. Within days, the police had arrested three friends of Schwartz's college-age daughter, Clara: Kyle Hulbert, 18; Michael Paul Pfohl, 21; and Katherine Inglis, 19. After the three started talking, there was little doubt that Hulbert had killed the victim, but his bizarre confession and the reasons he gave initially pushed investigators in the wrong direction.


Court records released the day after Christmas and noted in the Washington Post indicated that the police had seized several knives, swords, and documents about human sacrifice in the Wiccan tradition from the home of Inglis and Pfohl. The "X" was thus surmised to be an occult symbol. In addition, they had seized a computer and two black cloaks from the Haymarket home, and also took a computer from Hulbert's home. It wasn't long before they had pieced together a strange and deadly game.

This murder was included in a special report about the apparent bad luck that had befallen scientists during a brief period of time, suggesting an odd association between violence and those employed in the pursuit of biological research.

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