‘Person Of Interest’ ID’d In 1972 Homicide Case
A “person of interest” has been identified in the 1972 disappearance and murder of a 14-year-old Jamestown girl, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office revealed Wednesday.
Word of a possible suspect, though deceased for nearly three decades, marks the first significant update on the killing of Patricia Fairbanks in several decades.
In a news release, the Sheriff’s Office said it’s seeking any information on William A. Swartzman, who resided in Jamestown the same time that Fairbanks was first reported missing. Also a resident of Ripley as well as North East and Warren in Pennsylvania, Swartzman died in 1997.
“The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office is requesting the assistance of the public as the investigation continues,” the department said.
‘NOT LEAVING ANYTHING UNTURNED’
Fairbanks was reported missing by her mother Nov. 28, 1972, after the teen failed to return home after being sent to a nearby drug store. Her body was found a month later, on Dec. 29, 1972, in the rear yard of 14 W. Ninth St., nearly across the street from the family residence at 19 W. Ninth St.
According to media reports from the time, the junior high school student’s face had been crushed by a building block. However, an autopsy indicated that Fairbanks’ death was due to strangulation.
Going on five decades, no charges have been filed in the homicide case.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the case was taken up in March of this year by the department’s Unsolved Crimes Unit for further review. Physical evidence collected in the homicide probe was transferred to the unit.
In its news release, the Sheriff’s Office said “numerous witnesses throughout Chautauqua County and northwest Pennsylvania” were interviewed as part of the fresh look into the case. That apparently led to the identification of Swartzman, then 44 years old when Fairbanks was killed.
Investigators are looking to speak with anyone who may have been in contact with Swartzman between August 1972 and January 1973.
“If you had a face-to-face encounter with Swartzman in Jamestown in an area bounded by West Eighth Street to the south, West Tenth Street to the north, North Main Street to the east, and Washington Street to the west you are asked to call Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Investigators today,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
Swartzman’s name does not appear in any newspaper clipping of Fairbanks’ disappearance or murder. In fact, the Jamestown Police Department in November 1980 said it was hoping for a possible “deathbed confession” from a different terminally ill suspect.
Speaking with The Post-Journal in 1980, then-Police Chief Richard Ream said he remained convinced that Fairbanks was killed the night she was reported missing; a previous autopsy indicated the 14-year-old had been dead for only a few days from when she was found.
“She wasn’t robbed. She wasn’t molested,” Ream told the newspaper. “It apparently was a spur of the moment thing. I feel we never could prove premeditated murder.”
He added, “We’re not leaving anything unturned. We’re just following normal police procedures and doing what we have to do to try to solve a case.”
NEW DETAILS RELEASED
Swartzman may have escaped media attention in the 1970s, but he appears to have been on the radar of police in New York and Pennsylvania.
Tom Tarpley, a senior investigator with the Unsolved Crimes Unit, said Swartzman made contact with Pennsylvania law enforcement in January 1973, a month after Fairbanks’ body had been found. During that contact, Swartzman apparently made comments about the Jamestown homicide that hadn’t been made public.
Information regarding Swartzman’s comment was eventually shared with Jamestown police.
During their investigation into the murder, Tarpley said city police searched a stolen rental car possessed by Swartzman that contained the identification of two women. At the time police were unable to locate the women, and Swartzman was reportedly uncooperative.
“At that point, the leads on him went dry,” Tarpley said.
However, with the help of Hayden Burgeson, a crime analyst with the Sheriff’s Office, investigators this year were able to locate an obituary for one of the two women. That obituary provided a connection between Fairbanks and Swartzman’s girlfriend, who also lived near the teen’s home.
Tarpley confirmed Fairbanks had gone to a pharmacy located at 10th and North Main streets to buy cotton swabs for her mother. She returned home with the cotton swabs but, because she was 15 cents short when making the purchase, headed back to the store.
Fairbanks never made it, and Tarpley said the 15 cents was located at the crime scene.
Tarpley and Tom Di Zinno, the unit’s other senior investigator, believe Fairbanks was probably murdered behind the pharmacy. The crime, Tarpley said Wednesday, may have been heard by the brother of Swartzman’s girlfriend.
“When he looked he couldn’t see anyone and the noise had stopped,” he said. “There was a bar across the street and he didn’t put 2 and 2 together.”
A FRESH LOOK
In the last year, the Unsolved Crimes Unit has canvassed the area where Fairbanks lived and was found dead.
Investigators have interviewed the family of the boy who found Fairbanks’ body at 14 W. Ninth St. in December 1972. Tarpley said DNA swabs were collected from that family, and unequivocally stated that the boy had nothing to do with the 14-year-old’s murder.
Tarpley wouldn’t comment if police have a DNA profile from the crime. He did say that there was physical evidence gathered from the crime scene and that the New York State Police was assisting in the investigation.
Tarpley and Di Zinno believe Swartzman likely committed other crimes against people in New York and Pennsylvania around the time Fairbanks was killed. It’s also likely that records of those crimes may have been purged over the years.
“If you were the victim of a crime that Swartzman committed, whether it occurred in the state of New York or the state of Pennsylvania, you are asked to call the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office,” the department said.
Anyone with information regarding Swartzman or Fairbanks’ murder is asked to contact the Unsolved Crimes Unit at 716-753-4578 or 716-753-4579. Investigators also can be reached by email at UnsolvedChautauqua@sheriff.us