DAYTON, Ohio — Montgomery County Tree trimmers were working in Jefferson Township when a worker noticed something strange in a trash heap.
Amid the broken furniture and other junk, he saw “a blanket that was formed as a body,” he later told Montgomery County sheriff’s detectives.
It was Dec. 17, 1991. What he saw was actually a quilt, which had been taped around a woman’s body. The woman was nude from the waist down. Under the quilt were two plastic trash bags, one over her legs and one over her head and torso. Those bags were taped together.
The woman had no identification, but wore several pieces of jewelry. Her panties, pants, jacket and shoes were inside the bag over her legs.
Coroner’s investigators identified Tina Marie Ivery through her fingerprints. Ivery, 33, a known drug user and prostitute, was strangled. A family member last reported seeing her three days earlier.
There were no suspects. For 16 years, there were no good leads. Then Tommy Swint entered the case.
A review of the Ivery case file reveals that Swint was not the only suspect authorities looked at, but he became the best one. He committed suicide Feb. 3, the same day he was indicted in Ivery’s murder.
Swint always wanted to be a police officer. Sworn in as a Trotwood officer on July 16, 2007, he resigned six weeks later after Richmond, Ind., police informed Trotwood officials that Swint was a suspect in the disappearance of Marilyn “Niqui” McCown.
The two had worked together at the Dayton’s Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center, a state prison. McCown was last seen at a Richmond Laundromat in July 2001. Her SUV was found four months later at a Harrison Township apartment complex.
The Dayton Daily News reported Swint’s resignation in October 2007. A month later, a confidential informant told Dayton police they should look at Swint as a suspect in Ivery’s death.
Detectives soon learned that Swint was born in 1966 and raised in Alabama. He joined the Marine Corps in 1986 and was stationed in Japan and Panama. Swint would later admit to having sex with prostitutes in both countries.
In December 1989, he went absent without leave and fled to Dayton, where he had relatives. Swint was arrested and returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in June 1990.
In a letter requesting a discharge after his return, Swint wrote that his father never told him that he loved him, that he had experienced significant racism growing up in the South, and that he was the only of his siblings to graduate high school.
“I became a very big celebrity in high school because I was very good in sports,” Swint wrote. “My high school loved me and so did my whole town and city.”
He also wrote that while he was thankful for the discipline the corps gave him, “I really wanted to be a military police but ended up as a grunt.”
The Marines discharged Swint “under other than honorable conditions,” according to records. Swint moved back to Dayton.
For the rest of his life, Swint would pursue jobs in security and law enforcement. He applied to the sheriff’s office in 2007, but was turned down. He told interviewers he had tried to join the Ohio State Highway Patrol in 1995.
He also told Trotwood interviewers he had applied with Beavercreek, Wright State University, Butler Township and Sinclair Community College police departments. He also admitted to Trotwood that he had pleaded guilty to passing bad checks in 1992.
Several former co-workers of Swint wrote glowing recommendation letters for him. But Trotwood also knew about a 2006 incident in which he received a written reprimand for threatening a female captain at the pre-release center.
“If I have anything to say to you, I will say it in the parking lot,” Swint reportedly said. “You don’t know who you are missing with. I’m Officer Swint.”
But there’s no record of Swint telling Trotwood about his AWOL incident or Niqui McCown.
Dayton cold case detectives investigating Swint interviewed his friends and relatives. They shared stories about prostitutes and Swint’s visit to a gay club, even though Swint said he hated prostitutes and gays.
Interviewed by police in May 2008, a former girlfriend said Swint had dated Ivery. She also said the blanket Ivery was wrapped in looked familiar to one Swint carried in his car.
Her nephew, who lived with her when Swint was there, told police in April 2009 he remembered seeing a blood trail from the basement window through the grass to the trunk of Swint’s car.
The nephew also mentioned a blanket missing from his bed in the basement. Shown a picture of the quilt Ivery was wrapped in, the nephew said it was very similar to the missing blanket.
The Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory had been analyzing DNA evidence long before Swint came to investigators’ attention. Records show the lab was running tests by November 2005.
There were four semen stains on the back of Ivery’s jacket, and one on the front, but they came from different men. There was also a blood stain on the quilt.
The lab did not have a DNA sample for Swint. But Richmond police had an oral swab from him. In April 2008, they agreed to share the sample with the lab.
In May, the lab matched Swint’s DNA to the semen on back of the jacket. Swint also could not be excluded as the source of the blood stain on the quilt. On October 21, 2008, detectives visited Swint at the Harrison Township home he shared with his wife. They showed him a picture of Ivery and the blanket. He denied knowing her or ever seeing the blanket.
Then a lab worker found a partial fingerprint onthe adhesive side of the tape that had been wrapped around Ivery’s body. The original investigators missed that in 1992.
By this time, Swint had moved to Alabama. Dayton detectives, working with local law enforcement, got a search warrant to obtain Swint’s fingerprints.
After Swint gave his fingerprints, he was again shown a picture of Ivery. Again he denied knowing her, but said he thought she was pretty. The officers asked him if he had killed her and he said no.
Then the officers told him his DNA matched evidence at the scene.
“I have nothing to say about that,” Swint said.
After some more discussion about the DNA, Swint ended the interview.
“With all due respect, we need to bring this interview to close,” Swint said. “I am sure I will see you again. My attorney would not want me to get into this.”
On Nov. 25, the crime lab matched the latent print to Swint’s left middle finger. By mid-December, a three-prosecutor panel was reviewing the evidence.
On Feb. 1 and 2, prosecutors presented evidence to the grand jury, which indicted Swint just before noon on Feb. 3. An hour later, Swint shot himself in the head as officers approached his Phenix City, Ala., house.
Tommy Swint took the answers to investigators’ questions with him.
Records show the detectives were looking at Swint in other cases. Swint’s DNA was tested, but did not match, evidence taken from another prostitute homicide, according to an e-mail Montgomery County Assistant Prosecutor Tracey Tangeman sent to other prosecutors.
They should keep looking, said Art Jipson, a sociologist and director of criminal justice studies at the University of Dayton. Jipson recommended doing “geographical profiling,” looking at all unsolved homicides in the areas where Swint lived and worked.
It is common for serial killers to be drawn to careers in law enforcement or the military because they like the idea of using force and having authority over others. However, Jipson said, it’s equally common for them to fail in those professions, either because they can’t get through the screening processes or because they do not submit well to authority themselves.
“Everything you’re telling me raises the hackles on the back of my neck,” Jipson said. “This guy really fits the profile.”