A True Story of Adoption and Murder
by Leslie Walker
St. Martins Press, 1989
Reviewed by Barbara Free, M.A.
in 1989, this book tells the true story of a young boy who killed his adoptive
parents in 1984, when he was 17 years old. The book is the story of this young
mans life, his familys life, and all the circumstances that finally
led to the murder. This is not an enjoyable book by any means, but it is
more important, and still more relevant than one might think at first. Although it
is not new, it merits another reading, as the current news continues to report
killings of parents (adoptive, foster, and birth) by offspring and abuse or killings
of children by parents. These are not subjects we like to read about, but perhaps
should be more informed about.
The subject of the book, Larry Swartz, was born in 1966,
a month prematurely, to a somewhat flaky mother and her abusive boyfriend. She did try
to raise him, but had too few emotional, social, and financial resources to do so. By
the time he was a toddler, he was neglected, and then in foster care due to being left
alone while she worked. His mother tried, half-heartedly it would seem, to get him back
from foster care, but could not seem to comply with the requirements, and finally signed
relinquishment papers because she was hoping her new boyfriend would marry her, which he
did not. From then on, he was in a succession of foster homes, in which he was abused.
Some of these homes were supposed to become adoptive homes, but in each case, the foster
parents did not really accept him and finally became abusive. By this time, he was
frequently withdrawn and did not seem to be attached to anyone, perhaps because no one
was attached to him. The abuse, although acknowledged to some degree, was not addressed
by the foster system. He was finally adopted by a very conservative, very religious
Roman Catholic couple when he was six years old.
At first, this seemed like the ideal situation, with what
appeared to be very loving, and to outside observers, almost indulgent parents. They
subsequently adopted another boy, just six months older than Larry, and then a little
girl from Korea. The father, in particular, began to become even more religious and
became extremely involved in Right to Life, picketing Planned Parenthood every week,
urging young women to carry their pregnancies to term and relinquish them for adoption.
He became so obsessed that even his colleagues began to think he was going overboard.
They had no idea what was going on in his home, because they did not invite people
Meanwhile, he and his wife had become verbally,
emotionally, and physically abusive, particularly toward the older son, Michael.
Yet all looked wonderful to anyone who didnt know the family extremely well.
The rest of the story I shall not reveal here, as the book gradually unfolds the whole
complicated story and the eventual outcome. Readers will see numerous facets of everyone
in the book and can draw their own conclusions, or at least consider all the
As stated earlier, this is not an enjoyable story, but
it is an important one. One wishes it were a novel, but it is not. It ought to be
required reading for anyone considering adopting children who have trauma in their
backgrounds, which is any child not adopted at birth in an open adoption.
Children in foster care have had some kind of trauma or they wouldnt be there.
Professionals in the foster and adoption systems need to read it, too, to help them
understand the children they serve, but also to understand the critical importance of
really investigating prospective foster or adoptive parents, and the need to
continue to monitor them and the children to prevent or intervene upon abuse. This
is not meant to scare people from adopting, but if this book does discourage some
people, it might prevent a tragedy for people who do not have the capacity or
training to help traumatized children, or who believe that just because they are
well-meaning they will have a wonderful adoption experience.
Had this story happened now, the children would all
have been diagnosed as having Reactive Attachment Disorder, if they had
been in any kind of therapy, which they were not. That is not to say that all adoptees
are disturbed, nor that all disturbed children are adopted or foster children, but
there is obviously some overlap, and when compounded by continued abuse, there is a
much greater chance of something really awful happening, as we see in the news,
locally and nationally, with increasing frequency.
In 1993, the story was made into a television movie,
A Family Torn Apart, starring Neill Patrick Harris and Johnny
Galecki, which was later released on DVD in 2006. One can also google Larry
Swartz, which this writer did, and, after sorting through the people who
obviously are not the person in this book, find a fair amount of follow-up information
about him, some of which was positive, and some tragic, but which helped tell me
the rest of the story.
This book is currently out of print, but a copy is
available to borrow from O.I.s lending library. Those who want to purchase a
used copy are advised to visit the various Internet sites that aggregate the
catalogues of many used book dealers (see, e.g., Where to look
for an out-of-print book on the Readers Guide to Adoption-Related
Excerpted from the April 2013
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2013 Operation Identity