The body of a man killed in a 1985 church shooting in north Camden County was exhumed Wednesday as part of a new investigation conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Stacy Carson, special agent in charge of the GBI office in Kingsland, said the body of Harold Swain was exhumed to search for DNA evidence that could potentially link another person to the shooting deaths of Swain and his wife, Thelma, 35 years ago.
The investigation was reopened earlier this year after Dennis Perry, convicted in the shooting deaths, was released from prison after being behind bars for 20 years. Lawyers on Perry’s behalf argued during a hearing in July that newly obtained DNA evidence would have eliminated their client as a suspect at the time.
Perry was convicted with no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
A former GBI special agent who was part of the original investigation testified he had excluded Perry as a suspect after checking Perry’s alibi. Perry was working in the metro Atlanta area until after 5 p.m. the day of the shootings, which happened less than four hours later. The special agent concluded it would have been impossible for Perry to drive from the metropolitan Atlanta area in time to commit the crime.
New DNA evidence identified another possible suspect who was questioned after the double homicide. Strands of hair voluntarily submitted from the mother of the man questioned after the murders could not exclude him as a potential suspect.
Investigators also determined Eric Sparre gave a false alibi when he was questioned after the shootings.
Two days after the court order to release Perry from prison, Gladys Sparre, the woman who provided the hair sample, was found dead in her Brantley County home. Investigators still have not released the cause of death.
Harold Swain’s brother, Charlie Swain, was upset that his side of the family wasn’t informed in advance of the exhumation.
Upon arriving at Rising Daughter from Jacksonville, Charlie Swain said, “The family didn’t ever sign off on this. I want to know who signed off … I’m against this here.”
Those who exhumed Harold Swain’s coffin and re-interred it left little sign the grave at the back of the cemetery and near the church had been disturbed. The slab had been replaced over the top of his grave and the ground around it smoothed.
Swain said he was one of six siblings left of 20 from a blended family, 10 on each side.
After he arrived at the cemetery, Carson called him and told him the GBI had informed a “Mrs. Clayton,’’ Thelma Swain’s sister, of the exhumation. He wasn’t totally satisfied with that and told Carson Mrs. Clayton was not related to his side of the family.
Swain said he wasn’t in a position to say who killed his brother and that he had sat in court every day of Perry’s trial and believed officers had the right man.
“I’m sorry Mr. Perry went to jail,’’ he said. “I went with the evidence I had.”
Swain said it still hurts years later and remembers how it felt when he got the call that his brother and sister-in-law had been slain.
“It’s awful to hear your loved ones getting killed just over foolishness,’’ he said.
After speaking with Carson, Swain seemed more satisfied and said he wants the killer charged.
“What’s done is done,’’ he said. “I want whoever did it. I want whoever did it to pay for it.”
Anyone with information pertinent to this investigation is urged to contact the GBI at 1-800-597-TIPS (8477). The investigation remains active and ongoing.