It's a crime that has stayed alive in the minds of many Pottstown-area residents. The January 1982 murder of 44-year-old Pottstown real estate magnate David Swinehart ranks as one of the infamous stories that grabbed headlines in the region for more than 14 years in the 1980s and 1990s. The tale of greed, sex and conspiracy that ended with Swinehart being smashed over the head with a baseball bat and stabbed 14 times became known in local circles as the "Crime of the Decade."
Interest in the crime continues to this day.
Indeed, at 9 p.m. tonight former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., now a county commissioner, will be featured prominently on Investigation Discovery Channel when the network airs a program that examines the Swinehart murder and the subsequent trials related to the crime, according to county spokesman Frank X. Custer. Castor prosecuted three of the five defendants charged in the case.
|David Swinehart...killed January 1982|
I remember the Swinehart case well as it was the focus of much of my time when I took over the county courthouse beat for The Mercury in 1991. I had a front-row seat to all the drama that unfolded.
Swinehart, trial testimony revealed, was stabbed and beaten to death with a baseball bat as he left his home in the 200 block of Maugers Mill Road in Upper Pottsgrove on Jan. 15, 1982. Swinehart and his wife, Patricia Ann, were estranged at the time and Mr. Swinehart had been visiting his four children who ranged in age at that time from 6 to 17, according to testimony.
Prosecutors alleged Patricia Swinehart conspired with Thomas and Jeffrey DeBlase, her nephews through marriage, to kill her husband in order to collect more than a half-million dollars in life insurance money and so the socialite could continue her sexual affair with Thomas, then a handsome 24-year-old construction worker and former Pottstown High School quarterback.
|Patricia Swinehart/Mercury file photo|
Patty Swinehart denied ever asking either of her nephews to kill her husband and she was acquitted by a jury of murder charges during a high-profile trial that lasted several weeks in January and February 1994. The DeBlase brothers were both convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the death of their uncle.
When Patty Swinehart and Thomas DeBlase, for the first time in many years, came face-to-face in court during Thomas’ trial in 1996, she forced to testify against her ex-lover and about their affair, there wasn’t an empty seat in the courtroom.
For a brief time, soap opera took over a court of law.
|The Mercury/ Dec. 31,1989|
Following is a brief synopsis of the case, compiled from The Mercury’s vault:
Jeffrey DeBlase, now 57, was convicted in 1985 of first-degree murder in connection with the slaying of his uncle. Sentenced to life in prison, Jeffrey DeBlase is currently housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Huntingdon County, according to court records.
Jeffrey DeBlase was the first of five defendants to stand trial for the murder.
|The Mercury/ Feb. 3, 1996|
DeBlase’s brother, Thomas, Swinehart’s wife, Patricia, and two other Pottstown area men, Terry Lee Maute and Arthur Hall, also were charged with taking part in one of Pottstown’s most notorious crimes.
Prosecutors called the case a “contract killing,” alleging Patricia Swinehart conspired with her nephews and Maute to kill her husband. The motive, authorities alleged, was to collect $523,000 in life insurance money and to allow Mrs. Swinehart and Thomas DeBlase to continue their sexual affair. The DeBlase brothers were Mrs. Swinehart’s nephews through marriage.
Thomas DeBlase, now 56, was convicted Feb. 2, 1996, of first-degree murder and is serving a life prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township in Northumberland County.
Patricia Swinehart, who would be72 now, was arrested July 28, 1993, more than 11 years after her husband's killing. At the time, prosecutors said the arrest came after they uncovered new information about the case. She was acquitted of all murder charges in February 1994 during an emotional trial at which she was represented by veteran criminal defense lawyer Frank DeSimone. She denied any involvement in the killing.
Maute, who would be 66 now, was acquitted of murder charges in 1985. However, he was sentenced to a 20- to 64-year jail term on unrelated forgery and theft charges.
Hall, who would be 65 now, pleaded guilty to robbery charges in connection with the crime and served a 29- to 59-month county jail term.
I will be interested to see what Castor has to say tonight during the national television program that examines the case.