Double-homicide trial

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published September 12, 2006, 10:28 a.m.)

The double-homicide trial of an East Troy man accused of killing his mother and stepfather has been a case of crushed carpet, door decorations and missing mail.

District Attorney Phil Koss called 14 witnesses Monday. He has built his case on the fact that Craig A. Swope, 53, knew his parents were dead.

Swope has admitted finding Duane and Carolee Recob dead, taking their checkbook and forging checks to withdraw about $43,000 from their bank accounts. He is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for the forgeries.

Four neighbors, who lived across from the Recobs' home at 5694 Highway 11 in the town of Delavan, testified they saw Swope or Swope's car at the residence in January and February 2004.

The Recobs are believed to have died about Jan. 3 or Jan. 4, 2004. Their bodies weren't discovered until Feb. 29, 2004, when police were called to the home to check their welfare.

A postal carrier said she didn't notice a massive accumulation of mail in the Recobs' mailbox during that time.

Virginia Dorn, a neighbor on the south side of the highway, said she first saw a black car in the Recobs' driveway Jan. 3. The next day, she saw Swope's smaller red car in the driveway.

Dorn kept note of the events on her wall calendar. She also marked on her calendar that Swope's car was at the house Jan. 6 and Jan. 11.

Other neighbors reported seeing him at the home and getting the mail.

During the Christmas holiday season, the Recobs had a wreath on their front door, Dorn said. Sometime between Christmas and the time the Recobs were found, the door decoration changed to a patriotic theme.

Don and Betty Voss, who also lived across from the Recobs, noticed Swope's two daughters trying to peer into the house Feb. 29, the day police discovered the bodies.

Upon hearing about their grandparents' deaths, the girls - Lindsey (Swope) Gruling and Ashley Swope - became upset, Betty Voss testified.

"They said, 'My dad's been lying to us.' They said that over and over again," Betty Voss said.

Karen Tidwell, Duane Recob's younger sister, said Craig Swope told her he was at the house two or three times in January and February and that the couple was fine. Swope never corrected himself about seeing them dead, Tidwell said.

In preliminary hearing testimony, a medical examiner said the Recobs died in early January. Duane was 74 and Carolee was 69.

According to testimony, Swope told police he noticed they were dead and took their checkbook. He has always denied killing them.

Photographic evidence shows a line of matted carpet about where the front of Duane Recob's favorite recliner would strike the floor. Duane Recob was found dead in that recliner. Carolee was lying on a bed covered by a blanket that was tucked in under the side on which she was lying.

"The first thing I thought was something isn't right," said Anthony Ambach, a town of Delavan police officer who discovered the bodies. "In my opinion, this is too perfect. There were no gaps or wrinkles. When people sleep they move a blanket a little bit. To me, this had not been moved."

But anything is possible, Ambach said under cross examination.

The prosecution and defense argued as to whether the chair was pulled back from the mark on the carpet. A moved chair could indicate a struggle from behind.

Milwaukee County Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen believes the Recobs were smothered.

Defense attorney Patrick Cafferty has focused some of his cross examination on Swope's relationship with his parents.

"His mom was his world," Ashley Swope said, who also said her dad saw Duane as his real father.

Lindsey Gruling testified that everyone was happy when the family, including her father and sister, visited the Recobs for Christmas dinner Dec. 23, 2003.

William Grosswiler, Craig Swope's cousin, said Swope had a wonderful relationship with his parents.

SIDEBAR

The issue: Craig A. Swope, 53, formerly of 2095 Emery Court, No. 7, East Troy, is charged with killing his mother and stepfather, Carolee and Duane Recob. They died in their home in early January 2004 and were not found until Feb. 29, 2004. Swope faces two life sentences if convicted.

What's new: District Attorney Phil Koss has had 15 witnesses testify so far. On Monday, police explained the scene when they entered the Recobs' home between Delavan and Elkhorn. The house was in picturesque condition and there were no signs of forced entry. The Recobs' quiet nature had neighbors concerned, but not to the point of calling police when the couple hadn't been seen in nearly two months.

What's next: The prosecution is expected to have an FBI evidence expert testify Tuesday about signs of alleged staging. The medical examiner will take the stand on Wednesday.

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