Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clara Schwartz: A Deadly Game


In January, less than a month after Robert Schwartz was found murdered, Paul Sieveking, writing for the Sunday Telegraph in London (in the "strange but true" section), included the case in a feature about the harm that had recently befallen scientists.

Kathy Nguyen
Kathy Nguyen

On Halloween, Vietnamese immigrant Kathy Nguyen, a hospital technician, inhaled anthrax and died in Manhattan. She had no known connection with the spores, and no bacteria were found in any place where she had been during the previous week. On November 12, Dr. Benito Que, a biologist, was attacked by four men wielding a baseball bat at the Miami Medical School. Then Harvard microbiologist Don Wiley, who was investigating immune disorders, vanished. His car was found abandoned on a bridge over the Mississippi River. His family insisted that he would not have committed suicide, yet his body was found three hundred miles downriver. While investigators were still searching for him, Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik, a microbiologist who worked with biological weapons in the former Soviet Union, died of a stroke, and on December 14, microbiologist Set Van Nguyen suffocated in an Australian storage area full of gas.

Don Wiley
Don Wiley

It seemed odd that so many scientists had died within a month of one another, and Schwartz was added to this list. As a murder victim, his case was among the most dramatic. Sieveking ended the article on a suggestive note: "It is possible that nothing connects this string of events; but as with the deaths between 1982 and 1988 of 25 scientists connected with the defense industry — many of which were bizarre or mysterious — it offers ample fodder for the conspiracy theorist or thriller writer."

Indeed, the Schwartz murder case would have some sordid twists, and the real story came out with the arrest of Clara Schwartz, the victim's daughter. The police had interviewed her for five hours on December 12, two days after the murder, and she had said then that she did not think that Hulbert, a recent acquaintance, would do such a thing. But she also admitted that in her "heart of hearts" she knew he would. They let her go but did not forget her. Soon they had reason to turn the investigative spotlight back on her. Apparently she had failed to tell them, when notified about her father's death, that Hulbert had told her on December 9 that he had committed the murder the day before. She had also failed to inform them about the "role-playing game."

Katherine Inglis helpfully connected the dots. Sondra London recounts her statement in True Vampires. She claimed to have had some idea of what was about to occur on December 8 when she and her boyfriend, Michael Pfohl, gave Hulbert a ride to the Schwartz home to "do a job." When they let him out and went to turn around to wait for him, they got stuck in the mud. Hulbert returned and they asked him to go use the Schwartz phone to call for assistance. He was hesitant. "He told us very seriously," Inglis wrote, "that nobody was in the home twice and I did the math." Then he placed a sword in the car that she saw was smeared with red liquid. "I couldn't be sure that Mr. Schwartz was dead," she added. "I hoped he wasn't. But in the back of my mind, I knew he was."

They discussed an alibi among them, deciding to say that they had gone to the area to get something for Clara, but no one had been home. On the morning the body was discovered, Clara called to tell them that the police had their names and addresses. She had been questioned but not arrested. She told them she was going to go stay with her grandparents.

Inglis ended her statement with the naïve hope that she and Mike could go on with their lives after turning Hulbert in. She agreed to testify against him if necessary, but she seemed to have no comprehension of what she had done. Had she genuinely been morally alarmed by what had occurred, she would not have participated in the construction of an alibi, but would have called the police herself. She did not. Neither did Clara.