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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

CA- A molester's murder goes unsolved

5-6-2009 California:

Laura Bejerano wants to talk with whoever killed her father in 1993.

Alan Schwalbe was sitting at his desk, which was strangely positioned in a hallway between the kitchen and the garage, when he heard footsteps.

The 61-year-old property manager, who lived in a five-bedroom sprawl on the border of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, was alone at the time. Schwalbe's roommate had just left to go to the beach.

He got up, apparently to close the garage door, but he was too late. Someone began pummeling him near his desk.

The fight went from the hallway to the kitchen and that's when Schwalbe put up his last stand. He reached to the kitchen counter for something, anything, that he might use in his defense.

This angered his attacker, who pulled out a knife and repeatedly stabbed Schwalbe in the neck, chest and heart. Schwalbe bled to death in a pool of his own blood.

At least that's what Schwalbe's daughter, Laura Bejerano, thinks happened. It's the way she's told it to herself, hundreds of thousands of times, in the 16 years since the murder.

What gets her the most is that she still doesn't know the who. Or the why.


Bejerano, 40, a mother of three, is an instructional assistant at a local school district who recently earned a Bachelor's Degree in psychology. She hopes to go into forensic psychology, an interest she attributes to her father's ongoing case.

When Schwalbe was murdered, Bejerano was in her mid-20s and just out of the Navy. She lived in Costa Mesa with her mother and four siblings. She took classes at Orange Coast College.

And precisely at the time of the stabbing, she was on her way to visit her father – but turned around.

In the early years after the murder, the thought Bejerano couldn't shake was a simple one:

"I could have stopped them."

But in the years of therapy she's had since then – beating back what she terms "survivor's guilt" – she's heard something else, too.

"Had I shown up, I could have been killed too."

Life as the surviving relative of a long-unsolved murder has been challenging. While she's able to cope on a daily basis, Bejerano still misses her father – especially on his birthday and the anniversary of his death.

Worse, she says, is watching an increase in the number of solved cold cases – as new technologies are developed – while seeing little progress on her father's case.

"I celebrate for them … but I'm so frustrated," she says. "It's bittersweet. Like somebody's sort of taking my heart and twisting it a little bit."

What gives the grieving daughter even less hope is who her dad was.

Who really wants to solve the murder of a convicted child molester?

Schwalbe was a political science teacher at Corona del Mar High School until his teaching credentials were taken away in 1975. He was convicted of misdemeanor molestation charges involving two 16-year-old male students.

Bejerano says her father was also abusive, which strained relations between him and his family. But for all of his faults, she says there was good in him, too. After leaving prison, for example, Schwalbe became a vocal – and by many accounts effective – supporter of gay rights.

"My dad might have done some bad things in his life. He might have done some things that weren't so Boy Scout-ish," she says.

"That doesn't give anybody the right to take his life."


Schwalbe's murder is one of about 140 still-active cold cases at the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Sgt. Yvonne Shull of the OCSD says the case last was looked at in 2006, when it was entered into the FBI's Violent Crime Analysis Program, which helps to link crimes with the same modus operandi.

Shull wouldn't elaborate on the evidence the department has in the Schwalbe case. But she explained that these types of cases can be solved in a variety of ways.

Sometimes suspects are captured using original or newly discovered evidence that was never subjected to testing technologies that have become available since the original investigation. Also, recent laws have created a fast-growing database of prisoner DNA, which Shull says has helped generate many new leads in old cases.

Still, Shull says, technology isn't of importance in solving all cold cases.

Guilt can wear on people. Relationships change. For those reasons and countless others, Shull says, a person who knows something about a crime might speak out – sometimes years later – even after initially declining to help.

And Shull is quick to shoot down the idea that Schwalbe's case remains unsolved after 15 years because of his background.

"When you're an investigator, you're given the responsibility to solve who murdered somebody," Shull says. "That person's race, previous history, you can't be prejudiced of that. You have to understand that your job is to find out who killed them."


Bejerano is rooting for guilt.

"Time ages you, time softens you," she says. " … I'd like to think that (the killer or killers) were so hard then that they've become soft now.

"I'd like to think that something is nibbling at them, something is bothering them," she continues. "That they just need to tell because they've taken away a father, a grandfather."

While nothing will bring her father back, Bejerano has faith that his killer can be found.

"There is a chance for justice, for me to get answers," she says. "Why did they do it? How did they think they would get away with it for as long as they did?"

While she longs for a face-to-face conversation with the perpetrator, she hasn't ruled out the fact that the killer might already be dead. If that's the case, Bejerano says she could be at peace.

"I'd just find resolution because I believe that there's justice on God's side.

"That's when faith comes in and I dig in deep and say 'OK, let it go.'" ..Source.. by NIYAZ PIRANI, The Orange County Register


Newspaper Apologizes p. 15 (5-4-2011 by: M.L. Stein)

California daily says it made an error of judgment when it prominently played up the 1974 child-molestation conviction of a former teacher found murdered in his home last month. A 61-YEAR-OLD man is murdered, stabbed to death in his home.

Nearly 20 years ago, as a respected high school teacher, he was convicted of sexually molesting two male students and sentenced to six months in jail. How should his past be played in a news story of the slaying?

The Daily Pilot, which covers the Orange County, Calif., coastal area, grappled with this question and decided it had made a grave mistake.

The headline on its Aug. 13 story said, "Convicted child molester found slain." The lead said, "A 61-year-old man who was found stabbed to death in his home Wednesday has been identified as the former Corona del Mar high school teacher convicted of molesting two of his students in 1974."

In the sixth paragraph, the past of the victim, Alan Schwalbe, was picked up and detailed for another seven paragraphs. It was noted that Schwalbe denied the charges at the time.

The story brought a storm of protest from relatives and friends of the well-to-do property owner.

Laura Schwalbe, one of Schwalbe's five children, phoned the paper to complain that her father's life amounted to much more than his criminal conviction.

As reported by the Daily Pilot, she added, "This is sensationalism at its worst.

It's tabloid stuff like some paper in London. He was a good man and deserved much better than this. This really hurt . . . . "

Costa Mesa Councilman Joe Erickson, a self-described friend of Schwalbe, accused the paper in a letter of exploiting a "juicy story even after the passage of time."

The Pilot, Erickson continued, "did not speak of Alan's many years of service to his community. He volunteered to deliver lunches to housebound senior citizens, served meals to homeless people, arranged for jobs for prison inmates upon their release . . . served the Orange County Fair Housing Council and cared for AIDS patients in his home."

Although the jail sentence cost Schwalbe his wife, his job and most of his friends, "he continued to protest his innocence to the day he died," the letter said.

However, even if guilty, Schwalbe had paid his debt to society, Erickson contended.
The protests did not go unheeded.

In its Aug. 14-15 weekend edition, the Pilot carried a front-page "Apology" box by editor William S. Lobdell, who called the previous day's story "one-dimensional and distorted."

"He was a murder victim and we focused almost entirely on a 19-year-old conviction," the editor added. "The treatment we gave the article ? including its headline and placement ? represented an error in judgment. He deserved better. Our readers deserved better."

Next to the apology was a column by managing editor Steve Marble, who conceded that "it was unfair to portray [Schwalbe] as a child molester and leave it at that." The column appeared in the same spot as the murder story and was approximately the same length.

Marble recalled, however, that the reporter who wrote the story had tried to talk to Laura Schwalbe at the murder scene but was refused. Pressed by a deadline, the reporter turned to the newspaper's library where the file on Schwalbe "began and ended with the child-molestation case."

Subsequently, the paper learned that Schwalbe had been a respected member of the gay community, an activist who had marched for gay rights and a worker in Democratic politics. He had helped establish a chapter of a veterans' group for gays and lesbians.

In judging the murder story, Marble concluded, "The article, of course, was accurate. It was factual. It was a neat synopsis of a very miserable point in Schwalbe's life.

"But in the cold light of the morning, after listening to a murder victim's daughter and staring down at the huge headline that had dredged up an event that had lost any semblance of news value, I realized it was possible to be accurate and inaccurate all at once."

Marble, a 15-year newspaperman, said, "This is a lesson we have to relearn. The situation keeps coming back. We should not have let a 20-year-old conviction become the whole story. We should have tried harder to get more background on the man."

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