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GBI exhumes body of Camden County man murdered with wife in 1985

Harold Swain, along with his wife Thelma Swain, were found shot to death in a small Camden County church.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — On Wednesday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation exhumed the body of 66-year-old Harold Swain, a man who was shot to death inside a small Camden County church along with his wife, 62-year-old Thelma Swain, in 1985, the department told First Coast News.

"This exhumation is necessary to obtain DNA evidence for the furtherance of the Harold and Thelma Swain murder investigation," the GBI said in a statement.

The GBI reopened the case in May after Dennis Perry, the man who was found guilty of their murders in 2003, had his conviction overturned this year.

Perry was arrested in 2000 and found guilty, despite there being no physical evidence linking him to their murders. For the past 20 years, Perry maintained his innocence.

Credit: Florida Times-Union
Deacon Harold and Thelma Swain

Instead, authorities linked the crime to another suspect, Erik Sparre, after his mother, Gladys Sparre, voluntarily gave a hair sample to an investigator working with the Georgia Innocence Project in February.

“The new DNA evidence reliably links another suspect, Erik Sparre, to the key piece of physical evidence found at the crime scene: a pair of unique eyeglasses that investigators long believed belonged to the killer,” Judge Stephen Scarlett wrote. “The mitochondrial DNA profile of the hair sample from Ms.Sparre was analyzed by the same lab that in 2001 analyzed the hairs recovered from the crime scene. The profiles matched. Because mitochondrial DNA is shared along maternal relatives (like mother and son), this means that Erik Sparre also cannot be excluded as a contributor of the hairs found at the crime scene.”

Gladys Sparre, 79, was later found dead inside of her home in Waynesville, Georgia hours after Perry's conviction was overturned.

Erik Sparre was never charged in the case.