ENFIELD, Conn. — Connecticut police officers conducting a welfare check on an elderly couple Sunday evening got a shock: both were suffering from slashed throats and the woman’s granddaughter was there, soaked in blood and water from the shower.
Harlee Swols, 22, of Enfield, is accused of taking an Uber to her grandmother’s house and killing both Maryrose Riach, 72, and Riach’s boyfriend, 63-year-old James Samuel Bell. Swols is charged with two counts of murder and violation of a protective order.
“They were just a couple enjoying their golden years,” read a statement Riach’s family released to WFSB in Hartford. “They loved spending time with family, beach trips and going camping. They had the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever known, and they did not deserve this.”
As of Friday morning, Swols was being held in lieu of $2 million bail at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic.
Blood, broken glass
Enfield police officials said that officers received a 911 call around 6:34 p.m. Sunday from Riach and Bell’s downstairs neighbor, who could hear Riach calling for help from her Alden Avenue home. According to an initial incident report written by Officer Brett Whitcomb, Whitcomb walked around to the back of the two-story house, where he found broken glass at the bottom of the stairs leading to the couple’s second-floor apartment.
When he climbed the stairs, he found a window on the porch smashed and Riach lying inside, facedown in a pool of blood. He could see her chest rising and falling, indicating she was still alive.
“I began to kick in the front door to the residence, and after several kicks, I saw someone come out of a door into the kitchen area of the residence,” Whitcomb wrote in the report, which was obtained by WFSB.
It was Swols, the officer wrote. He held her at gunpoint and ordered her to her knees, with her hands behind her head, as another officer forced entry into the home.
“I could hear a shower running from the bathroom the female came out of, and she was fully clothed but soaking wet with water and blood,” the incident report states.
Swols’ red shirt was covered in blood and her jeans were torn in several places, Whitcomb observed.
As one officer handcuffed Swols, Whitcomb wrote that he searched the apartment for additional suspects or victims. He found Bell in the bedroom.
Bell was kneeling at the bottom edge of the bed, his face resting on the mattress. He had stab wounds to his arms and back, and his throat was slashed.
Whitcomb wrote that he flipped Bell onto his back to attempt CPR, but determined the elderly man was already dead. The officer rushed back to Riach, who by that point was no longer breathing.
An autopsy would later determine that Riach had been stabbed or slashed a total of 22 times, including defensive wounds on her hands. Her right jugular artery was severed in the attack.
Paramedics arrived and found a faint pulse, so they rushed Riach to Baystate Hospital, 12 miles away across the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. Riach was pronounced dead a short time later.
Bell, who suffered 30 deep stab wounds and a dozen superficial cuts, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Swols, who showed no emotion when encountered by the officers, was treated at the scene for knife wounds to both of her hands, Whitcomb wrote.
The officers initially took Swols into custody based on an order of protection requiring her to stay away from Bell, according to officers. The order, which stemmed from an alleged assault on the elderly man, had been granted by a judge a month before the killings.
‘She was very, very alone’
Swols shared the Alden Avenue apartment with Riach and Bell until the July 7 argument that led to Bell’s alleged assault. According to the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, the couple told police Swols attacked Bell after accusing him of putting a scab on her toothbrush.
Riach was eventually able to pull her granddaughter off Bell. Swols was charged with assault on an elderly person and breach of peace.
In court the next day, the judge issued the order of protection, which forced Swols to move elsewhere.
She moved into the home of her paternal grandmother, Lynn Olden, a couple of miles away on Booth Road. Olden, who spoke with the newspaper, let Swols move into a room in her basement.
Olden said she had not seen her granddaughter in more than 10 years. Swols initially seemed shy but Olden said the young woman’s behavior went beyond shyness.
“She never addressed me by my name, never called me Nana,” Olden told the Journal Inquirer. “She wouldn’t even eat our food.”
Swols did not appear to have friends.
“She was very, very alone,” Olden said.
Swols’ father, who bailed her out after her assault arrest, told her she had to move into Olden’s home and get a second job to supplement her income from a part-time gig at a doughnut shop.
Olden told the newspaper that her granddaughter didn’t seem to want the help she and other family members were offering. Swols insisted on paying her grandmother rent to use the basement room in which she was staying.
A fateful Uber ride
Details of the argument that allegedly broke out the day of the double homicide remain unclear. Wesché wrote in his affidavit that he interviewed a man named Karim Ajanako at the scene of the grisly crime.
Ajanako, an Uber driver, told detectives that he picked up a fare named “Harlee” just after 6 p.m. outside a Staples office supply store in Enfield. The woman, later identified as Swols, was wearing a red shirt that Ajanako said appeared to be a Staples uniform shirt.
Swols later confirmed that she worked at the store.
The shirt and jeans Swols was wearing were clean and in good shape, with none of the tears officers later observed, according to the court document.
Swols told Ajanako she had three stops to make, with her grandmother’s apartment being the first. When he told her she had to add the other two stops in the Uber app, she borrowed his phone charger and added the two stops via her phone.
Read the arrest affidavit for Harlee Swols below.
When they got to the Alden Avenue crime scene, Swols told the driver she’d be right back and got out of the car, slamming the door.
“He asked her why she had to slam his door, and she apologized,” Wesché wrote.
Ajanako watched as Swols went up the back stairs to her grandmother’s apartment.
About 4 minutes later, Ajanako said he heard glass shattering.
“He heard several things breaking and then heard a female yelling, ‘Help! Help!’” the affidavit states. “The screaming and the sound of things breaking lasted for approximately 5 minutes.”
Just as Ajanako moved to call 911, the first officers arrived in response to the neighbor’s call.
Once officers got Swols to the police station, detectives noticed that she was leaving wet footprints with her soaked sneakers, Wesché wrote. The footprints appeared to be a mixture of water and blood.
Swols told detectives that she had been invited to go to her grandmother’s home to pick up some belongings and that, while there, “things got out of hand.” When asked how, she said she could not remember.
She said there had been an argument that “escalated so quickly,” but told detectives she didn’t know details of the argument or how it escalated.
Swols alleged that during the argument, Bell came at her with a knife. She said she tried to push him away but couldn’t.
After a few minutes, Swols said, she got the knife from Bell. Detectives asked what happened next.
“Not good things, clearly,” she said, according to Wesché.
Swols told the detectives that she was in the bedroom with Riach and Bell when she pushed Bell.
“She stated that she picked the knife up in the bedroom, and when she picked it up, she hurt someone with the knife,” Wesché wrote. “When questioned further about who she hurt, she would not elaborate.
“The accused then requested the services of a lawyer.”
‘She was just empty’
Olden told the Journal Inquirer that Swols’ lack of emotion at the scene sounded all too familiar.
“She shows no emotion. When she was standing there, and I was talking to her, she was just empty,” she said.
Swols “had it rough growing up,” her grandmother said. Her parents divorced and afterward, Swols’ mother lost their house and they ended up living in their car for a time.
Swols also began using drugs at a young age, but Olden believed she was “clean” in recent years.
“Harlee’s always been different,” Olden said. “I don’t want anyone to think Harlee is a bad person. She’s not.”
Olden agreed that it was “horrible what (Swols) did,” and said her heart was with both families affected by the killings.
“She deserves what she gets,” the grandmother told the newspaper. “But I hope they take into consideration her past. I think she should have gotten help a long time ago.
“It’s just sad this is the only way she’s going to get help.”
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