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The case of Clara Schwartz - The Bizarre Murder of Robert Schwartz

The case of Clara Schwartz - The Bizarre Murder of Robert Schwartz
Clara Schwartz and Mike Pfohl
Robert Schwartz, 57, was nationally renowned in the field of biometrics and DNA research. The Associated Press's Matthew Barakat reports that Schwartz had been working for the past 15 years on DNA sequencing analysis at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Virginia. Ironically, while the discovery of DNA identification in the 1980s revolutionized crime investigation, especially for extreme crimes such as rape and murder, Schwartz himself fell victim to one such incident.

On Monday, December 10, 2001, Schwartz did not show up for work. His coworkers phoned a neighbor to check on him. He had lived alone since his wife had died and was usually quite punctual, so they were worried. They had good reason to be. His corpse was found facedown in his log-and-slate farmhouse, situated near Hamilton, which was around 40 miles west of Washington, D.C. He had been stabbed repeatedly (one report said 30 times, another 45) with a sharp knife-like implement some time on December 8, two days earlier, and left where he had died. Investigators who arrived at the scene could clearly see an 'X' carved into the skin on the back of Schwartz's neck, according to the Bloodbank newsletter. This mark seemed to indicate that the murder was ritualistic, although the clue wasn't clear.

But Schwartz's neighbors were helpful. They had seen three teenagers, two boys and a girl, arrive at the farm during the time in which the murder was estimated to have occurred. The kids had gotten stuck in the mud and had called a tow truck. Giving their names and addresses made it easier for authorities to find them. Within days, the police had arrested three friends of Schwartz's college-age daughter, Clara: Kyle Hulbert, 18; Michael Paul Pfohl, 21; and Katherine Inglis, 19. After the three started talking, there was little doubt that Hulbert had killed the victim, but his bizarre confession and the reasons he gave initially pushed investigators in the wrong direction.

Court records released the day after Christmas and noted in the Washington Post indicated that the police had seized several knives, swords, and documents about human sacrifice from the home of Inglis and Pfohl. The "X" was thus surmised to be an occult symbol. In addition, they had seized a computer and two black cloaks from the Haymarket home, and also took a computer from Hulbert's home. It wasn't long before they had pieced together a strange and deadly game.

This murder was included in a special report about the apparent bad luck that had befallen scientists during a brief period of time, suggesting an odd association between violence and those employed in the pursuit of biological research.


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.

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.

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.

Domestic Homicide

Clara Jane Schwartz, 21, was arrested on February 1, 2002, at her dorm on the James Madison University campus where she was a sophomore. A computer was also removed from her room, and she was charged as the fourth person in the conspiracy to murder Robert Schwartz. Documents found during a legal search indicated that she had helped to plan her father's murder with the other three suspects. Although her grandfather denied to reporters that she'd had any such contact with the suspects, she was taken before a magistrate in Loudoun County, Virginia and then to the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center. There she remained until her trial.

The dorm monitor, Mark Pinnow, who did not know her well, offered an observation to reporters about her relationship with her father when Robert Schwartz brought Clara to school to drop her off: "They seemed to have that kind of father-daughter relationship where they were both different and knew it." Pinnow thought Clara was friendly. In fact, she was a good student, and she was avidly interested in history and Civil War battlefields. Those who knew the computer-science major, who owned her own horse, thought of her as smart and on her way to being quite accomplished.

Yet some also knew her as brooding and rebellious. According to the Washington Post, she liked to dress in the gothic look, sported dark clothing and liked to listen to heavy metal music. She tended to hang out with people who preferred an alternative lifestyle — "alts," as they liked to refer to themselves, to mark their boundaries as outsiders. She had also moved into a single room in a dorm that was a converted Howard Johnson's motel situated behind a gas station — a place for students who desired seclusion. Her grandfather, speaking to reporters, acknowledged that she was drawn toward a "fringe" group of young people, and attributed that to having to deal with her mother's death from cancer four years earlier. Other relatives said that in recent years she had been distant from the family.

"She was very, very close to her mother," the grandfather told the Washington Post, "and I think it was a rather serious thing for her. And my son worked overtime trying to help her. She certainly had a lot of emotional problems that were fairly apparent."

Reporters sought out an attorney whom Clara had retained directly after the murder when the police first started asking questions, but he indicated that he was no longer in her employ. When questioned about the arrest, the police would not offer a motive. Relatives insisted that Schwartz had been a devoted father who talked often of his three college-age children.

Yet when the news of Clara's arrest was reported, the Associated Press included an interesting item: Inglis allegedly had admitted to investigators that Clara had told her and the other two that her father had been violent with her and had tried to poison her "at least 11 times." Such things do happen, and children involved in roleplaying and occult activities may overdramatize the possibility. But family members denied it, and the police had no record of having to go to the home to intervene in any situations. At any rate, Inglis further stated that Hulbert had gone into the farmhouse alone with a 27-inch sword hidden under his coat and had used it to slash and stab the scientist. She and her boyfriend, Paul Pfohl, had waited for him in the car. They'd had nothing to do with the murder, she said, adding that Hulbert had believed he was doing something good for Clara. Yet he hardly even knew her.

The Vampire

Hulbert had a history of mental disorders, including a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder. His family had found him too difficult to handle, so he had been in several psychiatric institutions. It also turned out that he was deeply involved in roleplaying games that involved vampire imagery. While such games do not cause someone to become violent, and the majority of participants in the Live Action Role Playing groups (LARP) are just in it for fun and creative outlets, LARPs can attract mentally unstable people, who find encouragement for their delusions within them. Hulbert apparently did. He also had a fascination with medieval wizardry and weaponry, and eventually offered a rather chilling seven-page confession.

Sondra London included this case and his confession in her discussion of dissociation in True Vampires. She indicates that when a killer claims to have become someone else (as Hulbert vaguely suggested), he may be acknowledging a "criminal alter" that can take over a host body and get him to commit crimes. She went on to talk about the Hulbert/Schwartz incident, adding multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) to his psychiatric portfolio, although no professional had diagnosed him with the disorder. (Inglis mentioned this in her confession, so it could be the source of London 's ideas.) London also said that Clara had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and the condition had gone untreated, although this is probably untrue. That, too, was taken from Inglis' statement, and her knowledge was based only on things that Clara had said. No record of such a diagnosis was produced for court.

At any rate, in the confession taken in December, Kyle Hulbert told a magistrate that he alone was responsible for the killing. It was not premeditated, and Inglis and Pfohl did not know about it before it occurred. After Schwartz was dead, he said, he had called Clara to tell her that he had "done the job." He believed that Schwartz had been trying to poison his daughter with various chemicals that he placed into her food. Hulbert said that Clara once had handed over some cooked pork to him and insisted that her father had poisoned it. Hulbert had taken a bite and spit it back out. "I could tell," he wrote, "it had been tampered with, both by taste and by smell." He indicated that Clara had said that her father had cooked it separately from the other food.

Hulbert had met the man three times on prior occasions and had felt Schwartz's animosity toward him. Then, when Clara told him about an impending family trip to the Virgin Island, Hulbert believed that her father would attempt to kill her there. According to Hulbert, he had to do something to stop the man, especially as his visions of what Mr. Schwartz would do to Clara grew overwhelming. He claimed to have once seen Schwartz yell at his daughter and make her cry, and he indicated that "I could not bear the sight of that."

One newspaper story stated that Hulbert claimed to be a vampire, but that he heard the voices of entities named Sabba, Nicodemus, and Ordog instructing him to kill only for a "just cause." Thus, saving Clara became his driving purpose. He had seen Schwartz actually serve a pork chop and lemons to her on a prior visit, so those had become symbols to him of the way the man was poisoning her. Hulbert also indicated that he planned to say that demons had told him to do the killing. That way, Clara would be spared, should the plan be discovered.

So on December 8, Hulbert knocked on the door to the Schwartz home. In his confession, he described exactly what had taken place. Robert Schwartz answered the door and Hulbert asked if Clara was there. When told she wasn't, he asked if he could get her number. Schwartz invited him in. Hulbert used the bathroom and then followed the 57-year-old to the dining room and confronted him. Hulbert accused him of abusing his daughter and he believed he saw guilt in the man's eyes that amounted to a confession. The man had smiled, he said, and then had "backhanded" him, which cut him over the left eye. That had triggered the attack. Hulbert said that he did not remember carving an "X" on Schwartz, and investigators concluded that it was probably an incidental slash mark rather than something ritualistic.

But Hulbert insisted that if he had not seen the clear evidence of the man's guilt on his face, he would have allowed Schwartz to live. Using the sword to slash and stab, he brought Schwartz to his knees, although the dying man continued to try to defend himself. "Somewhere in the back of my mind, someone laughed at a fool who would grab an attacker's blade," Hulbert said. Hulbert stabbed Schwartz and felt his grip loosen: "I told him to back off and let me pass." He claims that Schwartz just grinned at him. Schwartz came at him again and he got some of the man's blood in his mouth. "It drove me into a frenzy," he said. He just kept stabbing and stabbing the man in the back. Hulbert then described Schwartz's last moments, saying that Schwartz had looked up at Hulbert and asked, "What did I ever do to you?" With that, Hulbert had delivered the final blow, killing him.

"When I returned to the state of mindfulness and sanity," Hulbert wrote, "I was drawing the sword from his back." He rinsed the weapon off, turned off most of the lights in the home, and went to find his friends. One of his voices instructed him to leave quickly, he wrote, because the victim's soul had already departed. Hulbert closed his confession with the belief that he had saved Clara and "whatever happens to us, we will survive." Then he had signed it with "Demon" and offered an apology to the Schwartz family, asking their forgiveness.

When attorneys were assigned, they told the press that whatever Hulbert may have said was unreliable, due to his mental illness. Hulbert's father echoed that, insisting that Kyle had viewed the incident as part of the game. He apparently had stopped taking his medication due to money problems just a few days before the murder.


Clara Jane was arraigned on February 5, 2002, as her older brother and sister watched in grief and horror. In a quiet voice, she requested a court-appointed lawyer to defend her against the charge of first-degree murder. Her arrest was the culmination of a two-month investigation that included an analysis of coded e-mails and instant messages among the four friends regarding Clara's alleged domestic situation. (Clara had kept them in a file labeled "UW People," for Underworld, in her dorm room.) The investigation had also involved interviews with all four of them, and written statements from three.

As the details came out, it seemed that Clara had told the others that her father had tried to poison her, and she thought her life would be better if he were eliminated. When Clara wanted to talk about murder in these messages, she used the word, "tay," and she referred to her father as OG — "Old Guy." In other words, her premeditation was fairly elaborate, although she told reporters that she thought Hulbert was "just joking" when he said he would do it. Yet she also admitted that she had believed that he actually would, and in one message, as reported in AP, she said that "all I ask is that it not trace back to me."

In March 2002, a grand jury reconvened to consider the case. They indicted Clara on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation to commit murder. One of these latter charges focused on time periods from June to November and November to December, which involved two different people whose identities were made clear during her trial. Clara's attorneys, who insisted that it was not possible to enter into a conspiracy with someone who would be considered insane, were frustrated that the prosecutors had no unified theory about the incident, and said so to reporters. The Loudoun Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney, Owen D. Basham, hinted otherwise, but would not give a specific comment.

The other three defendants had been indicted as well on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Only Inglis was being considered for a deal, because she seemed the least involved and she was willing to testify against the others.

According to the Washington Post at the end of March, 2002, Clara had been searching for several months for someone to kill her father. She met Kyle Hulbert in October at a Renaissance festival in Crownsville, MD, and managed to convince him to do the "noble thing" for a "damsel in distress." They developed a close relationship (which he affirmed in his confession) that inspired him to feel protective of her, as a brother to a sister.

Clara sent Hulbert a check for $60 on the night before the murder, via overnight delivery. She apparently told detectives it was for Hulbert to be able to pay for gas to get to the farmhouse, gloves to prevent him from leaving fingerprints, a cap ("do-rag") to prevent him from shedding hair that might be found and link him to the scene, and rags to clean up any potential trace evidence. He was also to purchase a phone card so he could call her without the call being traced to his phone.

Clara's Trial

Katherine Inglis made her deal with prosecutors to testify in return for having the first-degree murder charge dropped. Yet she still faced other accessory charges. Her case would not be settled until the other three were concluded.

Clara's trial was first, followed by Hulbert's. Pretrial hearings indicated that Clara now claimed to have been sexually abused by her father. Her defense attorneys hoped to portray her as a kid dealing with troubling issues who found escape in fantasy and thus did not realize that the young man she had urged to kill her father might actually go through with it. In her fantasy play, she took on roles of people who needed protecting. "In the fall of 2001," defense attorney James Connell said, according to court records, "the silly dark world of Clara Schwartz collided with the dark and dangerous world of Kyle Hulbert."

However, prosecutors had a surprise: They had located another young man whom Clara had approached for the same purpose. That took some of the starch out of the defense's argument, though not all of it.

The trial began in October 2002, ten months after the murder. Clara wore a blue sweater and a long skirt for the first day of testimony. In an opening statement, prosecutor Jennifer Wexton said that Clara had initially asked a man named Patrick House, 21, to kill her father. He had participated in her roleplaying fantasy game in the role of an assassin, but he said when he had realized that Clara was serious about committing a violent act, he quickly distanced himself from the others. He said that she hated her father and wanted her considerable inheritance.

While parricide is a fairly rare crime that is overwhelmingly committed by boys, writes Charles Patrick Ewing in Fatal Families, there are occasional cases of girls either killing or engaging someone else to kill their father. Mostly such murders are triggered by abuse, but some are done out of greed. One case that Ewing cites occurred in Texas in 1994. Jennifer Nicole Yesconis, 20, was invited to dinner to celebrate her father's fifth anniversary to her stepmother. She did not show up, but her boyfriend and another boy did, and they shot and killed Mr. and Mrs. Yesconis. According to the killers, Nicole had masterminded the killings to collect on her father's insurance policy. She went to trial saying that she had been sexually abused, but another witness recalled her saying that she would pay $30,000 to someone to kill her father. She was convicted of capital murder.

The case of Clara Schwartz was similar but a bit more elaborate. Patrick House had briefly dated her prior to the killing of her father. He described the fantasy game called "Underworld" that Clara had invented. She had played a character called Lord Chaos, and he had been an assassin. Clara referred to the victim in the game as Old Guy, her "evil father." She ordered House to kill him as part of the game, but eventually he found a way to put her off until he could extricate himself from the role. That's when she turned to Kyle Hulbert, whom she met shortly thereafter. He was called on to testify, but invoked his right against self-incrimination and did not take the stand. Nevertheless, his written confession was allowed in as evidence. In addition, a document found in Clara's room, dated December 8, appeared to thank her cohorts in coded language for their part in the act.

The defense attorneys jumped into action. They tried to make House appear as out of touch with reality as Hulbert was, hoping to show that both young men had misunderstood what she had said. One attorney got House to admit to his belief that dragons were real and had lived during the times of King Arthur. He also indicated that he believed in casting spells. He had cast one to protect himself "against other people's magic," using salt, sanctified water, and a candle. The jury was now exposed to a boy one who had some pretty strange beliefs of his own.

Defense attorneys also used school psychologist Kathleen Aux to shore up their argument. She addressed the psychological problems that Hulbert had in a way that affirmed that he could have misinterpreted what Clara actually wanted.

Yet the prosecution had another witness as well: a friend of Clara's who said that Clara had mentioned on several occasions that she wanted her father dead. Katherine Inglis, too, added that she had witnessed a conversation in which Clara had angrily described her father's abuse.

On October 15, after a week of testimony and only four hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Clara of first-degree murder. The prosecutor asked for a stiff sentence, but the defense cited mitigating factors in light of Clara's testimony about abuse. The jurors recommended a 48-year prison sentence. The defense attorneys said they would appeal on the grounds that the jury had not given enough consideration to the evidence, especially with regard to the psychological issues suffered by Hulbert, the killer.

Judge Thomas Horne scheduled the formal sentencing for January 21. The defense tried to delay it, pending a psychological report on Hulbert, but this motion was denied. Nevertheless, sentencing was delayed into February so the judge could examine the defense's notion that the prosecution had not turned over evidence they possessed of actual abuse of Clara Schwartz. The defense also wanted to file a motion, based on an interview with one of Clara's high-school teachers, that her father had verbally abused her. The teacher thought that Schwartz had more or less abandoned the girl, and that the two had often engaged in serious arguments. Clara's sister acknowledged that the two had had a stormy relationship, especially when they lived together alone in the home during Clara's senior year. In a last-ditch effort, the defense attorneys argued that Clara's actions were the result of hyperthyroidism. They wanted the sentence to be reduced to 30 years.

On February 10, after the judge decided that the defense's motion issue about abuse would have had no effect on the verdict, he sentenced Clara Schwartz to 48 years in prison, meaning she would be released when she was 68 (with a possible reduction to age 61). Judge Horne told her in a fatherly manner that she was responsible for her actions. In an AP article, Heather Greenfield wrote that Clara showed no emotion as she left the courtroom. She also did not look at any of her relatives, some of whom had testified against her.

Next up was Kyle Hulbert.

Hulbert's Decision

On December 20, Michael Paul Pfohl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, admitting that he had assisted two friends with the murder of Robert Schwartz a year earlier. He had agreed, he said, to drive Hulbert to the home where the murder took place, and he felt ashamed about his part in the crime. He faced a maximum of 21 years and four months in prison. In a written statement, Pfohl admitted that he and his girlfriend, Katherine Inglis, drove to the Springfield mall on the night of December 8. They met friends there, and Pfohl told someone that he was scared to take Hulbert where he wanted to go. He was aware that Hulbert was going to kill someone and he did not want to be an accessory to murder. Having called his involvement a "big oopsy" on the day he was arrested, he admitted that he vaguely realized what he was getting into. In a written apology, he asked Robert Schwartz to give him some "sign" that he was "well." He also excused Hulbert on the basis that Hulbert believed he was right to do what he did. Nevertheless, Pfohl seemed to think he had betrayed Hulbert, and seemed to be sorrier about that than about his role in the murder.

Hulbert had been charged with first-degree murder. People speculated that he would pursue an insanity defense, i.e., prove that he had a mental disorder that kept him from understanding that what he had done was wrong or had caused him to have an irresistible impulse to commit the crime. But on February 27, 2003, newspapers noted that he was not going to do that. His attorneys had a deadline to inform the court of their intent and did not do so. Because of the evidence of premeditation, as well as the admissions made afterward, an insanity defense would be difficult to pursue, despite Hulbert's clear history of mental instability. His trial was scheduled for March 17 in Loudoun County Circuit Court. In his defense, he stated, "I have always told Clara I would protect her. I could not kill him [Schwartz] without just cause. If I was not defending myself or someone I loved, I could not kill."

On March 10, 2003, at a 15-minute hearing a week before Hulbert's scheduled trial, he declared himself a murderer in court. He had decided that making a plea rather than going to trial was the right thing to do. Admitting regret for his actions and for ever having met Clara Schwartz, he said that she had manipulated him into doing what he had done. "I allowed myself to be poisoned," he was quoted as saying in the Washington Post, "Not a day goes by that I don't think about what I did."

Psychiatrist Howard Glick testified before sentencing that Hulbert had made up imaginary friends such as vampires and dragons to make him feel as if he had a sense of family. He had connected strongly with Clara, who also felt like an outsider and claimed that she'd been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and that had given him an even greater sense of family. She was now his sister, and he had to protect her. When she needed help, he got the chance to act on his fantasies of heroism and nobility. It was as simple as that, and as tragic.

Judge Horne acknowledged Hulbert's difficult life in and out of institutions and foster care, but said to him what he said to Clara: You are responsible for your actions. For the murder, Hulbert was sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole, and another 10 years was added concurrently for conspiracy charges.

Last to be sentenced was Katherine Inglis. Schwartz and Pfohl, on the advice of their attorneys, offered nothing to implicate her, so her case came to an end. There were no other leads to investigate to prove her part in the murder, aside from helping to cover it up. On November 14, 2003, she received a sentence of 12 months. At that time, the Washington Post noted, she had six more days to serve.
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  1. Thanks for posting this. My recent experience looking into the case of Destiny Blande, accused of the Satin Strangler murders, has made me more interested in how crimes that initially appear unrelated can be linked to a serial killer.

  2. Sometimes coincidences is mistaken for links in a series of killings. I don't think Destiyn Blande was guilty, for example, and blame it all on artificial links between the strangulations.


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