Carrie Nelson

Carrie Nelson

November 24, 2020

"What is an evil man? The man is evil who coerces obedience to his private ends, destroys beauty, produces pain, extinguishes life."

-Jack Vance

It was the 20th of May 2001. A Sunday. Twenty year old Carrie Nelson was working at the Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County in southwestern Minnesota, United States. She attended college in South Dakota but had been working at the Blue Mounds State Park part time for two years. She was a seasonal worker there. Her main role involved her working in the contact station which was located at the park entrance. She had to greet visitors to the park and she sold vehicle and camping permits to campers. Carrie enjoyed working there as it was an active role and she got to meet a lot of different people. 

At the Blue Mounds State Park, there was a campground, climbing sites, an interpretive center, a park residence and a contact station. On the 20th of May, Carrie was working the 8am to 3.30pm shift. There was just one other employee working with her that day. Rebecca White worked as the interpretive center host but as it was only her second day working at the park, Carrie spent most of the day showing her around. Rebecca's father, Richard White, was the manager at the Blue Mounds State Park and that day, he was at home with his wife. They lived in the residence on the park grounds. 

Blue Mounds State Park Carrie Nelson

Blue Mounds State Park

At 12.45pm, Rebecca left the contact station and took the park motor vehicle to the interpretive center. Carrie was alone in the contact station when Rebecca left. The interpretive center was on the other side of the park. Rebecca was finished at the interpretive center just before 2pm and she went to her house to get changed. It was raining that day and she wanted to change her clothes. Rebecca lived with her parents at the residence on the park grounds.

Rebecca went back to the contact station a little after 2.30pm. She entered via the back entrance and saw Carrie lying on the floor. She saw there was blood on Carrie's ear and it looked like Carrie had been attacked. At the same time, Rebecca heard the sound of someone entering the contact station via the front door so she ran out the back door and across to her home and told her parents that something had happened to Carrie. Rebecca was afraid that whoever entered the station via the front door was the same person who had attacked Carrie.  Her mother called 911 and Richard ran to the contact station. He checked Carrie's pulse and discovered that she was dead. He called 911, locked the front door and turned the open sign to closed and lowered the shades.

The person who had entered via the front door was a visitor to the park and was looking to purchase a permit. When she went inside she saw that there was a fax machine receiver hanging down from its cord and as she walked closer towards the counter, she could see Carrie on the ground behind the counter. She left the station and called 911.

Carrie Nelson

Carrie Nelson

Three 911 calls were made that day from the park. The first call was from Richard's wife Rhonda at 2.44pm. The second call was from Richard and the third was from a visitor to the park. 

At 3.30pm, Carrie's boyfriend, Mike Kellen, called her. He knew she was due to leave work at that time. He was at a wake in Windom. Carrie did not answer her phone so he called the office phone but there was no answer. Mike did not know it then but Carrie was already dead. 

Police arrived at the park minutes after the 911 calls were placed. Two gray bank bags were missing from the contact station and the cash in the safe, around $2000, was also missing. It looked like a struggle had taken place inside the contact station as there was paper scattered all over the back area of the station and the fax machine receiver was hanging from its cord. 

There was blood on the floor and ceiling of the office and on the counter. A chair armrest was broken and there were broken pieces of plastic from the chair on the office floor. A piece of a Blue Mounds engraved rock was on the floor next to Carrie. The engraved rock was an item that was kept in the office but police could not find the rest of the rock. A packet of Doral Light 100's cigarettes and a broken field ranger wristwatch were found on the floor beside Carrie's body.

Police spoke to everyone at the park. A couple who were camping at the park told police that they saw Carrie outside the contact station at 1.30pm that afternoon. A camper saw Carrie inside the contact station at 1.52pm as they went inside to purchase a permit from her. Police found a letter Carrie had been writing to her boyfriend. She had put the date and time on it. The time was 2pm. Police believed that she was attacked between 2pm and 2.30pm, give or take a few minutes. The couple camping at the park told police that they saw a two-door Oldsmobile or Monte Carlo, a large white car with a brown vinyl top , drive past the campsite just before 2.30pm. It was speeding. 

Carrie's death was ruled as a homicide. The Autopsy determined that her cause of death was the result of blunt force trauma and there were multiple traumatic injuries to her head. Carrie had been struck on the head a minimum of five times but the Pathologist believed the number of times she was struck may have been greater than that. The Pathologist determined that the blows to Carrie's head were carried out with a great deal of force. A flat, reddish-colored rock engraved with a buffalo and the words Blue Mounds State Park was missing from the contact station. It was later found in a creek. The Pathologist determined that that rock was likely used to inflict Carrie's head injuries. A piece of that rock was found beside Carrie's body inside the office. 

Police obtained DNA samples from the contact station. All bloodstains matched Carrie's DNA. Five DNA mixtures, profiles that contain the DNA of three or more individuals, were present on the broken wristwatch that was found close to Carrie's body. A search of the Minnesota Forensic Database and other DNA sample databases for a profile that matched the unknown DNA samples from the watch resulted in no matches. And as a result, the case went cold.

In the years that followed, DNA techniques improved and the DNA found on the wristwatch was looked at again. A cleaner mixture was obtained as a result of the new techniques and due to that, police carried out a further search of the Minnesota DNA databases in April 2007 and a search of the databases from surrounding states.

The State of South Dakota found a possible match. Randy Leeroyal Swaney. Randy was in prison in South Dakota at the time and police obtained a new DNA sample from him. It was confirmed that he could not be eliminated as a contributor to any of the DNA mixtures found on the watch. Further searches determined that his wife, Dawn Swaney, could have contributed to some of the DNA mixtures on the watch as well.

Randy Swaney

Randy Swaney

Randy's name was not mentioned earlier in the investigation. He was not one of the visitors listed at the park that day and there was no known connection between him and Carrie. So police needed more evidence than the DNA mixture from the watch. 

Randy's finger and palm prints were compared against latent prints found in the contact station and two palm prints found on the counter at the contact station were identified as Randy's and his right palm print, left palm print, and left thumb print were found on a 2001 Blue Mound Writers Series flyer. The flyers were found scattered on the floor of the contact station beside Carrie's body.  

Police spoke to Dawn Swaney and checked out her alibi for the day Carrie was murdered. Police confirmed Dawn was at work that day. But they hoped she would assist them with their investigation. She allowed police to search a storage unit she rented and police found some family photos that helped with the investigation. Randy was in some of the photos wearing a field ranger wristwatch and smoking Doral Light 100's. There were other photos that showed him driving a cream colored 1984 Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a brown vinyl top.

Randy Swaney

After police spoke to Dawn, she spoke to Randy on the prison phone. The call was recorded. She asked him if he was involved in Carrie's murder and mentioned a time in May 2001 when the car was damaged. He told Dawn that he was not involved and that he had never even been to Blue Mounds State Park.

In 2007,a grand jury indicted Randy for seven counts of murder. The indictment contained three counts of first degree murder and four counts of second degree murder.

Randy pleaded not guilty.

It was the Prosecution's case that Carrie was killed by Randy during a burglary at the park office. They believed that he thought the contact station was empty that day when he went inside and he took the money from the cash register. It was the Prosecution's case that Carrie confronted him and he hit her, possibly on the nose, and dragged her into the back room so that she would open the safe. As he dragged her, they believed he applied pressure to her neck and her top and necklace were used as ligatures. It was their case that as soon as he got the money from the safe, Randy struck Carrie a number of times across the head with the engraved rock so that she would not be able to identify him. 

The Prosecution called witnesses who testified in relation to the DNA and print evidence that was found in the contact station. One of the employees from the park gave evidence that she put the 2001 Blue Mound Writers Series flyers on display in the office just four days before Carrie was murdered.

Members of Randy's own family testified he smoked Doral Light 100's hard packs, often wore a wristwatch, and owned a 1984 Oldsmobile Delta 88 in 2001.

Randy Swaney

Randy Swaney's Watch

The Jury heard from two inmates. One testified that Randy was familiar with the Blue Mounds State Park and knew his watch was left at the scene of Carrie's murder. The second inmate said that after police spoke to Randy in relation to Carrie's murder, Randy told him that "they got me this time" and "I'm gonna do life."

It was the Defense's case that Randy was not at the park that day and did not murder Carrie. Randy testified at his Trial. He said that on that day, the 20th of May 2001, he was driving the Oldsmobile but he went to Vermillion in South Dakota. He spent time there that day fishing. Randy told the Court that he was alone that day. He said he crashed the car into a tree stump on the way home and that was what caused damage to the car. 

Despite Randy initially claiming he had never even been to Blue Mounds State Park, he testified that he may have visited the contact station at some stage to ask about the camping rates. But he said he wasn't there in May 2001. The Prosecution asked him for an explanation as to how his finger and palm prints were found on a 2001 Blue Mound Writers Series flyer if he had not visited in May. The Court had already heard from an employee at the park who testified that she only put those flyers out four days before Carrie's murder. Randy could not provide an explanation. 

It was the Defense's case that the inmates were lying. They told the Court and submitted evidence in relation to inconsistencies in one of the inmate's account and that he was known as a "prison rat." The cellmate of the second inmate who gave evidence on behalf of the Prosecution was called to give evidence on behalf of the Defense. He claimed that Randy did not say "they got me this time" and "I'm gonna do life" after the police spoke to him. 

The Defense argued that another man may be responsible for Carrie's murder. They introduced alternative perpetrator evidence regarding Anthony Flowers. Anthony escaped from prison in South Dakota and was on the run from the 1st of May 2001 until the 1st of June 2001. An inmate, Stephen Layton, testified at Randy's Trial that Anthony told them that he murdered Carrie and he was there that day with a woman. But the Prosecution believed that Anthony wanted to be blamed for the murder as it would mean he would not have to move to a different prison. 

The Jury deliberated for six hours. They found Randy guilty on three counts of first degree murder and four counts of second degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of release.

At his sentencing hearing, Randy addressed Carrie's family and told them he was innocent. He told them that there is "still a murderer out there." 



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