by Ivan Foley
Anne Swaney, 39, a Platte City native who had been working as a journalist in Chicago, was found murdered in the Central American country of Belize.
Swaney for the past 16 years had worked at ABC7, a television station in Chicago, where she served as the executive producer of online operations.
Her body was found Friday morning in a river near a horse farm where she was staying in western Belize. Authorities there said she died of strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head and neck. Belize investigators this week were continuing the investigation and the search for Swaney’s killer.
Belize authorities have questioned a man who was fishing at the river, but list him only as “a person of interest” in the investigation. The man denies any involvement, authorities said.
Swaney was a 1994 graduate of Platte County High School. She was also crowned queen of the 1994 Platte County Fair.
She was an avid world traveler whose passion for the outdoors and for riding horses took her all over the world, including Belize, where she was traveling alone last week.
According to reports by the television station where she worked, after a horse excursion filled up and was one horse short, Swaney volunteered to stay behind, opting to do yoga along the Mopan River.
Later in the day some of her personal items were noticed on a yoga platform near the river. When Swaney could not be located, a search began. A day later, Swaney’s body was found floating in the river.
The farm is in the Cayo District of western Belize. Swaney had been there previously and was friends with the owner of the farm, which offers tours on horseback.
The U.S. State Department notified Swaney’s family of her death and remains in contact.
Jack Swaney of Platte City, Anne’s father, in a conversation with The Landmark this week said officials are staying in touch with the family. As far as information about the investigation, Jack Swaney said he has been told nothing that hasn’t already been put out on the news.
“I’ve kind of removed myself from it. Because no matter what happens it isn’t going to change anything. But then someone wiser than me said that the investigation will get a killer off the streets, so maybe this won’t help me but it will help someone else.”
Jack Swaney, a retired dentist who has always been an avid supporter of Platte County schools and their athletic programs, added:
“It’s a very difficult time. Living in Platte City helps one cope with it a lot. It has helped us. So many wonderful people are reaching out to Ruth (his wife) and me. It means a lot.”
He added that “Anne Elizabeth had a very short life, a very full life. It hasn’t sunk in what we’ve lost. I miss her a lot.”
The full obituary for Anne is printed in Section B of this issue of The Landmark.
Her father said Anne returned to Platte City often, keeping in touch not only with family but also with a tight network of Platte City-area friends.
“She was here just last month,” Jack Swaney said.
Her family described her as “a reader, a writer, and a good and kind friend.”
Anne grew up in Platte City and in high school was a participant in many activities, including drama and journalism. In the issue of The Landmark that reported on her being named 1994 Platte County Fair Queen, her high school activities were listed as student council, theatrical productions, French Club, and forensics. She was sponsored for the contest by Wells Bank.
She graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in Chicago in 1998. Her quest for adventure had taken her all around the world. Some of her recent trips had included Turkey, Greece, Costa Rica, London and a cattle drive in the western United States.
News reports at her TV station were filled with praise from her co-workers.
“Anne was our leader. Anne wanted to make sure that every story we put online was first and foremost right,” said Kevin Carpenter, director of digital operations at ABC7 Chicago in a story on the stations’ web site. “There’s always going to be a spot there that we will miss.”
Another co-worker, Rose Powers, a web producer, said this:
“She was a light, a source of laughter and smiles, and a source of wisdom that’s really one of a kind.”
Jack Swaney told The Landmark that Anne’s employer is sending an investigator to Belize.
The U.S. State Department does not have a travel advisory to Belize but the country is “rated high for crime” on the State Department web site. No areas are closed to travel but the department urges visitors to exercise caution, particularly in southern Belize City and remote areas along Belize’s borders such as where Swaney was.
ABC7 Chicago reported obtaining photos from a canine search conducted Sunday afternoon in the area where Swaney’s body was found. Belize investigators, the station said, scoured the riverbank where she was found, looking for additional evidence. ABC7 said sources in Belize told them police are interviewing employees of the resort where Swaney was staying.
MEMORIES: “WE HAVE LOST A GEM”
The Landmark this week reached out to several local folks who knew her for their thoughts and memories of Anne Swaney.
Marcie McGinness Schuman had been lifelong friends with Anne.
“Anne and I met when I was 18 months,” she smiled. “She was the best childhood friend you could ever have. She would do anything for anyone.”
Schuman said Anne was one of a kind.
“I doubt there will be anyone in their world that I will meet like her. She was smart, she was funny, she had a smile that would light up a room. She was adventurous and selfless.”
Schuman said Swaney was a devoted and giving person.
“She would drop anything for anyone. She showed up every day. It didn’t matter what you were going through, she was checking on you, making sure you were okay. I was lucky to be a part of her life for 38 years.”
She added: “I think we have a blonde-haired, blue-eyed angel looking down on us.”
Becky Taulbee Wenzel, a friend who is a decade or so older than Anne, remembers watching Anne grow up in the same Platte City neighborhood.
“In watching her grow from a young girl to adulthood we could see a celebrity in the making. She would stand her ground with the boys in the neighborhood and she had her firm beliefs,” Wenzel told The Landmark.
“Anne wanted to be sure that everybody she cared deeply about was always happy. She was always there to help all of her friends.
“She always had a smile. She had beautiful blonde hair that always shined--she was like sunshine,” Wenzel recalled.
One of her fondest memories of Anne is a story involving Wenzel’s grandmother.
“My grandmother lived in a small apartment next to the Sweeney home when Anne was a child. My grandmother had the beginnings of Alzheimers, and she would look forward to her daily visits from young Anne. Anne would come over every day at about the same time. In later years when my grandmother could no longer remember Anne’s name, she referred to her as “the sunshine girl.” She was always a ray of sunshine, always so positive and cheerful for my grandmother.”
Tim McDowell is a former teacher at Platte County High School. Anne was a student in many of his classes, including civics, history and economics.
“We have lost one of our brightest stars. Short story if I may Anne was one of the stars of her class that took second in the State "We The People Congressional Hearings." She was notoriously stubborn and insistent of her position, especially when she felt snubbed. One of the young judges rubbed her the wrong way and she flew into him. The students in the room turned to me and said something to the effect that she ruined it for us. I tried to soothe it over by saying that she was a bit brusque, but the substance of her analysis was correct. If he was being fair, he would judge on her substance and not the tact.
“After judging, the young lawyer admitted he was baiting her, and he was pleased she had stood up to him. Students were amazed. She was one of the best. We have lost a gem.”