A Florida man who fundraised over $2,000 following the death of his husband has now been charged with his murder and evidence tampering after allegedly “staging a fake crime scene”.
Herbert Swilley, 55, was taken into police custody on Friday, months after his husband Timothy Smith was found dead at their apartment in Ocala in March – following a wellness check.
According to Marion County Sheriff’s Office, 59-year-old Smith was found with “a dark ligature mark on his neck and blunt-force trauma to his face and genitalia”. Police had investigated after Mr Smith did not show up for work the previous day.
The subsequent investigation found that shortly before his death, Smith had been dosed with a large amount of the drug diphenhydramine – a type of antihistamine – that was 30 times higher than the normal therapeutic dose.
According to police, Mr Swilley had then murdered his husband by choking him to death with “an unknown ligature” and “fracturing his cervical spine”. Mr Swilley then transported the body from their shared residence to a nearby apartment that they maintained.
“Once there, Swilley placed Timothy’s body inside, staged a fake crime scene, and attempted to destroy evidence using household cleaning agents,” a police press release stated.
“Swilley returned to their residence and then drove Timothy’s vehicle to the apartment where he left it.”
The sheriff’s department said that after returning to his residence, Mr Swilley had accessed the ring cameras from the property – and that footage from the night of the incident was later unrecoverable by detectives.
A few hours later, he had driven to a landfill site and dropped off “what appeared to be two carpets from their residence before going about his day”.
Investigators discovered that Mr Swilley stood to profit from his husband’s death, as he was listed as the beneficiary of his life insurance policies, which totaled $333,000.
He also set up a GoFundMe and raised more than $2,200 in donations for a "celebration of life," according to NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa. A GoFundMe spokesperson told the outlet that the page has since been removed and all donors were refunded.
Initially, Mr Swilley pretended to be cooperative with law enforcement and provided them with a preliminary statement. According to the sheriff’s office, many of the things he told investigators “were false, self-serving, or contradicted by other evidence”.
“When detectives sought to reinterview Swilley about these discrepancies, Swilley’s attorney indicated that he would only cooperate if he was provided with immunity from prosecution for Timothy’s murder,” the department said.
The investigation also revealed that Smith had previously suffered domestic abuse by Mr Swilley. It was also learned that Smith was close to securing a new job in another county and was planning to relocate there without Swilley.
Last week Marion County Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant for Mr Swilley’s arrest. He was charged with premeditated murder in the first degree and tampering with evidence.
Smith’s sister, Sandy Riels, said the arrest was "bittersweet" but long overdue, and there had been “red flags” surrounding her brother’s death.
"It was bitter because it reminded me that I didn’t have my brother anymore and then joy because he had been finally arrested,” she told NBC.
She told the outlet that the family “did not want to be around” Mr Swilley and had “a bad feeling” about him. “He was real arrogant,” she said.
Mr Swilley was named as a suspect in the case on 8 August. The same day he posted an anniversary post to his late-husband, in which he said Smith would “always be in my heart”.
"To be honest, I miss you every day and wish you were here. Life isn’t the same without you. I miss your smile and your loving spirit,” he wrote.
Mr Swilley is currently being held in the Marion County Jail without bond.