Real Name: Amber Jean Swartz
Nicknames: Am, A.J.; Amber's last name is also referred to as Swartz-Garcia or Garcia-Swartz
Location: Pinole, California
Date: June 3, 1988
Date of Birth: August 19, 1980
Weight: 65 lbs.
Marital Status: Inapplicable
Characteristics: Caucasian female with blonde hair and blue eyes. Amber used a hearing aid and took the medication Fiorinal for chronic headaches at the time of her disappearance. Neither were with her when she vanished. Amber's ears are pierced.
Details: Twenty-eight-year-old Kim Swartz was married to police officer Floyd "Bernie" Swartz and pregnant with their first child when tragedy struck. On May 3, 1980, Floyd was shot and killed in the line of duty. A few months later, she gave birth to a daughter named Amber. Tragedy struck again on June 3, 1988; as Kim was making dinner, seven-year-old Amber asked if she could jump rope outside. Although her friend, Debbie, and daughter, Marisa, were coming over in a few minutes, Kim said okay. When they showed up at the Swartz home, they asked where Amber was. Kim and her friends could not find her outside. After searching the neighborhood, they realized that she had been abducted.
Clues to Amber's disappearance immediately popped up after she was last seen. The day after her kidnapping, a pair of pink socks were found in a park near her house; Kim believed they belonged to her. They had not been there the night before. FBI agents asked Kim some oddly specific questions, such as: "Had Amber received anything unusual in the mail?" or "Had Amber ever come home with something that she couldn't explain who it came from?" or "Have you received phone calls from someone you didn't know?" Because they were so specific, she felt that they had to be about somebody.
Three days after Amber vanished, a man named Tim Binder showed up at Kim's front door and became extremely emotional about Amber. She noticed that his van had Amber's missing posters attached to its sides. She also noticed that its license plate said "LOVE YOU". Strangely, when he turned away and looked back at her, he stated, "Of course, now we are looking for a dead body." This was the first time anyone had said that to her. Feeling creeped out, Kim told him to leave.
Kim discovered that he was known to various law enforcement agencies throughout the San Francisco area where she resided. She became suspicious of him when she learned that over the course of a decade, several young girls vanished mysteriously along the Interstate 80 corridor. In some of those cases, he took it upon himself to search for them. He was considered a "person of interest" in all of them. He was also questioned extensively in this one and given a polygraph test, but those results were inconclusive. Kim now believes that pointed questions that she was asked by FBI agents were about him.
Binder's attorney, John Burris, stated that his actions weren't suspicious and that he was just a concerned person who decided to look for the missing girls. As Kim spent more time with him, she realized that he had a dark side; he apparently visited cemeteries, sometimes even in the dead of night, and had an apparent attraction to the graves of specific girls, including five-year-old Angela Bugay. She was abducted in November 1983, and was later found sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Binder was put under surveillance and the FBI discovered that he went to her grave up to ninety times.
Kim decided to stay "friends" with Binder in order to get closer to him. However, he often left bizarre voicemails that she believed was him "toying" with her emotions. He also suggested books to her, which he claimed would help her deal with Amber's disappearance. One was "Crime and Punishment" which involves the suspect visiting crime scenes, getting close to the victims' families, and trying to get involved with the cases. She felt that this was Binder's way of taunting her.
Thirteen days after Amber's disappearance, a bloodhound traced Amber's scent to Angela's grave. The FBI stated that the dog also picked it up in Binder's van. However, California courts are often leery about the reliability of bloodhound evidence. Sadly, five months after Amber vanished, the area was rocked by another crime: the abduction of nine-year-old Michaela Garecht from a Hayward market. Her friend witnessed the abduction. Investigators believed that Binder was in the area at the time of the abduction.
Two months later, thirteen-year-old Ilene Misheloff vanished from Dublin, California, and Binder helped in the search. A few years later, a mother in Fairfield called the police and said that her daughter had received mail from Binder. The letters were written backwards and had to be held up to a mirror to be read. Just a few blocks away from their house, four-year-old Nikki Campbell vanished while she played in the driveway. Four days after her disappearance, her scent was tracked to Angela's grave.
Fairfield police decided to search Binder's house but found nothing. However, in wake of the search, a man called Kim. He said that on the afternoon of Amber's disappearance, he had seen a young girl thrown into a car by an unidentified man at Alvarado park. The witness had his niece write down the man's license plate number, and they called the police. Authorities didn't believe that the unknown man who may have kidnapped Amber was Binder, as the car was traced to a junked vehicle in Los Angeles and the physical description wasn't similar to his. Binder believed his image was tarnished, so he sued the city of Fairfield and they settled out of court for $90,000. He was not charged in any of the missing girls' disappearances.
To this day, Kim continues to search for Amber. She is the creator of the Amber Foundation for Missing Children which teaches about child abductions and how to prevent them. Amber, Michaela, Ilene, and Nikki remain missing and Angela's murder remains unsolved.
Suspects: Tim Binder remains the prime suspect in Amber's disappearance, along with those of Ilene, Michaela, and Nikki. He is considered a suspect because of his odd behavior surrounding them. Amber's scent was also found in his van and at Angela'grave. However, he doesn't fit the description of a man thought to be Amber's kidnapper.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the June 13, 2002 episode. It had previously been mentioned in that of Michaela Garecht, which originally aired on January 18, 1989. It was also profiled on America’s Most Wanted and Missing: Reward. Although not mentioned by her name, Amber was referenced on an episode of FBI: Criminal Pursuit, which focused two other crimes committed by Anderson.
Results: Unresolved. In June 2002, police dug up the yard of former priest Stephen Kiesle's vacation home, hoping to find evidence in this case. He lived down the street from her at the time of her disappearance. He was arrested in May for molesting three girls at a church in Fremont. Fourteen others came forward and accused him of abuse. Many of the victims matched Amber's age and description. However, no evidence was found at his home. It is not known if he still is a suspect in this case.
In July 2009, investigators announced that they had identified Amber's killer. In 2007, convicted child rapist and killer Curtis Dean Anderson confessed to her abduction and subsequent murder. He claimed that he wanted "company" on a road trip to his aunt's house in Arizona. He was familiar with the Pinole area and spotted Amber in her front yard. After pulling her into his car, he drugged her and took her to a motel where he suffocated her. After her death, he dumped her body somewhere near Benson, Arizona, off of Highway 10.
Investigators confirmed that Anderson was in the Pinole area at the time of Amber's abduction. However, they could not find any physical evidence to corroborate the confession. Anderson said that he purposely taunted cops with false information. He died in December 2007, one month after his confession. Prior to his death, he also confessed to several other murders; however, police were unable to connect any other crimes to him.
This case was officially closed after the announcement was made. In recent years, a petition to reopen the Pinole Police Department stranger abduction case was launched and in fall 2013 this one was subsequently reopened. Kim believes that Anderson was lying when he confessed. Investigators are trying to corroborate or refute his confession.
- Amber Swartz on Unsolved Archive
- Amber Swartz on Wikipedia
- Amber Swartz on The Charley Project
- Police seek identity of girl's captor - June 6, 1988
- FBI joins search for two kidnapped girls - June 7, 1988
- 60 celebrate birthday of missing girl - August 21, 1988
- Lost child search brings celebs out to fundraiser - October 20, 1988
- Police probe call from "Amber" - January 21, 1989
- Girls' Disappearances Shake East Bay - February 15, 1989
- Police search for clues to 1988 disappearance - November 10, 1995
- Police search former priest's vacation home near Lake Tahoe for missing girl - June 7, 2002
- Keeping watch/She doubts her daughter will ever come home - June 6, 2002
- Pinole Police Announce Killer of Amber Swartz-Garcia - July 7, 2009
- Police solve Amber Swartz-Garcia case - July 7, 2009
- Police crack 1988 case - July 7, 2009
- Police crack cold case - July 7, 2009
- 20 Year Missing Girl Mystery Ends in Tragedy, Say Police - July 8, 2009
- Amber Swartz on Lets Find Them - August 11, 2012
- Pinole Police Reopen Amber Swartz Garcia Case - October 1, 2013
- Amber Swartz Missing: Case of California Girl Who Disappeared In 1988 Reopened - October 3, 2013
- Mom Hopes DNA Testing Can Unlock Answers About 7-Year-Old Daughter Abducted From Yard in 1988 - November 15, 2019
- Amber Swartz on Find a Grave
- Curtis Dean Anderson on FBI Website