Real Name: Amber Jean Swartz
Nicknames: Am, A.J., Amber is also referred to as Amber Swartz-Garcia or Amber Garcia-Swartz
Location: Pinole, California
Date: June 3, 1988
Date of Birth: August 19, 1980
Height: 4' 0"
Weight: 65 lbs.
Marital Status: Inapplicable
Characteristics: Amber used a hearing aid and took the medication Fiornal for chronic headaches at the time of her disappearance. Neither were with her when she vanished.
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 the two 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 her 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. The socks 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 the questions 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 his van's 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 those cases. He was also questioned extensively in Amber's case 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 children. 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 Angela Bugay. Five-year-old Angela 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 Bindner 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 Bindner's way of taunting her.
Thirteen days after Amber's disappearance, a bloodhound traced Amber's scent to Angela's grave-site. The FBI stated that the dog also picked up her scent in Bindner'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 abduction, 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, 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 Garecht, Ilene Misheloff, and Nikki Campbell remain missing and Angela Bugay's murder remains unsolved.
Suspects: Tim Binder remains the prime suspect in Amber's disappearance, along with the disappearances of Ilene, Michaela, and Nikki. He is considered a suspect because of his odd behavior surrounding the disappearance. Amber's scent was also found in his van and at the grave-site of a young murder victim that he often visited. 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.
Results: Unresolved. In 2009, investigators announced that they had identified Amber's killer. In 2007, convicted child killer Curtis Dean Anderson confessed to her abduction and subsequent murder. He claimed that he drugged her and took her to a motel where he suffocated her. After her death, he dumped her body somewhere near Benson, Arizona. He said that he purposely taunted cops with false information, which Kim believed was another one of his acts. Anderson died one month after his confession.
In recent years, a petition to reopen the Pinole Police Department stranger abduction case was launched and in the fall of 2013 the case was subsequently reopened. Kim believes that Anderson was lying when he confessed. Investigators are trying to corroborate or refute his confession.
- Amber Swartz on Wikipedia
- Amber Swartz on Unsolved Archive
- Amber Swartz on The Charley Project
- Amber on Lets Find Them
- Girls' Disappearances Shake East Bay
- Keeping watch / She doubts her daughter will ever come home
- Pinole Police Announce Killer of Amber Swartz-Garcia
- Amber Swartz Missing: Case Of California Girl Who Disappeared In 1988 Reopened