Update: A Couple Murdered, But Is the Convicted Man Innocent?

On March 11, 1985, a Black couple, Harold Swain, 66, and his wife Thelma, 63, were murdered in cold blood at their church, Rising Daughter Baptist in Waverly, Georgia. Harold, a deacon at the church, was there with Thelma attending bible study. There were 10 other church members there with them.

Eventually, an unknown White man entered the church and requested to speak to Harold. The unknown man and Harold got into a tussle, in which Thelma came rushing to her husband’s aid. Unfortunately, both she and Harold ended up shot dead on the floor. The unknown killer immediately fled the scene.

It took 18 years for there to be a conviction. In 2003, Dennis Perry, 58, was convicted of their murders. Testimony from Perry’s ex-girlfriend’s mother, Jane Beaver, claimed that Perry told her that he planned to kill Harold due to him laughing in Perry’s face when Perry asked for money. Beaver would continue to play an important role in Perry’s conviction. However, there was a lot of speculation around whether Perry actually committed the crime, since there was no physical evidence linking him to the scene. For this reason, the case was reopened.

Initially, investigators were looking at Erik Sparre as a possible suspect. Sparre’s ex-wife revealed to authorities that there was a tape of him saying he killed the “two n——in that church.” However, in 1986 suspicion around Sparre was dropped when someone identifying himself as Sparre’s boss called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and said that Sparre was working the night of the murders, so he couldn’t have killed them.

Investigators did find a pair of glasses at the murder scene that had hair attached to them. They tested the hair against Perry and there was no match. However, they were tested against Sparre’s mother’s DNA and there was a match. There was also a statement from Sparre’s ex-wife about how he was a person who “hated Blacks.” His second ex-wife admitted to Sparre telling her that he did indeed kill the Swains. Sparre has denied all allegations and claims he is not a racist. 

Update: On July 23, 2020, Dennis Perry was released from prison after being arrested for the Swain’s murder twenty years ago. New DNA evidence has come out pointing to Erik Sparre as a suspect who was at the crime scene. For this reason, the judge overturned Perry’s conviction.  

Erik Sparre has not been charged as the investigation is still ongoing. Once the results of the investigation are in, the District Attorney’s Office can decide how they will like to move forward with the case.  

See the original Unsolved Mystery segment on this case streaming in Season 1, Episode 6 with Robert Stack and Season 8, Episode 4 with Dennis Farina.

For a list of where you can stream this episode, please go to https://unsolved.com/watch/


  1. Mickey Jones

    Race did okay a role in this case! The murder itself was committed by someone who likely hated Blacks. Facts. Also the sloopy approach and lack of dedication and lack of resources directed to solve the case are likely due to race. Sadly, it’s just the way the American Judicial System operates. Also, it’s the south.


  2. Greg

    How much you wanna bet whoever killed Harold and Thelma is related to Dylann Roof?


  3. L

    I am an aspiring forensic scientist and am looking into this case. I agree on most peoples points on that race shouldn’t be used as much as it is in stories, we are all human at the end of the day.


  4. Steph

    Tom, I could not agree with you more. Everything you said in your most recent post in on point. Let’s all focus on the case details and prioritize them. This case is indeed a miscarriage of justice! Not every case is a hate crime – racially motivated. But once the media or BLM mentions Black or White it turns into a catastrophic event before the case is even properly investigated and we are not privy to all the details and evidence. Everybody needs to relax. Because this racial upheaval is causing more divisiveness. It’s not just black people that are discriminated against either. All lives matter. Like Tom said, there are many more factors involved here and each case is completely different from the next. And those who are wrongfully convicted deserve the utmost priority and attention as well no matter what race they are, which the majority are blacks too. Those who are unaffected should be just as outraged by those who are. NO MATTER WHAT RACE YOU ARE. Furthermore, there is no coincidence no this is an election year and all of this chaos and upheaval is going on. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the media and other organizations are deliberately antagonizing people and inciting anger and violence. This is not the answer. Peace is. Everybody needs to come together and stop hating and start loving, helping and supporting one another. We’re in a pandemic. Stop. Think. Pray. Help others. Regarding this case, let’s get this innocent man out of jail like so many others and the right scumbag in jail for these horrible murders of this innocent couple.


  5. Tom

    The problem Tegan is this case happened in 1985. I remember watching it as a kid on Unsolved. It went unsolved for a long time which is why I think it stayed in my memory so long. So any time card or evidence is long gone. The major problem with this case is that there probably an innocent man who has done 17 years in jail based on his ex girlfriends mothers comments. No DNA evidence nothing. Think about that. This crap happens all the time. Watch the Oprah Netflix series the New York Park 5 I think it was. 5 kids basically one who was 16 legally an adult but semi retarded all got convicted with no physical evidence. I get sometimes in a court room you need a circumstantial case due to smart villains who will burn a body of whatever but jurors are way to easily swayed by the news of even a victim. Convicted by an exs s parent. Really think about any bad break up u might have had. They twist your words around in a court and your innocent but you get life. I would hate to think about what my Current in-laws would say about me in court as I’m kinda out there and my wife is quite normal. I’m like a oddity to them. Then this case is be tied up because of one of the current crop of bad cases going on in our country today. As for the mothers DNA matching its called Familar DNA or something like that. Cops in some case will put DNA with no name into a computer database and instead of a full match they get partial matches which will point to a cousin of the perpetrator of some other family member. To match the mother it has to be close. The thing about this case and our whole country that sickens me is we are basically living in a war zone now. Protesting black lives matter and what not while all lives are in danger. We are in a war zone basically. I could get coughed on today in the store and that could kill me and my 5 year old son. Racism is horrible but it’s not any where where it was 30 to 50 years ago. Black people are some of the most respected and worshipped people we have in the usa. Athletes musicians etc. Michael Jackson was probably molesting kids and was and still is worshipped. A lot of these black lives protesting have to do with bad policing and not race. 9 minutes with a knee on a neck full weight is murder that cop knew better but I haven’t a seen much else to show it’s about race. Corana is going on and people are protesting without masks. It’s a big deal that a white actor is doing a black mans voice in a cartoon. Apu and Cleveland Brown are big issues while a innocent man has done 17 years in jail and that case is on hold. Odds are this case on Unsolved has 10 times more to do with racial issues than anything today. That deacon and his wife grew up im sure with racial violence. They dident protest anything they worked there butts off and when there golden years arrived instead of retiring to enjoy the fruits of there labor they were murdered by a racist piece of garbage who told his exwife (still not the best witness but better than a ex girlfriends mother) he killed those 2 n words in that church. The guys a piece of garbage and the police had him as the murderer from the get go and he has DNA that partially matches him at the scene. No protests to put that guy behind bars. No protests to get the innocent man out of jail. Protests because Cleveland Brown is voiced by a white man. Protests because Apu is voiced by one of the best voice men there is. Between those 2 voiced there is 50 years of those same guys doing those voices and no one cared. 50 years. But know black lives matter. They have always mattered. As have all whites Mexicans etc. All this with corana going on. Ours courts are messed up. The police are messed up. Our jails are messed up. It’s way to easy to put an innocent man behind bars and way too hard to get them out. But this case is not a priorty. This case and everything it represents is what’s wrong with America. God help us all. And it seems that no one cares about this case or the fact that a guilty racist is free and an innocent man has done 17 years with no rush to fix it. If anybody cared it wouldn’t be just on Unsolved it would be on ABC NBC etc. I’m just a white nobody from a nothing town but maybe one of you protesters would protest for the Swains because apparently they have been forgotten. There lives mattered. Dennis Perry’s life matters. Especially if he is truly innocent. 17 years in prison because of something his ex girlfriends mother said. Protest the bad police work. Protest the bad court system. Protest for all lives and celebrate your black heritage without separating blacks from whites and etc. Now black actors have to do black cartoon voices. I thought segregation had ended years ago. When cartoon voices and who voices gets more time in news papers than this case it’s messed up. Maybe protest the news services too.


  6. tegan

    how about finding the tape, or his time card? the only physical evidence seems to be dna on the glasses that matches sparr’s mother. are they using that as proof that it’s her son’s dna? his dna would be different than hers.


  7. Tom

    With all the racial stuff in the news I’m shocked this Is not on a bigger news channel. It should be. A lot of what is going on in the world right now is not about race it’s about bad policeman or sloppy police work etc but it does look like the guy who left DNA at the church (who is not in jail by the way) was a known racist. All three witnesses in this story are bad witnesses. Ex wife, a random mysterious boss who talks the cops into stop investigating the guilty person with no proof ( more bad police work), and an ex girlfriends mother who basically put a man into prison with no evidence. You want to talk racially motivated what chance does a white man have in prison after murdering two religious elderly black people. One a deacon no less. If he was guilty I would say hes got it coming but odds are he is innocent because DNA from the scene matches a know racist who bragged about killing two n words in a church. And this case appears to not be a priority. The courts are just as bad as the cops.


  8. A White Woman

    Unfortunately, evidence in this case suggests that this couple was killed because they were black. “There was also a statement from Sparre’s ex-wife about how he was a person who “hated Blacks.” If this was a case where someone was racist towards another race, it would be just as important to mention. However, I do still see news articles where the first thing they do is describe a person as black and it is not even relevant to the story so i see where you are coming from.


  9. Sharelle

    My thoughts exactly black, white, green or blue skin colour shouldn’t be so heavily used in stories.
    No one deserves to be murdered


  10. A Black Man

    Why does it have to start off “ On March 11, 1985, a Black couple,…” three everything off . It’s hardly ever I see “ The white couple “.. Bad enough the BLACK cases don’t get much exposure as the WHITE cases


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