Body found at murder suspect's grandmother's Montana home

2013-06-27T09:21:00Z 2013-06-27T15:44:25Z Body found at murder suspect's grandmother's Montana homeBy JENNY MICHAEL | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. - The body of a teenager missing from Bismarck may have been found in Poplar, Mont., buried in the yard of a murder suspect's grandmother.

John Swain, 18, was reported missing in mid-May. The investigation into his death became a homicide investigation last week after a Bismarck woman found clothes Swain was believed to have been wearing in a burn barrel along with a knife and pieces of a cellphone.

Theo James Crowe, 25, was charged Tuesday with Class AA felony murder in the case. He is being held in the Williams County Jail on unrelated charges and has not made a court appearance on the murder charge.

Residents of Poplar, Mont., said on Wednesday investigators were digging in Crowe's grandmother's yard. Bismarck Police Deputy Chief Randy Ziegler said the Roosevelt County, Mont., Sheriff's Department worked with investigators from Bismarck to serve search warrants at the home and found a body. He would not confirm that the body was that of Swain. An autopsy is being planned for positive identification.

Swain had moved to Bismarck recently from Sioux Falls, S.D., and his roommate reported him missing on May 14. The last the roommate had heard from Swain was a text message on May 11. Swain had a medical condition and didn't have his medication with him, so police put out a statewide welfare check for him.

A woman at 420½ N. 22nd St. in Bismarck reported finding some burnt items in a trash can in a shed at her home on June 20. Among the items were clothing that investigators determined matched clothing Swain was wearing when he was last seen, a knife and pieces of a cellphone.

The woman had been out of state from May 5 to May 31 and had let Crowe stay at her home. She told police after finding the items in the trash can that she also found blood on the floor in the home when she returned.

Police have taken evidence, including cuttings of carpet and subfloor, from the home, according to a search warrant inventory. They also have searched a 2012 Buick Regal with Wyoming license plates as part of the case.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader has reported that detectives told Swain's father that Swain may have gone to a party a few houses down from where he was staying in Bismarck on May 11 and may have met Crowe at the party. Police believe Crowe and Swain had just met on the day police believe Swain was killed. A complaint in the case accuses Crowe of murdering Swain between May 10 and May 17.

Police have said Crowe recently made a trip to his hometown of Poplar, about an hour west of Williston. Court documents list Crowe's current address as Trenton, which is southwest of Williston.

According to the U.S. Army, Crowe received a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Army in February as part of a sentence imposed by a court martial. The allegations in the case involved theft, drugs and striking another soldier while Crowe was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas in July 2011. He was confined at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Fort Sill for more than 1½ years of his three years, nine months and 22 days in the Army.

Crowe also faces unrelated charges of terrorizing, disorderly conduct and simple assault in Williams County. In that case, he is accused of assaulting a woman who was taking him home when he was drunk on June 13, then of threatening a deputy and a security officer and making profane statements at a hospital. He is in the custody of the Williams County Jail in lieu of $10,000 cash or surety bond. His next court hearing in that case is scheduled for July 23. His attorney in that case told The Associated Press that Crowe likely will plead not guilty.

Reach Jenny Michael at 701-250-8225 or

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