SWANTON — The Swanton Village Police Department announced Friday afternoon the discovery of new leads in the slaying of Betty and Sam, Swanton’s iconic swans.
The swans were a defining presence in Swanton for 54 years, until an unidentified four-legged assailant infiltrated Betty and Sam’s winter housing in 2015 and turned that prior summer into their unintentional swan song.
The new lead in their murder was uncovered by the Swanton Police investigator. Swanton Police Chief Leonard Stell said their hard work in the past year made this breakthrough possible.
“They’re not afraid to ruffle feathers,” Stell said.
Stell said the Swanton police spent the better part of the past year corroborating witness accounts from the night of the swans’ murder.
Detectives worked in collaboration with ornithologists and chiropterologists to translate birdcalls and bat behavior, and with game wardens to comfort anxious witnesses such as an eastern cottontail and a red fox. The latter was at one point the lead suspect in the case.
These collaborating agencies announced new evidence during a press conference in the family room of the Swanton Public Library: a swan feather, discovered in a mammalian bed near the Highgate border during a brief thaw two weeks ago.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Stell said. “There’s a connection here.”
Police declined to identify the bed’s owner, though crime scene photos obtained by the Messenger show an indentation approximately the size of a bear.
Police also refused to elaborate on whether evidence obtained from the scene creates a conclusive link between the feather and the murder, and there are skeptics that police can do so. Village manager Reg Beliveau Jr. said the area from which the feather was retrieved is his “favorite survey spot,” and that he often wears a felt fedora with a feather in the band while investigating potential unexplored funding opportunities for the village.
“I’m not saying it’s mine,” Beliveau said, “but I can’t say it isn’t.”
But police are convinced this feather is the first lead in the case against Betty and Sam’s killer.
“We know it’s a mammal now,” Stell said. “We didn’t have that before.”
The next step will be to try to reconstruct the sequence of events that carried the feather into the woodlands, not far from the location of the swans’ winter storage.
Police have enlisted Swanton Historical Society President Ron Kilburn to envision the feather’s path from the night of the murder to the woods, due to what Stell called Kilburn’s “unparalleled ability to recreate past events.”
A multitude of footprints on the crime scene confused the Swanton Police Department’s initial investigation. Stell said that what the department now believes to be bear tracks were initially misidentified as “belonging to a morbidly obese fox.”
The police department’s developing investigation could thwart Swanton library trustee and renowned local author Rebecca Rupp’s planned April science camp, in which local students would learn how to successfully clone deceased swans.
“Oh well,” Rupp said.
Members of the Swanton Arts Council volunteered at today’s conference to draw composite sketches of any potential suspects as soon as they are identified.
Swanton police have asked all residents, in both the town and the village, to report any sightings of suspicious bears.
“We can’t bear to drag this out any longer,” Stell said. No one laughed.