Amber Jean Swartz-Garcia

Amber Jean Swartz-Garcia was the first child of Kim Swartz and Floyd “Bernie” Swartz. Sadly, Floyd was shot and killed whilst working as a police officer on the 3rd of May 1980, just 3 months before Amber was born on the 19th of August 1980.

Amber lived with her mother, Kim, in Pinole, California. She had to use a hearing aid and was taking the medication Fiorinal for headaches at the time of her disappearance.

On the 3rd of June, 1988, seven-year-old Amber asked her mum if she could go and jump rope outside. Amber’s friends, Debbie and Marsia, were supposed to be coming over anyway, so Kim said okay. However, when Amber’s friends arrived, they asked where Amber was as she was not outside.

After quickly searching the neighbourhood, Kim realised that Amber had been abducted.

Amber Swartz-Garcia. Credit: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

The day after Amber went missing a pair of pink socks that Kim believes belonged to Amber were found in a park close to her house, and they had not been there the day before.

Three days after Amber had disappeared, a man called Tim Binder showed up at Kim’s door. He was extremely upset about Amber. Kim noticed that Tim’s van had Amber’s missing posters all over it, and the license plate of the van was “LOVE YOU”. However, when Tim turned away and looked back at her, he said “Of course, now we are looking for a dead body.”

This was the first time anyone had said anything like this to Kim, and she started to feel creeped out, so she asked Tim to leave.

Tim was known to authorities because over the course of 10 years several young girls had gone missing along the Interstate 80 corridor. In several of these cases, Tim took it upon himself personally to go and look for them. Tim was considered a “person of interest” in all of the cases he got involved in.

Tim had been questioned intensively and even given a polygraph test that came back inconclusive.

The FBI asked Kim some oddly specific questions at the beginning of the investigation, such as: “Had Amber received anything unusual in the mail?”, “Have you received phone calls from someone who you didn’t know?” and “Had Amber ever come home with something that she couldn’t explain who it was from?”. Kim believes that these questions were about Tim.

As Kim spent more time with Tim, in order to get “closer” to him, she found out that he would visit cemeteries a lot, and spend a lot of time with the graves of specific girls, including Angela Bugay. Angela had been abducted in November 1983 and was later found sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Tim was put under constant surveillance and the FBI discovered that Tim visited Angela’s grave over 90 times.

Tim would often leave Kim strange voicemails which she believed was him “toying” with her emotions, and he would often recommend books to her such as “Crime and Punishment” – a book which involves the suspect visiting crime scenes, getting close to the victim’s family and trying to insert themselves into the investigation. Kim suspects that this was Tim’s way of taunting her.

Tim Binder. Credit: East Bay Times

Thirteen days after Amber had gone missing, a bloodhound traced Amber’s sent to Angela’s grave. The FBI also states that the bloodhound picked up the scent in Tim’s van as well.

Five months after Amber’s disappearance, another young girl, nine-year-old Michaela Garecht, went missing from a Hayward Market. Investigators believe that Tim was in the area at the time of Michaela’s disappearance.

Two months later, thirteen-year-old Illene Misheloff, disappeared from Dublin, California. Tim, once again, inserted himself into the investigation.

A few years later, a mother from Fairfield, California, called the police as her daughter had received a letter from Tim. The letter could only be read if it was held up to a mirror. The contents of the letter have never been made public.

Just a few blocks away from their home, four-year-old Nikki Campbell vanished after she was playing in the driveway. Her scent was later traced to Angela’s grave.

Fairfield police decided to search Tim’s house in the wake of Nikki’s disappearance. They found nothing that connected him to Nikki’s disappearance, or the disappearance of Amber, Michaela, Illene and the murder of Angela.

However, it was around this time that Kim received a phone call from a man. He said that on the day that Amber went missing he had seen a young girl being thrown into a car by an unknown male at Alvarado Park. The man got his niece to write down the licence plate number, and they called the police.

But the police didn’t think that the unknown man was Tim, as the car was later traced to a junked vehicle in Los Angeles and the physical description of the man did not match Tim.

Tim eventually sued the city of Fairfield for tarnishing his reputation. He settled out of court for $90,000.

To this day, Tim is still considered a suspect in Amber, Micheala, Ilena and Nikki’s disappearance and Angela’s murder. He is considered to be a suspect due to the odd behaviour he exhibited about the cases and the fact that Amber’s scent was found in his van and at Angela’s grave. Tim has never been charged in connection with any of these cases.

In June 2002, authorities dug up the yard of former priest Stephen Kiesle’s vacation home, hoping to find some evidence that relates to Amber’s case. At the time of Amber’s disappearance, he lived just down the street from her. He had been arrested in May 2002 for molesting three girls at a church in Fremont. Fourteen other girls came forward and accused him of abuse, and most of the victims matched Amber’s age and description.

However, no evidence was found at his home and it is unknown if Stephen is still considered a suspect in Amber’s case.

In July 2009, the police announced that they had identified Amber’s killer as a convicted child rapist and killer Curtis Dean Anderson.

In 2007, Curtis confessed that he wanted “company” on a road trip to his auntie’s house in Arizona. He was fairly familiar with the Pinole area, and after he spotted Amber in her front yard he pulled her into his car, drugged her, and then took her to a motel where he suffocated her. He then claims that he dumped her body somewhere near Benson, Arizona off Highway 10.

Whilst police were able to confirm that Curtis was in the Pinole area at the time Amber went missing, they were unable to find any more evidence that connected him to Amber’s case.

Curtis said that he purposely taunted the police with false information. He died in December 2007, just one month after he confessed.

Police say that Curtis also confessed to several other murders, but the police could not find any evidence to link him to them.

After the announcement was made, police officially closed the case. However, a petition was launched for the Pinole Police Department to reopen the stranger abduction case, and in the autumn of 2013 Amber’s case was re-opened as well.

Amber’s mum, Kim, does not believe Curtis’s confession and thinks that he was lying. Investigators are trying to corroborate or refute his confession.

Amber is still considered a missing child, and her mother Kim is still searching for her. Kim started the Amber Foundation for Missing Children, which teaches about child abductions and how to prevent them.

It has been 34 years since Amber went missing. If she is still alive today, she would be 42 years old.

What happened to Amber?

Amber is age-progressed to 31 years old. Credit: Internation Missing Fandom / National Center for Missing and Exploited Children


Unsolved, Missing, Missing Child, True Crime, 1980s, California, Cold Case, Mystery, Amber Swartz-Garcia

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