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In October 2009, Michael Swanson sat in the back seat of a St. Louis Park squad car, reeking of alcohol.
Swanson, then 16, was suspected of downing a bottle of vodka, stealing one car and crashing into another. He was unable or unwilling to give police his real name. He then vomited.
Court records from the troubled youth's adolescence provide only partial insight into the mind of the teenager who now is accused of murdering two Iowa store clerks on Monday.
The brazen teen was well known by police in his hometown for causing trouble. His criminal record, stretching back to when he was 13, is peppered with thefts, weapons allegations and assaults. But nothing in it would seem to foreshadow Monday's cold-blooded crimes.
On Sunday, police say, the 17-year-old stole his mother's Jeep Cherokee and debit card, drove 225 miles north to the family's cabin in Bigfork, broke in and stole a 300 Winchester rifle.
By Monday he was in north-central Iowa. Charges filed there say he walked into a convenience store in Algona wearing a mask and shot Vicky Bowman-Hall, 47, during a robbery. Less than an hour later, police say, he robbed a convenience store in Humboldt and killed Sheila Myers, 61.
Authorities say they believe he shot the women so they could not identify him.
Why the teenager allegedly killed for cash and cigarettes remains a mystery. Prosecutors and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation also can't say why Swanson traveled there.
"At this point, we really don't know," said Courtney Greene, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety. "This is still very much under investigation."
Even Swanson, while being led to his first court appearance Tuesday, had no good answer. "I don't know," the 135-pound teen said, laughing.
A chilling picture
An arrest warrant issued for Swanson in Hennepin County District Court before the slayings paints a chilling picture.
His parents, Kathleen and Robert Swanson, contacted St. Louis Park police to let them know their son took off Sunday, taking his mother's 2002 Jeep and her debit card without permission.
That card was used in Garrison, Minn., on Hwy. 169 on the shore of Lake Mille Lacs. Swanson had been discharged from Hennepin County Home School eight days earlier, and by absconding he was violating his probation.
The family told police they believed he continued north to Bigfork and broke into their cabin. A relative told them a 300 Winchester rifle was missing, and possibly other guns. The warrant warned law enforcement officers to be careful because the teenager was believed to be armed.
Less than nine hours later, Bowman-Hall was dying and Myers was dead.
Hennepin County spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan said probation violations are common. She said the warrant was issued after police contacted probation officials and conveyed information from their conversations with Swanson's family.
"There was a concern for his safety, and perhaps other people's safety, once he was gone." Marinan said.
No one answered the telephone Wednesday at the Swanson home in the 3500 block of Sumter Avenue in St. Louis Park. On Tuesday, Iowa DCI investigators carefully combed through the home.
Iowa officials said Swanson will face separate trials in Kossuth and Humboldt counties. The slayings were in towns 25 miles apart along Hwy. 169. In each case, the charges say, he demanded cash and cigarettes. Though each clerk complied with his demands, he shot them anyway, charges say.
Police arrested him later that night at a McDonald's in Webster City. He's charged with two counts of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. His attorney, Fort Dodge public defender Charles Kenville, declined to comment. Autopsies on the women still were being conducted Wednesday, Greene said.
'At risk for harm'
Despite being visibly drunk, Swanson was not aggressive toward St. Louis Park officers the October night he was charged with stealing a car.
He told police that he drank the vodka in about an hour, then decided to go "car shopping" and entered several vehicles in the area, stealing cigarettes, a flashlight and sunglasses. He then found an unlocked Buick, spotted the keys and took it for a ride. He began to feel dizzy, he told officers, and crashed into a parked Cadillac Escalade. He was arrested a short time later.
Following his conviction, a July order for placement recommended that Swanson serve detention away from home. The explanation was in a series of statements marked by checked boxes:
"Prior programming treatment and consequences in the home failed to return the child to law-abiding behavior," said one entry.
"There are no services available at this time that would allow the child to safely remain at home," said another.
This box also was checked:
"The child's behavior places him/her and others at risk for harm."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921