Family abuse? On Primetime's eve, woman files on Abshire
A year and a half after the discovery of Justine Swartz Abshire's body on a lonely Barboursville-area road, and with no arrest made in the case, her parents are hoping an ABC Primetime special airing later this month can do what their $50,000 reward has not: crack the case.
Meanwhile, Justine's widower, Eric Abshire, finds himself accused of abusing another woman, but he claims innocence in both cases and hopes the nationally aired program will help clear him of suspicion.
"Whoever did this to my wife is sitting around without a worry in the world," says Abshire. "No one is looking at them because every focus is on me."
That focus is in large part a result of statements made by Justine's parents, Steve and Heidi Swartz, who in May 2007 first publicly questioned Abshire's account of events on the night their daughter died. Among their questions: why would Justine, a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher whom they describe as a "homebody," and who had a well-known fear of the dark, have gotten out of her car on a deserted winding road in the middle of a cold fall night? Why would she have left her keys, purse, and winter jacket in the car? Indeed, why would she have been in her car in the first place?
Abshire, in a phone interview this week, said he and Justine argued that night about his ailing mother's health and his inability to express his feelings.
"I made a smartass comment; she made a smartass comment," he says. Then, as he has long maintained, Abshire repeated that Justine left their small cinderblock home on Fredericksburg Road in her 2002 Mustang. She allegedly called him on her cell phone sometime after 1am to say her car had broken down and that she needed a ride. When Abshire arrived on his motorcycle to pick her up, he discovered her body in the middle of the road, then ran to a nearby house to call 911.
At first, police treated the case as a hit and run. But as the investigation progressed, some disturbing details emerged. One of the most unsettling: Justine's injuries were not consistent with being struck by a car.
In May, state police revealed that Justine suffered a "massive" number of blunt trauma injuries. None, however, corresponded to a car's bumper striking her legs– the so called "strike marks" expected in a hit and run.
Neither police nor Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler have offered a theory of how Justine may have died or a motive for why she may have been killed.
Abshire says he is as mystified as everyone else.
"Nobody would dislike Justine," he says. "If you meet one of those people everybody likes, that was Justine." Living under a cloud of suspicion has been brutal, he says, not only for him but for his family.
"I can't even sit there and grieve my wife," says Abshire, "because I have to worry about what my children are going to hear."
One thing Abshire likely wishes his children wouldn't hear is recent news that their mother filed for an emergency protective order against him. The June 5 order prohibited Abshire from having contact with the woman, who asked not to be named in this story. Filed in the Greene County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Stanardsville, the document states that "reasonable grounds exist to believe that [Abshire] has committed family abuse."
Abshire blames it merely on a "misunderstanding" and a "miscommunication," and insists that the woman never actually felt threatened. The woman who filed the complaint declined the Hook's request for comment and apparently did not seek a hearing to extend it. The protective order expired June 12.
Citing court policy, a clerk in the Greene court would not release the criminal complaint detailing the incident behind the order.
"Unfortunately," says grieving father Steve Swartz, "we can't say we're surprised by it. We certainly don't want to see anybody else get hurt."
Officials are aware of the order, according to Special Agent Dennis Dotson of the State Police, and the investigation into Justine's death hasn't slowed.
"There's not a day that goes by that I'm not looking into something on it," says Dotson. "We will find out what occurred, no matter how long it takes."
While the Swartzes remain unsatisfied with Abshire's version of events, they insist they're open to all information– in particular, to any that could vindicate their son-in-law.
"If there's any other circumstance surrounding this that we don't know about, we want to know about it," says mom Heidi Swartz. "The best way to do that is to get the broadest possible coverage in hopes that we'll learn something we didn't know."
The hour-long ABC Primetime special on the case airs July 30.