Warren Arthur Swartz


Warren Arthur Swartz when a young man.

Warren Arthur Swartz was my father. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where he went to school and where he met my mother. He served in the Navy before World War II and before he married. His occupation throughout most of his life was as a salesman. My parents divorced in the early 1960s. He was killed in an arson fire on April 17, 1981, and is buried at Memorial Park, 8521 Hillcrest, Kansas City, Missouri.

I clearly got my love for animals from my father's side of the family. He had many tales to tell about the dogs he had when he was growing up. Some of them were sad, but that is always the case, since they do not live as long as humans.

My dad's death occurred at the Westport Central Apartments (formerly known as the Westport Arms Hotel). Apparently a disgruntled employee of the real estate company came in and doused a flammable liquid around the first floor lobby and then lit it. Unfortunately, the area was under my father's apartment. Although he lived five floors up, the smoke apparently was so intense that he could not avoid it. It was eerie to go into his apartment later, because everything appeared to be very much in place. Except for a thin film of smoke residue on everything, nothing would indicate that a person had died a violent death.

Seven other persons perished in the fire. Since his death was from arson, it was classified as a homicide. I did little to follow the disposition of the case. At the time, victim rights and such things were not as big deal as they are now. The prosecutor was Claire McCaskill who has since been elected Secretary of State of Missouri, lost a race to be governor of Missouri and served a couple of terms as one of Missouri's U. S. senators. The perpetrator pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight concurrent terms of 40 years, although McCaskill thought he would only serve about 10 years. I was very disappointed in the sentence the guy received. She said something like the perpetrator was an unlikely murderer; well, it goes without saying that my father was an unlikely victim. He did serve more than 10 years, but not 40.

To my knowledge, my father stayed pretty much to himself and certainly was not the type of person that someone would kill - he probably did not know anyone well enough that would want to kill him. At the time of his death, he seemed content to draw social security and paint which is a hobby that he picked up later in life. He had a very small apartment and the entire apartment was devoted to painting. Things were ingeniously stocked to jam as many supplies as he could into a small place. When my brothers and I were dividing up his things, it was agreed that I would take his desk which was a very small metal one. One day I sat down at it and my knees ran into something. He had arranged a shelf under that desk and had some things stocked on it.

My brothers and I sued the real estate company and we got a modest settlement. I cannot say that I used the money wisely, but I do not regret suing the real estate company from a legal and emotional point of view.

First, while the fire was the proximate cause of my father's death, it would not have happened but for the condition of the building. Right outside my father's door was was a very slow moving elevator. The stairs from floor to floor surrounded the elevator and the smoke from the first floor was able to circle around the elevator shaft like a circular chimney. In investigating the case our attorneys discovered that the company had been warned by the City of Kansas City that this situation existed and the dangers could be averted by installing fire doors between each floor. This was never done; in fact, I was in that building approximately 20 years after the fire and I saw nothing having been done to avert another disaster. There were no doors between the floors at the location of the elevator, so smoke could still rise up the staircase.

Second, I found dealing with the management and insurer of the apartment building an extreme test of patience. First, we were not allowed into the building for nearly a week except once to retrieve some clothing in which to bury my father. The stated reason was to allow the various investigators time to examine the building. When we were finally allowed into his room, an adjuster with the insurance company, and whom I knew, came into the room. It was obviously the first time they had been in the room (where a death occurred - so much for the argument that they needed access for inspecting the building). Second, the manager of the apartment was less than a caring individual. I and my brother went to talk to the manager about what to expect. She was late for our appointment and spent a long time gabbing with her friends before talking to us and when she did talk to us, she stated very quickly and rather insincerely, how sorry she was even though she really did not know my father. She then launched into a rather long rendition of how lucky she was that she was not in the building that night and how lucky some of her friends were. Then, as we were moving my father's things out, we were down to the last load and the same manager forbade us from using the most convenient elevator. The reason was that Mrs. So-and-So had hired some help to move her things out and if they were impeded, she might sue them. Okay, was she saying that the death of your father from causes not his fault would not raise the possibility of a lawsuit???? It sounded very stupid to me!

I have my father's paintings. Some are incomplete and he was still learning. There are a couple of them that are complete and I believe they are quite good. He obviously liked intense colors.