Donald Nelson

Donald W. Nelson was the mastermind behind a 1979 burglary that resulted in the deaths of the octogenarian Swarr siblings.

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Excerpts and summaries of news stories from the former Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster New Era and Sunday News that focus on the events in the county’s past that are noteworthy, newsworthy or just strange. 

In 1995, the last chapter of a murder case from 1979 was closed, with a guilty plea from the man who masterminded a burglary that resulted in the deaths of octogenarian siblings Horace and Mary Swarr. 

On the evening of Sept. 10, 1979, two men posing as Social Security agents bound and gagged the Swarrs and ransacked their house while two other men kept watch outside. Before leaving, the men told the Swarrs they would call the police to come and untie them. But in a catastrophic mishap, city police got the wrong address.

The Swarrs were left tied up on their living room floor for seven days, until a newspaper carrier reported they weren't taking their papers in. By that time, Mary Swarr had died from lack of food and water, while Horace Swarr was still alive, but died soon after being rescued.

Convicted of murder in the case were four men from Maryland who had been informed that the Swarrs hoarded money and valuables in their Walnut Street home. But the case's missing piece was the mastermind: Who had tipped the foursome off? 

The answer: Donald W. Nelson of Virginia, who had learned of the Swarrs and their rumored wealth from their nephew. Nelson pled guilty to conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison.

In the headlines:

Blast rips federal office center in Oklahoma City

Joe Montana says farewell to the NFL

Clinton urges GOP to complete welfare reform by July 4

Check out the April 19, 1995, Intelligencer Journal here.


In April 1970, school districts across Lancaster County were preparing for a new opportunity in education: The opening of the county's three vo-tech schools, in Willow Street, Mount Joy and Brownstown. 

Enrollment for the program's first semester, scheduled for the fall of 1970, was running at more than 1,800 students, but that number was only 70 percent of the program's capacity. Setting up the vo-tech program in the county had cost more than $10 million, and was a project that took several years to complete.

In the headlines:

Nixon salutes space heroes

Apollo 14 fate hangs in limbo pending probes

Munich's Olympics '72 city taking shape

Check out the April 19, 1970, Sunday News here.


During World War II, Americans lived under some fairly significant economic austerity - making do and going without. Yet somehow, Lancaster County residents were still able to splurge on "luxuries" such as books, flowers and jewelry.

An economic study by Baker Engineers found that per capita luxury expenditures in Lancaster city were three times the state average, though whether this was a result of Lancastrians having more money to spend or Lancaster being a retail center that drew shoppers from surrounding counties was unclear.

In the headlines:

Yanks 2 miles inside Czechoslovakia

7,988 U.S. casualties in Okinawa operations

Rhine battle and crossing cost U.S. 47,023 troops

Check out the April 19, 1945, Intelligencer Journal here.


Prohibition appeared to be no barrier to a pair of "autoists" getting drunk and using the sidewalks of Quarryville for a racetrack in April 1920. 

The Intelligencer reported that they "drove a machine at more than 40 miles an hour over sidewalks and lawns with reckless abandon," one spring evening, "terrorizing" residents of the town. The driver claimed he had been "drunk for a month," while his friend stated he "could get all (the alcohol) he wanted, any time he wanted it."

The duo was fined $10 each, but police didn't bother to get their names.

In the headlines:

Another railroad strike imminent; vote will decide

U.S. faces crisis because of acute food shortage

Check out the April 19, 1920, Lancaster Intelligencer here.