Wife is sought after cache of bones found
The road turned from pavement to gravel and then placer mine tailings. And James Swatman kept talking the entire way.
“You’ll see. I’m being straight up with you,” he told Nevada County sheriff’s detectives.
Near Lowell Hill Road, at the end of You Bet Road, Swatman exited the vehicle with the officers, walked several dozen feet and pointed to what he was talking about – a grave site marked by two rocks.
“That’s where she told me he was buried,” said Swatman, at the time an inmate at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility.
The “he” is suspected to be Neil West, killed by shotgun wounds. The “she,” Swatman told detectives, was West’s wife, Teresa West.
A few days later, on Nov. 22, the Sheriff’s Office and others found human remains. If Swatman’s story holds up, Neil West was buried there about six years ago after dying from a shotgun blast in his nearby trailer home.
The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case as a homicide, but key loose ends remain, Sgt. Ron Smith said Thursday, when the office publicly disclosed the investigation.
Detectives have yet to confirm Neil West is actually dead – though he hasn’t been seen since 1996 – and they’re seeking 40-year-old Teresa West for questioning at this time, Smith said.
Swatman first contacted the Sheriff’s Office after his Nov. 16 arrest for giving false information to an officer. Documents show he was willing to discuss a murder case in exchange for leniency on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and a couple arrest warrants.
No promises were made, but Swatman went on to talk, according to records.
Neil West, who was about 39 years old when last seen, was known to law enforcement in Nevada and Placer counties before his disappearance. His record included convictions for assault and drugs, Smith said.
Neil and Teresa West, now 40, shared a trailer on property near Steep Hollow Creek with other trailers.
Swatman said he and Teresa West began hanging out together about eight months after Neil West disappeared. They became intimate, and she later confided that she killed her husband with a shotgun in their trailer possibly because he physically abused her, a report says.
Smith said the trailer has been impounded for forensic investigations, and that Teresa West just three days ago asked a You Bet-area resident where it had gone.
The Lowell Hill Road property wasn’t a traditional homestead.
A witness, Tanya Keysar, now an Alta resident, said Teresa West had been involved in a three-way sexual relationship with Neil West and William Fairchild, according to a search warrant document. Fairchild lived in a different trailer on the same property and recently died of colon cancer, Smith said. Efforts to reach Keysar were unsuccessful.
Sgt. Smith said he and others are looking into the possibility that Fairchild helped Teresa West haul Neil West’s body to the burial site.
Meanwhile, in trying to determine if the remains are Neil West’s, the Sheriff’s Office is awaiting DNA results. Sgt. Smith said the experts will compare DNA from the remains with a sample of blood and tissue taken from Neil West’s daughter, who lives in Ohio near Cincinnati.
Until recently, Smith said, the daughter and others thought Neil West was still alive.
The remains were discovered right where Swatman said they would be. Among the several agencies that went there was Nevada County Search and Rescue, whose cadaver-sniffing dog, Kody, went straight to the site.
State Department of Justice workers also went there, as did the an anthropology team from California State University at Chico, which handled unearthing the remains.
They found loosely clad bones wrapped in tarps. Later, an autopsy revealed, a piece of skull and bones from the hands had been placed in a black plastic bag before getting buried with the rest of the body.
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