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Slain man's mother hails long-awaited murder charge

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:50 PM
TAMPA -

For Ruth Wachholtz, the murder indictment of Scott Schweickert sends a powerful message both to her son's killers and anyone else who might think he could escape responsibility for murder:

"You may think you have gotten away with it now, but guess what, you have not," she said. "They will still decide to prosecute you."

It's been nearly nine years since Wachholtz's son, Michael, disappeared in Tampa on Dec. 20, 2003. Schweickert and another man, Steven Lorenzo, were later convicted of federal charges of conspiracy and giving the date-rape drug GHB to Wachholtz with the intent to commit a crime of violence.

Lorenzo was convicted of the same crimes against other victims — Jason Galehouse, who disappeared, and seven men who survived nights of sexual torture in Lorenzo's Seminole Heights home.

In 2005, Schweickert told investigators he watched Lorenzo drug, torture and kill Galehouse and Wachholtz on successive nights and how he helped dispose of their remains.

He described helping Lorenzo dismember Galehouse and dump body parts in garbage bins around the county. He said he helped carry Wachholtz's body to the victim's Jeep and leave it in an apartment complex where it was discovered weeks later.

But until this week, neither Lorenzo nor Schweickert has faced murder charges. On Thursday, officials unsealed an indictment handed up earlier this month charging Schweickert with two counts of first-degree murder.

He is now serving 40 years in a federal penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz. Lorenzo, who is serving 200 years in a Virginia federal prison, has not been charged with murder.

But Ruth Wachholtz said she doesn't mind that Lorenzo hasn't been charged yet.

"It's probably a strategic move" by the prosecution, she said. "At this point, I do not think he'll be forgotten."

Wachholtz has waited from her Missouri dairy farm for those accused of killing her son to face justice, for them to be legally accused of murder.

"I'm patient," she said, "but it's tried my patience."

"I've always said the wheels of justice move slowly. I never thought this slow. But they have moved."

Michael would be 35 in October if he had lived; he was 26 when he died.

"I think of what he could have accomplished in these years," Ruth Wachholtz said. "He had started going to school to be a lawyer."

She thinks he probably would have become a prosecutor.

"He could really talk and I think he had the kind of mind," she said, "the kind of personality that he would have been an excellent lawyer. He could have done a lot."

Would he have understood what has happened in this case?

"I'm sure he would have had his opinions, but he thought a lot like I did. He would be upset why it's taken so long, but I think he probably could understand why it's taken so long, especially if he could see what has gone on behind the scenes, especially the original people who set up this case."

She said she's been moved by the determination of the investigators, especially Tampa Police detectives Chuck Massucci and John Columbia, who never forgot.

The fact that they "never let it go impressed me, but I think it left a bad taste in their mouth … that it couldn't be resolved earlier at the state level."

She'll never get over the loss of her son.

"I miss him all the time," she said. "Even now I want to call him up and talk to him and have him talk back to me. There's no closure. The grief is not as acute as it was for the first three, four years, but the grief is still there."

She still talks to Michael, especially when something happens with the case. The conversations happen when she's out on the farm. Or when she looks at his picture in her living room.

On Thursday, she said, "Yes, Michael finally! These guys are going to be accused of your murder!"

In these conversations, she doesn't hear any words or feel a direct interaction with her son. Instead, she said, "I just have a feeling of peace from him."

It wasn't that way in the beginning.

For the first year or so, she said, "It was hard because I don't think he was settled being dead. … It gets kind of goofy or creepy or however you want to call it. I don't think he was settled being dead because he knew how much I suffered. …

"I think he was at peace in heaven, but it bothered him because I was suffering."

Having the case move forward does have a downside. It brings up memories of the pain Michael endured.

"It is bad because I think about him suffering," she said. "I have never wanted to know details, but I know that he suffered."

Still, she said, the prosecution is "is a very, very good thing."

"I hope this helps other people, not to give up hope."


esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTrib

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