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Crime News Murders

Florida Handyman Accused of Fatally Strangling Husband, Then Raising Thousands in His Memory

Herbert Swilley previously indicated he’d only cooperate with authorities in exchange for immunity from prosecution in the March 2023 murder of his husband Timothy Smith.

By Dorian Geiger
A police handout of Herbert Swilley

A Florida man — who raised thousands of dollars online in the wake of his husband’s death earlier this spring — is now behind bars, accused in his spouse's murder.

Investigators say Herbert Swilley fatally strangled his 59-year-old husband Timothy Floyd Smith in March and later staged his death to obscure his involvement in the alleged slaying.

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What is Herbert Swilley charged with?

Swilley, 55, was taken into custody on Friday on charges of premeditated first-degree murder and evidence tampering in Smith’s suspected murder, the Marion County Sheriff's Office announced. He, along with his daughter, Jordan Swilley, had been persons of interest in the case for months. 

How did Timothy Floyd Smith die?

Authorities now believe Swilley drugged and choked Smith to death, relocated his body, created a fake crime scene, and intentionally misled investigators. On March 25, deputies found Smith dead at a property on SE 40th Street Road in Ocala, a city in central Florida. A wellness check had been requested after Smith failed to show up for work a day earlier. Responding deputies observed bruising on the man’s neck, as well as blunt force trauma to his face and genitalia. His cervical spine was fractured in the violent attack.

Investigators later learned Smith had been dosed with a high amount of diphenhydramine, an antihistamine and active ingredient in Benadryl and other common cold medications. The Florida healthcare executive ingested 30 times the appropriate dosage, officials said. 

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A police handout of Timothy Smith

Detectives say Swilley later used “an unknown ligature” to choke Smith to death at the couple’s shared residence. Swilley allegedly then drove Smith’s body in his vehicle to another property the couple shared. There, he allegedly dumped Smith’s body, “staged a fake crime scene” and tried destroying evidence with “household cleaning agents,” investigators said. 

“Swilley later returned to their residence and then drove Timothy’s vehicle to the apartment where he left it,” the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said in its press release. 

Officials said Swilley also accessed the couple’s Ring camera and allegedly deleted footage from the night of the killing. Hours afterwards, he allegedly discarded two rugs from the couple’s home.

Smith, who authorities said was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Swilley, was reportedly on the verge of leaving the Florida handyman at the time of his death. Detectives learned Smith was close to securing a new job in a different county and had planned to relocate there without his spouse. Authorities also said Swilley stood to gain $333,000 in life insurance payouts following Smith’s death.

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At the time of his death, Smith was the executive director at Brookdale Chambrel Pinecastle Assisted Living and Memory Care Community, according to his obituary. He’d held the position for eight years. Following Smith’s death, investigators had offered a $14,500 reward for any information leading to his killer. 

Authorities, who interviewed Swilley in the early stages of the investigation, said he “pretended” to be cooperative at first. However, they claim Swilley’s attorney later blocked law enforcement’s attempts to question him unless he was provided immunity in Smith’s murder. 

“Many of the things Swilley told investigators were false, self-serving, or contradicted by other evidence,” the Marion County Sheriff’s Office added in its press release.

On November 2, a Marion County judge signed a warrant for Swilley’s arrest, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. The following day, Swilley, handcuffed and clad in jeans and a purple t-shirt, was marched into a county jail for processing, video of his arrest shows. 

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The Marion County Sheriff's Office said its detectives had gathered a multitude of video surveillance and electronic evidence and had also interviewed several people who both knew Swilley and Smith in the course of their investigation. 

In the weeks following Smith’s death, Swilley posed on the fundraising platform GoFundMe as a grieving widow, where he preyed on the pockets of sympathetic friends and strangers, according to People

Swilley reportedly raised at least $2,235 of a $7,500 fundraising goal off his husband's death, according to the outlet. In his GoFundMe post, Swilley said Smith had “passed away unexpectedly,” describing his death as “one of the hardest thing[s] I ever had to share." 

GoFundMe said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com: "At GoFundMe, being a safe and trusted place to give and receive help is our top priority. The fundraiser has been removed from our platform and all donors have been fully refunded.”

Smith, who had a masters in social work and was an active community member, loved ones said, spent his “professional life helping seniors." He was the former executive chair for the Ocala Walk to End Alzheimer's and also served as past president and board member of the Marion County Continuity of Care. His obituary noted Smith was “passionate about life,” enjoyed traveling, and loved going for drives with Swilley on a three-wheeled motorcycle the couple owned.

Swilley is currently in custody without bond at a Marion County detention center, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com. He hasn’t yet entered a plea. Swilley made his first court appearance on November 4. An arraignment in the matter is scheduled for December 5. It’s unclear if he’s retained legal counsel as of yet.

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