Photo via Three Rivers Police Department
19-year-old Cathy Swartz, pictured here, was murdered in her Three Rivers apartment in December 1988. After 35 years, an arrest was made in her death.
By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — After 35 years, an arrest has been made in the 1988 murder of Cathy Swartz in Three Rivers.
The Three Rivers Police Department announced Monday the arrest of 53-year-old Robert Waters of Beaufort, S.C., on a charge of open murder in Swartz’s death.
The arrest was made Sunday night in South Carolina, and according to St. Joseph County Prosecutor David Marvin, extradition has been waived, and police are working to transfer Waters back to St. Joseph County to face the charge.
“While nothing can replace the loss of Cathy Swartz, and the impact this senseless tragedy has had, we hope the identification and arrest of a suspect will bring some long-awaited closure to her family and friends,” Three Rivers Police Chief Scott Boling said in a release.
Photo via Beaufort County (S.C.) Detention Center
53-year-old Robert Waters, a resident of Beaufort, S.C., was arrested Sunday by police in the 1988 death of Cathy Swartz in Three Rivers.
On Dec. 2, 1988, Swartz, who was 19 at the time, was murdered inside her apartment at Riverside Townhouse, with her then 9-month-old daughter in the next room, who was unharmed. Her fiancé at the time found Swartz’s body when he came home from work that day. Investigators at the time said Swartz fought her attacker, but she was overcome by stab wounds, a beating and strangulation.
Officers at the scene at the time were able to locate fingerprints, blood and a footprint that was believed to belong to the suspect. After interviews of thousands of people and collecting fingerprints and footprints, according to police, decades went by without a match to the evidence located at the crime scene. Even after the introduction of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) in the 2000s, police said a match still had yet to be made.
Boling said in the release that in 2022, through a partnership with Michigan State Police, forensic genetic genealogy was utilized to attempt to solve the case. The technology, Boling said, was able to narrow down the suspect pool to a single family. The family members were interviewed, fingerprinted and DNA tested, until the suspect was identified as Waters.
An investigative team was then put together, according to police, to interview Waters. A search warrant was issued, and police made contact with Waters. Boling said enough probable cause was gathered to arrest Waters for open murder.
Boling acknowledged the assistance of MSP’s investigators and laboratory technicians for their efforts, as well as the efforts of the Cold Case Project at Western Michigan University, who assisted with scanning and organizing approximately 10,000 documents related to the case. Boling also thanked the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office for their guidance and support.
Marvin, in an interview Monday, said the arrest will hopefully “put a lot of people at ease.”
“I remember hearing about this when I was a middle school kid, and it was for years and years people talked about this. Especially for those people who worked on it in law enforcement, this was something that bothered a lot of people. This is a big positive for the law enforcement community in St. Joseph County,” Marvin said. “We could not have done this without modern science.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.