Cathy Swartz

Cathy Swartz

The Crime

On December 2nd, 1988, 19-year-old Cathy Swartz was found dead on the floor of her bedroom apartment in Three Rivers, MIchigan. She appeared to have been beaten and stabbed to death. Detectives also noted there were signs of attempted rape and self-defense wounds. Cathy’s 8-month-old daughter was in her crib in the same bedroom but was not harmed. There were no signs of forced entry into her home so she possibly knew her attacker. The only evidence left at the scene was DNA found on her body and bloody hand-prints.

One of the first responders at the scene, Mike Mohney, said “any adjective that you could think of as far as describing a brutal, violent scene was there.”  Mohney is now a Detective Sergeant with the Three Rivers Police Department.  “Cathy’s autopsy indicated she was killed by stab wounds, but prior to that she was brutally beaten and there is evidence that at one time she might have been strangled,” says Mohney.  The scene was bloody but police believed it wasn’t all Cathy’s blood;  there were reasons to believe Cathy’s killer was injured in the attack, as well.  Police believed that Cathy’s killer cleaned up and changed clothes before leaving Cathy’s apartment because they found a bloody footprint in the bathroom.

But a murder weapon was never found.

The Victim

Cathy was a 19-year-old single mother with an 8-month old daughter. She had been living in Three Rivers with her fiancé and young daughter prior to her death. She was known as a sweet, caring, young woman who was loved by many. She was also a tomboy who loved hunting with her dad and an exceptional artist

The Cold Case

35 years after her death, investigators finally made a break in Cathy’s case. Forensic genealogy was able to test evidence found at the scene which narrowed their suspect down to four brothers.  A profile for the perpetrator was generated by the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, suggesting that the killer lived in the general area and may have known the victim.  Detectives decided to interview Robert Waters, 53, because he had been a childhood friend of Cathy’s.  He was currently residing in South Carolina.

His DNA was tested against the DNA found at Cathy’s murder scene;  it was a perfect match.  Robert Waters was then taken into custody and was held in Beaufort, South Carolina until he could be transferred back to Michigan. 

Unfortunately, less than a week after his arrest, Waters died by suicide in his jail cell. 

How Cold Case Program Students Helped

WMU students from the Cold Case Program helped detectives assigned to Cathy’s case by first organizing the enormous case file;  there were over 10,000 documents that students then scanned into one large document so detectives knew what information they had in the file and could access it quickly.  The students made timelines of the days leading up to Cathy’s death, and a case file index for all potential suspects in Cathy’s murder.  Detectives then met with students assigned to Cathy’s case and gave the students various research projects that would help them in their work.  By doing this work, the Three Rivers Police Department helped train the next generation of law enforcement and give closure to Cathy’s family.