COLD CASE FILES: Brutal murder of Cathy Sue Swartz
Police have DNA, fingerprints, and lots of physical evidence. What they don't have is the person who murdered a 19-year-old Three Rivers woman in 1988.
It was the first time many could remember something like that happening in the small southwest Michigan town and in the 25 years since, nothing has come close.
Cathy Sue Swartz's murder was bloody and brutal, and it happened with her 9-month-old daughter in the next room. While it's been 25 years, remembering hasn't gotten any easier for David Swartz, Cathy's father.
"There is an anger there," said David Swartz. "I think probably the worst thing for me is the why; why did it have to happen."
Cathy was a tomboy. She loved hunting with her dad, and she was an exceptional artist. But all that is left behind now are photographs, drawings, memories and a lot of unanswered questions.
December 2, 1988
When police got the call, on December 2, 1988, Mike Mohney, then a rookie cop, was one of the first on the scene.
"Any adjective that you could think of as far as describing a brutal, violent scene was there," said Mohney who is now a Detective Sergeant with the Three Rivers Police Department.
It was nothing like Mohney had ever seen, and nothing like he has ever seen since. Now, Mohney is in charge of the 25-year-old case and more determined than ever to solve it.
That day in December was cold. Christmas was still a month away. Cathy and her boyfriend had already put up the Christmas decorations. Her boyfriend left early for work that morning, leaving Cathy and her 9-month-old daughter, Courtney, at the apartment with plans to do laundry. When he arrived home that afternoon, he made the horrible discovery: Blood throughout the apartment and Cathy's body in her upstairs bedroom.
"The autopsy would say she was killed from stab wounds, but prior to that she was brutally beaten, and there is evidence that at one time she may have been strangled," said Mohney.
Cathy was stabbed over and over, but a murder weapon was never found. Investigators believe the attack happened late morning because Cathy was still dressed in her night clothes, and Courtney was found safely in her crib with a clean diaper. There were no signs of forced entry, leading police to believe Cathy was familiar with her attacker, and she probably unlocked the door to let them in.
"From the scene and the evidence at the scene, it looks like the struggle started downstairs in the kitchen area and then it carried to the foyer that leads to the front door and then up the stairway and then down the hallway to her bedroom," described Mohney.
The scene was bloody, but police say it wasn't all Cathy's blood. They believe the killer was injured in the attack as well, leaving behind blood evidence and a fingerprint. And what's more, police believe Cathy's killer cleaned up and changed clothes before leaving the apartment after the murder. They found a bloody footprint in the bathroom.
"(The suspect) did something in there. There is no reason for them to have a naked footprint in the floor. Cause it is not summer time so you are not going to come barefooted. It is winter. So, you would have some type of shoes or footwear on. So what did you do, did you take the footwear off and change it. Did you use some of Cathy's clothes, her boyfriend's clothes," said Mohney.
Police have released a sketch of a person seen leaving Cathy's home around that time. Is it the killer? Police don't know. Either way, they think this person might have information about Cathy's death.
Closing the Case
For the last 25 years, police wanted to close this case, especially Mohney, who has been a part of it since the beginning.
"It's not gone away. We have not given up by any means. We will never give up. It just takes time. 25 years is a long time," added Mohney.
And no one knows that better than David Swartz, who wants nothing more than justice for his daughter.
"Especially with all the evidence they have got," said David Swartz. "They can tell you the kind of shoe the person wore, the fingerprints, footprints, DNA. They have everything, but yet, they haven't got anyone."
That DNA evidence has been tested against Cathy's family, her boyfriend, her ex-boyfriend and their families, but it doesn't match. And while police know whether it is from a man or a woman, they won't say which. They've also footprinted 5,000 people to see if they match the footprint found in the bathroom.
If you have any information about the murder of Cathy Sue Swartz, you are asked to call Three Rivers police at (269) 273-4940.