WMU Students Help Solve 35-year-old Three Rivers Cold Case
The family of Cathy Swartz has been left without answers in the death of the young mother who was found murdered in her Three Rivers, Michigan, apartment, 35 years ago.
Three Rivers Police say that the 19-year-old mother died of multiple stab wounds, a vicious beating, and strangulation. The investigation also shows that she fought valiantly for her life as her 9-month-old daughter was in the next room.
Police say Michigan State Police Crime Scene technicians found blood, fingerprints, and a footprint at the scene, and approximately 10,000 documents related to the case were gathered, over the years.
Robert Odell Waters, 53, was arrested in Beaufort County, South Carolina, on April 30th, 2023, due to DNA technology and the efforts of students enrolled in Western Michigan University’s Cold Case Program. They spent many hours digitizing and organizing approximately 10,000 documents and then incorporating the files into a searchable database that detectives could use to quickly and efficiently access while in the field.
In a press release from WMU, Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten, Director, Cold Case Program with Michigan State Police, says,
I'm constantly impressed with the amazing students. These students truly give these cases 100% of their effort and work weekends and holidays, always acting like true professionals toward victims' families and the detectives they work with.
According to Rachel Moore, a criminal justice student from Niles, Michigan, after digitizing, the students also developed their own theories of what happened, to assist detectives working on the case. Moore says,
This experience working for the Cold Case Program has changed my life. Before I was accepted into the program I wanted to go into social work. But after meeting MSP detectives, prosecutors and DNA/ballistic/drone, and other experts from MSP and then traveling to crime scenes, it showed me that I want to work closely for the public good, particularly with law enforcement. I’m now applying to the Michigan State Police and the FBI."
This isn’t the first cold case that the WMU students have tackled. Just months ago, they also helped solve the 1987 murder of Roxanne Wood, which led to the arrest of Patrick Gilham in 2022. Currently, the students are working on 14 other cases in partnership with Michigan State Police.
Arrangements are taking place to transfer Robert Waters back to St. Joseph County for prosecution.