St. Joseph County prosecutor won’t drop Cathy Swartz case after suspect’s suicide in police custody

Robert Waters (Courtesy of Beaufort County Detention Center, South Carolina)

Over the weekend the Three Rivers Police Department (TRPD) announced via Facebook Robert Waters, 53, was found dead on May 6 in his South Carolina jail cell. Waters had been taken into custody in Beaufort, South Carolina on April 30 in connection with the 1988 murder of Three Rivers resident Cathy Swartz, and St. Joseph County Undersheriff Jason Bingaman had been making arrangements for Waters to be transported to Southwest Michigan. 

“When I was called and told he was dead I was very bothered by that because he had some explaining to do,” St. Joseph County Prosecutor David Marvin told Watershed Voice. “My goal in this case was not to find out what he did — because I think we all know what he did — but I want to know why he did it, and I don’t think we’re ever going to know. I’m really disappointed that he was selfish enough to take that answer with him.”

Marvin said he plans to keep the case open, though he is unsure where his obligations now lie as this is uncharted territory. Marvin and his office have reportedly met with Cathy Swartz’s daughter, Courtney, who was 9-months-old at the time of her mother’s murder, and Marvin said he plans continuing to help her any way he can. 

Three pieces of evidence were crucial to Marvin in the prosecution of this case — the first was when Waters’ fingerprints were correctly matched to the suspect fingerprint found on the telephone in Cathy Swartz’s bedroom. The second piece of evidence was DNA and, though Marvin says the official report is not yet back, the lab did get a positive DNA match for Waters. The third piece of evidence Marvin is still waiting for results from is a footprint analysis. “It would be terrible if that footprint came back and it was not his, because that means there’s a third person, and I don’t know who that is,” Marvin said. 

Waters reportedly “wouldn’t talk” while he sat with a Michigan State detective for two hours during his time in custody. “The report I heard back was, ‘Oh he’s a nice guy, just chit-chatting the whole time,’ but they never talked about the case,” Marvin said. 

The unofficial and unconfirmed cause of death for Waters is death by hanging. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) was requested to conduct the in-custody death investigation, and TRPD is waiting for the results from the Coroner’s Office before making a statement to the media later this week.

“I don’t want to close the case, I would like to continue gathering all the evidence just to make sure as much as we can,” Marvin said. “We are not just going to drop it and walk away. Any outstanding evidence we’ll drive it down and ride it to the end.”

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor and publisher of Watershed Voice.