Man charged in 1988 Michigan murder found dead in South Carolina jail cell, officials say

Robert Waters was charged in death of Cathy Sue Swartz

Robert Waters booking photo. (Beaufort County Detention Center)

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. – The man charged in a 1988 West Michigan murder was found dead in his South Carolina jail cell on Saturday.

Robert Odell Waters, 53, was arrested on Sunday, April 30, in his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina, in connection with the murder of 19-year-old Cathy Sue Swartz.

Swartz was beaten, stabbed, and strangled in December of 1988 in her Three Rivers apartment. Police said her 9-month-old daughter was in the next room at the time of her death.

The case remained cold, although there was evidence such as blood, fingerprints, and footprints found at the scene that investigators believed all belonged to her killer.

In 2022, the Three Rivers Police Department partnered with Michigan State Police to use forensic genetic genealogy to narrow their suspect pool down to a single family.

Read: Cold case: Man arrested in Michigan woman’s 1988 killing -- how police cracked it

Officials were then able to identify Waters as a suspect in Swartz’s murder after investigators interviewed, fingerprinted, and analyzed the DNA of members of that family.

Detectives traveled to South Carolina to speak to Waters and obtained a warrant for his arrest. He was taken into custody on April 30, 2023 -- 35 years after Swartz’s death.

However, on Saturday, May 6, Waters was found dead in his cell at the Beaufort County Detention Center, according to Three Rivers police.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division will be conducting the death investigation, which Three Rivers police say is ongoing.

WOOD reports Waters was expected back in St. Joseph County this week to face charges.