(Introduction to show begins)
TODD (Missing Pieces Host): : I'm Todd Matthews and this is Missing Pieces. Tonight our guest is Sergeant Danny Swiger with the West Virginia Police Cold Case Unit. Welcome Danny.
SERGEANT DANNY SWIGER (Guest): Thank you for having me here Todd. I appreciate it.
TODD: Well I hope we can talk about some of your cases; it looks like you've got a lot of things going on over there.
SGT SWIGER: Yes we've got a lot of cases going on. The biggest battle that I face is having enough personnel to work things because right now, I'm the only one assigned to the West Virginia State Police to follow up on unsolved cases.
TODD: Now how is that? How do you manage today with those kinds of odds?
SGT SWIGER: Well, I do the best I can. I follow up on cases as I can do it. We take a look at cases I feel that have the viability for being solved and a lot of times I look at other cases that may not have some viability. It's difficult if you have a family member come and sit down and pour out their emotions about their loved one that was murdered, missing or whatever. It's hard to tell them "No, we can't do anything for you." So, you know, I do the best I can looking at cases and you know, obviously if somebody comes in with some information that they're ready to be a witness or come forward with something, we try to put them to the forefront and evaluate that. Also we take a look at all of our old cases that have the potential to be solved through some form of new technology, you know. The DNA analysis has been something that's brought a lot of cases back to the forefront that may have never been solved.
TODD: So again, it's a 'hurry up and wait'.
SGT SWIGER: Well, you know, that's the biggest thing with cold case investigation, I think, to me it's a lot more frustrating and stressful than it ever was working in uniform, you know? Because when you worked in uniform, your shift ended and pretty much a lot of it was put away at that point. But these cases, the unsolved things stick with you and it takes a lot of patience because it isn't something that happens fast and it's definitely not like it is on TV where you have things that are solved in half an hour.
TODD: You know we've worked with different television shows with the Doe Network. You know, you have people that will want something for a show but they want something solvable. Something that they feel they can wrap up pretty quickly and just like you said that's not normal. You know a lot of cases go into the decades. SGT SWIGER: And they do and we did some shows, television shows. We worked on the television show on the Discovery Times called Sensing Murder. On this particular case we'll talk about Roberta, Sister Roberta Elam (Sister Robin's case). They approached us with the use of psychics and, you know, a lot of people chastised us because we sought that avenue. But, you know, who are we to turn down any type of help? And it really doesn't matter to me where the tip may come from and that was our thought and we did it and we've been getting some tips from that show that aired nationwide. It's all about giving some type of attention to this case so that people continually think about it and sooner or later, you know, we're going to get the right tip.
TODD: Well its exposure. You got some exposure from it.
SGT SWIGER: Right.
TODD: And, you know, that helps. And we're talking about the murdered postulate nun Roberta "Robin" Elam.
SGT SWIGER: Yes.
TODD: Tell us a little about that case.
SGT SWIGER: Well, Sister Robin, her case. She was a victim of a rape and murder that occurred June 13th 1977, in Wheeling, West Virginia. Wheeling, for folks that probably aren't familiar with West Virginia, if you look on a map, they refer to it as the northern panhandle or the strip of the state that is between Ohio and Pennsylvania. To give you some kind of a geographical location for Wheeling, Interstate 70 runs right through the middle of that county, as a reference point. At any rate, Sister Robin, I believe she was raised in Illinois, and she attended college in Missouri and had entered a convent at one point, The Daughters of Charity in that area. Once she graduated from college in Missouri, her family had moved to New Jersey so she moved there with them where she attended Fordham University and she'd met up with a friend of hers, another nun, who was from West Virginia who'd convinced her to come to West Virginia where they were going to work on adult education in Appalachia in West Virginia. That's a little bit of background as to how she ended up in West Virginia. She was murdered on Monday, June the 13th, 1977, we believe some time between 10:30 in the morning and 2 o'clock in the afternoon. She was at this particular convent for a retreat. She'd only been there for about a week. A part of the process of becoming a nun, The Sisters of Saint Joseph is a yearly retreat and she was on a retreat on a period of silence and reflection and as a part of that a lot of the nuns or postulates would go to this. A field that is adjacent to the convent and it's in a rural area of West Virginia; and they would go to this field, it's a pretty serene place. It's quiet and they would sit and meditate, read, whatever and on this particular day, just Robin didn't return. She was attacked at some point in this field; she was raped and strangled, and was later discovered by a caretaker. There were literally thousands of hours of investigation put into the case. A lot of different people were identified and there really wasn't a whole lot more investigation done on the case since probably 1983. Because at that time they thought that they had identified a person that was the perpetrator of the crime; there was a man that was in prison at the time and he had basically confessed to another jailhouse inmate that he had committed the crime and there were interviews done with him but they could never nail down enough evidence to prove that he was the one that committed the crime. And, basically, there wasn't a whole lot of investigation on the case done after 1983 until probably 2001. There were some hit and miss tips that people had followed up on. Then in 2001, a newly elected sheriff, Tom Burgoyne, in Ohio County; he was an FBI agent at the time of the murder in 1977, and thought it was a good case that they needed to follow up on and we formed kind of an ad hoc task force. Basically myself and an Ohio County Sheriff's Department deputy and we're working jointly with this case and we decided to look at this evidence and resubmit it to the laboratory and see if there is any type of DNA evidence that could be established. I hadn't joined the investigation at that point but the evidence was resubmitted to the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory. Some of the evidence was taken from the victim at the autopsy and they were able to establish a full DNA profile of the suspect from that evidence. So the thought was, we would locate this gentleman that was in prison, who had confessed to the crime; he confessed to the other inmate. But the thought was that we would locate him and clear this case up very quickly. It was learned that he had died in a prison in Washington State, but we were able to obtain a blood sample from where his autopsy was performed and what it was. But the blood didn't match and it wasn't him. So that opened up the potential suspect pool. It was quite large in this case at that point because it could be virtually hundreds of different people. Since that time, we sat down and tried to go through the voluminous files from the investigation and tried to look at different people that possibly could have committed the murder. We've investigated people associated with the church. We've investigated folks that were vagrants in the area. We've investigated serial killers that were from the area. We've investigated people that might have been classified as insane or crazy that would have been in the area. We've really been purposefully aware of the fact that we don't want to get blinders on or we don't want to get tunnel vision and focus on one particular type or scenario so that we stay open-minded to any type of tips that comes in on the case.
TODD: So I have a feeling that you weren't there in when this crime occurred, were you?
SGT SWIGER: No, not in 1977. I was not. I was about 8 years old in 1977.
TODD: Me too. Me too. I thought you were pretty close to my age. Now how do you inherit something like this? How is that to inherit? Now I've been in a position where I've watched a certain case and I see law enforcement come and go, media come and go, you know? And you're the one that's there permanent now. When you're having to take that case file, how do you start in on that?
SGT SWIGER: Well, in this particular case, we, in 2001, we kind of informally put together our cold case unit with West Virginia State Police and at that time, the trooper that was involved with the initial submission of the evidence, he didn't want to see the case die. Typically, as a cold case investigator, obviously you have to have a case to come to in some manner, either by knowing that it's in the file or referral by a family or by direction of superiors. Sometimes folks will come in and give us tips about things that we didn't even know were particular homicides. They were thought to be natural deaths and things of that sort. But, you know, one of the first things I like to do is gather every piece of the report that we can find and review that entire report, take an inventory of what would be kept in the evidence rooms of the particular department or detachment that investigated the crime originally and see what evidence still exists. We also begin to start looking at potential suspects they had at that time, look at relationships they may have had that may have changed and come up with a plan of how to approach the investigation. And you know, it's at that point you start looking and deciding whether; with the few people that we have, who can dedicate time to the case that you are able to solve and the ones that look like they have the higher solvability rate. They tend to come to the forefront and others, sometimes, get set aside.
TODD: And that's natural. I mean you try to do the things that can be accomplished. Now did you ever meet any of the family members of Sister Robin?
SGT SWIGER: Yes, we've spoken. I've never met them face to face. I've spoken with her brother. She has a brother and 2 sisters and her mother is still living; I believe she's in Florida now. They are appreciative of our efforts. That's one of the big things of cold case investigations and I think that one of our goals is at least to let families know that we still care about these cases and that they haven't been forgotten and, you know, hopefully to bring closure. In this case, we've investigated several suspects that are deceased and a lot of agencies wouldn't take the time to look at the case further if you thought your suspect is dead. We need to, at least, bring some closure in this case to the family and there have been cases where we have investigated. I can't remember the number right off hand, but several folks who are dead. And one way that we would do that is, one individual in particular had confessed to the crime in 1977, he was a person that we would classify that probably had some mental problems, but nonetheless, we can't rule someone out. I think that someone that would be apt to commit a crime at a convent in the middle of the day would possibly have some mental problems. But we investigated him and learned that he had died. But in the process of the investigation we learned that he had some surgery in the not too far past or recent past. Anytime they do some type of surgery on you, there's a good possibility that some part of that tissue is kept at the hospital; it varies between hospitals how long they keep that tissue but usually the rule is 7 to 10 years. We were able to locate the hospital where this man had had surgery, obtained proper search warrants and documentation to obtain those tissue samples that are kept usually in the pathology department of hospitals to do DNA. We've been able to eliminate deceased people that way. We've also been able to eliminate folks. We came to Tennessee last year on an individual that he was in prison in West Virginia and had committed several other violent sexual assaults so he became a person that went to the forefront mainly because of his mode of operation of how he committed those crimes were similar to this crime in some ways. And we learned that he had relatives in Tennessee and we were able to locate them, do DNA analysis through the family members, his children. We were able to clear him through that there, in that case. And today I believe we've just received some results yesterday and today for some DNA analysis; I believe we've cleared 36 people in the investigation so far.
TODD: I know that's frustrating but at the same time, you know, this is steps, its good positive steps that you're able to. I know that this is not the right way; I know this is not the right way but still I know that it's frustrating and missing the mark.
SGT SWIGER: It's very frustrating but I think it's a good thing. It let's folks know that we are continuing working on the case and it brings closure. I think it's a success in a way that, you know, just the like the gentleman that's had this cloud of suspicion over him since 1983, that many of the retired troopers we talked to told us "he's the guy that did it" and we were able to tell them with a pretty large amount of certainty that he's not the guy that did this. That's what we're about; law enforcement should be about the truth and the facts. It doesn't matter to me who committed this crime, we just want to be certain and that's one of the biggest fears that I've always had, that we would send an innocent person to prison.
TODD: And it's scary. I mean I'd hate to be in that position; being sent myself to prison, you know, how do you fix something like that? You know there's nothing you can do to repair that person's life if that happens. You don't want to make a mistake.
SGT SWIGER: I have to commend the prosecutors at the time in 1983, you know, that guy looked. They had every reason to believe that he had done it; up to the matching of the blood type that we were looking for but they just didn't feel comfortable prosecuting him and it looks like they made the right call. It wasn't him.
TODD: They did their homework.
SGT SWIGER: It is a frustrating case for me.
TODD: They did their homework it sounds like.
SGT SWIGER: It sounds like they did some things and thought about it and, you know they just weren't going to take someone's. Another person's word for it.
TODD: That reasonable doubt thing.
SGT SWIGER: Well there was a little bit of reasonable doubt there and rather than, you know, the prosecutor just wanting to get that conviction, they really thought about the case and, you know, that's something in this case, once we do find the right person, I don't know how it could ever be said that we focused on one individual. We've looked at so many different avenues in this case and we're still open to any type of suggestions that we can come out with that we truly have tried to look at every avenue and we're continually. there still are people in the report, we wouldn't necessarily say that they are suspects, there's a lot of people that are better classified as persons of interest because we're getting down to where if you can associate somebody with Wheeling, let's say that somebody gives us a tip about an individual, then we do a little bit of investigating and we can connect him to Wheeling, West Virginia in 1977; now let's say we do criminal history and they have some type of an arrest history associated with sex crimes, you see how that progression goes up?
SGT SWIGER: Where you establish a little more reasonable suspicion and probable cause that we might want to look at this person then we may approach them to see if they would provide us with a saliva sample for DNA, or if we establish enough probable cause, we'll obtain a search warrant to get these things.
SGT SWIGER: Yes. We have the DNA profile entered into CODIS. We've had no hits on it. We've had some discussion some about familial hits and the use of that. I don't know if that's ever come up in discussion with your listeners but in. I was at a cold case regional training sponsored by the National Institute of Justice in Florida last year and I met a prosecuting attorney from Colorado, Mitch Morrisey, I believe is his name, and he kind of turned me on to 'familial hits' and if you're not familiar with that, it's basically, there are people who came up as partial hits in CODIS that are possible family members. Let's say that you are a suspect but you have a brother, your brother is in prison but you aren't, you'll get a partial hit from the person that is the brother. We're not always getting those hits because there's some worries about invasion of privacy, and somewhat of that, but I think there's a huge investigative tool to say that this may be the brother of your suspect and CODIS is releasing some of that information but we also checked ours for marginal matches and we had none of that on them.
TODD: Do you find CODIS relatively easy to use?
SGT SWIGER: Yeah. With out state, we have one administrator that, you know, West Virginia seems to be the last to get a lot of the technology but because we've been last, we have some of the most up-to date technology as far as DNA analysis. Basically, we submit the things to our laboratory, they develop the profile and we have someone assigned as the CODIS manager for our state enter it into the system and it's pretty simple once it's in there, it's checked against every other person that gets in the system. I think the downfall with it is each individual state is different on the guidelines on how they are entering these things. To give you an example, we had a person that became about as a potential suspect, also another person who was convicted of some violent crimes and was in prison in Ohio, convicted in the early 1980s and our thought was that he had been entered into CODIS and we learned that his specimen had been drawn but it had not been entered and we waited 6 to 8 months to get it pressured; the deputy that I work with in Ohio County, Joe Cuchta, he's a lieutenant there, he was the one who worked most of that part of the case. We pushed for several months to get this gentleman's DNA into CODIS and finally when we got it into CODIS, he didn't hit on our case but he hit on a case in California from 1974, which he later pled guilty to a homicide from 1974. So, you know, our efforts aren't going unnoticed one way or another but the problem with CODIS is the backlog of each state of getting these individuals in and our suspect could be somewhere out there, he's just not got in the system yet.
TODD: Yeah it's quite a process. When you went to your training, did you go to Largo?
SGT SWIGER: I went to Clearwater.
TODD: I was actually there last week with a little bit of training with the NamUs program. It's a new National Missing and Unidentified Persons database, it looks like it's going to do the trick, I hope. Now what about NCIC (National Crime Information Center). As far as missing and unidentified?
SGT SWIGER: The NCIC, you know, we've done some stuff with NCIC, off-line searches. I've done a little bit of that looking for. We'll come up with someone in the report, to see if they were stopped in and around a particular area. I know we've used NCIC when we were looking for one individual that we really had difficulty finding. NCIC is pretty good to us; it's housed now in Clarksburg, West Virginia so we're pretty close to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI is here in West Virginia now which houses the National Checks, NCIC, the fingerprint database, they're a huge help to us and the partnership here.
TODD: Do you feel like NCIC is underused?
SGT SWIGER: Well, I think it's underused probably for the missing person's database, you know, sometimes, I notice going back and looking at some cases just like Anita Price and the other case I saw on your website whose profile. She was never entered into NCIC until I picked up on the case. Her case, I think, pre-dates NCIC in its infancy, I can't remember NCIC, someone out there may know better than I do, 1980s before it was established, maybe, 1980? I'm not sure but that case was never entered into NCIC.
TODD: But you were able to get that done?
SGT SWIGER: Yes, she was entered into NCIC. As far as the Elam case, I don't know of any. There's not really been any, a whole lot that we can enter into NCIC in that particular case. I mean we've used the national network as far as the Teletype system. We also utilized CODIS, one thing that we did with CODIS is, we were able to get a list of every CODIS lab in the United States, I sent out emails to every. There were 170 labs with this particular profile to have them check them against their state database. There are some cases, if you don't have the certain criteria to get the case into CODIS, it's not that it's bad DNA, but you can't get it entered into CODIS: in other words, if you have semen or you have blood or you have hair or some other evidence from a crime scene and it's deteriorated to where they can't establish a full DNA profile, maybe they only have 6 low sides, that's something that can't be entered into CODIS but it's in their state database, and we try to check that and we have responses from most them but not all of them to check it against their database basically to see if there were any other cases that we could link it to, we weren't able to link it that way. We were able to check it against anybody that comes up with a DNA profile. I know there was a profile of a priest that was convicted of murdering a nun in Ohio sometime last year and we were able to look at the DNA profile from that to do a comparison. You know the DNA is what's going to solve this case someday.
TODD: It's really the only way.
SGT SWIGER: Well, you know a good possibility. It's going to take a good tip. It's going to be a lot of investigating once we get the good tip, you know, if we could match the DNA, it's not going to stop there, we're going to do a lot of investigating to follow up from that point on but it's going to take that good tip at this point to do it.
TODD: Now. Go ahead.
SGT SWIGER: We are just that one tip away.
TODD: Wow. Now I know states vary at the level that they have to report to the NCIC and I want to ask you a question about missing persons; I try to ask this question when I'm talking got somebody like you .I won't name the state but there is a city in one state of this union that has 180 unidentified bodies, the state as a whole reports 60 to the NCIC, who would be to blame for this? For this to not be used. Who does it fall upon? A lot of times the coroners say law enforcement should have done this, you know, how does that happen? Is it a difficult process? A lack of people or manpower? A lack of faith in the system?
SGT SWIGER: Well, I don't know how to give one answer to that. I know we have systems in place and our policy for entering missing persons but I think there's a breakdown probably in a lot of policies, police policies, as far as entering unidentified persons in the NCIC. I probably think, there's probably a lack of education among police officers, there's probably a lot of police officers that don't know that you can enter an unidentified person into NCIC and something I've been trying to push with a lot of the young troopers is that when you have a missing person and it goes beyond the 2 or 3 day situation, usually where some people turn up that wandered off, you know, relationship things, you need to start getting the DNA samples from the families to where we can at least have it for future identification or also listing relatives of the unidentified missing person database also associated with CODIS. There are probably a lot of people that don't even know that that exists.
TODD: Well what would be a good reason? And I know that every case is different, but what would be a good reason that I wouldn't enter a case into the NCIC at some point in time? What would a legitimate reason to keep me from doing it until a certain point of time?
SGT SWIGER: Well, the only reason. It depends on how much time, I mean, me personally, when I worked in the field as an investigator, let's say that we get a contact with an individual that calls us and says "Hey, I need to report my wife missing." You start looking to get the circumstances of the case, there's domestic violence in the case and there's a good possibility that she may be at a shelter because we do have shelters here that they go to and really they don't allow to tell people where they're at. You know that's going to take the officer to do a little investigating but anything after, it's hard to even put a time on those things, I just can't come up with a reason why they would not utilize those databases unless it's just lack of knowledge, they aren't there or, you know, they do take a little bit of time, the NCIC entry forms take a little bit of time doing it but you know I don't know why you would not put it in.
TODD: I know there's an effort to shorten that form.
SGT SWIGER: Well, you know.
TODD: And I've seen it; it's a monster, I mean, it is pretty. it was a pretty lengthy form and I think if it's something that you don't have a clear 'yes' or 'no' for or you don't feel like you have the exact answer for it, that it's easy to skip that step, you know, just like taking a difficult test in high school, you don't have the exact answer and I don't think there is an exact answer on some of these cases.
SGT SWIGER: Well, when we have the unidentified remains and now technology is in place with the possibility of identifying some of these folks, you know, I'm sure, I'm aware that there are probably some in this state that have not been, the DNA, I know hasn't been done and there are probably cases where people aren't entered in NCIC. I know the medical examiner's office is attempting to try to get on board with that, especially the old cases, and that is a manpower issue with me, it's difficult enough investigating things that you have leads on but, you know, we're trying.
TODD: It takes a lot of doing; I know that. I know it takes a lot of effort and you don't have a big staff I don't think.
SGT SWIGER: I don't have a staff. I'm basically me. I utilize, you know, we're still set up, the West Virginia State Police, is still set up as a uniform base agency. Basically that means that the uniform trooper does everything. Now it's nice to see that each of our troopers have been trained to do everything from shoplifting to homicide, I mean, if there's a homicide that happens here in West Virginia, and your troopers working, he's going to investigate that homicide and we've trained our people and we're very highly trained; the problem is we're getting to a point in time where that uniform officer has so many duties that it's difficult for them to do that and we need an investigative section to pass that on to. I mean there are very few people specialized like myself in the department so the individual field trooper's job is very hard here because it's still uniformed based. But I do my best; when I do my cases, I rely on, you know, I type all my cases, you know, when you called here, I 'm in the process of putting together several reports on Sister Robin that, you know, I don't have a secretary; I put it together, I write it, copy it and put it together myself. Or, there's times, I utilize the detachment's secretary of whatever county I'm working in but of course they have everything coming in on their regular cases that it's hard to ask them to do something for me too.
TODD: Without getting you into trouble with your state, do you feel that more focus should be put on the cold cases?
SGT SWIGER: Well, I mean, I'm kind of biased because that's what I work on.
SGT SWIGER: I really think that a lot of people feel you have to justify the need for the cold case unit and my response is "How can you not justify it?" How can you not justify having troopers following up on the worst crimes in our society? The homicides, the murders, the missing persons, you know, they just don't disappear for no reason but on the other hand, I understand the plight of our superiors and administration to where it's hard to justify taking a guy out of a detachment where there's only 3 troopers in a county to cover a 9-1-1 call and to assign him to do just cold cases. And it comes back and falls back on the legislature to help funding to get us our numbers up to the point to where we can do that.
TODD: Not an easy task.
SGT SWIGER: Well, and it's unfortunately that it costs money to do police work, it really does and it really takes the support and the funding and the budgets.
TODD: Well how can. Volunteerism. You know and I know it's hard to manage. I work with the Doe Network and other non-profit organizations that we do use volunteers and it's, you know, being volunteers ourselves, it's not easy to get a quality volunteer and put them in a position and have them to get done what has to be done. Is there any interest in that and maybe having a volunteer help?
SGT SWIGER: Well, see when you start looking at criminal investigations, it kind of complicates things where you have volunteers involved with case-sensitive things, you know, it's difficult to bring someone on like that because it causes even more work because we're going to do background investigations for anybody to trust them with sensitive information. You know I think volunteers are important to where they're kind of our eyes and ears for the public; the police are useless unless you got someone telling you things.
TODD: You got to have tipsters.
SGT SWIGER: You know, we've become aware of you through some folks that check on looking at unidentified people and that's another case I'm working on; we're looking at trying to exhume a woman that was murdered in 1950 that the folks believe that may be their mother and you know I think we're obligated to go and try and identify her; our suspect is most likely dead but, you know, that's not the point.
TODD: Yeah, I think I heard a little about that case coming up and I'm anxious to see what the results are on that.
SGT SWIGER: Yeah, it's progressing, you know, we're in the process of getting the petition to do that right now, but.
TODD: And one of those could be in a later interview. It really seemed more important to interview you first and then try to follow up with that and, you know, it's ongoing. I know there are a lot of things occurring in that case right now. How hard is it to get a body exhumed?
SGT SWIGER: Well in West Virginia, it's not a real difficult thing. It's pretty much like other cases of warrants and things of that sort. You need to present some type of probably cause or reasonable suspicion as to why you want to do this. It kind of varies from case to case. This will be the second one that I've done. I had done another one where a gentleman was involved, I believe, to be a murder and was investigated as a hit-and-run accident in 1969 but in that case, there was never an autopsy performed, so there's one avenue to take for an exhumation that dealt with an autopsy performed and involved a medical examiner and there's another avenue in this particular case, the 1950 murder, there was an autopsy performed and there's really not a whole lot more for the M.E. to be involved with, I mean, we could have involvement with the medical examiner but we're not looking for a cause or manner of death, we're just looking for skeletal remains to do the DNA analysis and in the other case from 1969, we were looking for cause and manner of death which our medical examiner's office has a very good association with the Smithsonian and we had Dr. Doug Owsley, you know, one of the world renowned anthropologists in on our exhumation. I utilize a lot of contacts. I utilize an FBI evidence response team. Special agent Mike Hochrein, he was an archaeologist before he came to the FBI; he's just the most tedious guy I've ever seen in doing something in particular. So it takes time, like everything, you know, cold case takes a lot of dedication and work and, you know, you may not find anything when you do this stuff but I think it's fairly easy to get an exhumation where you have everything in line, it just takes time and effort.
TODD: You know, I'm lucky. I have a cold case discussion group, it's been around since 1999, it's an online group, and we have volunteers that come in and we kind of brainstorm some cases, and what I'm really lucky to have is a retired sheriff in Arkansas and he is there, he's an older gentleman now, but he's real savvy with the computer now; he can actually work the email and he always comes in and it seems like he helps regulate things like, "well that's not possible" or "that's going too far", great advice and years of wisdom that he's able to share with these people. I like seeing those guys actually, you know, when they say, "I'm here again and I'm getting to work on these things."
SGT SWIGER: Well, and that's the something, you know I really try to make contact with the retired troopers on these cases that we worked with to get some insight on what they thought, you know, and inevitably everything that happens in an investigation doesn't always end up in a report, I mean, there's field notes you take and certain things and thoughts that they have on the case that don't always end up in a written report and it's not something that anybody is trying to cover up, it's just how reports are written and it's just the same as anybody else that, you know, if you take notes in a lecture in college and you had to regurgitate those notes, you don't have everything written down as if it was taken in shorthand basically is what I'm getting at. I think that the utilization of retired police officers, you know, and a lot of cold case investigative units have retired police officers on a review team. Ideally, you'll have a cold case team that's made up of an investigator, usually a retired police officer and a prosecutor where they can sit down and evaluate cases and, you know, that's in the ideal world and then there are some jurisdictions that are able to finance that and fund that but we just haven't been fortunate enough to do that at this point here.
TODD: You'll have to start a silver unit and get some of those guys to volunteer to help you out somewhere because I know that would help you a lot. Easier said than done but in the 1950's case, now you probably didn't get to talk to the original investigators in that case so you are relying totally on notes?
SGT SWIGER: Yes.
TODD: What did? Now I know that some of the people I know that helped you with the tip on that, what did they have to give you to re-ignite that?
SGT SWIGER: Well, we were able to go back. Do you mean the folks that called me, or the investigator's report?
TODD: Well I guess the people that actually made contact with you regarding that case.
SGT SWIGER: Well we were contacted, you know, they had saw we had a posting on the West Virginia State Police website, basically seeking information that had been put up by another officer that had worked on the case and the individual was helping with the family and they're trying their best to try an locate their missing loved one and the missing person is Anna Bouslog I guess is how they pronounce it (Elizabeth Ann "Anna" "Peggy" Bouslog Davis), and they noticed this posting and did some research and had found a article from the 1950s that had a picture of this unidentified woman and there's some similarities to Miss Bouslog and some other things that lead them to believe that this person in West Virginia may be their relative, so fortunately for us, you know, there's some times we have the reports when you go looking or some times you don't; I've been able to locate the report from this case, it's kind of neat looking at these reports that were written in 1950 and, you know, you didn't have a computer with spellchecker or you forget something and insert it; these are on the old onion-skin carbon papers and with the amount of time that was put in that case in 1950, the troopers in that area where it happened, is right close to Maryland and Pennsylvania in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and there was so much time put into that case and fingerprints taken, the fingerprints were delivered directly to the FBI in Washington, DC for comparisons, and there was of information, photographs, we were able to locate photographs taken of the victim at the crime scene. So we have quite a bit to look into this case a little bit further. We've done some. I've developed a lot of contacts across the nation, going to different training sessions and especially the special agent, Mike Hochrein, he's been an asset to me, he was in St Louis at one point, well a lot of people know, all your military records are kept in St Louis and he has contact with agents there and we're able to look things up quickly because that's something in the case is we're looking for possible fingerprints too. We were getting pretty lucky with that case getting information there. In our department, we have a huge archive of microfilm and we've located reports, well this one was from 1950, but I've located documents from 1938 from a homicide that had happened in West Virginia so sometimes it's there, and then again there's times I've looked for stuff as recently as the 1980s and we can't find the reports.
TODD: Well that is not there in this case. Obviously, I saw this match, you know, in the process of getting it to you, basically, and my fear was when it got to you guys there wouldn't be enough data on that end and I was pleasantly surprised that there was, it seems to be, quite a bit of data and that's kind of unusual in a case of that age. I wasn't expecting it to be that much.
SGT SWIGER: It's hit and miss. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don't but for the most part I've found that our agency has been pretty good about documenting things and keeping the evidence in most cases, I mean, it doesn't happen all the time, you know, we're dealing with humans and as long as humans are involved, there's going to be things that get lost and mistakes that are made. Things are a lot better in place now I think with law enforcement, at least with the West Virginia State Police, as far as accounting for evidence and where the evidence goes, it's more difficult to get rid of it, you must have some justification. The reports, you know, a lot of the detachment commanders, they make fun of me because I won't throw anything away, and it's just because I've done this so much and I probably over document things but it's, you know, when you pick up a homicide investigation that's 25 years old and there's 5 or 10 pages, that's kind of hard to follow up on but I'm very pleasantly surprised that this case from 1950, we'd go and find these things; the fingerprints, we still have fingerprints. We've utilized AFIS (Automatic Fingerprint Identification System), you know a lot of people forget about AFIS with all this talk about DNA, you know, there's a lot more fingerprints files out there than there are DNA profiles in CODIS, so we've utilized that looking and trying to identify this woman. We hit some pitfalls in the case, as far as where she's buried at because it's an unmarked grave but I believe we've identified that with a little persistence in finding it, so we're waiting for that next step.
TODD: I feel really good that this is probably going to turn out really well but, if not, how do you feel like the interest that this could generate, now this could generate a lot of interest in both of these cases.
SGT SWIGER: I think it will. You know, I'm an optimist. It's a good thing all the way around. If we match it to be this relative of these folks, you know, that's great; if we don't, we're able to give them someone else to go look for but also, we'll also have this DNA profile to compare to anybody else. We'll also build a database, maybe there's one out there that we don't know about that we could match it to. I mean, it's a win-win situation for everybody, you know, to give some of the people hope, probably going to cause me a lot more work because the more people hear my name, the more I get contacted but that's fine. I have faith that our administration will eventually give us some help.
TODD: We can put a little pressure on them with this. Hopefully they say, "Wow, he's covered a lot, he really needs some help." And it's a good thing because you're doing good things. You're closing out things that are very cold and very old and hopefully. Is this the oldest cast that you have, in particular, is this one the oldest?
SGT SWIGER: Yeah, I believe that was the oldest one. We did a lot of work on. I mean, well that's a case that the viability of solving is probably not real, real good but I think it's still viable to identify her, I mean, we owe that to her, we owe that to the victim, you know, to give her a name and maybe that will lead to it, and I don't think it's not. It's not outside chance, you know, that the perpetrator is alive, you know everybody looked and said "there's no chance that that person is alive". Well I think so. You know 1950, you know, my father-in-law was born in the 1930s and he's still alive, he would have been. I get to counting up those years and in 1950 these folks were in their teens and twenties, our suspect could very well be alive, now they're going to be 70 or 80 years old now.
TODD: Well the biggest piece of the puzzle is that ID, that's the biggest.
SGT SWIGER: Absolutely. That will tell us a lot, what direction to go and that's the one thing, that's one of the difficult things in this case, I cannot find reason to put that woman in West Virginia and, of course, where her body is found, is, you know at that time, was a major hub east/west, you know the national route, US Route 40 was in that particular area and there's railways through that area so. There's a lot of cases. Another case I'd like to talk about is Annita Price.
SGT SWIGER: She was missing since May of 1974 from Moundsville (WV) area. There were some issues that she was going through at that time; she was going through a pretty messy divorce with her husband, she had 2 young children which kind of makes it. From what we understand in doing the victimology, that she wasn't the type that would have up and left her children. You know, obviously we investigated the aspect of her husband, you know, he's been investigated quite a bit and there's a cloud of suspicion over him but there comes a point in time when you have to focus your investigation somewhere else and that's where we need to go with this case because I can't say that he had any involvement; he's been very cooperative with us in every way that we can have asked him so I have to look in another direction. A lot of people would say, "Well you need to look at the husband" and we have. But Annita, she was last seen May 30th (1974); she was driving her boyfriend's car, basically it was a 4-door Gremlin, I believe they were called a sport-about and she was on her way to work at a club called the Flamingo Club which was in Benwood, West Virginia, which is between Moundsville and Wheeling, West Virginia, the same area where Sister Robin's murder took place, and she basically has vanished. The car she was driving was found along West Virginia Route #2, which is a major north/south route between those 2 towns. She's not been heard from, seen or anything since that time. Now she was kind of a unique woman, she was a large woman, she wasn't disproportionate but she was over 6 feet tall and she would have been striking to anyone who would have noticed her. The bar she worked at sometimes had a reputation, but that's a lot of that could be myths and urban legends. We're not sure what type of fate she met; she possibly could have put herself in a position to become a victim, you know, she had had some wild actions, if that's the way to say it, after her breakup with her husband hanging out at bars late at night, working at the bar, partying a little bit, so she kind of put herself in the position to become a victim somewhat, but we really don't have anywhere to go on that case. I don't know. I guess there's a possibility that her body could have been discovered somewhere. She may be a Jane Doe somewhere out there. I'm not aware of any. I know we have met with her children, we have obtained DNA samples from her children and they have been entered as the relatives of unidentified and missing persons and we have never gotten any type of contact with that. I did investigate an avenue at one point where someone was supposedly from Canada that had in her and learned at least that, I think it was last year, Canada didn't have an avenue for entering missing persons like that into CODIS but they were working on that and some type of arrangement, I'm not sure of the status of that now. But there's really no reason for her to have disappeared.
TODD: Now she's in NCIC too, right?
SGT SWIGER: Yes and that's a part of what I did, I entered her into the NCIC as a missing person and did the DNA at the database.
TODD: Well you've done pretty much all you can do until you get a tip.
SGT SWIGER: Well, we investigated that case and we had some tips and a lot of it's not public, I guess it doesn't matter, but we've done, we've excavated in some areas that we thought she may be on tips so we put a lot of time into the case.
TODD: Well hopefully you'll have a couple of hundred people that'll take another look at it again and that's what it's going to take to gain another tip in this case and I hope you get plenty. I hope you get overworked and they hire more people to help you.
SGT SWIGER: You know, that's. I don't complain. My biggest complaint is that we don't have enough people, at one point we did have 6 people assigned and we're divided up into what they call 'troop areas' with so many counties per troop and at one time we did have 6 officers assigned and ideally I'd love to see that again, you know, 13 counties is more manageable than 55.
TODD: Overall, do you feel like things are moving in a positive direction? Are we better now than we were last year?
SGT SWIGER: Well, I mean, I don't know. As far as me, I'm kind of about the same position. I've got more cases coming in. I think as far as the recognition of the cold case unit, we're getting identified. You've got to take small steps because we started out as "well let's try this out" and "we'll get these guys doing this", and as a uniformed trooper, I was performing many other duties. Then we took the next step where they finally, the West Virginia State Police, they assigned us to our Bureau of Criminal Investigations and formally, we're identified as a separate unit within the State Police under Investigative Support Services. The next step is starting to build this. I believe that we have the support of the administration, you know, we survived an administration change; I think that they support us as being able to get the amount of people shifted there to where it doesn't hurt the field troupes that are taking continual calls. You know, we've applied for a grant through NIJ (National Institute of Justice) to help do some more DNA analysis, which hopefully would help pay overtime for me and another investigator, which will be an incentive to give to more people. We're waiting on that solicitation, which I believe will be in October or November before that's awarded to see if we get that grant. You know, I'm optimistic; I know I have the support of the troopers in West Virginia if I need help from any trooper from anywhere, I know they'll help me in any way that they can. You know my supervisor is that way too, if we need somebody to do an interview, well that's not what I need, we need people to do the entire case because there's more coming through the front door than you can look at but you do the best you can and I won't turn anybody away. I will listen to them and I'll be honest with them; I'll try my best.
TODD: What do you need, I guess is what I want to ask you. What do you think would help you do your job? If you had a wish list? I know you need a lot of things obviously but what would be the most effective?
SGT SWIGER: Well most effective would be more people assigned to the cases because it's to give an example, if I get a tip off something in southern West Virginia, logistically it's difficult for me to investigate it unless I want to move there and stay away from my family and if you're not happy at home, you're not going to be happy at work either. That would be my first thing I would want is people; I don't need more pay, you know, I don't make the most money in the world but if you're in law enforcement for money, you're in the wrong business. This isn't about what kind of money I can make; I would like to have enough people to do this job the way it should be done.
TODD: Well, you know, there's a lot of personal satisfaction that is part of your pay, I think in those cases and there's nothing greater than that feeling of knowing that you helped put a piece of the puzzle together and you made a difference.
SGT SWIGER: Absolutely. I mean, that's satisfaction itself. All the hours you put into it, I think is very satisfying. I think that something else I would like to see is to create a funding for a laboratory, especially the biochemistry section, because they're having a difficult enough time taking the new cases coming through because the DNA is the new fingerprint. Everybody that goes to every crime, whether it be a murder or a burglary where someone cuts himself going through the window, everybody is submitting DNA and it's taking so long to get those results and we need to adequately staff our lab personnel.
TODD: Well there's a lot of talk of federal mandate to force the use and to me that's kind of hard, you know, you want to see it done, you know to force everything to be processed but does that mean that they're going to change anything or is it just going to put more pressure on you? If the federal mandate came through, you'd have to process all these cases in this manner throughout the state. I know that that would put a great deal of pressure on you.
SGT SWIGER: Well that, I think with each case being processed that would ensure the integrity of the evidence. I mean, right now our labs are accredited and everything goes through central processing and then it gets assigned a particular section and I've got to agree that's the way to do it, you just have to put the people in there to do it properly; enough people to do it and, you know, I guess a lot of police officers, and it's probably the same nationwide, we complain about turnaround times with the lab and they're doing the best they can too. I'm sure every agency is that way; they're overworked with the things that are coming through and you know a lot of times they don't like seeing me come to the lab because I usually have something that's difficult, they're not easy, you know, and I'm asking them to look at old cases, I'm bringing them vials of blood taken at autopsy that are 30 years old and wanting to take DNA from them.
TODD: So you're just trouble.
SGT SWIGER: And they're receptive and they do it but most of my cases may be dependent on what is the outcome of that DNA whether I can take the next step. So I've got multiple fingers of cases going, you know, I'm not a person who can be idle. I'll submit something and then I'll have to do something else while I'm waiting on that DNA, to take that next step. So it would be nice to have things done a lot quicker but that comes down to a manpower issue too.
TODD: We've got to keep working on that. It's been a pleasure having you for our 50th episode.
SGT SWIGER: I didn't know it was the 50th.
TODD: It's the 50th episode. I had to double-check that while I was talking to you. You're definitely doing an incredible job and I'd like to have you back again. I'd like to talk to you about every one of your cases at some point in time. You're so receptive and I think they've definitely got the right man for the job in that case.
SGT SWIGER: Well I appreciate your kind comments and I appreciate that you give us attention especially the Sister Robin's case, you know, we've put thousands and thousands of hours into that case and somebody out there knows about this; somebody's talked to somebody in a bar or somebody's out there sitting about this. It's a relative, it's their husband, brother, whoever and you know, I just don't know how they can sit with this on their conscience if they know about this and they haven't told somebody. With Annita Price, she's got her 2 kids that grew up without their mother and wondering where she's at and they would just like to know what happened.
TODD: And you're about their age too and grandchildren.
SGT SWIGER: Yeah. I mean, you look at the other case, the woman in 1950; here's a woman that nobody claimed, you know, strangled and murdered and thrown out along the road. You know, I had a man came and talked to me the other day that his brother had drowned and they're surfacing things that maybe somebody actually drowned and I don't know how many families, I sit in their living rooms and cried with them over this and what a stressful thing emotionally.
TODD: It's definitely hard to deal with. That's why we do this, is to try. We want the ones that seem to be the most neglected, that's why we try to do this.
SGT SWIGER: And I would encourage folks. If they know something here in West Virginia that I can help with, bear with me, I'll get to it when I can. My contact information is on your website I hope.
TODD: It is and you'll have a permanent archive for these 3 cases and any that I call you with you'll have a permanent archive, a permanent tip route and hopefully you'll let me know when you decide to retire and the next person, and we'll be able to update that data but this will be permanent and we'll never stop.
SGT SWIGER: Well I plan on being around for a while. I can't go anywhere for at least 10 years so I'll at least be here that long.
TODD: Well it's been great having you. We'll say goodbye to our audience now and I'm going to talk to Sergeant Swiger for just a few more minutes but it's been a great 50th episode and I'm proud of having you here.
SGT SWIGER: Thank you.