New information gives twist to cold case

Marilyn "Niqui" McCown

Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Richmond - Next week marks the 7th anniversary since an Indiana mother vanished just weeks before her wedding.

Police presume the worst. Now 13 Investigates uncovers a secret between sisters that's led to a major turn in the case.

Payton Johnston is dreaming one day her mother will come home. She was nine years old when Marilyn "Niqui" McCown vanished seven years ago.

"I knew she wouldn't leave me," the 16-year old said with sad eyes as she talked about growing up without her mother's guidance.

Weather worn pictures of the striking 28-year-old mother sit faded outside the family's Richmond home.  The heartache inside is fresh with another anniversary at the door.

"I just want her home.  And if they've taken her and did something with her they ain't got to confess, just tell me where they laid her," said Niqiu's mother, Barbara "Dolly" McCown.  "Just tell me where she's at," she begged as tears flowed down her cheeks.

Barbara McCown last saw her daughter July 22, 2001.  It was a sweltering day, three weeks before Niqui's wedding. 

That Sunday Niqui went to do laundry blocks from her mother's house after attending church and pre-marriage counseling with her fiancé, Bobby Webster. 

Webster strongly rebuffs any thoughts that Niqui had cold feet about the pending nuptials and deliberately ran away.

"No, that's impossible because if you would have seen how much effort she put into it you know. This is what she wanted," insisted Webster.

Initially Niqui's family thought she was abducted from the laundromat where some men had been harassing her.

Richmond Police eliminated that theory based on surveillance tape from a nearby convenience store.

"When she's leaving the facility there I can tell she's under no duress whatsoever," said Detective Roger Redmond, of the Richmond Police Department.  "I can probably give you a 100-percent surety she was not taken from the laundromat," he told 13 Investigates.
Instead, questions surround Niqui's fiancé.

According to Redmond, "He didn't come across as your typical grieving fiance of a missing girl. I don't know that you can tell the truth and show that you're lying on a polygraph test," he said of Bobby Webster.
Investigators readily admit there's no evidence against Bobby Webster. But days after Niqui went missing, he cancelled the wedding and tried to get her wedding band deposit.

"I hadn't been to work in like two weeks and I was just grabbing extra money that we had out there," countered Webster. He said he was an easy target. "I believe they were looking at me because they didn't know any other direction to go. I'm the obvious choice.  I'm the fiancé," he added.

Detective Redmond admitted, "It's been a tough case.  A lot of time spent on it," he said of the seven-year investigation that has cooled in regards to Bobby Webster.

Part of the difficulty is tracking a case that crosses state lines into Ohio.
Police now think the answers to this complex missing person's case point to the  Meadows of Catalpa, a large apartment complex in Dayton, Ohio. Investigators found Niqui McCown's GMC Jimmy on November 3, 2001, four months after her disappearance.

Niqui once lived in the Meadows of Catalpa too. Her laundry was discovered still neatly folded and undisturbed in the backseat of the truck when it was found.
The day Niqui disappeared, she called a female co-worker who lives less than a mile away. That co-worker reportedly told police Niqui intended to pick up vitamins at a nearby pharmacy.  
This is where the case takes a turn.

Niqui's sister Michelle McCown Luster, now publicly reveals a guarded secret. She says it explains why Niqui frantically tried to get a hold of her the day she vanished.
"There was something going on with Niqui and she wanted to tell somebody," said McCown Luster.

The sisterly secret is about a triangle Niqui's mother and fiancé knew nothing about.

"She would always tell me I don't care what he wants, he's just like a big brother to me," explained McCown Luster referring to former Trotwood, Ohio Police Officer Tommie Swint. Swint and Niqui had worked together at a Dayton prison, the Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center.

McCown Luster said she warned her sister about the relationship.  "I kept telling her, I don't know how many times I told my sister quit taking from this man. And now she's missing and he's a person of interest," she told 13 Investigates.

In October of last year, Tommie Swint disputed his role in the case.

"Detective Redmond never told me or informed me that I was a suspect, or a person of interest," Swint said at the time from his attorney's office.

But Richmond Police aren't backing away from their previous statements when asked if Swint is a person of interest in the disappearance of Niqui McCown.

"Yes, he is," said Detective Redmond without hesitation. "We had some information on the case here that connected him with it. Tom Swint was not cooperative in the investigation," he added.
The big question: Was there a romantic relationship at any point between Tommie Swint and Niqui McCown? 

Niqui's sister, bowed her head and then responded, "Okay how do I explain this? Maybe a few times it went more than just friends," said McCown Luster.

Investigators say Tommie Swint is also connected to the residence of that female co-worker Niqui called the day she went missing.
According to McCown Luster and Niqui's fiancé Bobby Webster, Swint had more than a casual friendship with the co-worker, despite his long-time marriage.

13 Investigates questioned police about the possibility of a female person of interest in this case. Detective Redmond reponded, "No comment."

McCown Luster doesn't mince words about her suspicions.  "If you ask me what I think happened to my sister, I really believe Tommy Swint can give you that answer," she said.

Swint refused to speak with 13 Investigates about the case or his pending lawsuits against both the Richmond and Trotwood Police Departments.

So far, there have been no arrests.

"In a case like this when you go to court, you have to have proof. And when I go to court on this case I'll have the proof I need," said Detective Redmond, who believes the investigation is on the right track.

Niqui McCown's family prays for the proof that will lead to a suspect and help bring Niqui home soon.

"How do you close it?" questioned a distraught Barbara McCown. "How in the hell do you close it, when there's no casket?"

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Niqui McCown, contact the Richmond Police Department at 1-765-983-7250.