Arrest made in 1979 ‘cold case’ killing

For three years Susan Schwarz has been the queen of hearts in a deck of unsolved homicides and missing persons cases.

Friday night, detectives announced that the young woman’s death is no longer a mystery. Snohomish County sheriff’s cold case detectives arrested a 57-year-old Seattle man who they believe is responsible for Schwarz’s slaying.

Detectives have been looking for him for more than three decades.

Schwarz was shot and strangled inside her Lynnwood area home Oct. 22, 1979. Her father and younger brother have lived for years without knowing who took her life or why. Gary Schwarz told The Herald in 2008 that he would never give up on justice for his sister. He also acknowledged that he might never get answers.

“We don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes these don’t get solved,” he said. “You have to move on. You don’t give up.”

Snohomish County sheriff’s cold case detectives Jim Scharf, Patrick VanderWeyst and Joe Dunn helped track down the suspect near his Seattle home. The man had been interviewed in the past about the case and for years was considered a suspect.

There was never enough evidence to make an arrest — until now.

Detectives say they received a tip from an inmate at a Washington prison last month. The inmate had seen Schwarz’s case in a deck of cold case playing cards. Scharf and his then-partner Sgt. Dave Heitzman created the county’s first cold case decks in 2008 in hopes of jump-starting investigations into dozens of unsolved homicides and missing persons cases. The decks offer a reward to anyone who helps track down a killer. The 52 cases date back to the early 1970s.

The inmate tipster helped the detectives narrow in on the suspect and his circle of friends, said Scharf, a veteran homicide detective.

Detectives had been working the case over the years. More recently they’d sent additional evidence to the state crime lab to be tested. They also pored through the old case file and compiled a list of people they wanted to interview. They hedged their bets that someone would be willing to come forward with new information that could help them hone in on a suspect.

Detectives say their digging led them to a witness who had never been interviewed about the homicide. That person earlier this week admitted to being an eyewitness to the killing.

The witness “was very young at the time and had been physically abused by the suspect and threatened to be killed if they said anything. That person was living in fear all these years,” Scharf said.

Schwarz, 24, knew the suspect, detectives explained Friday night. She was close friends with his wife. Detectives believe the man killed Schwarz because he blamed her for his wife leaving him and taking their son.

“We believe he resented her,” Scharf said.

Items had been taken from Schwarz’s Alderwood Manor home. Detectives now believe the thefts were a ruse to throw investigators off.

The suspect had talked to police in the past about the homicide and had given different accounts what what he knew, detectives said. When the cold case detectives approached him Friday evening he appeared comfortable talking to them. But by the end of the conversation, it was clear that he wasn’t walking away free after more than three decades under suspicion of homicide.

He was booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of first-degree murder.

“It feels really good, knowing a weight has been lifted off the witness’ shoulders and the family having answers now. It feels good to get to the truth and to find out what really happened. Her family will know instead of always wondering,” Scharf said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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