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1979 Murder Case Solved by Ingenious Creation of 'Cold Case Playing Cards!'

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On October 22, 1979 Susan Schwartz was shot and strangled in her home in Lynnwood, a small city (population of 35,836) 15 miles north of Seattle, in Snohomish County. Susan's case remained unsolved for 32 years until last Friday.

On that day (Good Friday) an unnamed 57-year-old suspect from Seattle was arrested, a result of a mysterious string of compounding events. It was a most unusual way that he was linked to this coldest of cases; a dealing of cards makes this break through arrest utterly unforgettable, fabulously intriguing!

susan schwarz

One must start with the creation of the cold case playing cards, an ingenious investigative strategy designed by two Snohomish County detectives, Jim Scharf and Sgt. Dave Heitzman, who is no longer Scarf's partner. 52 cold case cards were created, which offer a reward for tips that lead to an arrest. Since the cards were introduced, three cold cases have been solved (the Schwarz case can be included in these achievements).

These unusual playing cards were passed around, such as in the Washington State prisons, which is a very smart strategy, since many of these inmates are either privy to these ancient crimes or possibly may be the culprits themselves. Quite an invention! The tip that led detectives to this particular individual (who has been suspected since the very beginning), came from a prison inmate just one month ago.

The exact nature of the tip wasn't disclosed in the press, but what I gather the lead to be, is the discovery of a new eye-witness who was actually present when poor Susan Schwarz was killed. An article (Arrest made in 1979 'cold case' killing) written by a reporter (Dianna Hefley) for the Herald in Everett, Washington gives us some extensions to how detectives pulled the pieces of the puzzle together.

First of all, more evidence was sent to the state crime lab to be tested. Hum, wonder what kind of evidence it was? Furthermore, detectives dusted off these old files, and put together a list of witnesses they wanted to interview. My question is, did the tip lead them to the witness, who broke the case with her firsthand knowledge of the killer? We are not able to connect the dots from the information we're given in the news.

Nor is the identity of the witness known to the general public. This is understandable, since she has lived in excruciating fear for more than three decades. Detective Jim Scharf said to the Herald that this woman had been very young at the time and had been physically abused by this suspect for all these years. He even threatened to kill her if she ever said anything.

The suspect's wife was named Mary. Apparently, Susan Schwarz (22 at the time she was killed) was urging Mary to leave this guy, saying she could do better. Susan's father, Henry Schwarz, held this important knowledge of Susan's contempt for Mary's husband. (Henry must have known who the killer was down through the years.) So this was the motive, a revenge to shut Susan up. Yet Mary did leave this loser, so Susan can be credited for being persuasive.

susan schwarz pocket pic

Could the eye-witness to the murder possibly have been Mary? That doesn't make any sense, it must be someone else. Yet why would this unknown man kill his wife's best friend right in front of another 'friend' of his? Another unanswered question. Or was she already at Susan's house when the killer dropped over to exact his revenge? Or rather, seen from a different angle, was she a friend of Susan's? Cops are not telling.

The fact that this deviant was willing to kill Susan without fear that this woman (also anonymous) would go to the cops, speaks volumes about the psychology of this sick man. He knew he could intimidate this poor girl into keeping mum, and he did exactly that for 32 years. Yet there's so much more I want to know about this story; I'll settle with the good news for now, it's solved!

The persistence and creativity of these detectives from the Northeast is to be commended. Susan Schwarz's cold case playing card was the Queen of Hearts, but now the Jack(ass) of Hearts will be wearing pinstripes behind steel bars.

And a poor woman trembling in fear continuously for 32 years can finally calm down, knowing her nemesis is behind bars. Maybe even the spirit of a young woman who gave some sound advice to another young woman many years ago finally can get her fair share of peace too.

John Kays identifies timeless remnants from our past that will endure, or be admired by future generations.

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