It should have been a time of celebration when a young Indiana couple was preparing for their rapidly approaching wedding day. But instead, those weeks would be filled with angry accusations, police polygraphs and one huge mystery.
It's a Sunday afternoon in Richmond, Indiana in July 2001, and 28-year-old Niqui McCown is checking off her to-do list before her wedding day. One errand includes a trip to the neighboring town of Dayton, Ohio to pick up some beauty supplies and to the laundromat after that.
Niqui's fiancé Robert Webster is busy with his own pre-wedding preparation that day.
Webster met the woman he was about to marry in high school. But after high school, Bobby and Niqui broke up and went their separate ways. Niqui moved on to date a local Richmond man named Steven Johnston. They had a daughter together named Payton.
"If I was smarter, she'd still be here and we would still be together," Johnston tells Crime Watch Daily. "I wasn't good to her. I wasn't at all. I cheated. I was abusive."
Did Niqui leave you?
"Yes," said Johnston.
But Niqui never forgot about her first love, Bobby Webster, and the feeling was mutual when the two reconnected a few years later.
"We were together for about three and a half years before I moved to California, and then I came back, we had got back together the minute I got back, it seemed, from California, and it went on from there," said Webster.
To a whirlwind romance ending in a proposal, and now the happy couple is just three weeks away from their big day.
"She knew me inside-out, you know, and I just, she just even now puts a smile on my face, having those memories of her still puts a smile on my face," Webster said.
And she was all smiles on that Sunday afternoon when she stopped by her sister's house.
"She did her laundry every Sunday right down the street from my house," said Niqui's sister Tammie Hughes. "She would be sitting at my house waiting for her laundry to get done. We just hung out. That's what we did."
But on this day, July 22, 2001, when Niqui went missing, something happens on one of her trips back and forth from her sister's house to the laundromat, and it appears to upset Niqui.
"She said 'They just won't leave me alone,'" said Tammie.
Niqui tells her family she's getting harassed by a couple of men at the laundromat.
"And my mom said 'What's going on, Niqui, what's going on?' She said 'Well, you're an attractive girl, you know, things like that happen, guys do that, she said 'Just go get your laundry and come back here, you can dry it here,'" said Michelle.
Niqui tells her family she'll be back and heads over to the laundromat to grab her clothes. Meanwhile, Niqui's fiancé Bobby returns from the tuxedo shop around 4:30 that afternoon.
"I started watching TV, and I got lost in that TV show so I got kind of lost on time, and just assumed that she was over at a friend's just, you know, chatting about the wedding, and you know, doing extra shopping too," said Webster. "I assumed she was out spending more money than we were agreeing to spend, I guess. She liked to shop."
But that was not the case. At this point another hour has passed. It's now 5:30 and Niqui is a no-show back at her sister's house. Webster hasn't heard from her either and when he tries to call Niqui, there's no response. Then a final red flag for Niqui's loved ones when she fails to pick up her 9-year-old daughter.
"Her grandmother called me and said 'Hey, would you come and get Payton?' And I'm like 'Sure, what's going on?' and they told me then," said Steven Johnston.
While Johnston takes care of Payton, Niqui's siblings and fiancé head to her parents' home to come up with a game plan.
"We started making a lot of calls, we started calling a lot of hospitals. About 9 or 10 o'clock, you know, no word, no callback," Robert Webster.
Another concerning fact is that Niqui had left her purse and I.D. at the apartment she shared with her fiance and daughter.
"So now we're freaking, you know. And at that point we went down and we got the papers to report her missing," said Michelle McCown.
Michelle Miller is a detective with the Richmond Police Department where Niqui's family first filed the missing-person report.
"Through talking to family and friends, her and her fiancé Robert Webster had loaded the car with clothes for her to go to the laundromat," Det. Michelle Miller tells Crime Watch Daily. "There is surveillance footage of the convenience store that she had stopped at."
When Niqui McCown doesn't return home, her family and fiancé file a missing-person report.
"And they told us it was too soon," said Tammie Hughes. "At that point I guess you had to wait 72 hours before you could report somebody as an adult missing. And for that reason is because they are allowed to make a decision to come and go as they want."
Michelle, any chance, any possibility that your sister just got cold feet with the wedding?
"She was really excited about where her life was at the time, so there's no way that I could see her getting cold feet," Niqui's sister Michelle McCown Luster said.
When Monday morning rolls around and Niqui misses her shift at the correctional facility where she worked, her family is convinced Niqui didn't disappear on her own.
"I started crying and I knew something was wrong because she loved her job, and Niqui didn't miss no work," said Michelle.
And by now cops are concerned too, and ramp up their missing-person investigation. Richmond police search the immediate area around the laundromat where Niqui was last seen and interview those close to the missing woman.
"Trying to find out if her day was typical, if everything that had happened prior to her becoming missing was normal, and just gathering facts about her, to try to find out her behavior and in that process then you're able to possibly develop a person of interest," said Richmond Police Det. Michelle Miller.
And investigators look into the incident involving those two men who were allegedly harassing Niqui at the laundromat.
"There were reports that there were two subjects that were kind of giving her a hard time, whether it be flirting and things along that line," said Det. Miller.
But according to cops, nothing comes from that lead. Then police turn their attention to the surveillance video from the convenience store across from the laundromat that captured last-known images of Niqui a short time before she vanished. You can clearly see Niqui at the counter making a purchase and then leaving the store.
Anything unusual about Niqui's movements?
"No, it was a routine for her to go the laundromat, that was absolutely normal," said Det. Miller.
While police conduct their investigation, Niqui's family organizes additional search parties made up of Niqui's friends, family, and fiancé Bobby Webster. But during their searches, Niqui's sisters are struck by Webster's curious appearance.
"When we were doing the searches, of course you don't care about what you look like. You see people out there, we were a mess," said Tammie. "I mean if you see some of the photographs you will see but he was always the clean person. He was always dressed up, I guess ready for if he was on camera."
The news media was on hand covering Niqui McCown's disappearance and the missing woman's sisters claim Bobby Webster was center stage conducting the interviews.
"I could care less how I look. If I'm looking for my sister, I'm looking for my sister," said Tammie.
But it wasn't just how Webster looked that raised some eyebrows -- it was also how he acted just days after his fiancée disappeared.
"He tried to take the rings back, the wedding rings," said Tammie.
And when police find out, they begin to take a closer look at Niqui's fiancé.
"He started having behavior that was somewhat suspicious," said Det. Miller. "He had canceled the wedding hall, got a refund for that. He had tried to return the ring to get a refund for that, had looked into her schooling, money for school, to get a refund."
Police agree and ask Webster to take a polygraph test.
"It showed deception, according to the polygraph examiner," said Det. Miller.
At this point, despite Webster's suspicious behavior and failed polygraph, police consider him only a person of interest and not a suspect in Niqui's disappearance.
"There was no evidence," said Det. Miller. "His behavior was erratic, but as in physical evidence, there's no evidence."
And even though his behavior appears to be incriminating, Bobby Webster tells police there was a good reason why he tried to get a refund on his wedding just days after his bride-to-be vanished.
"One of the excuses that he used was that he was trying to gather money for a reward," said Det. Miller.
Webster claims he needed the fast cash to purchase a cellphone to be in constant contact with people involved in the search. But he denies he ever tried to collect on Niqui's unspent tuition money or cancel their wedding.
"Sell back the ring? It was only a deposit on the ring. It was on layaway. How would I sell back a layaway? You know, canceling a wedding -- we're still pretty much paying on the rec hall and everything, all I did was make some calls, going 'Something's going on,' you know, 'We're gonna be delayed,'" said Webster. "This wedding's in three weeks. Even if Niqui had came back that moment, you know, she's been missing for days, I doubt the wedding's going to be planned right on schedule, something's gonna be delayed. I never canceled nothing."
Without any proof that Webster is responsible for Niqui's disappearance, police move along with their investigation. Webster says he understands why police had to take a hard look at him.
Then three and half months after Niqui vanishes, cops find Niqui's car, and where it was found takes everyone by complete surprise.
Is Robert Webster still a person of interest?
"No, he's not," said Det. Michelle Miller. "We did develop another person of interest."
It's the father of her child, Steven Johnston, and it's his apartment complex where her car is found. It's news her family has been desperately waiting for.
"I was completely floored because I was excited that it was found 'cause now I'm thinking 'Wow, we can find out something that's happening here, maybe they're gonna have some kind of clue of who has taken our sister,'" said Niqui's sister Tammie Hughes.
Police search the car. Her laundry was still in the vehicle, folded in baskets.
"The seat in the vehicle was in a position that would be the place that Niqui would have the seat, at least no one else larger than her would have been driving the vehicle," said Det. Miller.
Meaning that Niqui likely drove there on her own accord to perhaps see someone she knew.
Richmond Police contact Steven Johnston, Niqui McCown's ex and the father of her only child. He took a polygraph test.
"Lie-detector test, gave my DNA, whatever they needed, I would have gave it to them the very next day, all they had to do was ask," Johnston tells Crime Watch Daily.
"We talked to him. He did a polygraph and he passed the polygraph," said Det. Michelle.
But while Steven Johnston doesn't seem to be involved in her disappearance, investigators still have her car which they sent to the state crime lab for testing.
"The vehicle was processed for DNA, for blood, for fingerprints, but we didn't find anything," said Det. Miller.
Or so they thought. When investigators start digging around, they discover that the car is also parked close to another apartment complex where a friend and co-worker of Niqui's lives: Tommy Swint.
"A person that she could have been involved with," said Det. Miller.
Tommy Swint and Niqui McCown both worked together at the same correctional facility in Dayton, Ohio, and there were rumors that the two may have been more than co-workers -- or at least, that Swint wanted to be.
"In speaking with family and friends it was found that they believe that he had somewhat of an obsession with her," said Det. Miller.
An obsession that revealed itself during Niqui's bridal shower, when Swint gave her an unexpected present.
"At her bridal shower he gives her lingerie," said Michelle McCown.
What was Tommy Swint doing at her bridal shower?
"He wasn't there," said Michelle.
"He sent it," said Tammie Hughes. "Very creepy."
"And this is before she came up missing," said Michelle.
And as investigators found out, Swint wasn't just obsessive -- he was also violent.
"Many people said that, and especially towards women," said Dayton Police Det. Patty Tackett. "Very violent towards women, that seemed to be the common denominator, was that it was the violence towards women."
With Niqui's fiancé, Bobby Webster, and her ex Steven Johnston off cops' radar for now, investigators zero-in on Tommy Swint. But when they go to talk to him:
"He was not completely cooperative, there was something odd about him, never quite cooperative, wouldn't answer questions completely or would go off subject," said Det. Miller.
But investigators can't force Swint to talk to them, and they have no evidence to support that he's involved in Niqui McCown's disappearance. So for now they consider him a person of interest and continue their investigation.
Then the leads go cold, and six long years pass.
Then suddenly the case heats up again when Richmond Police get a tip about Tommy Swint. It appears he's no longer working at the correctional facility. He's now a cop.
What was your reaction when Tommy Swint was hired as a police officer?
"Astounded. In disbelief," said Richmond Police Det. Michelle Miller.
And to her horror, he's working the next town over, in Trotwood, Ohio.
"So investigators went to the Trotwood, Ohio Police Department and sat down with the chief," said Det. Miller. "We asked them, 'Did Tommy disclose the fact that he is a major person of interest in our Niqui McCown missing-person investigation?' And they said he didn't."
The Trotwood Police Department gave Swint the option to resign or be terminated. He resigned, but not without a fight. He sued the city of Richmond and its police department, then held a news conference, claiming he was never told that he was a person of interest in Niqui's disappearance.
The Richmond Police Department fires back, claiming investigators did tell Swint he was a person of interest. Swint's lawsuit against the city and police department is dismissed. But before the suit was dropped, it made big headlines, and Tommy Swint's face was on every newscast and front page in the Richmond, Indiana area. The story reaches the neighboring city of Dayton, Ohio, where police receive an anonymous tip. Someone has recognized Tommy Swint.
"Somebody called in to give us information in regards to looking at him as a possible suspect in Tina Ivery's case," said Patty Tackett.
Tina Ivery, 33, lived in Dayton, Ohio in 1991 before she went missing.
"A dead body of an individual by the name of Tina Ivery, she was actually found off the side of a road, thrown like trash in a trash pile," said Dayton Police Det. Patty Tackett.
She died from strangulation and blunt trauma. And even though police were able to build a suspect's DNA profile from blood and semen stains recovered from the blanket used to cover Ivery's body, investigators were missing one key thing: a suspect to match. So the case went cold and stayed there for 16 years.
There's still the problem that they need Tommy's DNA. And Dayton investigators can't force Tommy Swint to hand over a sample, but it turns out they don't need to: He's already given his DNA to Richmond Police.
"And then Richmond in turn gave it to us," said Det. Tackett. "Due to the fact he was cooperating with his attorneys, he did offer to give it to them. He did not know that he was under the radar for Tina's homicide."
And the results of Swint's DNA when compared with the sample recovered from Tina Ivery's crime scene?
"It matches the blood DNA that was on the blanket, matched Tommy Swint, as well as two semen spots that were on the jacket of Tina Ivery that was inside the body bag that was used, actually came back to Tommy Swint," said Tackett.
And if DNA weren't enough, forensics teams using the latest technology pull a fingerprint from the tape that was used to bind Ivery's body. Then police track down Tommy Swint, now working as a security guard and living in Alabama. They have a warrant to obtain his fingerprints.
"We got him in his vehicle while he was going to work, so he was actually in his uniform working at a security job down in Alabama, and made contact with him, they did a traffic stop on him and brought him to the police station, again, very cooperative, did not ask any questions, and we told him that we were looking to just get his fingerprints, and he said OK," said Tackett.
The fingerprints are a match.
"We definitely knew we had our guy," said Tackett.
And investigators let Swint know what they have. He denied killing Tina Ivery or even knowing her.
Tommy Swint is free to go while Dayton Police pull an arrest warrant. Once the paperwork is complete, they contact the authorities in Alabama to assist in the takedown.
Back in Indiana, Richmond Police get word that Swint is about to be indicted by Dayton authorities for Tina Ivery's murder. It's a huge development for them, turning Tommy Swint from a person of interest to possible prime suspect in the disappearance of Niqui McCown.
"We believe that through interviewing him in connection with that homicide that we were going to be able to obtain information to figure out where Niqui was and what had happened to her," said Richmond Police Det. Michelle Miller.
Now three police agencies working together in Indiana, Ohio and Alabama are ready to move in and take down a suspected cold-blooded killer.
"We contacted Alabama as soon as the indictment came out to go out and arrest him and pick him up, and when they did and when they approach the house, they heard a gunshot, and Tommy actually took his life," said Det. Tackett.
It's a gunshot that sends shockwaves all the way back to Richmond, Indiana.
"I was kind of mad at the fact that they got an answer and we don't," said Michelle McCown. "I mean I'm glad it worked out for them, but it was a total double sword for us 'cause we still didn't have an answer."
But did the answers about what really happened to Niqui McCown die with Tommy Swint?
"No, I don't believe so," said Det. Miller. "I believe that there's another person of interest that Tommy was close to that has some of the answers, if not all of them.
"There's another person. It was a co-worker of his that he had a relationship with, and I believe that person probably does know more," said Miller.
Tommy Swint had a love interest at the correctional facility where he worked at the time when Niqui McCown went missing. And cops believe that there was pillow talk about what happened to Niqui.
But as for Niqui's family, the wait is almost too much to bear. It's been 17 years since their beloved Niqui disappeared. Her fiancé Bobby Webster says his life will never be the same. Niqui's daughter Payton who was 9 at the time her mother vanished, is now a 26-year-old woman with a child of her own.
What would Niqui's sisters like to say to the woman who cops think may hold the answers?
"I know Swint told you something," said Tammie. "To clear your conscience, and you're supposed to be a Christian now, go ahead and get right with God, get right with us. That's my message to her."
And police have a message of their own. They don't think Tommy Swint was just involved in Tina Ivery and Niqui McCown's demise, they believe he took many secrets to his grave.
Was Tommy Swint a serial killer?
"Do I believe that there's a good possibility that there are other people that he has harmed, yes I do," said Det. Patty Tackett.
And just like with the case of Tina Ivery, an anonymous tip can be the difference needed to help police uncover the whole story of Niqui McCown's disappearance.