Prison Guard Niqui McCown Missing: Police Still Searching
Just three weeks before her wedding, prison guard Marilyn “Niqui” McCown, 28, vanished in Richmond, Indiana. On July 22, 2001, what started out as a beautiful morning at church with her fiancé, Robert “Bobby” Webster, followed by a trip to the laundromat, has turned into a mystery that has lasted almost two decades.
Marilyn Renee Nicole McCown was born on January 6, 1973, in Richmond, Indiana. Her family and friends called her Niqui and she grew up the youngest of 10 children.
At 19, Niqui had a daughter named Payton with a young man named Steven Johnston. Niqui’s sister Michelle said her sister loved being a mother, and her entire life revolved around Payton.
To support herself and her daughter, Niqui worked at the state prison in Dayton, Ohio, about 45 minutes away from where she lived in Richmond. Niqui had a dream of becoming a United States Marshal or an FBI agent and was taking criminal justice classes at Sinclair Community College in Dayton where she was regularly on the Dean’s list. Her family describes Niqui as driven, with aspirations she relentlessly pursued.
Outside of her ambitions, Niqui was outgoing, caring and a very social person with a magnetic personality, and a contagious laugh that drew people to her. She was beautiful and got a lot of attention from boys, but that also made her a target for girls who were jealous of Niqui’s popularity.
Bobby and Niqui met in high school. Bobby was a senior and Niqui was just entering high school. Bobby had a reputation for being a player so Niqui kept him close . . . but not too close. Bobby had a child with one of the girls who regularly harassed Niqui so the relationship between Bobby and Niqui fizzled but remained amicable. Bobby moved to California soon after the relationship ended.
Bobby moved to California and Niqui met Steven Johnston, who would eventually father her child. Steven is described by Niqui's family as a nice guy and he and Niqui lived together. However, things turned bad when Steven lost his job. Niqui became frustrated when she became the sole breadwinner and she viewed Steven as having a lack of drive. They ended up breaking up but remained friendly to raise Payton.
Eight years later, Bobby reentered the picture. He had returned to Richmond in 1998 and reconnected with Niqui almost the minute he arrived back in town. It was clear Bobby had shed is old behavior and Niqui immediately became smitten. In a whirlwind romance with her first love, life could not have been better for Niqui when she vanished in 2001.
The day Niqui vanished, she had gone to church with Bobby. When they got home, Niqui got ready to go to the laundromat while Bobby went to the mall to get his wedding tuxedo sized for their rapidly approaching wedding in August. To make it easier to transport the laundry, Niqui borrowed Bobby’s SUV, and Bobby drove her car that day.
As she left, the last thing Bobby said to Niqui was that he would be home between 4pm and 5pm that evening and they would sit down and prepare their wedding invitations.
Niqui dropped her daughter Payton off at her parent’s house and proceeded to go to the laundromat at Richmond Coin Laundry located in the 1100 block of South E Street. When her clothes were drying, Niqui went back to her family’s home, which was common for her to do. While at her family’s home, Niqui told her mother Barbara and sister Michelle that two men had been harassing her at the laundromat.
“They just won’t leave me alone,” Niqui told her family.
Niqui was agitated. Her mom told her to calm down and said she could bring her clothes back to the house and dry them there. Niqui told her family she would be back and headed to the laundromat to pick up her clothes.
That was the last time Niqui was seen.
“She did her laundry every Sunday right down the street from my house,” Niqui’s sister Tammie Hughes said. “She would be sitting at my house waiting for her laundry to get done. We just hung out. That’s what we did.”
Worry Sets In
When Bobby returned home from the fitting at 4:30 that afternoon, he saw Niqui had not yet returned. He assumed she was still doing laundry and sat down to watch television.
At approximately 6:00 p.m., Bobby became worried when Niqui was still not home and hadn’t called. He called her family’s home, and they told him they had not seen Niqui since she stopped by their home earlier in the day. They all became concerned because Niqui was late picking up Payton, which is something she just wouldn’t do.
Trying not to be alarmed they assumed Niqui may have been called into work and decided to check the laundromat. There was no sign of the vehicle or the clothes. At that point, they began calling hospitals to no avail. The family then drove the route Niqui would have driven to work, thinking maybe she had been in an accident or broken down. Eventually, Niqui’s father convinced the family they should file a missing person report at about 11:00 p.m. However, they would not receive the response they wanted from the police.
“And they told us it was too soon,” said Tammie. “At that point. I guess you had to wait 72 hours before you could report somebody as an adult missing. And for that reason, it is because they are allowed to make a decision to come and go as they want.” In fact, police suggested maybe Niqui had gotten cold feet about her upcoming wedding.
The police got involved after Niqui had missed her shift at the Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center at the Ohio state prison. Niqui rarely missed work, and now her family was frantic.
Police began their missing person investigation at the laundromat.
“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 develop a person of interest,” said Richmond Police Det. Michelle Miller.
Police said there were not any witnesses that could provide the information they needed to follow the lead of two men harassing her at the laundromat. However, police were able to obtain surveillance footage that captured Niqui at the counter of a deli near the laundromat. She made a purchase and left the store. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Police conducted a ground search and brought in a helicopter that searched Richmond and Dayton looking for the missing SUV Niqui had been driving.
While police were searching, Bobby and the family made fliers and began searching on their own. However, during their searches, Niqui’s sister was struck by Bobby’s 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 her was always a clean person. He was always dressed up, I guess ready for if he was on camera.”
News media was covering the family’s efforts to find Niqui and Tammie said Bobby was “center-stage” conducting interviews with all the channels.
It wasn’t just Bobby’s appearance that struck a chord with Tammie—it was also how he behaved in the days following Niqui’s disappearance.
“He tried to take the rings back, the wedding rings,” said Tammie.
When police found out, it sparked the detective’s interest too.
“He started having behavior that was somewhat suspicious,” Det. Miller said. “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.” Bobby claimed he was trying to get refunds so the family could put a reward together.
Police asked Bobby to take a polygraph test and he agreed. According to the Polygraph examiner, it showed deception.
Despite failing the polygraph, police considered Bobby a “person of interest” and not a suspect in his fiancé’s disappearance.
“There was no evidence,” Det. Miller told True Crime Daily. “His behavior was erratic, but as in physical evidence, there’s no evidence.”
The Car Is Located
Three and half months after Niqui disappeared, police found her truck—where it was located was a bombshell.
On November 3, 2001, the Richmond Police Department received a call from the Dayton Police Department saying Niqui’s vehicle was found in the parking lot of the Meadows of Catalpa apartment complex, located in Dayton. It was found with her laundry neatly folded in baskets in the back. Police impounded it for further examination but there were no signs of foul play.
Strangely, Niqui’s car was located at Steven Johnston’s house, the father of Niqui’s daughter Payton.
The police believe Niqui drove her vehicle to the complex voluntarily. “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.
Police began investigating Steven and gave him a polygraph. “We talked to him. He did a polygraph and he passed the polygraph,” said Det. Miller.
Steven offered his fingerprints and DNA to investigators and quickly dismissed as a suspect in Niqui’s disappearance.
A New Person of Interest: Tommy Swint
Police investigated further and found Niqui’s vehicle was also parked near a complex where another friend and colleague lived. Tommy Swint is a man that worked at the same correctional facility in Dayton and there were rumors Swint “wanted” to be more than just friends.
“In speaking with family and friends it was found that they believe that he had somewhat of an obsession with her,” said Det. Miller.
His obsession was clear to family members the night of her bridal shower, when Swint mailed Niqui lingerie as a gift. After further investigation, police found out Swint was not only obsessive but 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 is was the violence towards women.”
When police went to talk to Swint he dodged questions about Niqui and would not cooperate with the police.
“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.
The case was at an impasse but after six years with no new leads, police got a tip that astounded them.
In August 2007, police found out Swint was no longer working at the prison – he was a cop working in the next town over in Trotwood, Ohio.
“So, investigators went to the Trotwood, Ohio Police Department and sat down with the chief,” Det. Miller told True Crime Daily. “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.”
Trotwood Police Department gave Swint the option to resign or be terminated. Swint sued the Richmond Police Department and held a press conference claiming he was never told he was a person of interest in Niqui’s missing person case, but Richmond Police Department said they did inform him. Swint ultimately resigned from Trotwood Police Department after six weeks on the job.
The Case of Tina Marie Ivery
The lawsuit caused a media uproar and Swint was all over the news. He appeared on every news broadcast and on the front page of every newspaper in Ohio. As a result, in November 2007, police received an anonymous lead in the case of Tina Marie Ivery, another woman who vanished and was later found murdered in 1991. An informant said they should look at Tommy Swint.
Ivery had been working as a sex worker when she disappeared, and her body was found by forest workers. She had died of strangulation and blunt force trauma. Her body had been placed in a blanket and wrapped several times with duct tape, then dumped off the side of a road where locals frequently discarded trash.
It took two years for Dayton police to tie Swint to Ivery’s murder through semen found on Ivery’s jacket, a fingerprint on the tape, and blood found on the blanket she had been wrapped in.
“He was able to blend into society,” said assistant Montgomery County Prosecutor Tracey Ballard Tangeman. “He had a legitimate job, a legitimate marriage, a legitimate home.”
In December 2010, prosecutors obtained an indictment charging Swint with Ivery’s murder and were looking at him in other unsolved murders of women. Detectives had hoped that they could question Swint about Niqui’s disappearance while he was in jail awaiting trial on Ivery’s murder, and possibly offer a plea deal.
But when police went to arrest him, just one hour after the indictment had been issued, they approached his apartment in Phenix City, Alabama. When they knocked on the door and announced themselves, they were met with the sound of a gunshot. Swint had shot himself.
“In some ways, I felt a little cheated that he chose to take his life,” Tangeman said. “I don’t think he would have cooperated with other investigations. But we had the hope while he was still alive.”
Swint took the easy way out but the question remains . . . was Swint a serial killer? Did he murder Niqui?
“I believe there is another person of interest that Tommy was close to that has some of the answers, if not all of them,” said Det. Miller. “There is another person. It was a coworker of his that he had a relationship with, and I believe that person probably does know more.”
Living Without Niqui
Nearly 20 years have passed. The pain of Niqui's disappearance reverberates throughout each of her family member’s lives.
Her sister Michelle McCown-Luster runs a Facebook page Finding Niqui McCown and still maintains hope the informant who initially called police about Swint will come forward again and provide some sort of peace for the McCown family.
“I still, I can just go back there and just remember how I felt—the pain, and the concern and worry,” said Michelle.
Niqui’s daughter has grown up and has her own daughter now. “I wish more than anything that she could be here with us,” said Payton who was only 9 when her mother vanished. “But this is my reality now. And I’ve got to push forward and do what I can to keep my mom’s memory alive.”
Payton talked about her grandmother who was the last person to see Niqui. “I can’t imagine losing my child,” said Payton. “My grandma carried my mom for 9 months, raised her for 28 years, and that was her baby.”
Niqui is thought to be deceased, but Richmond and the Dayton police are still actively investigating the case and committed to bringing Niqui home to her family for a proper burial.
If anyone has information about the disappearance of Niqui McCown, please call the Richmond Police Department at 765-983-7247.
© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini