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UWO anthropology class helping with investigation of 1983 Neenah homicide case

Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 5:47 PM CDT
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OMRO, Wis. (WBAY) - A decades old case has a new break. One which investigators hope can bring a family some peace.

UW-Oshkosh Associate Professor Jordan Karsten’s anthropology class is trying to help make that happen using their forensic skills.

“The work that we’re doing is associated with the disappearance in 1983 of Starkie Swenson,” said Carsten.

Swenson was last seen in Neenah on an August evening that year.

A man by the name of John Andrews was convicted of Swenson’s murder in 1994 after accepting a plea deal, but Swenson’s body was never found.

“Finding the remains for the family is hugely important, it’s our primary goal at this point,” said Det. Kyle Schroeder. “When something like this happens, it’s tragic. It opens a wound for the family that has lasted close to 40 years. So as far as helping them get some sort of closure to this chapter in their lives, it’s important.”

Schroeder says the Omro area land where Andrews had a small hobby farm came under new ownership recently, allowing investigators to search the property for the first time.

“We’re digging a series of test pits, taking a look at layers of the earth to see if there’s been pits that have been dug there, if it’s been disturbed in any way,” said Karsten. “And we’re also eventually going to use ground penetrating radar to try to find a clandestine burial.”

Technically the three-week interim class doesn’t begin until May. But Karsten and his students are doing preliminary work in the fields before they get planted. They will move their work to an adjoining wooded area which has developed quite a bit over the decades.

“Before it was essentially a field with a little bit of scrub brush, now it’s turned into a pretty thick woods,” said Karsten.

The work gives students a chance at some hands-on learning.

“I think it’s really beneficial to investigations because especially a lot of people aren’t trained in forensic anthropology. A lot of police officers, like Jordan will go out and teach people, but they didn’t go to school for it and take like really intense classes like some of us did,” said Bailey Raab, one of the students. “I think it’s really good we get to come out here and use our own knowledge to kind of help them out, try to find this guy.”

“This is actually great. It’s one of the things I think we enjoy the most,” said Schroeder. “We get to work with the citizenry that otherwise we probably wouldn’t get to.”

Karsten created a podcast “Cold Case: Frozen Tundra” which dives deeper into the case and the work they’re currently doing, hoping to be able to bring that final closure for Swenson’s family.

“When we do this kind of work, we are really helping our community. So we’re able to use our skills, our methods to help law enforcement and hopefully to bring some closure for the friends and family of Starkie Swenson,” said Karsten. “If we’re able to do anything to help bring closure that’s, you know, the best thing that we can hope for.”

Anyone who has information on the case is asked to contact the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office: (920) 727-2888.

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