A professor and his anthropology students at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh are digging into a case that has perplexed authorities for decades—hoping to locate the body of a man presumed murdered on Aug. 13, 1983, in Winnebago County.
Associate Professor Jordan Karsten’s spring interim class will have the unique opportunity over three weeks to work with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office, attempting to locate the remains of Starkie Swenson, whose body may have been buried in the county. The interim class takes place May 17-June 4 but preliminary work at the undisclosed site has begun.
“I’ve been asked by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office to help in the search for Swenson’s missing body,” Karsten said. “They’ve received some new information that they believe could help us find the burial and we’re helping the Sheriff’s Office by using the methods of archaeology, including survey, ground penetrating radar and test pit excavation on land they believe might have been used to hide the body.”
Karsten’s expertise is the human skeleton, including the excavation of human burials, identification of human bone fragments and determination of age, sex, race and height—based on skeletal material. Karsten and a friend who has assisted him in archeologic digs and searches, Matt Hiskes, along with about two dozen UWO students trained in archeology and biological anthropology, will use shovels and other hand tools to delicately excavate the site.
Karsten and Hiskes have even created a podcast, Cold Case: Frozen Tundra, about the Starkie Swenson case that is available on major podcast platforms. Learn more at frozentundrapodcast.com.
Technically, Starkie Swenson is not a cold case. John C. Andrews was convicted of the August 1983 murder of Swenson—even without recovery of Swenson’s body. But nearly 40 years have passed since Swenson disappeared and location of his missing body could close the file on the case.
According to historical accounts, Swenson, who was 67 years in 1983, was romantically involved with Claire Andrews, the ex-wife of John Andrews and was murdered in what has been described as a love triangle in Neenah.
Another woman who had an ongoing relationship with Andrews told authorities Andrews hated Swenson and she provided information about the night Swenson disappeared. The details helped authorities with the case and led to Andrews’ arrest.
When the case was prosecuted in 1994, the first degree intentional homicide charge was amended to homicide by negligent use of a motor vehicle. Andrews halted his trial by accepting a plea to the lesser charge. It was believed Andrews ran over Swenson, who had been riding a bicycle near Shattuck Middle School in Neenah. Andrews was ordered to 24 months in the county jail.
According to an obituary that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Swenson graduated from Marquette University, married Lois Nehring and the Wauwatosa natives moved to Neenah when he was hired by Kimberly-Clark Corporation. They were parents to four daughters. Lois Swenson died in 2017.
Lt. Christopher Braman of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office detective division, said the relationship with Karsten and his students has been extremely helpful on numerous occasions.
“Often times, the expertise required for our most serious investigations is beyond the capacity of the skills possessed by local law enforcement,” Braman said. “When situations like these arise we look to our community stakeholders for assistance and the special talents of the students and staff of the University regularly help us fill those gaps.”
The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office has been assisted by Karsten on previous cases, Braman said, directing investigators to science-based, factual conclusions.
“Whether that should mean reconstruction of human remains or locating and excavating evidence, Professor Karsten has been instrumental to the success of our organization on multiple occasions,” Braman said. “We are hopeful that this class will be able to locate Starkie Swenson, if he is on the property, and bring closure to his friends and loved ones.”