Many authors write about noteworthy crimes from a distance, but not Keith Roysdon. A longtime journalist in Muncie, Indiana, Roysdon and his colleague Douglas Walker have covered one of Muncie’s most infamous murders firsthand for nearly twenty-five years—a story that forms the basis of their new book, The Westside Park Murders: Muncie’s Most Notorious Cold Case, just now out from The History Press. Crime Capsule is thrilled to have Roysdon join us for our next installment of our Seven Questions interview series. Welcome, Keith!
Crime Capsule: Congratulations on your new book. Can you tell us how you and your co-author, Douglas Walker, came to write The Westside Park Murders?
Keith Roysdon: We’re both longtime newspaper reporters in Muncie, Indiana—I’ve since retired but Walker works on—and we were familiar with the tragic case. We first wrote about the murders in 1997 and returned to the case for additional articles several times, including on the 25th anniversary in 2010. After our second book for History Press, Muncie Murder & Mayhem, was published in 2018, we decided to approach the press with a book about the Westside Park case.
The two of you have a longtime interest in cold cases and unsolved crimes, having reported on dozens of them for news outlets over the years. Where did that interest begin, and why?
Walker has almost always covered crime and courts for Muncie newspapers and I covered government for most of my career, and we collaborated on hundreds of stories and columns. We always worked well together and had many of the same contacts, including former investigators and others who remembered unsolved murders and would mention them to us. We were both interested in bringing back into the spotlight the victims of unsolved murders and their families. We wrote about 34 stories in our “Cold Case Muncie” series over several years.
Ethan Dixon and Kimberly Dowell were murdered in 1985. In 2010, on the 25th anniversary of the crime, you and Walker wrote an article that sparked new interest in the case—can you describe what that moment was like, as the story reawakened?
We didn’t know, at least at first, all the repercussions of that 2010 article. It resonated with readers, some of whom contacted us to suggest avenues to explore. What we didn’t know at first was that members of the public, and sometimes police officers and others, were also contacting the police investigators on the case, offering tips and theories.
Some cold cases aren’t just cold but frozen, laying on ice for decades. After twenty-five years, what were the main challenges of re-investigating these killings? Were there any new opportunities or leads that emerged?
Sometimes it’s a challenge to write about very cold cases because surviving friends and family members are gone, police investigators are gone and files don’t even exist for modern-day police officers to consult. Since Westside Park was an open case, it wouldn’t have been proper for police to just let us look through files. Since we knew some of the players were still alive, however, we could talk to them about their recollections, and current investigators were willing to help us get an idea of where the investigation had gone in recent years. The availability of court records was also a huge help.
One of the most fascinating aspects of your book is your attempt in 2019 to interview a key suspect, Jimmy Swingley, who is currently incarcerated for other crimes. Swingley rebuffed your efforts—but how do you go about making such an inquiry in the first place? As journalists, how do you prepare for such an encounter, differently than law enforcement might?
Jimmy Swingley is serving a 65-year prison sentence for a conviction stemming from an unrelated murder in 1996, several years after the events in Westside Park. We knew that in 2018, Muncie police had obtained a court-ordered warrant to get a DNA sample from Swingley, hoping to connect him to the park murders. That encouraged us to contact Swingley in prison to ask for his comments.
We asked the Indiana Department of Correction how to go about asking him questions and did so through a letter and a self-addressed, stamped envelope for him to respond if he wanted to. We knew it was best to be brief in our questions if we wanted to elicit a response from him, so we asked very directly if he committed the crime, why he had told people that he had and what was his opinion of being the primary person of interest of Muncie police. He did not respond in the months before the book was completed in 2020, and still has not.
In one of the chapters in the book, you and Walker write with great insight about the effects that different forms of media can have on unsolved and ongoing criminal investigations. In the months you’ve been preparing Westside Park Murders for publication, have there been any additional developments in the case?
We included the email address of the most recent police investigator on the case in the book, hoping that it might elicit some contact from the public. The investigator—now the Muncie police chief Nathan Sloan—had told us he hoped the book might prompt some progress in the case. We haven’t heard, in the week since the book came out (as I write this) of new developments.
Last but not least, can you tell us about your next project? What are you working on now?
Walker is still covering crime and courts in Muncie for The Star Press, which occupies a lot of his time. Since I took a company buyout and retired in January 2019, besides finishing the Westside Park book, I’ve been working on fiction books and freelance writing. We are frequently asked about the possibility of another book, and there’s plenty of material, but it remains to be seen if that will happen.
On a warm night in September 1985, teenagers Kimberly Dowell and Ethan Dixon were brutally murdered in Westside Park in Muncie, Indiana. Their killer has never been charged. Early on, police focused on a family member of one of the teens as a primary suspect. The investigation even ruled out fantastic scenarios, including a theory that the perpetrator was a Dungeons & Dragons devotee. The case grew cold. Only decades later did a dogged police investigator narrow the scope to a suspect whose name has never been publicly revealed until now. Keith Roysdon and Douglas Walker, authors of Wicked Muncie and Muncie Murder & Mayhem, have followed the investigation into the Westside Park murders for decades and, for the first time, report the complete and untold story.