A bizarre saga in Missouri involving a missing woman who was seen being held captive in a cage has taken a baffling turn as the house where she was apparently kept burned to the ground—immediately after authorities discovered it had been boobytrapped.
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office said the fire at the home in Windyville, an unincorporated Ozarks community about 160 miles from Kansas City, occurred Monday night, according to the Springfield News-Leader.
That’s more than two months after 33-year-old Cassidy Rainwater was last seen on July 25. Police officially opened a case into her disappearance in late August, when a family member called to report she had vanished.
The case then took a very dark turn in mid-September, when the FBI was anonymously sent photographs showing Rainwater semi-nude and in a cage. The feds alerted local police to the tip and officers found seven similar photos on the phone of James D. Phelps, who is thought to be the last person to see Rainwater, the Kansas City Star reports. Phelps initially wound up on police radar two weeks before the alarming photo surfaced, when an investigator following a lead in Rainwater’s missing-persons case questioned him at his cabin. At that time, according to court records, Phelps claimed Rainwater had been staying with him “until she could get back on her feet.”
Both Phelps and Timothy Norton, a trucker who had been living on his property, are now in custody. They are charged with kidnapping Rainwater and inflicting injury and terrorizing, court records show.
Police said Norton admitted during questioning that he had helped restrain Rainwater, but his lawyer, Brandon Twibell, on Wednesday told local media that his client denies all the allegations. Phelps’ public defender has yet to comment on the charges.
The two suspects appeared via webcam on Tuesday before a Dallas County judge, who set a preliminary hearing in the case for Nov. 5.
Meanwhile, Rainwater’s fate—and her whereabouts—remain unknown. Police have largely kept whatever information they have about the case to themselves, citing the “extreme nature of the crime” in a Sept. 18 update.
AURORA, Ind. (AP) — Search crews pulled from the Ohio River in Indiana an SUV that belonged to an Ohio mother missing since 2002 along with her two young children, authorities said Friday.
Side sonar scan technology led divers to the 1997 Nissan Pathfinder Thursday near Aurora in southeastern Indiana, Indiana State Police said Friday in a news release. The vehicle was registered to Stephanie Van Nguyen, who in 2002 disappeared with her 4-year-old daughter, Kristina, and 3-year-old son, John.
Van Nguyen, then 26, left a note that she was going to drive into the Ohio River, but her vehicle was not located at the time, police said.
Delhi Township, Ohio, police Lt. Joe Macaluso told reporters Thursday that it was too early to tell if any bodies were in the SUV.
Searchers found the vehicle more than 50 feet (15 meters) below the river’s surface and about 300 feet (90 meters) from the riverbank
The search was part of an investigation into the family's disappearance that police in Delhi Township reopened about six months ago.
Macaluso said sonar scans of the river last week found three submerged vehicles.
“This has been a case we’ve actively pursued for many years. We did a cold case on it because of the anniversary. I’m happy for the family that we’ll be able to, hopefully, give some closure,” Macaluso said.