An investigation into the disappearance of a woman allegedly held captive in a cage has taken an unexpected turn after the prime suspect’s home, where she is believed to have been imprisoned, was burned to the ground.
According to court documents obtained by Fox4, Cassidy Rainwater, 33, was reported missing on August 25, six weeks after she was last seen. James Phelps, 58, and Timothy Norton, 56, have been charged with kidnapping, facilitating a felony, inflicting injury, and terrorizing in relation to the disappearance of Rainwater. Her whereabouts remain unknown.
Phelps was the last person to see Rainwater, according to court records. On September 1, a detective spoke to Phelps at his home on Moon Valley Road in Lebanon, Dallas County, Missouri. Court documents say Phelps told the detective Rainwater had been staying with him until she “got back on her feet” and that she had spoken of going to Colorado.
Phelps also told the detective that a month earlier, Rainwater had left his home in the middle of the night and hitched a ride from a vehicle she encountered at the end of his driveway. He said he had not seen or heard from her since.
According to the court records, during this visit, the detective noticed that the loft area of the property where Rainwater had purportedly been staying looked as though it had been “stripped” and none of her belongings were visible in the room at the time.
On September 16, according to the court documents, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by an FBI agent in Kansas City regarding an anonymous tip claiming a photo existed showing Rainwater caged and in a semi-naked state.
After obtaining a search warrant for Phelps’ cell phone, court records say police uncovered seven images showing Rainwater partially nude and imprisoned on his property.
During this period, detectives also identified Norton as being connected with the case. Court documents say that after an initial interview with Norton, who told investigators he was a trucker who lives in his rig when not working, detectives began to suspect he was not providing them with accurate information.
During a second interview on September 20, the records say that Norton confessed to knowing Rainwater was being held in a cage at Phelps’ home. The court records add he then told detectives he visited Phelps’ home on July 24 after he was contacted by Phelps and asked to help him restrain Rainwater. He allegedly said he complied with this request.
Both men were being held in jail when, late on Monday, Phelps’ home burned to the ground. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to OzarksFirst that the blaze began around 10 p.m. and required fire crews from multiple stations.
The news outlet reported that a Dallas County deputy on the scene discovered what appeared to be a tripwire linked to an explosive. The Springfield bomb squad was called in, arriving at around 1:30 a.m. They subsequently detonated an explosive device that had been set up nearby.
According to a statement posted to Facebook by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, despite the damage, the FBI was able to recover several items that could be used in the ongoing investigation.
The circumstances surrounding the fire are being investigated by the Division of Fire Safety. It is not yet clear whether the blaze was the result of arson or simply accidental.
A day after the fire, Phelps and Norton appeared before a judge where prosecutors asked to be afforded 45 days to gather witnesses ahead of a preliminary hearing. That hearing date has been set for November 5.
Despite Rainwater’s imprisonment being a matter of court record, no other details have been released by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office regarding her disappearance, including whether or not she has been found.
Newsweek has contacted the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office for comment.
Timothy Norton, Cassidy Rainwater and James Phelps. Norton and Phelps are being held without bond for their alleged roles in the disappearance of Rainwater.
Dallas Sheriff’s Office