Cassidy Rainwater: Everything we know about her death, disappearance, the suspects, and the house fire

Cassidy Rainwater

OzarksFirst is in contact with local authorities daily for any updates on this case

DALLAS COUNTY, Mo.- According to court documents, Cassidy Rainwater’s remains have been found on a property belonging to two men accused of kidnapping her and keeping her in a cage.

James Phelps and Timothy Norton have been charged with first-degree murder. They are also facing charges for abandonment of a corpse. Norton has a criminal hearing scheduled for November 23, and Phelps will appear in court on November 19.

Court documents say that on September 16, the FBI provided the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office with pictures sent to the FBI as a cyber tip. Some of those photos showed Rainwater partially nude in a cage. Other pictures showed Rainwater’s body bound to a gantry crane device. Authorities say this device is commonly used for processing wild game. That same day Phelps was arrested.

During a search warrant, investigators on the scene of the Moon Valley Road property found the gantry crane, potential blood evidence, and items from a freezer that appeared to be human flesh dated July 24.

Court documents say the items were sent to a crime lab for testing and the lab confirmed they were consistent with Rainwater’s DNA. Authorities say they found Rainwater’s skeletal remains located near the property where Phelps disposed of them. During the investigation of digital evidence, authorities found that Phelps and Norton were planning to murder Rainwater on July 24.

On September 17, authorities attempted to interview Phelps but he invoked his rights to an attorney and refused to answer questions. Court documents say on September 20, FBI officials interviewed Norton at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. Norton told investigators that Phelps asked him to go to the property while Rainwater was sleeping. The documents indicated the two would attack her while Norton held down her legs and Phelps strangled her. Authorities say the men then hung her body on the gantry and Norton helped Phelps dismember the body.

“We have not located any evidence that would lead us to believe there are any other victims associated with Phelps and Norton at this time. This is still an ongoing investigation,” the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook. “If there is anyone who believes they may information concerning this case, they can call investigators at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office at 417-345-2441.”

Cassidy Rainwater, the woman seen in a photo being held in a cage in a partially nude state, was reported missing in August, in September her alleged kidnappers were arrested and charged, and in October the two men appeared in court.

James Phelps and Timothy Norton appeared in court Tuesday, October 5. This was less than 24 hours after the home where Phelps was staying burned to the ground.

Dallas County Sheriff’s Response

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook Thursday evening to address the rumors surrounding Cassidy Rainwater’s disappearance.

The case has been charged with bizarre rumors and the law enforcement officers working on the investigation have spoken up, explaining that the source of accurate information on the case comes from reputable sources such as the Sheriff’s Office itself, rather than social media.

Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice explained in the post that investigating a crime scene takes a long time and that the task cannot be accomplished in a few minutes like it is done in a TV show.

“This isn’t a tv series or movie where we go to commercial break and have lab results in 15 minutes. Searching a crime scene for 7 days 24 hours a day takes that long, 168 hours,” says Rice.

The Sheriff did indicate that more information may be released soon, however.

“We are working in the real-world and this is an active ongoing investigation. When all members of the prosecution team believe that it is appropriate to release information, we will keep you informed. Until that time, I can tell you we have all parties involved with Cassidy Rainwater’s case in jail and we expect additional charges to be filed in the coming days,” says Rice.

Fire crews, bomb squad called

Friday, October 15 UPDATE: According to a report by the Missouri State Fire Marshals, the fire has been classified as second-degree arson.

Tuesday, October 12 UPDATE: According to an incident report from the Springfield Fire Department, two incidenary devices were found at the scene of a house fire in Dallas County that is part of the Cassidy Rainwater investigation.

According to the report obtained by OzarksFirst, when officers got to the scene, they found the two incidenary devices made with mortar tubes, balloons, and coiled fuzes with a tripwire attached.

The home alleged kidnapper James Phelps was staying at burned to the ground late Monday night, and a bomb squad from Springfield was sent to investigate.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed with OzarksFirst around 10 p.m., the home caught fire Monday. Fire crews from multiple stations were working to put out hotspots. At one point, a Dallas County deputy found something that resembled a tripwire; that’s when the Springfield bomb squad was sent to investigate.

The bomb squad arrived around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday and shortly after, they detonated an explosive device near the area of the fire.

Springfield City Officials say they don’t have any further information at this time.

The property on Moon Valley Road

Court documents give insight into the history of the property tied to this case. Those documents say James Phelps listed the property as his home address as early as 2011. Timothy Norton listed the property as his address in 1992 and 1993.

However, court documents say Norton lived in Wright City in 2020. A man claiming he owns the property the cabin sits on also listed his mailing address as being on Moon Valley in 1997. OzarksFirst Reporter Bailey Strohl spoke with someone who says he built the cabin. However, records from the Dallas County Assessor’s Office show the property the cabin sits on is currently owned by someone else.

Phelps and Norton Court Appearances

Since an initial court appearance on October 5, there have been changes for both Phelps and Norton. OzarksFirst was in the courtroom that day when a judge set preliminary hearings for both men at 9:30 a.m. on November 5. Both Phelps and Norton appeared via a video conference call from the Dallas County Jail.

However, the judge canceled Norton’s preliminary hearing and the new date is scheduled for Tuesday, November 23. Phelps was assigned a new judge in Dallas County. Phelps is due back in court on Friday, November 19.

On November, 15, an attorney representing Phelps filed new motions. One is a motion to compel, another is a motion for bond reduction. A bond has not been set for Phelps.

Members of the surrounding community are still without answers, and some are turning to any source of information they can get.

“I feel like they’re kind of taking the story and running with it and maybe making it hyped up to more than what it really is. But I also feel like if law enforcement and others will give us information, they wouldn’t have to resort to that kind of…filling in,” says local Savannah Williams.

Wiliams lives in Urbana, about half an hour away from the site of Monday night’s fire. She says that she moved to Dallas County to get away from violence in Kansas City.

“Everything was quiet and I thought moving to the country was going to be the best fit, but now….I don’t want to move back to the city but now I feel like I might have made a bad choice,” says Williams.

Williams says that a lack of information coming from investigating authorities is leading an entire community to speculate.

“The little I did watch I didn’t hear anything bad, and then all of a sudden I’m hearing about a guy who’s got women locked up, and possible torture. I don’t understand what makes people get like that,” says Williams.

Background: How we got here and the search for answers

James Phelps and Timothy Norton were arrested in September and charged with the kidnapping of Cassidy Rainwater. Rainwater was last seen in July and was reported missing in late August.

Court documents accuse Phelps and Norton of holding Cassidy Rainwater in a cage on Moon Valley Road near Windyville, Missouri.

According to court documents, on September 16, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by an FBI agent in Kansas City about an anonymous tip. The tipster advised there was a photo showing a missing person, Cassidy Rainwater, being held in a cage in a partially nude state.

On September 1, a detective spoke to Phelps at his home in Lebanon. He said that Cassidy had been staying with him until she could get back on her feet, court records say. He said she had been talking about going to Colorado.

According to court documents, Phelps told the detective that about a month prior, Cassidy left in the middle of the night and met a vehicle at the end of the driveway in the dark and had not been seen or heard from since.

The detective noticed the loft on the property looked like it had been “stripped,” and they did not notice any belongings of Cassidy’s at the loft at that time.

On September 16, investigators received a search warrant for James Phelps’ cell phone, and court records say they found seven photos of Cassidy Rainwater partially nude being held in a cage on his property on Moon Valley Road in Lebanon in Dallas County.

James D. Phelps (L) and Timothy Norton (R) (Photos: Dallas County Sheriff’s Office)

During the investigation, detectives identified Timothy Norton as being connected to the case.

According to court records, Norton was originally interviewed on Sept. 19 and after his interview, officers determined he had provided information that was not accurate.

He told investigators he was an over-the-road trucker and lives in his truck even when he was not actively working, police said.

Norton was interviewed again on September 20 at the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. During that interview, police said Norton confessed that he knew Cassidy Rainwater was being held at the home of James Phelps in a cage.

Court records say he also told detectives that on July 24, Phelps contacted him to come to his home to help restrain the victim, which he did.

On Monday, October 4, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on Facebook stating that the FBI has recovered several items that will be used to further the investigation.

Very few details on this case have been released by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, including whether Cassidy Rainwater has been found.

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