UPDATE 1/23/23 — Timothy Norton has a criminal setting scheduled for 1 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Buffalo, Missouri, courthouse.
James Phelps has a criminal setting scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 21. This court appointment will address Phelps’ request for a change of venue.
Original article, published Oct. 5, 2021:
DALLAS COUNTY, Mo.- According to court documents, Cassidy Rainwater’s remains were 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 the abandonment of a corpse.
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, 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, 2021, 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 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.”
Dallas County Sheriff’s Response
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office made a Facebook post in October to address the rumors surrounding Cassidy Rainwater’s disappearance.
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.
Fire crews, bomb squad called
The house where James Phelps was staying at burned to the ground in October of 2021, not long after Phelps and Norton were arrested. A bomb squad from Springfield was sent to investigate.
According to the report obtained by OzarksFirst, when officers got to the scene, they found the two incendiary devices made with mortar tubes, balloons, and coiled fuzes with a tripwire attached. According to a report by the Missouri State Fire Marshals, the fire has been classified as second-degree arson.
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
At a hearing for Phelps in November 2021, prosecutors said Norton confessed he and Phelps would search for potential victims online and at a nearby Walmart.
James Phelps got a new public defender in early 2022, who has experience defending death penalty cases. That public defender has filed a motion to dismiss a charge of abandonment of a corpse. In July 2022, Phelps entered a plea of not guilty.
In September of 2022, prosecutors filed an intent to seek the death penalty against James Phelps. Phelps’ attorney has also filed a request to change venues for the trial. Phelp’s next court appearance is set for January 20, 2023.
Norton has pleaded not guilty. He waived a preliminary hearing on February 8 In early February 2022, court documents filed in Norton’s case indicated child pornography and pornography of a violent nature were found in Norton’s home. Norton is scheduled to appear in court again on January 24, 2023.
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.
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.