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.
They have been similarly tightlipped about the blaze that erupted at Phelps’ Windyville home late Monday. Fire crews responding to the scene arrived to find a tripwire and a “live incendiary device,” prompting the Springfield Fire Department’s bomb squad to scramble to the area, the Star reported.
Bomb squad technicians detonated the device early Tuesday. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, and if it could have been sparked by an improvised device.
The mystery surrounding the case has ballooned to such proportions that out-of-towners have reportedly begun visiting the area where Rainwater was caged up—it has apparently not been secured by investigators.
One man quoted by the Star who had driven more than an hour just to look at the potential crime scene grimly noted that “these guys could have been pulling this off for years.”
Another onlooker, identified by the newspaper as Brian Anthony, said he expects the case to get even weirder.
“I think this is going to be a blown-up big deal when it’s finally done. I think when it’s all said and done, it’s going to blow people’s minds.”