ONE YEAR LATER: Where does the Cassidy Rainwater case stand?

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 1:14 PM CDT
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BUFFALO, Mo. (KY3) - It has been one year since Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI raided a house in Dallas County, searching through evidence of Cassidy Rainwater’s disappearance.

Since then, James Phelps and Timothy Norton face murder, abandonment of a corpse, and kidnapping charges. Phelps & Norton have pleaded not guilty in court.

In August, the prosecutor filed to make the case a death penalty case against James Phelps.

The case sparked attention in the community, the state, and even nationally. KY3 news first reported about her disappearance. Investigators say, Rainwater, 33, had ties to Dallas, Greene, and Laclede counties. She disappeared on July 25, 2021. Her family reported her missing to authorities nearly one month later.

On November 17, the Dallas County prosecutor filed first-degree murder charges against James Phelps and Timothy Norton in Rainwater’s death. Prosecutors previously charged Phelps and Norton with kidnapping over the disappearance of Rainwater in mid-September, following an FBI tip that led to their arrests.

Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice says investigators have not located any evidence leading them to believe other victims or suspects are associated with Phelps and Norton.

On September 16, 2021, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the FBI because of a tip they received. When police followed up on this tip, they found seven photos on Phelps’ phone that led to his arrest. Phelps was arrested and sent to the Dallas County Jail.

On September 19, 2021, police interviewed Timothy Norton on the disappearance of Rainwater. The address listed for him on online court systems and court documents showed the same address as James Phelps’ home on Moon Valley Road. Police found some inaccuracies in his story.

One day later, deputies brought Norton back to interview him again. Per investigators, he admitted details to authorities about restraining Rainwater back in July. The next day, Timothy Norton was booked into the Dallas County Jail without bond.

A few weeks later, on October 4, 2021, Phelps’s home burned to the ground. Deputies have not made any arrests into the house burning down. A Dallas County deputy had alerted a firefighter after discovering a trip wire near the home. The Springfield Bomb Squad also received a call to assist at the scene. Several hours later, the bomb squad detonated the suspicious device.

Rachel Nicholson, who moved to Lebanon recently, said she saw the home go up in flames from a distance.

“All of a sudden, the house collapsed, and the flames got bigger. We could feel the heat,” said Nicholson. “Everything was on fire, and we sat there and watched it collapse. I called 911 because I was worried about it catching the woods on fire and spreading to the other houses.”

Nearly four months after Cassidy Rainwater went missing, the Dallas County prosecutor officially upgraded charges against Phelps and Norton. The new charges included first-degree murder and abandonment of a corpse after DNA tests returned to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the death of Rainwater.

According to court documents, investigators recovered more than 200 pieces of evidence at the home and determined that Rainwater’s body had been dismembered. DNA tests returned to Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice confirmed Rainwater’s flesh was found in a freezer. Sheriff Rice said more of her remains were scattered on a nearby property belonging to her grandfather Bill Rainwater.

Per court documents, investigators say Norton admitted that Phelps asked him to help kill Rainwater while she was staying at Phelps’ home. Investigators say Norton admitted to holding down Rainwater’s legs while Phelps strangled her. Investigators say they dismembered her body in a bathtub.

“What happened with Cassidy is something nobody should ever go through,” said Sheriff Rice in an exclusive interview with KY3 on the following day.

No official motive in Rainwater’s killing has been disclosed. Sheriff Rice said Phelps and Norton were classmates in school and friends for several decades.

The two men are expected to be in court in January. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against Phelps.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com