Missouri Pair Allegedly Kidnapped Woman, Held Her Captive In Cage, Authorities Say
An anonymous tipster reportedly sent the FBI a photo of the victim restrained and partially nude.
One of the Missouri men accused of kidnapping a woman and holding her captive in a cage on a rundown Ozarks property has been sentenced to life in prison for her kidnapping, death, and dismemberment.
Cassidy Rainwater, 33, vanished in July 2021 and family filed a missing person’s report late the following month. A Dallas County Sheriff’s Office deputy investigating Rainwater’s disappearance determined she was last in contact with then 58-year-old James D. Phelps.
Phelps allegedly claimed in an interview that the missing woman had been living in a loft on his rented 3-acre Lebanon property “until she could get back on her feet” — but he said she was no longer there.
“James told me she was talking about going to Colorado,” the deputy wrote in a probable cause document, according to The Kansas City Star.
Phelps allegedly also claimed Rainwater met a vehicle at the end of his driveway in the middle of the night and that was the last time he heard from her, according to court documents.
None of Rainwater’s personal possessions were in the loft and it appeared “stripped,” investigators noted.
In mid-September 2021, the court documents state, an anonymous tipster sent the FBI office in Kansas City a photo of Rainwater partially nude and in a cage, and the agents contacted Dallas County law enforcement officials. Deputies seized Phelps’ cell phone after taking him into custody and they allegedly discovered seven photos showing Rainwater restrained in the cage.
The sheriff’s office then questioned a second man, then 56-year-old Timothy L. Norton, in connection to Rainwater’s disappearance. Court documents obtained by the Springfield News-Leader allege Norton told investigators Phelps asked for his help restraining Rainwater and that Norton went to his property and “did physically confine” the woman by “holding her down for a substantial period of time.”
Norton told police officers that after Rainwater was dead, he and Phelps took her body outside and dismembered her.
Prosecutors charged Phelps and Norton with kidnapping over the disappearance of Rainwater and in November, the Dallas County prosecutor filed first-degree murder charges against Phelps and Norton in Rainwater’s death.
The cabin Phelps was living in before his arrest burned to the ground in October 2021. The Springfield Fire Department found two incendiary devices constructed from mortar tubes, coiled fuzes and balloons as well as a tripwire, WDAF-TV reported.
In April 2023, Phelps entered an Alford plea for first-degree murder. The Alford plea means Phelps acknowledges he would be found guilty during a trial, but he maintains his innocence. As a result, he was sentenced to life without parole.
Norton is still awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and abandonment of a corpse.
*This article was originally published on October 15, 2021 and updated on May 8, 2023.