BUFFALO, Mo. (AP) – Two men were charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday after human remains found in a home in southwest Missouri were identified as a missing woman, depicted partly naked in a cage, authorities said.
James Phelps and Timothy Norton were also charged with abandoning the body after DNA tests showed positive that the remains found at Phelps’ home near Lebanon were 33-year-old Cassidy Rainwater, Dallas County officials said.
The two-man lawyers did not answer calls for comment on Wednesday.
Phelps and Norton have been in custody since the abduction since mid-September, when pictures of Rainwater were found on Phelps’ phone partially naked and in a cage, authorities said.
Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that the seven images also included Rainwater’s body in a gantry crane commonly used to handle deer, where he was removed and cut before his body was placed in the bathtub. Some remains were found in the freezer, he said.
Rice said Norton told investigators that Phelps asked him to kill Rainwater while he was at Phelps’ home. According to Rice, he said he kept Rainwater down when Phelps strangled him.
The sheriff’s deputies were contacted in August by a woman who said Rainwater had not been seen since July and Phelps was the last person she was seen with.
In September, Phelps told investigators twice that Rainwater was with him when he got to his feet, but he said he hadn’t seen him since he left about a month ago and that he was going to Colorado, Rice said.
On Sept. 16, the FBI provided pictures of Rainwater to Dallas County detectives who arrested Phelps. Norton was arrested on September 20 after speaking to authorities.
Investigators searched Phelps’ home for seven days and found objects in the portal, cage, and freezer that appeared to be human remains, Rice said. These items were dated July 24th. Digital evidence found at the scene revealed messages between Phelps and Norton that planned Rainwater’s death, the sheriff said.
Authorities said the adjacent property had some rainwater skeletal remains.
On October 4, a fire that scientists have identified as arson destroyed Phelps’ home. Fire investigators found two explosives made of grenade tubes and balloon guards with firing cords attached near the home.
Investigators have no evidence that other victims were in contact with Phelps and Norton, the sheriff said.