Mo. Woman Was Locked in Cage, Killed and Dismembered — And Police Only Learned of Her After Receiving Photos

Missouri mother Cassidy Rainwater was tortured and murdered in 2021

<p>Dallas County Sheriff

Dallas County Sheriff's Office

Cassidy Rainwater

Anonymously submitted photos were what alerted authorities to Cassidy Rainwater’s cruel fate. They depicted her locked in a cage and partially nude.

Rainwater was first reported missing in the area of Lebanon, Mo., in August 2021 by a friend who hadn’t seen her for six weeks, according to a Dallas County Sheriff’s Office probable cause statement shared by and reviewed by PEOPLE.

The friend told police that Rainwater had last been seen with a man later identified as James Phelps, police said. On Sept. 1 of that year, police interviewed Phelps, who told them Rainwater had been staying with him until she could get back on her feet. Further, he alleged she had left in the middle of the night for Colorado about a month prior.

The case broke wide open two weeks later after the FBI informed the sheriff’s office that it had received an anonymous tip with a series of photos labeled "Cassidy," PEOPLE previously reported.

The photos showed a woman — who police said was “immediately recognizable” as Rainwater — locked in a cage. Additional photos showed Cassidy being dismembered while her body was bound to a gantry crane that is typically used for wild game.

Related: Missing Mo. Woman Cassidy Rainwater Was Kept in Cage Before Brutal Attack and Dismemberment, Authorities Say

On Sept. 16, police arrested Phelps and searched his property in Lebanon, according to the probable cause statement. Rainwater's dismembered remains were later found on an adjoining property.

After searching Phelps’ electronic devices, including his cell phone, they discovered messages he exchanged with another man, Timothy Norton, discussing their plans to kill Rainwater on July 24, according to the probable cause statement.

Dallas County Sheriff's Office (2) James Phelps, left, and Timothy Norton
Dallas County Sheriff's Office (2) James Phelps, left, and Timothy Norton

Deputies interviewed Norton, who confessed to killing Rainwater, saying that Phelps had asked him to come over and kill her. Norton told them that Rainwater had been sleeping on the floor of Phelps’ cabin when they attacked her, put a bag over her head and strangled her to death, per the statement. Norton then described how he assisted Phelps in dismembering her lifeless body.

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Norton and Phelps were both charged with first-degree murder in connection with the brutal death of Rainwater. In April 2023, Phelps accepted an Alford plea, meaning he acknowledged that there was enough evidence to convict him, but without actually pleading guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, court records indicate.

Norton pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in June 2023 and received the same sentence as Phelps. Authorities have not shared a motive for the murder.

KY3 interviewed Norton after he pleaded guilty. “I deserve to die,” he told the outlet, “and I am ready for that.”

KCTV spoke to the father of one of Rainwater's children in 2021.

“I always worried about her, just because of her past,” the man, who was only identified as Ben, told the outlet. “She was in a bad way. She and I talked and I was like, ‘You know, come to Kansas City. We’ll get things figured out.’ She was hoping to get her life back together.”

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