The preliminary hearing for James Phelps and Timothy Norton has been delayed beyond the previously announced date of November 5, 2021.
The two men are accused of kidnapping 33-year-old Cassidy Rainwater and holding her captive in a cage. The woman is still missing. She has not been seen since July.
Not long before Phelps and Norton appeared on screen in a Dallas County, Missouri court, Phelps' home was burned down. According to the Springfield News-Leader, the Springfield Fire Department's bomb squad was called out to the wooded area around the Lebanon home on October 4, 2021 at the request of the Dallas county sheriff. A trip wire was possibly found on the property and the bomb squad detonated an explosive device near the burning home.
Missouri's Division of Fire Safety has joined the investigation into the cause of the fire.
Cassidy Rainwater was reported missing in August, not having been seen since July. Deputies with the Dallas County Sheriff's Office discovered that Phelps was the last known person to have contact with Rainwater and he was questioned. Phelps told deputies he had let Rainwater stay in a loft at his home on Moon Valley Road but that she had left, perhaps to Colorado, in the middle of the night.
The FBI's Kansas City office became involved in mid-September when they received an anonymous tip which included a photograph of a partially nude Rainwater being held in a cage. Dallas county deputies arrested Phelps and searched his phone, finding more photographs.
Timothy Norton became involved on July 24, according to what he told officers. He was contacted by Phelps, who needed help restraining Rainwater. Norton told officers that he did help, though Norton's attorney is denying the charges against Norton.
KY3, the local news station in Springfield which initially broke the news of the case in mid-September, reported on October 30 that the preliminary hearing, set for November 5, will be delayed due to an approved request for a new judge. However, there were few details as to why a new judge was requested.
Rumors and Speculation Flood Social Media
In the absence of informative press releases from the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, locals are filling in unknowns with rumors and speculation. Sifting through truth and imagination is proving a challenge in a case that does involve the caging of a kidnapped woman.
The request of a bomb squad from a neighboring county with greater resources, and the subsequent detonation of an explosive device, has led to speculation that Phelps boobytrapped his property with explosives.
Making the story even more bizarre and macabre are the rumors of cannibalism on social media. The stories include allegations that Phelps is a serial killer who has gone decades without capture. Beyond this, he is accused by crime bloggers and those on social media as being a cannibal, with one story suggesting that he used to feed victims to neighbors without their realizing the type of meat they were being fed.
Adding to the issue is a somewhat unprofessional Dallas County Sheriff's Office.
On their Facebook page, the Dallas County Sheriff's Office posted on the perils of believing fake news. Unfortunately, the post was filled with misspelled words, grammatical errors, and tangents that are uncommon from authorities hoping to encourage trust and respect from a community concerned about a murderer in their midst.
The statement attributed to Sheriff Scott Rice, with mistakes included, said, "I'm going to give you a piece of advice. It is not a good idea to listen to "a crime reporter/blogger " or Tic Tok videos that is sitting in their apartment or their mommy and daddy's basement eating Great Value cheese puffs and drinking box wine with grand intentions of being a social media superstar. If you are hanging on very word is this type of crap, believing it to be fact, you are living in a fantasy world. This isn't a tv series or movie...99.999999% of what has been posted to social media is CRAP...NO, you are not entitled to a play by play of an ongoing investigation."
With the peculiar misuse of quotation marks and misspellings of TikTok and every, it would be understandable if Sheriff Rice's high school English teacher had feelings of regret after reading the post. More importantly, public releases from authorities are expected to convey professionalism for a reason. The sheriff's posting of hacky jokes during a kidnapping investigation will surely offer no help in encouraging trust in the competence of local law enforcement.
Once a date for the trial is finally set, the facts of the case will come to light. Unfortunately, the speculation is not likely to be impacted by what those facts turn out to be.