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Kassanndra Cantrell case: Investigators follow a digital trail – and the man in the hat – to solve the murder of a pregnant Tacoma woman

For Marie Smith, the realization that her daughter Kassanndra Cantrell had been missing for more than two days was almost more than she could take.

Marie Smith: I called everybody … anybody I could think of, and nobody had heard from her. … I was … hoping that she might be alive somewhere (emotional).

Marie Smith: I never thought … that I’d be the person sitting here … talking about my daughter. … I wanted her found.

Kristi Sinclair: I don’t even know how to explain how wrenching it is.

Smith’s close friend, Kristi Sinclair, says it was agony.

Kristi Sinclair: This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. … she lost her phone. She lost her car. She had no money. … I don’t know. … Anything but what you don’t want to think about, anything but that (emotional).

As Kassanndra’s family and friends grappled with her disappearance, police got to work. Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Franz Helmcke was assigned to the case. His first step was to talk to those who knew Kassanndra best.

Natalie Morales: How did Marie describe Kassanndra?

Det. Franz Helmcke: Normal.

Natalie Morales: Responsible.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah. Responsible. She would call and let her know where she was going.

Kassanndra Cantrell
Kassanndra Cantrell

Kassanndra Cantrell/Instagram


Detective Helmcke learned Kassanndra was close with her family and good about staying in touch. She enjoyed making YouTube shopping videos and loved being on stage. She’d even once joined a local production of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where people act alongside the movie. Smith says it was a perfect fit for her daughter.

Marie Smith: She was with a group of people who were … a little wacky like her.

Cheri Mueller: She was good. … She was just adorable.

Cheri Mueller, the show’s producer, recalls Kassanndra’s natural talent.

Cheri Mueller: She was playing a character by the name of Janet Weiss … She also learned the character of … Columbia.

By all accounts, at the time of her disappearance, Kassanndra was a happy 33-year-old, and not someone who would run off.

Det. Franz Helmcke: This wasn’t the — the typical … missing person that was going to come home in a — in a couple of days.

Detective Helmcke canvassed the area around where Marie and Kassanndra lived and found, on a neighbor’s security camera, a clip of Kassanndra’s white Mazda on the morning of August 25. It was seen leaving the neighborhood.

Natalie Morales: Did you see any video of the car coming back?

Det. Franz Helmcke: No.

As the hours ticked by with no sign of Kassanndra, her family and friends tried to remain hopeful. It was particularly difficult for Kassanndra’s twin brother, Rob. Growing up, the two were inseparable and would stay up late at night to watch scary movies.

Natalie Morales: She was never scared of that stuff?

Rob Cantrell: No.

Natalie Morales: No? Wow. She’s tough —

Rob Cantrell: We laughed at most of it.

Natalie Morales: OK. She’s a tough girl, then.

Rob Cantrell: Yeah.

As they got older, their shared passion for movies evolved into collecting memorabilia. They even dreamed of opening their own collectibles shop.

But as close as they were, Rob couldn’t imagine where his sister went, and he was filled with remorse about their last conversation.

Rob Cantrell: We were having an argument … she wanted to actually come over on the 25th … but I ignored her.

The 25th of August 2020 – the day Kassanndra went missing.

Natalie Morales: That’s a big regret I imagine still for you.

Rob Cantrell: Yeah, because then she probably would have told me what she was doing that day. And I would have … at least known … where she had gone.

Kassanndra’s family and friends organized searches.

Natalie Morales: I can’t imagine what that must feel like to be out there searching and — and knowing what you could possibly be looking for.

Kristi Sinclair: You put it in the back — you don’t think about that. … just help me find a clue, help me find a clue.

Kassanndra Cantrell's car
Three days after Kassanndra vanished, police found her white Mazda unlocked with the keys still inside in an industrial area where groups of homeless people often camp. 

KIRO


And then, three days after Kassanndra vanished, police found her white Mazda unlocked with the keys still inside. 

Det. Franz Helmcke: It was … almost underneath Interstate 705 … which … goes into the heart of the downtown Tacoma.

It’s an industrial area where groups of homeless people often camp.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Her car’s in the area. … did something happen down here?

Natalie Morales: Strange place for a young woman to park a car then —

Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah.

Natalie Morales: — and then go missing.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah.

Natalie Morales: Are alarm bells going off, then?

Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah, yeah. Increasingly.

Marie Smith: She had clearly gotten ready to go somewhere. … Where did — where did she go? Who did she go to see?

Detective Helmcke had ordered an emergency trace on Kassanndra’s cell phone to try and find her last known location. And he discovered her phone last pinged about 2 miles south of a tower on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound.

Det. Franz Helmcke: One of the first things I did was just get on Google Earth and strike an arc from that tower to see where — where it lands. … and it — it showed as landing … around this shoreline at Owen Beach or Point Defiance Park.

cantrell-morales-detectives.jpg
Natalie Morales with detectives at Owen Beach.

CBS News


Natalie Morales (at Owen Beach): And when you’re … seeing this huge body of water, you thinking, “we’re just never gonna be able to find this”?

Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah.

A SECRET REVEALED

Investigators chasing that last ping from Kassanndra’s cell phone knew it was somewhere in the vast waters of the Puget Sound which is nearly 100 miles long.

Natalie Morales: What’s the next step about trying to recover that?

Det. Franz Helmcke: We debated about that because … it’s a needle in a haystack … it’s a … huge body of water.

But Detective Helmcke had a starting point. He knew someone likely had tossed the phone into the water from Owen Beach. Finding it was a longshot, but Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke was up for the challenge. He brought the Pierce County Metro Dive Team out to the beach on a summer day. 

Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: We got lucky with the tides that day. The tide was extremely low, so it made our search area a little less.

Van Dyke had a plan to dramatically reduce the area where the phone might be. First, he asked members of his team to throw stones from the beach to simulate how far someone could throw a cell phone.

Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: If you picture throwing something from here, it limits the distance that I would have to search for what you threw.

cantrell-05.jpg
Investigators had ordered a trace on Kassanndra’s cellphone to try to identify her last known location. The phone pinged about two miles south of a tower near Puget Sound. Based on that location, they believed her phone was likely somewhere in the water near Owen Beach in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. The Pierce County Metro dive team went to the beach and formed a line and searched the area underwater. 

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


The dive team then formed a line, essentially creating an underwater dragnet.

Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: We had a boat out in the water and … a line of people on snorkel that day, just looking down.

They were told that Kassanndra’s phone had a case decorated with glitter. The dive team was in the water for little more than an hour when incredibly …

Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: One of the guys on the line said, “Hey, I think I got it.” They saw a sparkle. … “I think I got the phone” and it was the phone.

Kassanndra Cantrell's cell phone in Puget Sound
Incredibly, after a little over an hour, one of the divers spotted Kassanndra’s cell phone with its sparkly case.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


The phone was sent to a specialist to determine if any information could be recovered. The hunt to find Kassanndra was intensifying as detectives learned more about her.

Natalie Morales: She felt like she could … tell you pretty much everything about what was going on in her life, right?

Alexandra McNary: (Laughs) Yes.

Natalie Morales: Even her deepest, darkest secrets, she would tell you first.

Alexandra McNary: Yup.

Kassanndra Cantrell and Alexandra Mcnary
“Kass is … a rare person,”Alexandra McNary says of her best friend. “She didn’t care what you thought of her … She didn’t care if you liked her. She didn’t care if she was too loud or too in your face. She just was. “

Alexandra McNary


And a month before she disappeared, Kassanndra confided a secret to her best friend.

Alexandra McNary: She texted me a positive pregnancy test and said, “I think I might be preggers.”

And the day she was supposed to meet McNary, but never showed up?  It was going to be her first ultrasound. For Det. Franz Helmcke, learning Kassanndra had been pregnant at the time of her disappearance changed everything.

Det. Franz Helmcke: This is what is now piquing my — my interest.

Natalie Morales: Normally in a situation where a pregnant woman disappears … you look at who the partner is first.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Correct.

Kassanndra had also told her mother she was pregnant but didn’t provide details.

Det. Franz Helmcke:  I ask Marie … “did she tell you who the father was?” … and she says, well, it was some guy … she met online or through a dating app.

Marie Smith: She told me … it was not somebody that she was actually seeing. … and that he didn’t even live in the area.

It was no secret Kassanndra was actively dating, using apps like Tinder. And Smith told detectives about an old boyfriend Kassanndra was still in touch with, Colin Dudley. The two had dated back in 2006 while in the Rocky Horror acting group. The show’s producer, Cheri Mueller.

Colin Dudley
Alexandra McNary says Kassanndra told her the father of her future baby was an ex-boyfriend that she had been seeing again: Colin Dudley. He and Kassanndra met in 2006 during a local production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and dated for a few months. Dudley then began a relationship with another “Rocky Horror Picture Show” cast member, and by 2020 they were living together. 

Sue Evans


Cheri Mueller: Colin played a character called the Criminologist on stage. Outside of the stage, when he wasn’t performing, he was the head of tech. And he kind of ran the cast.

But after dating for several months, Dudley and Kassanndra broke up. Colin started a relationship with another cast member, Rebecca, and the two eventually moved in together. Steve Ammann hung out at their home regularly to play a game called Dungeons & Dragons.

Natalie Morales: Explain what Dungeons & Dragons is … it’s not a board game, right?

Steve Ammann: No, not a traditional board game. Uh, it’s more of a theater of the mind-type gameplay. … doing things that you wouldn’t normally do in real life … role play a wizard, a rogue, a fighter.

The game always took place in Dudley’s basement. 

Steve Ammann: Colin was kind of the Dungeon Master of it. The one who ran the show.  

And Ammann liked being around him. Dudley was quick to help if someone needed money, he says, and he still remembers the meals Colin cooked for game nights.

Steve Ammann: He was a chef by profession, so it was nice food.

In 2014, after Dudley’s father died, he rekindled a friendship with Kassanndra.

Marie Smith: She assured me … you know, that she was just there to be a friend. … She’s like … “He’s got a girlfriend.”

According to Smith, Kassanndra and Dudley would sometimes watch movies or grab a bite to eat. At some point, McNary says, even though Colin was living with Rebecca, his relationship with Kassanndra once again turned romantic.

And Kassanndra told McNary that Colin Dudley was the father of her baby.

Alexandra McNary: She was very excited. She talked about, you know, names and games she wanted at the baby shower … She — she had an Amazon registry already made.

Kassanndra’s only hesitation: whether she should tell Dudley. He was with Rebecca and had mentioned he didn’t want to have kids. But McNary says Kassanndra did tell Colin she was pregnant, and he was fine with it.

Alexandra McNary: She called me … and she said, “Well, I told him.” … and “it went better than expected.” … He was calm and said not to worry about it, and that they would talk.

Detective Helmcke wondered if Dudley knew where Kassanndra was.

DET. FRANZ HELMCKE: We’re just trying to follow up with people who knew Kassanndra, you know … places she likes to go that we could maybe look.

Colin Dudley sat and talked with Detective Helmcke on his front porch – and the conversation was recorded.

DET. FRANZ HELMCKE: This is a recorded statement … we are going to be taking from Colin Patrick Dudley.

Det. Franz Helmcke: So, you know, we just kind of begin with just simple, hey, tell us about … you and Kassanndra. … “How did you meet?”

COLIN DUDLEY: I met her at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” … we were in a relationship for a couple of months and then we broke up in 2006.

Det. Franz Helmcke: I then started kind of running some of these things by him that — that people were telling me.

DET. FRANZ HELMCKE: Talking to other people, talking to Kassanndra’s family and some of the friends … They reported that she was about 10 weeks pregnant … and what we’ve been hearing is that she’s been telling people that you are the father.

COLIN DUDLEY: No way. No. Hell no.

Dudley was adamant. He and Kassanndra were not in a relationship, and he was most definitely not the father of her child. 

Det. Franz Helmcke: I asked him, are you sure? You know, no — no one-night stands? No, you know, hookups after the fact or anything like that? No, absolutely not, he says.

In fact, Dudley insisted he hadn’t seen or spoken to Kassanndra since they broke up back in 2006, except once, when he ran into her at the mall.

DET. FRANZ HELMCKE: You haven’t had any – no contact with her. No messages? Or no Facebook or anything?

COLIN DUDLEY: No.

Helmcke believed Dudley was lying. But could he prove it? It turned out a clue to finding the answer was in Smith’s paperwork. 

THE MAN IN THE HAT

Detective Helmcke believed Colin Dudley was lying when he said he had not seen or spoken to Kassanndra for years. But it was Kassanndra’s mother Marie Smith who provided some proof. She had been combing through Kassanndra’s old phone bills, where she noticed a mystery number that kept reappearing.

Marie Smith: We didn’t know … whose it was … because it didn’t have a name attached to it.

Natalie Morales: Going back how far in the past?

Marie Smith: Oh, we looked back … months and months, you know … as far back as we could see that this number kept popping up.

And the last time it popped up, Smith told Detective Helmcke, was the morning Kassanndra disappeared.

Det. Franz Helmcke: I said, “OK, so what — what’s that number?” And she tells me … And … I immediately know it’s Colin’s.

Helmcke wanted forensic investigators to take a closer look at Dudley’s phone, which Detective Helmcke had taken when they’d met on Dudley’s front porch.

Det. Franz Helmcke: I told him … I have a warrant to seize your phone. I read him the warrant. Grabbed the phone … and we left.

Investigators later obtained the phone records for both Kassanndra and Dudley’s phones. They were turned over to Detective Ryan Salmon, the cell phone forensics analyst for the sheriff’s department. Salmon noticed something curious: the name “Kassanndra” never appeared in Dudley’s phone.

Natalie Morales: What name was he using for Kassanndra?

Det. Ryan Salmon: He had it under Velma.

Natalie Morales: Why Velma?

Det. Ryan Salmon: We learned later through … Kassanndra’s mother that she had gone as Velma from “Scooby Doo” as a Halloween … costume.

And it’s likely, Salmon said, that Colin Dudley did not want his live-in girlfriend to know he was still in touch with Kassanndra. Even without the information from her water-logged phone, Salmon was able to see when and where she and Dudley interacted simply by having those phone records.

Det. Ryan Salmon: It’s … extremely helpful … in determining where somebody was … during a critical time frame … people have a cell phone with them almost all day, every day.

The phone records showed Kassanndra’s white Mazda driving to the spot where it was found. But had Kassanndra or someone else parked it there? Detective Helmcke knew the city’s light rail system was nearby and asked their security people if they could find any footage of Kassanndra’s car. What they found proved crucial.

Det. Franz Helmcke: “We have the video you want. … you need to get down here and look at it.”

Man in the hat surveillance video
On Aug. 28, 2020, police found Kassanndra’s car parked on a street in an industrial neighborhood; it was unlocked, with the keys on the center console. A light rail system operated along that same street, so investigators requested its train camera footage from the Aug. 25. One video showed a man in a dark hat walking away from Kasssanndra’s car and continuing to the nearby light rail station around 11:50 that morning. 

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


The videos have never been shown publicly. In one video from a moving light rail train taken the late morning of August 25, Helmcke could see a man in a black hat walking away from where Kassanndra’s car was parked. Then, a different camera shows that same man from a much closer angle.

Det. Franz Helmcke: He’ll cross right in front of this camera. … So, he comes walking across and you can see –

Natalie Morales: Fedora.

Det. Franz Helmcke: — all black, the blue gloves, then the fedora … And he just sits down at the stop.

The time was 11:50 a.m. The man sits for four minutes and then keeps walking.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Now he gets up, continues walking …

The man in the hat
Surveillance image of the masked, gloved man in the black fedora.

PCSD


His face, covered by some type of mask, is hard to see but, based on his build and gait, Helmcke suspected that Colin Dudley was the man wearing that fedora. The detective had been told that Dudley often had asked — demanded even — that people call him “Hat” or “Hat Man.”

Alexandra McNary had heard all about it from Kassanndra.

Natalie Morales: Was he always wearing a hat?

Alexandra McNary: He would put it on and switch into his persona of the Hat Man and preferred to be called the Hat Man. The persona was basically the main character from “Clockwork Orange.” Very dark, intentionally so. Morally dubious.

Natalie Morales: Did you see the security video at all of the man in the hat?

Alexandra McNary: I — did get to see it.

Natalie Morales: Did you look at it and say, “that’s Colin?”

Alexandra McNary: Well, who else would it be?

In that video from the light rail system, the man in the hat keeps walking — right into the Tacoma Dome Station parking garage, only blocks away from where Kassanndra’s car was found. Helmcke asked security personnel at the garage if they had any footage. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

Det. Franz Helmcke: They find him walking into the parking garage to a truck.

Det. Ryan Salmon: You can see him using … a remote-control opener, gets into the truck … And then as he exits the parking garage, you can see pretty clearly in the video the license plate which comes back to Mr. Dudley.

That was Colin’s Chevy truck, proving, the detective said, that the man in the video and Colin Dudley were one and the same. 

Detective Helmcke was convinced that Colin had done something to Kassanndra, and he wanted to get into Dudley’s house—immediately.

Det. Franz Helmcke: We don’t have a body. We don’t have … any true evidence that … Kassanndra is dead. We’re still hoping … maybe she is tied up in the basement.

Six days after Kassanndra Cantrell vanished, a SWAT team burst into Colin Dudley’s house.

“THE MAJOR BREAK IN THE CASE”

Authorities were out in force after they raided Colin Dudley’s house, but they found no sign of Kassanndra.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Kassanndra was … not found inside … but Colin … was detained temporarily for us to do the fingerprints and DNA.

Investigators seized several items from the house, including Colin’s Chevy Colorado truck and a black fedora.

cantrell-fecdora-evidence.jpg
Investigators seized several items from Colin Dudley’s house, including his Chevy Colorado truck and a black fedora.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


DET. FRANZ HELMCKE: I don’t know if it’s the same one he’s wearing in the video or not … there were numerous areas that they identified in the basement where there was possible DNA, blood evidence … And they said that the cadaver dogs showed particular interest in the basement … specifically a brown sofa in the basement. 

Det. Helmcke believed something terrible had happened to Kassanndra. Dudley had stopped talking to investigators, but his live-in girlfriend Rebecca Fischer, a carpenter, agreed to sit down for an interview.

DETECTIVE: Do you think he would be capable of hurting Kassanndra?

After a 13-second pause:

REBECCA FISCHER: Physics would say yes, he’s got size and strength on her. I don’t think he would … No, he would not.

And investigators could not prove otherwise. Dudley was free to go.

Natalie Morales: Why can’t you arrest him?

Det. Franz Helmcke: Well … he’s guilty of something. But … what is he guilty of?

Det. Helmcke wanted to know every move Dudley made on August 25, the day Kassanndra went missing. And he said it became clear that Dudley had hatched a well-thought-out plot to get rid of Kassanndra.

Det. Franz Helmcke: He had planned this, and he probably was pretty meticulous in his planning.

In his police interview, Dudley said that early on the morning Kassanndra disappeared, he’d visited Costco.

Det. Ryan Salmon: So, the first stop he makes is at a Costco gas station.

That was at 6:31 a.m. Then he went to a second Costco to pick up supplies for what he had told detectives was a “spring cleaning.” Investigators subpoenaed receipts and the store provided video. Surveillance cameras pick up Dudley in the store around 7 a.m.

Colin Dudley on surveillance at a Costco
Colin Dudley is seen on surveillance video at a Costco store the morning of August 25 — the day Kassanndra went missing. Dudley told detectives he was shopping for supplies for a “spring cleaning.”

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


Natalie Morales: This is where he said he stopped because he needed supplies for his spring cleaning.

Det. Ryan Salmon: Correct. Yes.

Natalie Morales: The video is so crystal-clear.

Det. Ryan Salmon: We think that’s probably the garbage sacs.

Store records show that Dudley purchased a box of heavy-duty trash bags.

Natalie Morales: Goes back to his house.

Det. Ryan Salmon: Right.

Detectives say then Dudley dropped off the supplies at home and drove to the Tacoma Dome Station parking garage arriving at 8:17 a.m.

Det. Ryan Salmon: We have surveillance video for that, too, which shows that truck again … Now, in the back, you’ll see a bike. … And then you’ll see him get out and put on a helmet and get on a bike and ride it away.

Dudley left his truck in the garage and began pedaling home. It’s about a 20-minute ride. Investigators believe he wanted to be home by 9 a.m. because, as it turns out, he and Kassanndra had made plans to meet at his house.

Sure enough, text records show that Kassanndra was outside Colin’s house at 8:49 a.m.

Det. Ryan Salmon: She said, “I’m a bit early, that ok?”

Natalie Morales: And he says?

Det. Ryan Salmon: He says, “Yep, come on down.” And those two messages were both deleted out of his phone.

Natalie Morales: And, so, the two phones are then pinpointed in that same location at the house for a couple of hours.

Det. Ryan Salmon: Right.

For a little more than two hours, neither phone showed any movement, and it was during this period of time investigators believe Colin Dudley likely killed Kassanndra Cantrell.

Natalie Morales: It … shows you the amount of premeditation –

Det. Ryan Salmon: Right.

Natalie Morales:  — that went into planning this.

Det. Ryan Salmon: Right.

It appears, investigators say, that around 11:40 a.m., Dudley turned off his cell phone as Kassanndra’s phone shows it moving away from the house. Det. Salmon says that’s because Dudley had her phone with him as he drove her car to the spot where he abandoned it near the light rail station.

Natalie Morales: He turns his cell phone off, but doesn’t turn her cell phone off and is driving around with it? What was he thinking?

Det. Franz Helmcke: Apparently … he wasn’t — he wasn’t thinking well enough … not as smart as he thought he was.

Det. Ryan Salmon: You’ll see Kassanndra’s car –

Natalie Morales: Is that it right there?

Det. Ryan Salmon: Yep, that white one coming down.

cantrell-dudley-busstop.jpg
Surveillance video shows Colin Dudley seated at the light rail station stop. Det. Salmon believes he was gathering himself after murdering Kassanndra.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


And then you see Dudley in the hat walking away from her car. Remember how he paused for a few moments and sat down? Det. Salmon believes he was gathering himself after murdering Kassanndra.

Det. Ryan Salmon: I think he is just physically tired because of probably how violent the incident was.

Detectives say Dudley then retrieved his truck from the garage where he had stashed it earlier that day, drove to Owen Beach and tossed Kassanndra’s phone into the Puget Sound.

Natalie Morales: And what time roughly was … that last ping?

Det. Franz Helmcke: It was around 12:45 p.m.

But while investigators had discovered her phone in the water, they still hadn’t found Kassanndra. They had no idea what Dudley had done with her, but they did have his Chevy Colorado truck, and Helmcke had an idea.

Det. Franz Helmcke: As an investigator, I’ve been exposed to … different technologies … and we knew cars had … electronic … evidence contained in them.

Almost every car or truck has reams of data that can be extracted.

Det. Ryan Salmon: So, this is where the major break in the case, you know, came through.

Natalie Morales: You can turn your cell phone off and not necessarily be able to track. But you can’t turn your car’s black box off.

Det. Ryan Salmon: Exactly.

Black box from Colin Dudley's truck
The black box from Colin Dudley’s truck had a record of Dudley’s movements on August 26 — the day after Kassanndra visited his house.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department


Helmcke got a warrant to remove the truck’s black box—essentially a computer that tracks and records nearly every move a vehicle makes. He reviewed the data which confirmed much of what they already knew from the phone records. But there was something new that caught everyone’s attention. The truck’s black box had a record of Colin Dudley’s movements on August 26 — the day after Kassanndra visited his house.

Natalie Morales (looking at a monitor): And this is the next morning.

Det. Ryan Salmon: Correct. So, now, we’re at 6:00 a.m. … And then, of course, we noticed where the vehicle stops … that there’s a large, wooded ravine.

On Sept. 22, 2020, Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke rushed to that ravine, which is 8 miles from Dudley’s house. It was nearly a month since Kassanndra had gone missing.

Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke:  I, uh, got there first and looked over the hillside, and, uh, you could clearly see that there was, uh, a … garbage can halfway down the hill. … you could see that the garbage can had, uh, a bag liner and, uh, some ropes around it …

He also spotted blood.

Natalie Morales: So, you clearly at this point knew you had remains?

Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: Oh, absolutely.

Helmcke, also at the scene, wanted to make a quick identification and he knew that Kassanndra had a distinctive tattoo.

Det. Franz Helmcke: I asked them to take a picture of it. So, they took a picture and came walking up the hill.

Helmcke recognized the tattoo immediately. Kassanndra Cantrell was dead. Helmcke’s heart sank when he thought about calling Kassanndra’s mother.

Det. Franz Helmcke: So, I called Marie and … I told her that I had information that I needed to share with her.

Marie Smith: My first question was, “is she OK?” (emotional)

Natalie Morales: Mm-hmm.

Marie Smith: And he said … “No, I’m sorry, she’s not.”

Kassanndra’s twin brother Rob overheard that phone call.

Rob Cantrell: The second I heard her screaming, I knew that they had found her.

Colin Dudley was arrested that night and later charged with first-degree murder.

Investigators felt they had built a strong case, so strong that they decided not to try and retrieve the information on Kassanndra’s waterlogged phone.

The case barreled toward trial for two years, and then Kassanndra’s friends and family heard that prosecutors were considering making a plea deal with Dudley. They could not believe it.

Marie Smith: It was premeditated … it was literally cold-blooded.

Kristi Sinclair: I have no words.

Natalie Morales: A lot of anger, though.

Kristi Sinclair: A lot.

HONORING KASSANNDRA

Alexandra McNary: She was an optimist. … She never lost that even up until the end. I believe that she entered his house hopeful.

Hopeful that Colin Dudley was getting comfortable with her pregnancy. Instead, investigators believe he brutally murdered her. An autopsy revealed exactly how brutal.

Det. Franz Helmcke: There were fractures, major fractures to her skull.

Natalie Morales: So, hit over the head. Many times.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Investigators say they were never able to identify a murder weapon. But they did find those traces of blood — likely Kassanndra’s — in Dudley’s basement.

Det. Franz Helmcke: Basement floor, walls, a stainless-steel table and the laundry room sink.

Police suspect Colin cleaned the basement multiple times after killing Kassanndra and kept her body there overnight, before dumping her in that ravine the next morning. And they believe Colin’s live-in girlfriend Rebecca was home during some of that time.

Det. Franz Helmcke: And thinking about, you know, Rebecca’s there in the house, too.

Natalie Morales: That was my next question. Was there any thought that she had to have been involved?

Det. Franz Helmcke: There was — I mean, some people thought that.

Investigators confronted Rebecca.

DETECTIVE: Did you have anything to do with her disappearance of Kassanndra on any level?

REBECCA FISCHER: Nope.

Det. Franz Helmcke: We did not find any information that … she knew that it went on, that she had anything to do with it. … They kept separate areas of the house. And so, I could see, you know, her doing her own thing and … not going down the basement. 

But Rebecca did confirm to police that Colin never wanted to be a father.

REBECCA FISCHER: He does not want to be a dad.

Pierce County Deputy Prosecutors Brian Wasankari and Patrick Vincent went to work on proving Dudley’s guilt.

Brian Wasankari: I thought this was a very strong case, at least circumstantially. I mean, oddly, it’s not one in which we had a great deal of physical evidence. … It was a case that relied on essentially digital records.

Like that video of Colin leaving Kassanndra’s car, those phone records placing Kassanndra at Colin’s house the morning she disappeared, and the data showing Colin’s truck where Kassanndra’s remains were eventually found. For the prosecutors it seemed like a lot, but they were concerned about convincing a jury at trial.

Brian Wasankari: We don’t have an eyewitness, we don’t have a murder weapon, we don’t have a confession.

So, when the defense offered to accept a deal, the prosecutors negotiated. Eventually, Colin Dudley agreed to plead guilty to murder in the first degree for killing Kassanndra. The prosecutors brought the deal to Kassanndra’s family. They were furious.

Colin Dudley pleads guilty
Colin Dudley was arrested that night and was Charged with first-degree murder Colin Dudley would plead guilty and the case did not go to trial. On Nov. 14, 2022, he was sentenced to just over 26 years in prison for the murder of Kassanndra Cantrell. 

KIRO


But on Nov. 14, 2022, Colin Dudley formally entered his guilty plea.

JUDGE: With regard to the charge, Murder in the First Degree, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?

COLIN DUDLEY: Guilty.

He was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Kristi Sinclair: I have no words that would even encompass the frustration, anger, sadness, heartache.

Kassanndra’s family and friends had wanted a trial where the full story was told. They are also upset that someone guilty of murdering a pregnant woman would only get 26 years in prison.

Natalie Morales: Do you think the system is broken?

Kristi Sinclair: Very broken in this case. … How is it that somebody can do what he did and not have to spend his life in prison?

It was a sentiment Steve Ammann shared. He felt betrayed by his one-time friend and had even written a letter to the judge saying, “He should not be out at all. He won’t learn from this.”

Colin Dudley likely will get out. And with good behavior, he could be free again as early as 2044.

Marie Smith: He should never see the light of day again.

Natalie Morales: Because when he gets out, he could be in his early 60s.

Marie Smith: Yeah. … and he’s still got all that time to live.

Kassanndra’s family wants to make sure that no one else suffers the way they say they have. They would like a law in Washington State that if someone is guilty of knowingly killing a pregnant woman, they would automatically get a life sentence.

Rob Cantrell: No possibility of parole. You die in jail. … Until there’s any sort of resemblance of justice, I’m not letting this go.

And while the family wages that fight, Kassanndra’s twin brother is trying to honor his sister in other ways she would have loved. 

Natalie Morales: You did, though, finally open that dream that you had together, your own store.

Rob Cantrell: Yes. I got a big mural of her hanging in the window and then photos throughout the store of her. It’s a living tribute to her.

cantrell-angel.jpg
Rob Cantrell is honoring his twin sister’s memory with a mural of Kassanndra and photos of her in the store they had once dreamed of opening together.

CBS News


The store is not far from Kassanndra’s grave, where he and his mom go to visit her.  

Marie Smith: You know, say hi, keep her headstone clean. … bringing her flowers.

Natalie Morales: Do you think what life could be like with her now if she had had the chance to live her life and be a mom?

Marie Smith: Yeah. I think about it a lot because she had all of these plans …She had all of these sweet plans. (emotional)

Marie says her daughter lived life to fullest, immortalized by that distinctive tattoo she had of her favorite quote.

Marie Smith: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” 

Marie Smith: she always had something up her sleeve. She would spring little surprises on me … and that’s what I miss most. It’s just a happy presence.

Kassanndra Cantrell’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Colin Dudley.

It is scheduled to go to trial in August 2023.

 


Produced by Betsy Shuller, Paul La Rosa and Lauren Clark. Greg Fisher is the development producer. Morgan Canty is the associate producer. Doreen Schechter is the producer/editor. Joan Adelman and Marlon Disla are the editors. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer. 

Summarize this content to 100 words For Marie Smith, the realization that her daughter Kassanndra Cantrell had been missing for more than two days was almost more than she could take. Marie Smith: I called everybody … anybody I could think of, and nobody had heard from her. … I was … hoping that she might be alive somewhere (emotional).Marie Smith: I never thought … that I’d be the person sitting here … talking about my daughter. … I wanted her found. Kristi Sinclair: I don’t even know how to explain how wrenching it is. Smith’s close friend, Kristi Sinclair, says it was agony. Kristi Sinclair: This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. … she lost her phone. She lost her car. She had no money. … I don’t know. … Anything but what you don’t want to think about, anything but that (emotional). As Kassanndra’s family and friends grappled with her disappearance, police got to work. Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Franz Helmcke was assigned to the case. His first step was to talk to those who knew Kassanndra best. Natalie Morales: How did Marie describe Kassanndra?Det. Franz Helmcke: Normal. Natalie Morales: Responsible.Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah. Responsible. She would call and let her know where she was going. Kassanndra Cantrell Kassanndra Cantrell/Instagram Detective Helmcke learned Kassanndra was close with her family and good about staying in touch. She enjoyed making YouTube shopping videos and loved being on stage. She’d even once joined a local production of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where people act alongside the movie. Smith says it was a perfect fit for her daughter. Marie Smith: She was with a group of people who were … a little wacky like her.Cheri Mueller: She was good. … She was just adorable.Cheri Mueller, the show’s producer, recalls Kassanndra’s natural talent. Cheri Mueller: She was playing a character by the name of Janet Weiss … She also learned the character of … Columbia. By all accounts, at the time of her disappearance, Kassanndra was a happy 33-year-old, and not someone who would run off. Det. Franz Helmcke: This wasn’t the — the typical … missing person that was going to come home in a — in a couple of days. Detective Helmcke canvassed the area around where Marie and Kassanndra lived and found, on a neighbor’s security camera, a clip of Kassanndra’s white Mazda on the morning of August 25. It was seen leaving the neighborhood. Natalie Morales: Did you see any video of the car coming back?Det. Franz Helmcke: No.As the hours ticked by with no sign of Kassanndra, her family and friends tried to remain hopeful. It was particularly difficult for Kassanndra’s twin brother, Rob. Growing up, the two were inseparable and would stay up late at night to watch scary movies. Natalie Morales: She was never scared of that stuff? Rob Cantrell: No.Natalie Morales: No? Wow. She’s tough –Rob Cantrell: We laughed at most of it.Natalie Morales: OK. She’s a tough girl, then.Rob Cantrell: Yeah.As they got older, their shared passion for movies evolved into collecting memorabilia. They even dreamed of opening their own collectibles shop.But as close as they were, Rob couldn’t imagine where his sister went, and he was filled with remorse about their last conversation. Rob Cantrell: We were having an argument … she wanted to actually come over on the 25th … but I ignored her.The 25th of August 2020 – the day Kassanndra went missing.Natalie Morales: That’s a big regret I imagine still for you.Rob Cantrell: Yeah, because then she probably would have told me what she was doing that day. And I would have … at least known … where she had gone. Kassanndra’s family and friends organized searches.Natalie Morales: I can’t imagine what that must feel like to be out there searching and — and knowing what you could possibly be looking for.Kristi Sinclair: You put it in the back — you don’t think about that. … just help me find a clue, help me find a clue. Three days after Kassanndra vanished, police found her white Mazda unlocked with the keys still inside in an industrial area where groups of homeless people often camp.  KIRO And then, three days after Kassanndra vanished, police found her white Mazda unlocked with the keys still inside.  Det. Franz Helmcke: It was … almost underneath Interstate 705 … which … goes into the heart of the downtown Tacoma. It’s an industrial area where groups of homeless people often camp. Det. Franz Helmcke: Her car’s in the area. … did something happen down here?Natalie Morales: Strange place for a young woman to park a car then –Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah.Natalie Morales: — and then go missing.Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah. Natalie Morales: Are alarm bells going off, then?Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah, yeah. Increasingly.Marie Smith: She had clearly gotten ready to go somewhere. … Where did — where did she go? Who did she go to see?Detective Helmcke had ordered an emergency trace on Kassanndra’s cell phone to try and find her last known location. And he discovered her phone last pinged about 2 miles south of a tower on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound.Det. Franz Helmcke: One of the first things I did was just get on Google Earth and strike an arc from that tower to see where — where it lands. … and it — it showed as landing … around this shoreline at Owen Beach or Point Defiance Park. Natalie Morales with detectives at Owen Beach. CBS News Natalie Morales (at Owen Beach): And when you’re … seeing this huge body of water, you thinking, “we’re just never gonna be able to find this”?Det. Franz Helmcke: Yeah. A SECRET REVEALEDInvestigators chasing that last ping from Kassanndra’s cell phone knew it was somewhere in the vast waters of the Puget Sound which is nearly 100 miles long.Natalie Morales: What’s the next step about trying to recover that?Det. Franz Helmcke: We debated about that because … it’s a needle in a haystack … it’s a … huge body of water.But Detective Helmcke had a starting point. He knew someone likely had tossed the phone into the water from Owen Beach. Finding it was a longshot, but Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke was up for the challenge. He brought the Pierce County Metro Dive Team out to the beach on a summer day. Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: We got lucky with the tides that day. The tide was extremely low, so it made our search area a little less.Van Dyke had a plan to dramatically reduce the area where the phone might be. First, he asked members of his team to throw stones from the beach to simulate how far someone could throw a cell phone.Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: If you picture throwing something from here, it limits the distance that I would have to search for what you threw. Investigators had ordered a trace on Kassanndra’s cellphone to try to identify her last known location. The phone pinged about two miles south of a tower near Puget Sound. Based on that location, they believed her phone was likely somewhere in the water near Owen Beach in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. The Pierce County Metro dive team went to the beach and formed a line and searched the area underwater.  Pierce County Sheriff’s Department The dive team then formed a line, essentially creating an underwater dragnet. Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: We had a boat out in the water and … a line of people on snorkel that day, just looking down. They were told that Kassanndra’s phone had a case decorated with glitter. The dive team was in the water for little more than an hour when incredibly …Det. Sgt. Brent Van Dyke: One of the guys on the line said, “Hey, I think I got it.” They saw a sparkle. … “I think I got the phone” and it was the phone. Incredibly, after a little over an hour, one of the divers spotted Kassanndra’s cell phone with its sparkly case. Pierce County Sheriff’s Department The phone was sent to a specialist to determine if any information could be recovered. The hunt to find Kassanndra was intensifying as detectives learned more about her.Natalie Morales: She felt like she could … tell you pretty much everything about what was going on in her life, right?Alexandra McNary: (Laughs) Yes.Natalie Morales: Even her deepest,…
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kassanndra-cantrell-colin-dudley-tacoma-murder-digital-trial-hat-man-surveillance-footage/ Kassanndra Cantrell case: Investigators follow a digital trail – and the man in the hat – to solve the murder of a pregnant Tacoma woman

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