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Cassandra Cantrell is missing: Inside the investigation

Mary Smith

Days after a young woman goes missing, a man wearing a distinctive hat is seen walking out of his car. Who is the man in the hat?

On August 25, 2020, Cassandra Cantrell, a 33-year-old woman from Tacoma, Washington, went missing. Her mother Mary Smith recalled saying goodbye to Cassandra that morning, but said Cassandra did not return home later that day and stopped responding to phone calls and texts.

not like him

Cassandra Cantrell and Alexandra McNary

Alexandra McNary

According to Cassandra’s friend Alexandra McNary, the two had plans to meet on August 26, 2020, but Cassandra never showed. The next morning, Cassandra’s mother texts McNary to see if Cassandra is with her, to which Alexandra replies that she is not. Mary Smith called the police later that day.

Where did Cassandra go?

Cassandra Cantrell's car

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Franz Helmke spoke with Cassandra’s family and friends and collected footage from local surveillance cameras for clues. On a neighbor’s security camera, they see video of Cassandra’s white Mazda leaving the neighborhood on the morning of August 25, the day she disappeared.

The man in the hat

Man in hat surveillance video

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

On August 28, 2020, police found Cassandra’s car parked on a street in an industrial neighborhood; It was unlocked with the key on the center console. A light rail system was operating on the same road, so investigators requested its train camera footage from August 25. A video showed a man wearing a dark hat walking from Cassandra’s car and walking to a nearby light rail station around 11:50 a.m. that day.

Looking for clues

cantrell-05.jpg

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Investigators ordered a trace on Cassandra’s cellphone to try to locate her last known location. The phone pinged about two miles south of a tower near Puget Sound. Based on that location, they believed his phone was likely somewhere in the water near Wayne Beach at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma. The Pierce County Metro Dive Team went to the beach and set up a line and searched the area underwater.

An amazing find

Cassandra Cantrell's cellphone in Puget Sound

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Incredibly, a little over an hour later, one of the divers found Cassandra’s cellphone with its shiny case. It was sent to an expert to determine if any information could be recovered from it. Mary Smith, meanwhile, combs through Cassandra’s phone records. He noticed a correspondence with an unknown number with no name. The last time the phone number appeared in Cassandra’s phone records was the morning she disappeared.

An added urgency to find Cassandra

Text by Cassandra Cantrell

Alexandra McNary

Investigations were going on on various fronts. Investigators also learned that Cassandra was about 10 weeks pregnant when she disappeared. Cassandra sent her friend Alexandra McNary a photo of a positive pregnancy test and their planned meeting on August 26 was to attend her first ultrasound scan.

A secret romance

Colin Dudley

Sue Evans

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

However, Cassandra told friends that she and Dudley had secretly rekindled their romance. Cassandra also said that Dudley had previously told her he didn’t want children. McNary told “48 Hours” contributor Natalie Morales that Cassandra called her after revealing her pregnancy to Colin. “… She said, ‘Well, I told her… and it went better than expected… She was calm and said not to worry about it, and they’ll talk.'”

Interviewing Colin Dudley

Colin Dudley's house

CBS News

Colin goes to Dudley’s house to arrange an interview with Detective Helm and leaves his number. Dudley agrees to call her back and talk to her the next day. When Det. Asked by Helm about Cassandra, Dudley said he hadn’t contacted her in years.

Remember that mysterious phone number Mary Smith found in Cassandra’s phone records? Dudley called Helm at the same number to set up an interview. Helm confronts Dudley about Cassandra’s claim that he is the father of her child, and Dudley denies it and says he was not involved in her disappearance.

Following the man in the hat

The man in the hat

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

When Det. Helmke watched footage of the light rail system where Cassandra’s car was found, something stuck. The man who walked out of his car on August 25 looked like Colin Dudley, but was wearing a mask and a black fedora. He was seen walking from the station to a nearby parking garage, so Helm asked the garage security team to search their video recordings for any sign of the man in the hat.

Colin Dudley’s truck

Colin Dudley surveillance

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Video from the garage shows the man wearing the hat walking just after exiting the light rail station on the morning of August 25, 2020. In the video, the man walked up to a gray Chevy truck parked in the garage, entered, and drove away. The license plate was visible as the truck left the garage. It was registered to Colin Dudley.

The pieces come together

cantrell-12.jpg

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

As they scanned through garage footage from the day before Aug. 25, investigators found the Chevy truck parked there around 8 a.m. The video showed Colin Dudley driving the truck in a different shirt and then getting off. Leaving on a bike, investigators believe Dudley left his truck in place for when he would later get out of Cassandra’s car.

A planned meeting

cantrell-13.jpg

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Cellphone provider information revealed that Cassandra Cantrell and Colin Dudley texted frequently about meeting at her home, and that Cassandra texted Dudley at 8:49 a.m. the day she disappeared: “I’m a little early, okay?” Dudley replied, “Yeah, come down.”

Investigators are searching Colin Dudley’s home

cantrell-14.png

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Investigators searched Colin Dudley’s home but could not find Cassandra. They took evidence including his truck, a bike and a black fedora hat. The cadaver dog showed particular interest in the basement, particularly a brown couch. But that wasn’t enough for an arrest. The detective told Helm on “48 Hours,” “He’s guilty of something. But … what is he guilty of?”

A new leadership

cantrell-15.jpg

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

Once investigators were able to zero in on Colin Dudley, they obtained a warrant to remove his truck’s black box in order to collect his data and track the truck’s movements on the day of Cassandra’s disappearance.

Dudley’s movements caught their attention on August 26th, the day after Cassandra was at his house. Early that morning, Dudley’s truck pulled into an area near a wooded canyon and stopped for several minutes. On September 22, 2020, nearly a month after Cassandra disappeared, investigators rushed to the valley, just eight miles from the Dudley home.

Police data shows Colin Dudley’s movements on the morning of August 26, 2020 The yellow dots indicate Dudley’s car being driven to the location where Cassandra Cantrell’s remains were found.

Cassandra Cantrell’s remains found

Kassandra Cantrell found

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department

In the area near where Collin Dudley’s Chevy was parked, investigators found a bag liner, blood and a trash bin containing human remains. Det. Helm was able to identify the remains by a distinctive tattoo that Mary Smith told him belonged to Cassandra. It was a quote that read, “We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing.” Cassandra Cantrell has been found.

Colin Dudley pleaded guilty

Colin Dudley pleaded guilty

Kiro

Colin Dudley was arrested that night and charged with first-degree murder. He later pleaded guilty and the case did not go to trial.

On November 14, 2022, Dudley was sentenced to just 26 years in prison for murdering Cassandra Cantrell. With good behavior, he could be out as early as 2044.

cantrell-hat-man

The man in the hat

PCSD

Surveillance image of the man in the hat

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