New details released in search for killer
The curtain came down on Holly Cassano's life at 11:16 p.m. Nov. 1, 2009, when she texted a friend from her residence at Candlewood Estates near Mahomet.
"Hey," she stated in her text to a co-worker.
Getting no response, the 22-year-old Cassano, a cashier at the Meijer store in Champaign, bedded down for the night. Alone because her 17-month-old daughter was staying with Cassano's mother, she popped in a DVD, climbed into bed and watched for a while before falling asleep on her stomach in the back bedroom of her modest mobile home.
The next morning, Toni Cassano, her mother, tried to call Holly but got no response. Living just a few blocks away, Toni drove to her daughter's residence, found the front door ajar and walked in. To her horror, she discovered Cassano's body lying flat on her back, arms spread wide as if posed, on the floor of her bedroom. The television was still on.
The Champaign County sheriff's office received the call for assistance at 10:38 a.m. Nov. 2.
Cassano was covered in blood, the result of more than 60 stab wounds. Indeed, there was blood all over the trailer, both that of Cassano and her attacker.
Evidence and analysis provide a gruesome and detailed picture of what happened in the 11 hours. But nearly 16 months later, frustrated investigators from the Champaign County Sheriff's office still haven't got their man.
Lt. Ed Ogle said the case "haunts all of us every day." To remind themselves they still have work to do, investigators keep a picture of Holly Cassano in their offices. Ogle's photo of Holly is on the bulletin board directly behind his desk.
"She's there every day reminding us we haven't found her killer," he said.
No random attack
In an effort to call public attention to the case and stir the public's memory, Ogle and two of his investigators, David Sherrick and Dwayne Roelfs, sat down to discuss the case with The News-Gazette and issue another call for public assistance.
But this time they are releasing previously undisclosed details, including a psychological profile of the assailant prepared by the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Based on the FBI profile and their own examination of the evidence, investigators said people should try to recall a white male, possibly a teenager, who may have expressed some sexual interest in Holly Cassano and sustained cuts to his hands or arms around Nov. 2 that would have required medical attention.
They believe the suspect was "acquainted" with the mobile home park where the victim lived, but did not necessarily live there. They suggest the attacker could be a resident of a nearby community, including Fisher, Bondville or Seymour.
Based on profiles of similar attacks in other areas of the country, they said the "probability" is that Cassano was specifically targeted for this assault, that her attacker may have been watching her for some period of time and that his motivation was sexual.
Cassano was sexually assaulted after she was killed, and investigators said the assailant was in such a frenzy that he did not tend to his own wounds, which probably were caused when his hand slid over the hilt of a kitchen-type knife onto the blade, until afterward.
"Our suspect was wounded in the attack," said Ogle, who described blood drips "the size of half dollars," some of which formed "pools of blood."
Authorities also speculate that the attacker left the area afterward, providing a plausible explanation for his sudden absence. Further, because they have yet to find a DNA match on file with law enforcement, Ogle said he suspects it "could very well be a teen because there is no record of DNA."
Interaction with public
Holly Cassano was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds. A single mother, she had light brownish hair, blue eyes and drove a Toyota minivan.
A pretty woman, she worked in a busy retail store where her interaction with the public was constant.
"It's a major possibility that someone saw her at Meijer," Ogle said.
On her final day of life, Cassano worked a later shift. She finished at 10:15 p.m. but hung around work for another 30 minutes to talk with friends.
Because they can find no indication that Cassano went anywhere else, authorities believe she headed home and that someone who was "very familiar with and comfortable in this neighborhood" was watching, according to the FBI profile.
FBI profilers believe the suspect is white "based upon the demographics in the area" and they said "the location of the victim's job and trailer (in the trailer park) indicate the offender is from the local area."
"He may shop at the Meijer store or have acquaintances" at the mobile home park, the profile states.
Sneaking into Cassano's bedroom in his stocking feet, "the offender immediately blitz-attacked the victim, stabbing her through the blankets while she was asleep to gain control of her."
Ogle said that the sneak attack could be indicative of the attacker's belief that he would be unable to control the victim either by verbal command or physical coercion. He suggested that could mean the assailant is small in stature or perhaps has a meek or shy personality.
There also is another possible explanation.
"As he chose not to interact with her while she was conscious or alive, this could be reflective of his sexual fantasy," the FBI profile states.
The frenzied attack continued well after Cassano was helpless to resist, with "the final stab" wound to Cassano's chest "to ensure she was dead."
Noting the attacker's success in targeting, attacking, killing and sexually assaulting the victim, the FBI profile said "there is a high probability that this offender may have previously committed similar acts or will commit similar types of crimes in the future."
After the attack, authorities said the assailant tended to his wounds and had the bleeding under control by the time he left. While finding blood all over the inside of the trailer, they found none outside and believe the attacker wrapped his wounds with a towel or cloth he found inside.
Authorities have not recovered the knife that was used. A piece of plastic believed to be from the knife's handle was found, and they have a bloody imprint of the knife showing a long blade common on kitchen knives.
Authorities have conducted multiple canvasses of the mobile home park, which has more than 600 lots and more than 500 mobile homes. But the community is heavily transient and some people who live there may not be listed as tenants on the lease with park management.
"There is a possibility there are people there we have not talked to," said investigator Sherrick.
Authorities also have taken DNA samples from dozens of people.
"Everyone we can think of has been swabbed," Ogle said.
If investigators are distressed over their lack of progress, Holly Cassano's mother is in agony.
She credits the sheriff's office with doing a "very thorough, very good job" but said she suspects someone knows something they haven't shared with investigators.
"It's hard for me to believe that (the attacker) would go this long without saying something to someone," Toni Cassano said.
Toni Cassano said her daughter had only lived in the trailer for about two months when she was killed. Toni Cassano said that, in addition to herself, one of Holly's aunts also lived at Candlewood and "we felt very comfortable with her staying there by herself."
It also made it easier for Toni Cassano to help her daughter care for her granddaughter, who is now approaching 3 years of age.
"Whenever she was working and I wasn't, I had" my granddaughter, she said.
Toni Cassano has not left all the investigative work to authorities. To call attention to the unsolved case, she has arranged for the production of bumper stickers and business cards that urge anyone who thinks they have valuable information to call authorities.
The numbers to call are Crimestoppers at 217-373-TIPS or the sheriff's office at 217-384-1213.
Investigators are unabashed in their plea for help from the public. They're trying to humanize the victim by revealing the vicious nature of the attack and jog the public's memory by disclosing new information about what happened.
"We're tugging at some heartstrings here," Ogle said. "... all we need is a name."
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or at 351-5369.