Jim Dey | Suspect in Cassano killing was hiding in plain sight

Jim Dey | Suspect in Cassano killing was hiding in plain sight

Facts suggest that Michael F. A. Henslick wanted to avoid the same fate of Michael R. Jones, the Champaign man arrested in 2015 and charged with a 30-year-old DuPage County murder case within days of providing a DNA sample to the probation office.

That's probably why the Mahomet man charged with the 2009 murder of Holly Cassano repeatedly refused to obey court orders to submit a DNA sample to probation officers.

But it also seems clear that Henslick wasn't counting on the possibility that sheriff's investigators would use the same kind of super-DNA analysis to find him that California investigators used earlier this year to snare their suspect in the notorious Golden State Killer murders — 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo — who allegedly killed at least 12 people, raped more than 50 women and committed an estimated 100 burglaries in the 1970s and '80s.

Henslick was taken into custody Tuesday by sheriff's Capt. Shane Cook for violating a no-contact order related to a domestic-violence case.

The arrest "was very non-confrontational," Cook said Wednesday.

Investigators waited to confront Henslick with questions about his alleged involvement in the Cassano case until he was safely in custody at the county jail. It was then that they pursued that issue, asking questions in a way that Sheriff Dan Walsh described as "masterful" and getting answers State's Attorney Julia Rietz said bolstered the case against him.

"His statements were consistent with (our) evidence," Rietz said.

The arrest was the culmination of an investigation that began about midmorning on Nov. 2, 2009, when Cassano's body was discovered by her mother in the mobile home where she lived with her young child at Candlewood Estates near Mahomet. Cassano's daughter was staying with a relative when her mother was killed.

Cassano was stabbed more than 60 times and sexually assaulted after her death. Authorities said the crime scene indicated that she was the victim of a "blitz" attack that occurred while she was lying on her stomach in bed. An FBI profile of the assailant indicated the attacker "stabb(ed) her through the blankets while she was asleep to gain control of her."

While authorities had no witnesses or suspects, they did hold a golden key that would eventually open the door to a suspect — the attacker's blood, containing DNA.

The assailant was injured during what must have been a frenzied struggle. Authorities speculated that he sustained serious cuts when his hand slid over the hilt of the kitchen-type knife he was wielding.

While tending to his wounds after killing Cassano, authorities said the assailant left blood drops "the size of half dollars," some of them forming "pools of blood." During their investigation, authorities took DNA samples from hundreds of individuals, failing to find a match.

In retrospect, what's stunning is that the 30-year-old Henslick was hiding in plain sight.

Walsh said Henslick lived near Cassano and that the two attended the same high school and "did know each other" through "mutual friends and acquaintances." But he said they had no real relationship.

Cassano, who was 5-foot-5 and weighed 110 pounds, worked at Meijer in Champaign. She finished her evening shift about 10:15 on Nov. 1, 2009. The facts suggest she popped a movie into a DVD player and fell asleep with the TV on.

Looking back, much of the FBI profile's speculation was right on target, although general in nature.

The FBI profile opined the attacker knew Cassano and had a sexual interest in her. He suggested the assailant, being small of stature, attacked her in the manner he did because he feared he would be unable to control her with threatening words or physical coercion.

Authorities said Henslick is 5-7, 150 pounds.

The FBI profile also speculated that "there is a high probability that this offender may have previously committed similar or will commit similar types of crime in the future."

Henslick was well-known to authorities in connection with arrests on traffic charges, drug charges, domestic disputes, probation violations and failure to obey court orders.

The arrest turned on a decision by the sheriff's office to submit DNA material for analysis to Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs. Parabon's work involves genealogy, genetics and "sophisticated identification techniques" to generate "highly informative leads."

Suffice it to say, the science is enough to make a layman's head spin.

"There are words in what I read that I don't understand," said Chief Deputy Allen Jones, referring to the statement he read that explained the process Parabon used to identify Henslick.

Authorities may not understand the science, but they appreciate its results.

Two of the original investigators in the case — Sgt. Dave Sherrick and Investigator Dwayne Roelfs — were euphoric to have a suspect in custody.

"It's great. It's great," Roelfs said. "It's been a long time."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

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