Days after a young woman vanishes, a man in a distinctive hat is seen walking away from her car. Who is the man in the hat?
On Aug. 25, 2020, Kassanndra Cantrell, a 33-year-old woman from Tacoma, Washington, disappeared. Her mother Marie Smith recalled saying goodbye to Kassanndra early that morning, but says Kassanndra didn't return home later that day, and had stopped responding to phone calls and texts.
Not like her
According to Kassanndra's friend, Alexandra McNary, the two had plans to meet on Aug. 26, 2020, but Kassanndra never showed up. The next morning, Kassanndra's mother texted McNary to see if Kassanndra was with her to which Alexandra replied that she was not. Marie Smith called the police later that day.
Where did Kassanndra go?
Pierce County Sheriff's Detective Franz Helmcke spoke with Kassanndra's family and friends and scoured footage from local surveillance cameras for clues. On a neighbor's security camera, they found video of Kassanndra's white Mazda leaving her neighborhood on the morning of Aug. 25, the day she went missing.
The man in the hat
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 August 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.
Searching for clues
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.
An amazing find
Incredibly, after a little over an hour, one of the divers spotted Kassanndra's cellphone with its sparkly case. It was sent to a specialist to determine if any information could be recovered from it. Marie Smith, meanwhile, had combed through Kassanndra's phone records. She noticed correspondence with an unfamiliar number with no name assigned to it. The last time that phone number appeared in Kassanndra's phone record was the morning she disappeared.
An added urgency to find Kassanndra
The investigation was operating on several fronts. Investigators had also learned that at the time she went missing, Kassanndra was around 10 weeks pregnant. Kassanndra had texted her friend Alexandra McNary a picture of a positive pregnancy test, and their planned meeting on August 26 had been to attend her first ultrasound scan.
A secret romance
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.
However, Kassanndra had told friends that she and Dudley had secretly rekindled their romance. Kassanndra had also said Dudley had previously told her he did not want kids. McNary told "48 Hours" contributor Natalie Morales that Kassanndra called her after revealing her pregnancy to Colin. "… 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.'"
Interviewing Colin Dudley
Detective Helmcke went to Colin Dudley's house to arrange an interview and left his number. Dudley called him back and agreed to speak with him the next day. When Det. Helmcke asked about Kassanndra, Dudley said he hadn't had contact with her in years.
Remember that mysterious phone number Marie Smith had found in Kassanndra's phone records? It was the same number Dudley had called Helmcke on to set up the interview. Helmcke confronted Dudley about Kassanndra's claims that he was the father of her baby, and Dudley denied it and any involvement in her disappearance.
Following the man in the hat
When Det. Helmcke viewed the footage from the light rail system where Kassanndra's car had been found, something stuck out. The man walking away from her car on Aug. 25 looked similar to Colin Dudley, but was wearing a mask and a black fedora. He appeared to walk away from the station towards a nearby parking garage, so Helmcke asked the garage security team to search their video recordings for any sign of the man in the hat.
Colin Dudley's truck
The video from the garage did show the man in the hat walking in just after he had left the light rail station on the morning of Aug. 25, 2020. In the video, the man walked to a gray Chevy truck parked in the garage, got in, and drove out. As the truck left the garage, the license plate was visible. It was registered to Colin Dudley.
The pieces come together
As they scanned back through the garage footage from even earlier in the day on August 25, investigators found the Chevy truck had been parked there around 8 a.m. That video showed what appeared to be Colin Dudley in a different shirt driving the truck in and then riding off on a bike. Investigators believe Dudley was putting his truck in place for when he would later drop off Kassanndra's car.
A planned meeting
Cellphone provider data revealed that Kassanndra Cantrell and Colin Dudley would often text about meeting up at his house, and that Kassanndra had texted Dudley at 8:49 a.m. the morning she went missing: "I'm a bit early, that ok?" Dudley responded, "Yep, come on down."
Investigators search Colin Dudley's house
Investigators searched Colin Dudley's house but didn't find Kassanndra. They did take evidence, including his truck, a bike, and a black fedora hat. Cadaver dogs showed particular interest in the basement, especially a brown couch. But it wasn't enough to make an arrest. Detective Helmcke told "48 Hours," "He's guilty of something. But … what is he guilty of?"
A new lead
Once investigators were able to zero in on Colin Dudley, they got a warrant to remove his truck's black box to collect its data and track the truck's movements on the day of Kassanndra's disappearance.
Something that caught their attention was Dudley's movements on August 26, the day after Kassanndra was at his house. Early that morning, Dudley's truck drove to an area near a wooded ravine and stopped for several minutes. On Sept. 22, 2020, nearly a month after Kassanndra's disappearance, investigators rushed to that ravine, only eight miles from Dudley's house.
Police data shows Colin Dudley's movements on the morning of Aug. 26, 2020. The yellow dots represent Dudley's vehicle driving to the location where Kassanndra Cantrell's remains were found.
Kassanndra Cantrell's remains are found
In the area near where Colin Dudley's Chevy had parked, investigators found a trash bin with a bag liner, blood and human remains. Det. Helmcke was able to identify the remains by a distinctive tattoo Marie Smith had told him Kassanndra had. It was a quote that read, "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." Kassanndra Cantrell had been found.
Colin Dudley pleads guilty
Colin Dudley was arrested that night and was charged with first-degree murder. He later pleaded guilty and the case did not go to trial.
On Nov. 14, 2022, Dudley was sentenced to just over 26 years in prison for the murder of Kassanndra Cantrell. With good behavior, he could be out as early as 2044.