The Deck - Cassandra Jones (Queen of Clubs, Kansas)

Our card this week is Cassandra Jones, the Queen of Clubs from Kansas.

In 1998, 20-year-old Cassandra vanished from the home

that she and her mother shared in Wichita, Kansas,

only to be found months later, her body discarded on the side of the road.

For the past two decades, investigators have thrown everything they can think of

at her case, trying to untangle the twisted web of mysteries

that her killer left behind.

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

It was nearly 5 p.m. on March 31st, 1999, and a couple who we’ll call David and Melissa

were out driving in rural Sedgwick County, Kansas.

They weren’t too far out in the boonies, like they were just a few miles north of Wichita,

but it certainly felt like they were far removed from civilization because they were on a dirt

road surrounded by nothing but fields and long lines of trees.

So bladder full, David decided this would be a good place to get out and use the restroom.

He and Melissa just pulled over to the side of the road where there was a break in the

mile-long row of trees and hedges.

David hopped out of the car, and then he saw something that made him freeze.

In front of him, lying beside the hedgerow, was what appeared to be a severely decomposed

body.

David quickly jumped back in the car and feverishly drove a few miles up the road to the nearest

city, Park City, while he told Melissa what he had found.

When they arrived, they were able to find a deputy on duty to follow them back to the scene.

There was no question about what David had found, and to the deputy’s trained eye, it

looked like the person had some kind of trauma to the head.

So the deputy radioed for backup right away.

Mary Mattingly, who was a detective with the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office at the time,

heard the call go out over the radio and responded to the scene, which was already swarming with

other officers by the time she arrived.

There was what appeared to be a body in various states of decomp.

You could absolutely tell it had been there for an extended period of time.

Investigators could tell the deceased was a woman, and she appeared to be in her late

teens or early 20s, but that’s all they could determine, because the woman didn’t have any

form of identification on her.

Authorities sent the body off to the coroner’s office, where it was quickly determined that

her cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head.

And from the position of the wound, it was clearly a homicide.

As the coroner’s office worked on completing the official autopsy, investigators worked

through the night, some thumbing through local missing persons reports, trying to identify

their victim, and others processing the scene.

Authorities quickly decided that the woman likely hadn’t been killed at that location,

on the side of the road, tucked away in the hedgerow.

It was just where she’d been left.

Matthew Lynch said it’s not uncommon to see body dumps out that way.

It’s just agriculture out there.

But we see, we have seen over the years, more than one body get dumped out that way.

Because you’re only five, six miles out of the city, and you’re even less off of a paved

road.

But it gets pretty dark up there, and you get, you don’t have to, you cross one highway,

and then you’re kind of, in their mind, they’re in the middle of nowhere.

Nonetheless, investigators searched the area where her body was found thoroughly, just

in case the killer left behind any clues.

They scoured the hedgerow, went through the grass with a fine-toothed comb, they even

created a grid around where the body was found, and started digging up the soil.

And that’s when they found something.

Several inches below the ground, they discovered a couple of shell casings.

Because the casings were so deep in the soil, investigators felt like they weren’t connected

to the woman’s death, but they collected them as evidence anyway.

Anything’s possible, but the placement of where she was located, where they were found,

the biggest way to say this, it was not in her head.

It was significant depth beneath where her body was recovered.

It was taking somebody to dig through, dig up all this stuff, and sift through it and

find those.

So likely they had been there for a while.

Once the scene was processed, investigators interviewed the only two people connected

to the case so far, David and Melissa.

Literally, this is what I interviewed him and the female, and they both said that consistent

story.

Here’s what we were doing.

There wasn’t a reason to believe, obviously, that they were involved in that, but you obviously

interview go through that way, and they were immediately off the list, so to speak.

With David and Melissa decidedly off the list of potential suspects, there wasn’t much

more investigators could do until they knew the woman’s identity.

So to help the coroner’s work along, authorities used a local media to get the word out about

their Jane Doe.

But before they even got any calls, the coroner’s office came through.

Even though the woman’s body was badly decomposed, they were able to rehydrate her thumb and

get a fingerprint, which they matched to a 20-year-old woman named Cassandra Jones.

But the timing of all this was just so tight.

Before authorities could even pick up the phone to notify her family, her family had

seen the news broadcast and had called them.

Said, hey, my sister’s daughter has been gone.

She hasn’t been able to find her in a while.

She thinks maybe this is her daughter and wants to come talk to you.

The caller sent her sister, Brenda Jones, to the sheriff’s office to talk with investigators.

Brenda told them that her daughter, Cassandra Jones, had been missing for more than three

months since the middle of December, and she feared that the woman found was her daughter.

Investigators broke the gut-wrenching news to Brenda.

She was right.

It was her baby girl.

After giving Brenda a little time to process everything, they jumped right into interviewing

her.

They wanted to know everything they possibly could about Cassandra, who she was, what she

was going through, what was going on in her life, anything that could lead them to more

people to interview or to potential suspects.

They realized that there would be a lot of people they needed to speak with because Brenda

told investigators that her daughter lived a high-risk lifestyle.

Her mom said that at the time that she was 20 years old, it wasn’t unusual for her to

maybe disappear for a couple days, maybe a week or two.

She would have issues with her mom.

Her mom didn’t approve of some of her lifestyle.

Her mom said she was a dancer, said that she, her daughter had worked as a dancer at Wild

Cherries.

She wasn’t 100% but thought that she had perhaps worked for some kind of escort services

at the time.

She was involved in some activities that would, could lend herself to be in that delicate

position or a dangerous position.

But more than all of that, there was something else, or someone else, that concerned Brenda.

Cassandra’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, a 27-year-old man named Sinclair Duncan.

Sinclair had a criminal record and Brenda expressed that he might have had abusive tendencies

toward Cassandra.

Brenda said that their relationship had gotten pretty serious at one point and Cassandra

had been living with him just until recently when she moved back in with Brenda and started

trying to get her life back together.

She got her GED and CNA certificate and was even attending classes at a local business

school which she was set to finish that very year.

Brenda was devastated when she disappeared, but mostly because she thought she’d just

fallen back into her old life, not that anything like this had happened.

She didn’t report her missing because of her daughter.

She said, well, she’s 20 years old, she’s an adult.

Now that Brenda did know what happened to her daughter, she said she regretted that

decision more than anything.

Brenda told the investigators that the last time she saw Cassandra was in the middle of

December 1998.

She couldn’t pinpoint an exact date because it was just a normal day when she was leaving

their shared apartment.

The best she could pinpoint at the time was that it was between December 13th and December

15th.

After that, she never saw or heard from her again.

Brenda recounted to police what her daughter was wearing the last time she saw her.

Sergeant Lynch didn’t want to describe the clothing to protect the integrity of the investigation

because the clothing that Brenda described actually matched exactly what Cassandra was

wearing when she was found dead, which to police meant that she had likely died the

same day Brenda last saw her.

And Brenda had even more valuable information to add.

She told them that a few weeks after her daughter vanished, she got a call that Cassandra’s

car had been found abandoned in the north central area of Wichita.

It was at some old abandoned home, and she was asked to come collect it.

When she picked the car up, she noticed that the passenger window was broken.

Brenda said that when she found the car, she became worried about her daughter, and so

she went right to the one person she felt would have answers.

In her words, she went and confronted the on-again, off-again boyfriend, would say,

where is she?

What have you done?

It’s unclear what all was said during the confrontation between Brenda and Sinclair,

but it didn’t yield the answers Brenda was looking for, and she remained in the dark

about her daughter’s whereabouts until today, when she was sitting in front of investigators.

After speaking with Brenda, police began tracking down some of Cassandra’s friends

and other people who might have had information, and everyone they spoke to seemed to paint

the same unsavory picture of Sinclair, that he was controlling and violent.

One story investigators heard was that once, Sinclair got so angry at Cassandra that he

stole her car keys and wouldn’t let her leave his house.

Another story they heard was even more concerning.

People said Sinclair once pulled out a gun and shot at Cassandra and someone that she

was hanging out with.

Now, no one was sure if he was shooting at Cassandra or the person she was with, but

either way, there was a police report for that incident, so investigators knew it was

more than just a rumor.

And that was far from the only police report that the authorities had with Sinclair’s name

on it.

He had a criminal history, including a 1992 arrest for aggravated robbery involving a

firearm.

And beyond that, he was a known gang member.

They had a feeling that it’d be difficult to get Sinclair to talk, but they tracked him

down and tried anyway.

It was a week after Cassandra’s body was found, April 6th, when police finally sat

down with him for an interview.

He came up voluntarily, and I would say his interview, he had a very flat affect.

Said that, you know, he loved her, they were on again, they were off again, he had no idea

what happened.

Sinclair told investigators that even though he and Cassandra had broken up or were in

one of their off periods, she would still braid his hair every three to four weeks,

which kind of made it seem like there weren’t really hard feelings between the two of them.

He said that the last time he saw her was on either the 11th or the 12th of December.

She had moved out of his house not too long before that.

And for some reason, when she moved out, she took his stereo equipment with her.

So Sinclair said that he went over to Brenda’s place to pick it up.

And he said that was that.

He never saw her again.

But something about the way Sinclair was acting during the interview, his flat, emotionless

tone, it just rubbed investigators the wrong way.

And that, tied with the fact that as far as they knew, he had expressed no concern to

anyone when Cassandra was missing for more than three months, made him seem more than

suspicious.

So before they let him go, they asked him to come back in for a polygraph.

To their surprise, he agreed.

But it wasn’t going to be that easy.

When police tried to get one set up, he told them that he had changed his mind, which you

all know, there’s nothing wrong with declining to take a polygraph.

There’s a reason they’re not admissible in court.

But initially agreeing and then suddenly changing your mind, that’s what seemed suspicious.

Not long after talking with Sinclair, detectives spoke with a good friend of Cassandra’s

who we’ll call Alice, and who police would soon learn was one of the last people to see

Cassandra alive.

Alice said that the last time she saw Cassandra was on December 13th.

She and Cassandra went to a Dollar General together at around 3 p.m. that day, but Cassandra

got a headache and said that she just wanted to go home.

So they both went back to Brenda’s apartment together.

And when they got there, Cassandra got a call from Sinclair.

Alice said that Sinclair was asking Cassandra to come over and braid his hair.

After that phone call, Alice and Cassandra parted ways.

She said that she didn’t hear from or see Cassandra after that.

Though she did try calling Cassandra, but she could never get a hold of her.

And now she knew why.

If Cassandra actually did go over to braid Sinclair’s hair after that phone call, then

it seemed like he was probably the last person to see her alive, which would be pretty damning

for someone who was already the focus of everyone’s suspicion.

After that discussion with Alice, investigators went over and searched Brenda’s apartment.

And sure enough, they found evidence that Cassandra had been on her way to do someone’s

hair shortly before she dropped off the radar.

She had a certain routine that she followed when she was going to braid someone’s hair

or do someone’s hair.

And she had followed that routine right up to the point when we don’t have anybody have

any contact with her.

Sergeant Lynch didn’t want to elaborate on what that routine was.

He said that it could be something that comes up later in the investigation.

But it was the proof they were looking for that Cassandra’s last move was likely going

to braid someone’s hair, and that someone seemed like it was Sinclair.

Investigators would have loved to sit down with Sinclair again and have a lengthy conversation

about that last contact with her now that they knew more.

But Sinclair requested that all contact go through his attorney, which very much limited

their contact with him going forward.

Now that limited contact didn’t stop investigators from learning more about him and growing even

more suspicious.

As time went on, there were facts or things that he told us we were able to disprove.

Simple things like he said he was evicted from the apartment where they lived.

He said he was evicted because he didn’t pay his rent.

He wasn’t evicted.

He had paid the rent.

So just simple things like that that we’re able to start going through and saying this

is, this is not factual information, which can seem minuscule, I realize, but when you

have a whole lot of those things that you’re able to put holes in, they start to add up.

Since Sinclair wasn’t really wanting to talk with police at this point, they decided to

take another route that they hadn’t looked at before.

Brenda’s landline phone records.

The records indicated that Sinclair had called Brenda’s house four times the day Alice last

saw Cassandra, December 13th, which of course corroborated Alice’s story.

But that wasn’t all the phone records showed.

Apparently, December 13th was the last day he called.

Like ever, Sinclair didn’t call Brenda’s home ever again.

And here’s what bugs me.

Remember, in his interview with police, Sinclair mentioned that Cassandra braided his hair

every three to four weeks.

So why didn’t he try to call up Cassandra at Brenda’s house again in the three plus

months that she was missing?

I mean, that’s at least three missed hair appointments.

To me, it seems like the only reason he wouldn’t reach out is if he knew she wouldn’t be able

to answer, if he knew something had happened to her.

As the days passed by, investigators continued talking to Cassandra’s friends and acquaintances,

and they started piecing together an even shadier picture of Sinclair.

Like that he was more than abusive and manipulative.

He was exploiting Cassandra.

More than one person, more than one source said he was involved in drugs, in prostitution,

and would utilize her to sell some of those things, whether it’s herself or drugs.

I would say she was probably a victim of human trafficking before we even knew what that

was.

I’ll give you about my best description on that.

It wasn’t just what friends were saying that pointed toward Cassandra being a victim of

human trafficking.

There was an incident that happened a year before Cassandra disappeared that now, on

the other side of things, was raising some red flags.

In November of 1997, Cassandra was arrested during a traffic stop for possession of drugs

and carrying a concealed weapon.

According to the police reports, guess who was in her passenger seat?

Sinclair.

Sergeant Lynch and former detective Mattingly said that they now would guess the drugs and

firearm were actually Sinclair’s, but he handed them off to Cassandra last minute so

she would take the fall.

Lynch and Mattingly agreed that this screams trafficking because this kind of thing is

something that they see often with victims.

The trafficker gets caught or fears getting caught and pins it all on their victim.

As police continue talking with Cassandra’s loved ones, they didn’t just learn more about

Sinclair and his abusive relationship with Cassandra.

They also learned about a possible motive.

Detectives heard that shortly before she disappeared, Cassandra got into a relationship with a new

man who we’ve been asked to call Larry.

There were some stories about him and her, Cassandra, taking his money, taking his dope,

taking whatever, doing something that would be disrespectful, which he would not be able

to tolerate and in order to maintain your standing or his standing would have to address

the problem.

Since Sinclair didn’t want to talk with police anymore, investigators wanted to find Larry

and have a chat with him, not only to address the rumors, but also to see if maybe he was

a potential person of interest.

It took them a while to track him down because, as they’d soon find out, Larry actually went

by his middle name.

But once they found him, he agreed to sit down for an interview.

He was cooperative when we interviewed him.

I would say exhausted everything we could and we were able to say everything he said

we’ve been able to validate and he just wasn’t a viable suspect then.

Just based on where he was, what he was doing, going back that time frame and everything

we could verify that he was telling us.

After talking with Larry, investigators had another name scratched off the potential suspect

list and they were still unable to confirm or deny the rumors floating around.

And although everything they uncovered seemed to point right back to Sinclair, they didn’t

want to get tunnel vision for him.

So they kept working the case, trying to identify other possible persons of interest and people

that they thought might know something.

And it was actually Brenda that had the name of someone they should talk to, someone who

said something weird to her.

Brenda said that Cassandra had a friend named Shelly.

And after Shelly heard Cassandra’s body had been found, she asked Brenda if she got

that grand-am back.

Now for good reason, this struck Brenda as odd.

How did Shelly know that there was a period of time after Cassandra disappeared that her

car was missing too?

Police also found Shelly’s comments suspicious, so they asked her to come to the station for

an interview.

She agreed, and her interaction with investigators would only leave them scratching their heads

even more.

She was in the back of my car because I was driving her up here with another detective.

What she said in the car, well, this, this, and this happened and I found out on this

date.

When we went in to interview her 30 minutes later up here, it was not the same story at

all.

And when you go back and would say what I would say, well Shelly, this is what you said

on the way up here.

Oh, well, I meant, you know, this.

And some of that seems kind of like it isn’t anything like a big deal, kind of innocuous,

but it just again goes to show why are you changing the story now?

Is it relevant?

How is it relevant?

It seemed like Shelly knew more than she was letting on, but she said that she was scared

and therefore wasn’t giving them much information.

And since they had no evidence that she was involved, they had to let her go.

Although investigators knew that there were people close to the case who had the answers

they needed, no one was willing to come clean.

And the investigation was losing steam fast.

Months passed with no new tips, no tangible leads to follow.

But investigators hadn’t given up.

They were still actively searching for the scene of the crime because remember, they

had no reason to believe that Cassandra was killed on the side of the road where she was

found.

They thought that she was killed somewhere else and then just dumped there.

So investigators were processing every location they could think of for evidence of the murder.

They examined Cassandra’s Grand Am and other cars that they thought could be connected

to the crime, but they didn’t find anything.

Toward the end of 1999, they even got a search warrant for Sinclair’s place.

They didn’t find any evidence of Cassandra’s murder there, but they did find drugs and

a gun that he wasn’t supposed to have as a convicted felon, so he was charged for both

of those.

After that, Cassandra’s case went cold, but it wouldn’t stay that way.

My sources for this episode are a bit unclear about when this happened, but a few years

later the sheriff’s office got a call from a kid in a juvenile detention facility.

He wanted to talk about a crime that he had knowledge of.

He said that his cousin, who we’ve been asked to refer to as L.W., L.W. knew what

happened to Cassandra Jones.

The kid said that a guy named Sinclair told L.W. that he had, quote-unquote, taken care

of Cassandra.

But he said that L.W. was too scared of Sinclair to go to authorities.

So armed with the tip, investigators tracked down and spoke with L.W., but he wasn’t as

forthcoming as his young cousin.

Here’s a quote from that L.W.

I don’t have shit to do with it, you people can’t put shit on me.

L.W. wasn’t cooperating, but he wasn’t the only person who seemed to know more than

he was letting on.

There was someone else, someone entirely unrelated to the tip from L.W.’s cousin, an unnamed

friend of Sinclair’s who investigators spoke to.

After talking to him, they were confident that he also held some of the answers that

they were looking for.

He just really seemed like there was a heavy weight.

So we, you know, you continue to talk to him thinking maybe he would share that.

He would kind of infer and say, well, you know, well, there was this and just, you could

just see something’s weighing heavy on him.

We asked him, he goes, yeah, something is, but I’m not there yet.

But that friend would never get there, to the point that he was ready to come clean

about what he knew, because after that interaction with detectives, he refused to speak with

them again.

Mattingly, who’s now retired, said that has been the reoccurring theme of this investigation.

Lots of people know what happened, whether they heard it through the grapevine or were

actually there when it occurred, but no one is willing to talk about it and be the so-called

snitch.

Any of the witnesses, the people that knew Cassandra, that hung around with her, were

gang related or they either had ties or they were gang members, which was another huge

challenge because they were not interested in talking to me or anyone else about anything

that happened.

Because no one is willing to talk, Cassandra’s mom, Brenda, has been left to pick up the

pieces without any closure.

In November 2022, she did an interview with a local broadcast, Channel 12 News, and she

spoke about the loss of her only child.

She said, quote,

It was my worst nightmare.

She didn’t deserve that.

No one deserves that.

She,

It was just the worst day of my life.

It’s still the worst day of my life.

End quote.

Mattingly told our reporting team that Brenda believes she knows who killed her daughter.

I’m going to tell you that her mom believes the same thing I do as far as who’s responsible

for her death.

Ultimately, whether he personally did that or had somebody with him do it, he’s responsible.

Within the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, there are two theories about what happened

to Cassandra.

Mattingly thinks there’s some validity to the rumor that Cassandra stole drugs and money

from Sinclair at the request of her new man, Larry.

He knew it was them and her particularly and said, can’t have that.

And I believe that that’s why she’s dead is because he had to keep up that street cred,

I guess, for lack of a better term, to say, don’t mess with me.

This is what happens.

However, others like Sergeant Lynch disagree with the theory.

I have a tough time with the whole dope or money rip thing only because it’s, it’s unlike

her.

We don’t see this with her on other things.

We don’t see her.

Hell, we don’t even see her shoplifting.

We don’t, we don’t have those kinds of crimes with her.

Sergeant Lynch thinks Sinclair simply didn’t like the fact that Cassandra had left him

and was getting her life together and slipping away from his control.

So he killed her.

I’d say now if he would come in and take a polygraph, that’d be a great place to start.

Maybe he would pass it with flying colors, I don’t know, which I realize isn’t admissible,

but it’s still something to start with because for someone that said he wasn’t involved,

he loved her so much, she doesn’t deserve that, but he’s not willing to cooperate and

never has cooperated ever since the first time we interviewed him.

Even though Mattingly is retired, she still wants nothing more than to solve this case

for Brenda.

If I could do one thing in my life, I would like it to be to get some closure for her

because she still doesn’t have it.

Brenda has waited more than 20 years for closure.

There are so many people out there who know something or who know a piece of something

that could help investigators close the case for good.

So if that’s you, if you know anything about the murder of Cassandra Jones, please contact

the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office at 316-660-3799, or you can email them at coldcaseatsedgwick.gov.

We’ll have all this information in the show notes.

The Deck is an AudioChuck production with theme music by Ryan Lewis.

To learn more about The Deck and our advocacy work, visit thedeckpodcast.com.

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