August 26, 2020
Murder Story, no gruesome details – time: 17:12-17:47
Discovery of a Body, no gruesome details – 18:27-18:50
Domestic Violence Mentioned, extremely vague – 19:35-19:50
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As I started to prepare for this week’s episode, news rang out in California.
The monster known as the Golden State killer was sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences for his crimes. He sat in his wheelchair, faking frailty in order to continue to cling to whatever power he could hang on to (we’ve now seen video released from his jail cell showing that this was an act.) He terrorized California and murdered 13 people, continuing to roam free for decades before being caught.
You may have seen on social media that I spoke about acclaimed author, Michelle McNamara. Michelle poured her life into the work of seeking justice for these crimes, and breathed her last breath into this case. She passed away tragically in 2016 before her magnum opus was completed, but her loved ones pieced together the rest of her work to bring it to a close.
Her work and dedication are to thank for creating new ideas and putting this story back into view. She’s the reason we know who the Golden State Killer is, and I just want to take a moment to acknowledge her work.
Michelle wrote of the then-unknown killer, in her book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark:
Sometimes it can feel like crimes will never be solved, but Michelle’s confidence that this man would be found brought it into being. I hope that as we all dig into these crime cases, we have the same zeal for justice as she did.
Thank you for everything you did, Michelle.
September is right around the corner and the mornings are getting cooler and cooler here in Northwest Arkansas.
YES I AM BASIC, I live for the release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks which is supposedly releasing early this month. I’ve been on my Milk & Murder Pinterest Board (again, BASIC) looking for dairy-free recipes since my little nursling can’t tolerate anything dairy.
I’m sure many of you are like many and live for the change that Fall brings. Even though summer is coming to a close, everything feels new again. I try to take a step outside each morning by myself, even for just a moment, to breathe in the fresh air.
Even if it’s cheesy, I always feel like I can do new things when the swelter of summer is over. It gives me a sense of being a new person, like I’m on the come-up.
(Aka I think I have some kind of summertime seasonal affective disorder!)
There used to be a woman named Cassie Cotta lived just near here, about 90 minutes south of where I live, in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
It always feels a bit weird when crimes happen near us, doesn’t it? I think because these people once breathed the same air we’re breathing and smelled the smells we smell and saw things we see.
Cassie was a bright and fun person and an avid social media user like most of us. She kept the people she loved updated on her day through regular posts on Facebook and Twitter, where she kept connected with her ever-growing circle of friends. Her FB bio read simply:
“I want to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.”
I’m sure you can see where this is going. Ominous, right? How could such a blazing light of a person be in the ground right now instead of breathing in the nearly-Fall air like the rest of us?
Cassie Leigh Cotta was born on May 19th, 1987 to her mom, Pearl.
If astrology is your kind of thing, you’ll understand what I mean when I say Cassie was SUCH A TAURUS. I don’t know much about it, but I like reading about it occasionally to see if the descriptions match my kids. My youngest daughter was supposed to be born in June, and I expected her to be very late like my older three.
As it turns out, this little baby found her way out 5 weeks early in what I now know is truly the way of the persistent and stubborn Taurus.
Pearl describes her daughter by saying,
“She was an amazing young woman full of life, never knew a stranger, always willing to open her heart and door for anyone who may be in need. She was independent, outspoken, in your face brutally honest, if you were lucky enough to have met her, you would either really love her or really hate her, there was no in between, so whatever you decided was fine with her.“
When Rodney Hardy met Cassie, HE really loved her. They had explosive chemistry- which, as any of us who have had young love knows, that can be just as ugly and loud as it is beautiful.
They love spending time together and they are together as much as possible. They made it a point to unconditionally support the other person’s dreams.
This unwavering support led to a subtle shift in their relationship that eventually veered it off course altogether.
Rodney wrote a couple of songs with some buddies and started playing in a band known as The Super Smashed Brothers. As you can imagine, I *HAD* to Google this hilarious nonsense and I found a band page where they self-described as a Comedy Indie Hip Hop Band. They kind of remind me of some kind of 3OH!3/Bloodhound Gang/Sum 41 Love Child Hybrid but add in old school video game sound bites.
I won’t lie- I kinda don’t hate it.
What started out as a few “joke” appearances ended up being a big hit, and Rodney started playing several local gigs.
Cassie cheered him on and did everything she could to help promote the band and get their merch out everywhere. The group started playing an increasing number of local gigs, and Rodney ended up on the road way more than they anticipated.
This created some conflict for the couple because Cassie was starting to feel more ready to settle down and start a family. Rodney was bathing in all of the opportunities that were opening up to him, and he felt like they were too young to have kids. Cassie really missed him, and they fought a lot.
One time when Rodney was home, they discussed how they could find happiness again and the idea of having an open relationship came up.
Now, some crime shows like to really latch on to this fact and sensationalize. However, I’d describe the dynamic more like the beginning of the end of something neither of them really wanted to let go of.
Their relationship crumbled slowly as they each lived their own lives, and soon they decided that they would probably just be happier if they divorced.
Towards the very end of that relationship, Cassie ended up meeting somebody new and they hit it off right away. It wasn’t long before they moved in together and their relationship started to get really serious. His name was Brent, and while the two of them didn’t plan to have a baby together immediately, Cassie fell head over heels in love with his three kids. She loved nurturing them, and she even brought home a puppy for the family- a little black and white mutt with white paws who they named Mr. Socks.
Not only were Brent and Cassie working really hard together to get their life established, Brent got REALLY exciting news that he’d be receiving a large sum of money. They were ecstatic, and booked a trip to Vegas where Brent decided to make it official and asked Cassie to be his wife. Soon after they returned home, however, they found out that there would be some kind of legal delay and that the money they once expected wasn’t necessarily going to arrive soon or even at all. They were devastated, and both of them had to double down on work in order to make ends meet.
The rug had been pulled out from underneath them and they had to figure out how to put the broken pieces back together. The money problems increased and so did the conflict level. Their fights became incredibly volatile, and the two split up in March. Much like with Rodney, it was hard for Cassie to let go. The two recommitted to making things work, and moved back in together. They decided to tie the knot a few days later.
Throughout the summer, they tried to get back into a groove together but things just weren’t the same. They struggle along into Winter where they find themselves back into their old pattern- fighting again. Cassie kicks Brent out and is ready to close that chapter. She rebounds by going out with friends and heading to parties, trying to get past this painful part of her life.
Soon, Brent calls Cassie because he has nowhere to go and is not able to see his kids. She is NOT ready to get back together, and she makes that clear to Brent but she does allow him to come home where the two live together.
Everything seems as normal as it can be once again, until New Year’s Eve when Cassie’s mom Pearl gets an unexpected phone call from Brent. He sounds frantic and stressed, and he explains that Cassie never showed up for work that day. He asks if Pearl had seen her?
While this might not be that unusual for most adults, Brent expresses worry that she also hasn’t posted on social media. Her friends have also noticed this- no new Facebook posts, no new Tweets.
Brent leads the charge in looking for Cassie. When she doesn’t show up the next day, he files a police report and they start a wide search and investigation.
Brent has Missing Persons printed of her and he contacts the news. Local media jumps right in, interviewing Brent as he hits the pavement to look for her. They ask him to share something special about her and he says, “She’s colorful, she’s irritable, she’s blunt, she’s beautiful, she’s perfect – she’s everything you could want in somebody, she’s got every little quality.” They carry on through the next few days, and the police exhaust their resources trying to find any information that will help.
On January 3rd, the Police call Pearl and ask her to come down to the station. They sit her down and tell her the devastating news – they know for sure now, Cassie’s killer has come forward. Pearl feels her stomach drop through the floor. She asks for Brent- he should be here, he’s her husband.
That’s when they break it to her….it was Brent.
Brent killed her.
It was a sunny day when Brent agreed to lead investigators to the body. The police had acquired the couple’s cell phone records and found that on the night in question, Cassie and Brent’s cell phones traveled together into a rural area where they lingered for awhile. Brent’s phone soon returned home but Cassie’s did not. It stayed put until the battery died.
Brent laughed on the drive, joking that investigators had taken the wrong direction to Greenwood, near where her body was. He asked if it was “THE CELL PHONES THAT GOT HIM”
It was 55 degrees at 3:30 on January 3rd, 2011 when investigators found the Cassie’s body hidden in the leaves. Brent killed her in a fit of rage and sent texts back and forth between the two of them to manufacture a scenario in which they were arguing about her “excessive partying” prior to her disappearance. The last social media update from The Cottas happened at 5:04 on the day of the discovery. He simply posted: “Love her,” about an hour and a half after her body was located.
Court documents would bring a lot of things into the light. For one thing, it came out that Brent had been charged with Domestic Battery in March 2010. In March, when Cassie broke up with him the first time because she was the victim. He persuaded her to get back together with him. Many times the victim gets blamed, and people will ask, “Why didn’t they leave?”
The truth is that abusers make it almost impossible for their victims to leave. They restrict finances, they threaten, they coerce, they tell their victim that no one will be there for them if they leave.
The first picture I saw of Brent as an inmate gave me chills. He had pale lips and empty eyes. In fact, he reminded me so much of the Golden State Killer.
His inmate record lists every tattoo he has, each sounding more ominous than the next. He has lyrics from I’ll Follow You Into the Dark on his ribs, as well as the words “Love the Way You Lie.” He has a tattoo that says “Love is Suicide.” Saddest of all, he has Cassie’s name tattooed to his left ring finger.
Brent is sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in jail, and again- I feel a parallel with the recent sentencing of the Golden State Killer. It’s just not enough – 30 years isn’t enough for somebody like this.
I realize it’s hard to end a story like this on a light note, but there is one good thing I can say. Even though the world can be ugy, there are so many GOOD things we can do. I want to leave you with a few of these right now:
Cassie’s beautiful headstone reminded me of how important this can be, and how it can help carry on a legacy. Hers reads, “When Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt” followed by a reminder of what a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, and friend she was.
Cassie? I never crossed paths with you here in Arkansas but I feel it deeply. You ARE missed.
Resources/Issues Mentioned in This Episode:
Court Doc #1 – https://bit.ly/2YCfD5M
Court Doc #2 – https://bit.ly/3lfNzPs
Court Doc #3 – https://bit.ly/2YyfLn5