Published in the Post-Dispatch on Nov. 17, 2013
Twenty years ago Monday, 9-year-old Angie Housman vanished after getting off a school bus on a quiet residential street in St. Ann. Her body was found nine days later tied to a tree in a remote hunting area in St. Charles County.
When a deer hunter discovered her, she had been dead for only hours. That would haunt investigators. A matter of hours. So close.
The already intensive investigation into Angie’s murder went white-hot when the body of 10-year-old Cassidy Senter was found dumped in a St. Louis alley the following month. Like Angie, Cassidy had been sexually assaulted. Was a serial killer snatching little girls off the street? But Cassidy’s killer was arrested within weeks. Thomas Brooks was sentenced to death, and he later died in prison.
The search for Angie’s killer continued.
It was a dual jurisdictional case — the abduction occurred in St. Ann, the murder in St. Charles County — but the investigation went well beyond those two areas. The Major Case Squad was involved. So was the FBI.
Early on, determination was mixed with much hope. It seemed inevitable that the case would be solved. There were enough officers to investigate all leads.
One night I went out with two detectives — Bob Fann and Gary Quint — who were part of a team that was interviewing the 400 deer hunters who had been issued permits to hunt in the wildlife area where Angie’s body had been found. Maybe somebody had seen something. No possibility would go unexplored.
In addition to unlimited manpower, there was plenty of physical evidence with the body. Handcuffs made in Taiwan bound Angie’s hands behind her back. Gray duct tape was wrapped around her head, covering her eyes and mouth. There was a partial fingerprint on the duct tape.
The determination never wavered, but the early sense of optimism faded. A little more than three months into the investigation, Bob Lowery, then the Florissant police chief and the head of the Major Case Squad, sounded a positive note. We’re on the one-yard line, he said.
I asked a detective about that. He shook his head. If we’re on the one-yard line, it’s our own one-yard line, he said.
Eventually, the Major Case Squad dispersed, and the case became the bailiwick of the St. Ann Police Department and the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department.
For a long time now, the lead investigators have been Capt. John Lankford of the St. Ann Police Department, and Sgt. Ed Copeland of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department. Both have long histories with the case. Copeland was the first officer to respond to the deer hunter’s frantic call. Lankford’s former partner, the late John “Chico” Lee, was the original detective assigned to the case. Lankford has been working on it since 1995.
Several task forces have been assembled over the years to review all the reports. Was anything missed? Is it possible that somebody has already interviewed the killer? Facts have been pondered and re-pondered. Angie was kept alive for nine days. That means the killer was living in the area. She had not been given food or water during her nine days of captivity. Is there a significance to that?
Mostly, though, it has been Lankford and Copeland running down tips, reinterviewing witnesses. Several times, the detectives thought they were on the verge of success. “A couple of times, I’ve been ready to call my wife and say, ‘It’s over,’” Lankford said.
Like when Corey Fox confessed. He was, and is, in prison in Illinois for murder. At the time of Angie’s abduction and murder, he lived near her in St. Ann. She might have known him. That could explain why nobody heard her scream. He would have been only 16, but that’s not too young to commit murder.
His confession did not check out. The latest hope revolves around DNA technology, which has become increasingly sophisticated. The detectives are planning to send some evidence to a lab in Texas. That might produce something.
In the meantime, leads keep coming in. Usually, one or two a month. Last week, one of Angie’s relatives received a letter. She brought it to Lankford. He checked it out. Nothing. I spoke with Copeland on Wednesday and asked about new leads. Actually, I’m talking to a new guy tomorrow, he said. I called Friday to see how it went. “I wish I could say it was promising,” he said. Another dry well.
But still they run down everything. The 20th anniversary is the sort of landmark that lends itself to publicity. Maybe the publicity will produce some new leads. Maybe the final one.
The number for the St. Ann Police Department is 314-427-8000.