From Stuart Knowlton’s appeal: At approximately 6:40 p.m. on November 10, 1981, Cassandra Hansen, age 6, accompanied by her mother and sister, arrived at a church in St. Paul’s Midway area for a “family night” program which was to begin at 7 p.m. Sometime between 6:50 and 7 p.m., Cassandra received her mother’s permission to use the bathroom. Although there was a bathroom on the lower level of the church where the auditorium was located, the evidence revealed that Cassandra most probably intended to use another bathroom on the upper level. Three witnesses saw her in the lower hallway and on the stairway leading upstairs. Two of those witnesses also identified defendant as a man they had seen walking in the hall and heading up the stairs shortly after they saw Cassandra. Shortly after 7 p.m., Cassandra’s mother realized Cassandra had not returned to the auditorium. A subsequent search of the premises by church staff members revealed no sign of the child and the police were called.
Shortly before 11 a.m. on the following day, November 11, Cassandra’s body was
[383 N.W.2d 667]
found in a dumpster behind the Auto Clinic located on the corner of Grand and Grotto in St. Paul’s Crocus Hill area. The cause of death was determined to be ligature strangulation having occurred between 8 p.m. and midnight on November 10. The victim had been beaten about the face, head, ribs, and shoulder, and marks found on her face were consistent with someone’s hand tightly placed over her mouth. A sexual assault examination revealed no signs of sexual penetration, but police investigators discovered the presence of semen on the victim’s clothing.
Defendant was working on the evening of November 10 at his normal job as a taxicab driver. His cab contained a two-way radio over which he communicated with his dispatcher on a regular basis. The dispatchers on duty that evening were not able to make contact with nor did they receive any communications from defendant that evening between 5 or 6 p.m. and approximately 3 a.m. the following morning. Both dispatchers testified this was unusual, especially for defendant.
At approximately 7:50 p.m. on November 10, defendant was seen in an Arthur Treacher’s Restaurant at Grand and Grotto. A witness observed defendant for nearly 30 minutes in the restaurant and testified that defendant had made him nervous. As the witness left the restaurant, he saw defendant standing outside staring in the direction of the Auto Clinic.
Defendant was later seen sitting in a parked car on Milton between Goodrich and Fairmount by another witness. The same witness was bicycling down Milton the following morning and noticed a girl’s black patent leather shoe in the street in the area where he had seen the parked car and defendant the previous evening. This shoe was later identified as a shoe Cassandra Hansen had worn to the church on November 10. Her other shoe was found November 12 in the same vicinity.
Defendant was next seen at 3 a.m. on November 11. He had gone to a massage parlor in St. Paul purportedly to get acquainted with employees and to give them his business card. Dorothy Noga noticed defendant was hunched over, breathing heavily, shaking, and talking “real fast.”
Shortly thereafter, defendant called his dispatcher on the cab radio and reported that a fare had stolen his briefcase which contained his trip sheets. Trip sheets are records that the city requires cabdrivers to maintain. The following morning, defendant telephoned the owner of a cab company for whom he had previously worked and asked if he could buy trip sheets from her. He told her his new employer did not supply them. His new employer, however, disputed this representation and stated that several hundred trip sheets were on hand and available to defendant on the evening in question.
Three occupants of a fourplex located in the 900 block of Grand Avenue in St. Paul testified they saw defendant standing across the street throughout much of the morning of November 11, the morning the victim’s body was found. The witnesses noted his gaze was constantly fixed to the east, in the direction of the Auto Clinic a few blocks away. They observed defendant leaning against a retaining wall and he would walk from the wall to the curb, apparently to get a better view up the street. They testified defendant also seemed oblivious to passersby. Later that day, defendant went to work as usual. The dispatcher on duty testified that shortly after defendant took his cab out, defendant called in twice on the cab radio and “ranted and raved” about the Cassandra Hansen murder. Both times the dispatcher had to cut off defendant and explain it was an improper use of the cab radio.
The police investigation quickly focused on defendant. The police called defendant in for questioning on November 12, but he was released because the police had insufficient evidence at that time on which to charge him. Defendant was properly read his Miranda rights at that time.
Stuart Willis Knowlton died in prison in 2006
Forensic Files: Church Disappearance (sometimes called Cause of Death)