Discarded receipt, store video, online searches lead to dismembered man's killer
11/21/2017 12:46 pm PST
It's a bizarre murder mystery. But who's behind the grisly crime will shock a close-knit community. And leave investigators shaking their heads and holding their stomachs.
It's October 29, 2012, deer season in Springfield, Illinois and someone has made a killing.
"A couple gentlemen who live out in the eastern part of the county, one was driving home, saw something laying in a creek area off the side of a road," said Sangamon County Sheriff's Sergeant Rodney Vose.
He figures it's a discarded deer carcass and keeps driving, but for some reason he can't let it go.
"So he goes home, sits there for a while and it's bugging him, so he calls one of his friends and they agree to go down there and see what they have," said Sgt. Vose.
The area is dark and wooded. It's hard to make out in the tall grass. Then they see it, and it's not a dead deer.
"And that's when they discovered the remains of a body," said Sangamon County Sheriff's Lt. John Hayes.
Or what is left of it.
"Appeared to be a body missing the head," said Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser.
Horrified, the men dial 911. Sangamon County Chief Deputy Joe Roesch gets the call from dispatch.
"I was at home. I was off-duty. Captain of investigations is never off-duty. But I received the call and we believed that we had a body of a human found in a rural area," Chief Deputy Roesch.
When investigators arrive, they discover a gruesome scene.
"It's very graphic when I along with other detectives walked up," said Sgt. Vose.
"It was the decapitated body," said Chief Deputy Roesch. "The body also didn't have arms or legs, so someone had cut the head, the arms and the legs off this person."
Even the most hardened detectives are taken aback by the sheer carnage of the crime scene.
"It's a very safe area," said Sgt. Vose. "The only thing that happens out there is farming and hunting."
The first hurdle for investigators is to identify the body. There are no missing-persons reports and the body is just a torso, making the identification process nearly impossible.
"We had no fingerprints, we had no face, and no way to actually do any tests," said Chief Deputy Roesch.
So detectives on scene scour the area for any signs of the man's identity. Then they spot something on a nearby guardrail.
"You could see what appeared to be a substance consistent with blood, where something was drug over the railing," said Sgt. Vose. "And there was also an extension cord around the shoulders which appeared that the torso was drug down there by someone."
But the clues don't stop there. It appears someone tried to wipe the blood off the guardrail.
"There was napkins," said Sgt. Vose.
And mixed within the bloody napkins on the ground...
"We found a receipt just feet away from the body," said Chief Deputy Roesch.
"Got with their loss-prevention people, tracked down the purchase time, date, got the register," said Lt. Hayes.
And there's more: When cops pull the store's surveillance video and zero in on the purchase time on the receipt, they spot the mystery buyer.
"It was a black female," said Chief Deputy Roesch.
And just what was she buying?
"Purchasing a Sawzall [the brand name of a particular reciprocating saw] at basically midnight. Which, again, buying a Sawzall in the middle of the night is a little bit unusual," said Chief Deputy Roesch.
Police in Springfield, Illinois are literally trying to piece together a grisly murder mystery.
"An African-American male torso missing the legs from below the knee down, the hands were cut off the arms, and the head had been severed off the body," said Sangamon County Sheriff's Sgt. Rodney Vose.
Cops find a store receipt near the man's torso, and when they pull the retail shop's security video, they discover a woman making a curious purchase in the middle of the night.
"On that receipt was a Skil reciprocating saw which is an electric Sawzall," said Sgt. Vose.
Then cops hit pay dirt when they zoom in. The surveillance video shows the mystery woman paying with a credit card. Cops pull the woman's credit card information.
"Juatasha Denton-McCaster," said Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser.
But she's hardly a criminal.
"Was a student at a local college, and had no criminal history, recently moved to the area," said Milhiser.
The 22-year-old was an honors student at her high school. And when not excelling at school, Juatasha could be found attending church.
"Lots of friends, dedicated to her family as well," said Sgt. Vose. "Never heard a bad thing about her either. Just the all-American kid."
But considering everything, investigators place the college student under 24-hour surveillance.
"We put a surveillance on her house. She went about her normal life," said Chief Deputy Joe Roesch.
Including something fairly routine as taking out the trash. After depositing it on the curb, the trash became public property. Investigators move in right away and secretly seize her garbage. And when they open the first bag:
"Floor tile. She tore up the floor tile. So again, an odd thing to find in the trash," said Roesch.
Odd, but not necessarily incriminating. Still, investigators send the tiles to the crime lab for testing.
Cops wonder if this young churchgoing woman was just remodeling her house, or if she had some connection to this savage murder.
"How could this petite, meek, mild-mannered, no criminal history have done this?" said Milhiser.
The killing is so brutal it seems more like a hit.
"This has to be gang-related, drug-related, folks not from Sangamon County, that could do this heinous crime," said John Milhiser. "We do not see this type of crime in Sangamon County."
While the coroner attempts to identify the butchered remains, undercover cops keep a close eye on Juatasha, and crime-scene investigation teams continue to sift through her trash.
Then alarm bells go off. One bag doesn't appear to be garbage at all: it's full of men's clothing.
"When we started seeing soldier's uniforms, we knew that there was someone that could have been living there with her," said Roesch.
But who? It's a short-lived question when investigators discover an identification card mixed in with the uniforms.
"Norman Raymel McCaster was a citizen of Sangamon County. He was involved in the Illinois National Guard and a great member of this community," said Roesch.
And there's something else about this National Guardsman.
"Had recently moved to Springfield, Illinois with his wife Juatasha Denton-McCaster," said Milhiser.
Juatasha is married. But her husband doesn't seem to be home. Detectives place a call to the Illinois National Guard. They are informed that Norman McCaster was a no-show at a recent mandatory drill. Cops decide it's time to have a chat with his young wife.
"She talked to myself and Sgt. Vose," said Lt. John Hayes. "We asked if we could come in and talk to her. She let us in. She was very polite."
"She invited us into her house, was very genuine, sweet, asking us if we wanted something to drink, we sat on her couch, talked a few things over," said Sgt. Vose.
Juatasha explains to police that Norman McCaster is her high school sweetheart, but that lately their marriage has been on the rocks due to his drug addiction.
"She told us he that he left with some druggies from St. Louis," said Sgt. Vose. "We asked her what kind of car, she didn't know. I remember specifically asking her what did he have when he left. She said just the clothes on his back."
But when detectives talk to Norman's dad, he's in total shock. He tells them his son doesn't do drugs, and what's more, he has no idea his son is even missing.
"I said, 'So you're telling me my son ran off? So you must don't know my son and the relationship me and him have. He's not going to run off without telling me or calling me,'" said Marcel Banks, Norman's father.
After Norman disappeared, Juatasha didn't tell his family or police.
"She didn't report her husband missing," said Sgt. Vose.
Norman's aunt Kecia Spring is equally stunned by Juatasha's stories about her nephew.
"She started saying all weird stuff that didn't make sense," Kecia Spring tells Crime Watch Daily. "I knew it was not right. I know he would have contacted us and told us anything that was going on."
And when detectives interview soldiers and co-workers who knew the missing 22-year-old man:
"We were waiting to hear one bad thing about him, and that never happened," said Sgt. Vose.
Then cops get their hands on more surveillance footage. Just one day after buying the saw, Juatasha is captured pulling into the same store parking lot. Once inside, security cameras roll as she makes another strange purchase.
"Cleaning supplies, and I think it was like heavy-duty plastic that you would wrap maybe for painting, like a plastic covering," said Chief Deputy Joe Roesch. "It was very suspicious that the same person that used this credit card was also cleaning up, ripping the tile out of her house. And not reporting your husband missing."
Now with more than a little hunch to go on, investigators contact the Illinois National Guard and make a very specific request. They ask for a sample of Norman's DNA.
"Since he was in the National Guard, there is a DNA sample that is kept at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware," said John Milhiser. "So through the work of the Illinois State Police, taking a DNA sample from the torso, matching that up with DNA from Dover Air Force base in Delaware."
And the result?
"It was a match," said Milhiser.
"Just received that phone call, it just tears you -- it just tears you apart to hear that one of your kids is dead," said Norman's father Marcel Banks. "Nobody wanted to tell me. People just said 'Don't say anything to him.'"
But when Norman's father arrives at the station in Springfield, detectives regretfully reveal the savage way Norman died.
"Once I found out all the details, I pretty much want to hurt something, or someone. Whoever was responsible for it," said Banks.
And investigators had Norman's own wife Juatasha secretly under surveillance for weeks.
"We wanted to gather the strongest case we could get against her," said Sgt. Rodney Vose.
Now armed with what appears to be undeniable evidence against her, Vose asks Juatasha to come down to sheriff's headquarters.
"The Thanksgiving holiday was coming up, we thought she might go home and not come back," said Sgt. Vose.
Juatasha agrees to meet with investigators.
Detective: "We were helping the Guard out on a missing person, who according to them is a missing person, Norman. That's why we came to talk to you."
Detective: "And we briefly spoke at your house and you were nice enough to come over here with us, right?"
Juatasha: "Mm hm."
Detectives ask Juatasha about her relationship with her husband. She paints a picture of estrangement and abuse starting with an argument over Norman watching pornography.
Juatasha: "He just threw me into the wall, and I got so nervous because, you know, that's my husband, you know."
Juatasha: "And he had never put his hands on me like that."
Detective: "How long ago was that?"
Juatasha: "That was about like maybe two months ago."
Then detectives recall something odd they noticed at her house during their initial conversation with the young woman. And now it's starting to make sense.
"There was a calendar on the wall in the kitchen with the anniversary date all blacked out," said state's attorney John Milhiser. "Their two-year anniversary was coming up and Norman McCaster was not going to make that two-year anniversary, and she was going to make sure of it."
So Det. Vose asks a leading question.
Detective: "Hey, you said your anniversary was Monday, I can't remember when you said it was."
Juatasha: "It was October 26th, would've made two years we would've been married, and I kicked him out on the 24th, like he actually left, took all of his stuff on the 24th."
All of his stuff? Remember, cops already went through Juatasha's trash and found what appeared to be Norman's belongings, including his military uniforms, credit cards and IDs.
Detective: "And when he left, what'd he take?"
Detective Vose has just caught Juatasha in a lie.
Detective: "You told us at your house that he left with nothing but the clothes on his back."
Juatasha: "I mean he got everything."
Detective: "Did he?"
Juatasha: "Yeah. I didn't keep anything. I don't wanna keep anything."
Detective: "Well, you know why you didn't? 'Cause you threw it all out in your garbage. That's why we're here. We know where Norman's at."
Juatasha: "Where is he?"
Detective: "You know where Norman's at."
Juatasha: "No I don't."
Detective Vose hands her two search warrants -- one for her home and one for a sample of her DNA.
Detective: "If we haven't made ourselves clear, this is a homicide, OK."
Juatasha: "What's a homicide?"
Juatasha Denton-McCaster might not know what a homicide is, but cops believe she committed one, and place her under arrest.
Juatasha: "I mean, am I under arrest or something?"
Juatasha: "I'm under arrest?"
Detective: "Yep. You're under arrest for the concealment of a homicide. There's nothing more that I'd like to do is get this straightened out, OK?"
Juatasha: "I want a lawyer."
Detective: "Pardon me?"
Juatasha: "I want a lawyer."
Detective: "You want a lawyer, OK."
Juatasha is taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder, dismembering a body, concealing a homicidal death, and obstructing justice.
At trial, prosecutors reveal the results of a forensic computer search performed on her laptop computer.
"The computer searches, they all started around the beginning of June, about 'How to kill your husband,' 'How to kill a spouse and get away with it,' and the list goes on and on," said Sgt. Vose.
"'How to kill somebody with Visine,'" said John Milhiser.
Which according to prosecutors would explain the puzzling contents of one of Juatasha's trash bags.
"We found numerous bottles of Visine," said Chief Deputy Joe Roesch. "I've been involved in law enforcement for over 20 years. At the time, we didn't even know what relevance that was, but we found out that people take the component of Visine, if you ingest that in the human body in large quantities, it can be fatal."
A forensic toxicologist testifies that he discovered above-normal levels of tetrahydrozoline, an ingredient in Visine, in Norman McCaster's liver.
But prosecutors are just getting started when they call their star witness, a student who attended college with Juatasha.
"He loaned a gun to Juatasha. She then returned it a day later and then it was missing two bullets," said Milhiser. "We believe that she shot Norman in the head with that gun.
"That's why his head was cut off with a reciprocating saw, and then his hands were cut off and his legs cut off. Either she thought that no fingerprints could be found so they couldn't determine who, when the torso was found, who it was; or it made it easier because Norman weighed over 200 pounds. Easier for her to move Norman," said Milhiser.
But cops believe she still had to use a dolly. That theory comes from more damning surveillance footage. This time it's from an entirely different store where Juatasha is seen purchasing a dolly, then placing a truly chilling order.
"A chest freezer that was later canceled," said Milhiser. "We surmised that she was able to dispose of the body so she did not need to store it in a chest freezer."
But what about the rest of Norman?
"We believed that the killer went up to Chicago based on some evidence from her phone. We looked and there are several bridges, other areas, other wooded areas," said Milhiser. "His head, his hands, his legs were never recovered."
It's a devastating reality for Norman's family members, who were hoping to lay their loved one to rest in one piece.
After seven hours of jury deliberations, Juatasha is found guilty and sentenced to 78 years in prison.
And the motive for murder?
"Juatasha was a perfectionist," said Sgt. Vose. "She had never failed at one thing, but her marriage was crumbling around her. And when it started to fail, she came up with a plan and unfortunately she carried it out."
Since the horrific murder of Norman McCaster, his father tries to stay strong for the rest of the family by mourning his only son in private.
"It's tough because every morning I go out to the car. I'll sit there and I will cry because that's how much I miss him," said Marcel Banks. "He meant a lot to me."
To this day, the Springfield, Illinois woman has never admitted to killing, then dismembering and decapitating her husband. In fact even while being arrested Juatasha was still wearing her wedding ring and told detectives she was holding out hope that she and Norman would get back together.