Dead Reckoning

Police and prosecutors say they know who brutally murdered Cassandra Kovack. But no one has answered the question: Why?

Despite what he'd promised his wife, Drisdel didn't return home until after midnight.

"You know I've been sitting here waiting on you!" Janene Drisdel remembers telling her husband. "What's been taking so long?"

The house was dark, but even in the low light she could see something was wrong. Drisdel was unsteady; he had to lean against the fireplace mantel for balance. And his face -- it looked like he'd been punched in both eyes. Then he moved into the light and Janene saw him clearly. He was drenched in blood, from his jeans to his gray tank top.

On the night of June 4th, Cassandra Kovack invited a guest into her Miami Street apartment complex. Sometime later, a downstairs neighbor heard screams.
On the night of June 4th, Cassandra Kovack invited a guest into her Miami Street apartment complex. Sometime later, a downstairs neighbor heard screams.
Cassandra Kovack's Miami Street apartment complex
Cassandra Kovack's Miami Street apartment complex

He told her he'd met up with Cassandra Kovack and that she'd invited him into her apartment. At some point, he said, he'd smoked crack cocaine. A voice in his head told him that Kovack was the Devil, he said. The voice instructed him to kill her.

"He looked like something had taken him over," Janene says of the confession. "I just think he had some kind of psychotic break. Everything about his face was completely different -- like he totally just snapped."

Methodically, Drisdel strode into the pink-tiled bathroom, undressed and sat down in the green bathtub. He washed the blood off himself, got out and cleaned the tub. Then he put on clean clothes and left.

Janene Drisdel phoned a friend. "I said, 'Can I come over? I need to come over,'" she recalls. "She could tell by my voice it was [important]. She said, 'Just bring your kids and come on.'"

She loaded her three sleeping children into her car. Her friend called 911. Shortly thereafter, police picked up Drisdel at a bus stop at South Grand Boulevard and Chippewa Street. He directed them to Cassandra Kovack's apartment.

"If your husband tells you something like this, your mind wonders what is going on: 'Did this really happen? Is it a hoax? Is he hallucinating? Was he just hearing voices that made him believe this?'" says Janene Drisdel. "You don't know. And you start wondering. You don't even think about the fact that there was blood. You think about the words."

Kovack's ex-boyfriend Jon Jackson lived with her until last September and was the first civilian to see the apartment after the police were through. Based on what he saw, Jackson surmises that the encounter began with Kovack making dinner for her guest: There were two bowls of pasta with olive oil on the coffee table in the front room.

A trail of blood indicates that the struggle began in the bathroom. Apparently, Kovack tried to flee her attacker, only to be caught in the living room.

"Blood had pooled up like she had been beaten to the floor," says Ralph Lucas, another of Kovack's friends who saw the murder scene.

According to an account published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the murderer slashed Kovack's upper right arm with a knife and bit her nose and cheek. Caretaker Paul Hudson says a downstairs neighbor reported hearing screams.

Lucas, who spoke with detectives, says the assailant bludgeoned Kovack to death with his bare hands. She died where they found her: inches from her front door. "She was fighting back and trying to get out of the apartment," Lucas says.

The crime scene was horrifying.

"It was pretty bad," says Jackson, citing a bloody outline on a white living-room wall, "like she had hit the wall and slid [down]." Kovack's furniture had been knocked around. A black samurai sword, which he says she kept in her bedroom for self-protection, was undisturbed.

Lucas says it took four hours to scrub away the blood.

By his own account, Leonardo Drisdel was not a popular kid.

"I had a bad, bad stuttering problem till I was almost ready to graduate from high school," he recalls. "I was extremely fat, except I could run fast. You had to be, with kids trying to beat me up. They would call me 'Leonardo Retardo.'"

Drisdel was born in St. Louis in 1959. His parents divorced when he was very young; he stayed with his mother, mostly, and was on the move constantly, taking up residence at various times in Illinois, Iowa, Boston and New Jersey, to name a few. He also logged time living with an uncle and with his grandmother.

According to one man who has close ties to the family, Drisdel was physically abused by his mother. "He told me a few years ago that she beat him with ironing cords," says the source, who spoke on condition that he not be named.

Janene Drisdel says her husband mentioned the beatings. "I'd heard that before," she says. "But I didn't grow up in that household, so I don't know what went on there. I think it was discipline, that's all that was."

Canzader Perkins, Drisdel's mother, lives in University City. Reached by phone, she declined to comment.

Derrick Drisdel says his younger brother was sexually molested by a male relative (not his father) but declines to provide details.

"He mentioned some things," confirms Janene, who likewise will not elaborate.

On the advice of his attorney, Drisdel would not comment on the topic of abuse.

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