Dead Reckoning

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

Drisdel went to high school in Joliet, Illinois, where he says he was a precocious student. "I carried a gym bag," he says. "Where everyone else had gym clothes, mine was full of books."

After high school he embarked upon what he describes as his "starving artist" phase. He took up music, learning to play keyboard. "I was finding myself. Going to rock concerts, thinking I was going to be a rock star. I was trying to get in," Drisdel recounts. "My motive was to try to rub elbows to get there."

His taste ran from funksters like James Brown to punks like the Sex Pistols, his look featured a mohawk and foot-long fishing lures that doubled as earrings. His musical travels took him to Decatur, where he met future bandmate and friend Dan Comiskey.

Accused of the murder of Cassandra Kovack, Leonardo Drisdel spends his days on lockdown at the St. Louis City Justice Center.
Jennifer Silverberg
Accused of the murder of Cassandra Kovack, Leonardo Drisdel spends his days on lockdown at the St. Louis City Justice Center.
A Chicago transplant, Cassandra Kovack loved her friends in St. Louis' goth community.
A Chicago transplant, Cassandra Kovack loved her friends in St. Louis' goth community.

"I thought it was cool because he was black and he liked more progressive [music] -- not fuckin' rap," recalls the long-haired Comiskey, who still lives in Decatur. They formed a band, Kindergarten.

As roommates the pair threw parties, hosting local high school kids and students from nearby Milliken University. The beer flowed freely, and Drisdel was a charmer. (Comiskey: "He always had more [girlfriends] than me.") When they weren't having parties, they might just kick back, smoke pot and talk politics. Still, Comiskey feels compelled to add, he sometimes felt he didn't really know his best friend. "There's been an aura of mystery around him," he says. "Even having a room across the hall from his. I can't put my finger on it."

Drisdel spent a year and a half studying communications at Richland Community College in Decatur. (A representative from the school's admissions and records department could only verify that the fall of 1978 was his last semester at the school.) He tried his hand at preaching, then moved to Washington, D.C., and got a job answering phones for a company that handled public relations for Philip Morris, dealing with customers who had complaints about cigarettes. He says he also worked for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Kraft Foods, also in D.C.

But he missed his family. Returning to St. Louis in the late 1980s, Drisdel took a warehouse job at National Supermarkets (since swallowed by Schnucks) and promptly took a spill, breaking his back. That led to surgery, and painkillers. Today Drisdel says it was a turning point in his life.

"When I broke my back, I went from being a happy, running-around, vital man to being impotent in my mind," he says.

Radio, Leonardo's Drisdel's great passion, was a happy accident.

One day in the early 1990s Drisdel called in during a WGNU broadcast to challenge longtime host Lizz Brown. Though their politics were polar opposites, Drisdel says Brown wound up asking him if he was interested in selling ads for her. He demurred.

"I don't remember any of that," says Brown. "I think he's making it up. I have no idea how he made the connection to WGNU, but it certainly wasn't through me." She describes Drisdel as "just a typical right-wing reactionary that defends the right wing at the expense of everything else."

Drisdel says his flirtation with the station led to a chance encounter in the lobby with WGNU's eccentric owner, the late Chuck Norman. "I saw this old man, and I said, 'Good afternoon.' He was like, 'What are you doing here?' He kept prying and being nosy," Drisdel recalls. "He asked me, 'Do you know a little about a lot of things?' and I said, 'I think so.' He asked who the two senators were that represented Missouri at the time. Then he said, 'My name's Chuck Norman. Go in there and tell them I want you to be on the radio.'"

That was fourteen years ago. Drisdel's first show, The Breakfast Club, was followed by The Human Factor, which debuted in 2003.

Drisdel declines to divulge his income. But generally speaking, WGNU hosts don't do it to get rich. Like many who toil at the station known for its non-mainstream personalities, Drisdel used his shows as a platform to espouse his views about religious faith, city politics and race relations. "The show was a perfect way for me to give back to the community," he says.

The gig was by no means high-profile, but Drisdel snagged frequent interviews with Mayor Francis Slay. Other bold-facers turned up from time to time, including former mayor Clarence Harmon, U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay Jr. and comedian Joe Torry. Occasionally the show made local news, most recently in May when Drisdel refereed a skirmish between fired Riverview Gardens High School principal Clem Ukaoma and Ukaoma's former boss, Natalie Thomas. He even scored the odd celebrity appearance, as in 2001, when he served as grand marshal of the Summer Millennium Festival alongside current St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Drisdel met his second wife in 1997 at a laundromat near his former home in Maplewood. He'd come to play pinball -- his regular routine when he was depressed -- but he noticed Janene out of the corner of his eye.

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