Dead Reckoning

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

"He approached me," Janene Drisdel recalls. "He was pretty forward: 'I'm interested.' I said, 'No, no, no, no, no.' I looked at his height. 'You're shorter than me!' For some reason I still gave him my number, and he called that night and we talked all night long."

They were married in 2002. Drisdel had been married during the mid-1980s; Janene, a private-duty nurse, had two sons by a previous marriage. (They had a son together, who's six; Drisdel has four other children and three grandchildren.) "He was great with kids," Janene Drisdel says. "When he met my fourteen-year-old, [the boy] was extremely shy and sat there with his thumb in his mouth. Leo got him to open up. My twelve-year-old had middle-child syndrome. Leo was good about giving him plenty of attention. That's been really nice."

Says Drisdel: "I love Kyle and Marcus as much as I love any of my children. Actually, I fell in love with them before I fell in love with Janene, because since their real father had nothing to do with them I could picture and remember being 'that little boy.'"

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.

During the late 1990s, Drisdel became involved with the New Dimensions Christian Center, a church in East St. Louis. After coming onboard as a janitor, he wound up preaching in tongues. Sermonizing ran in the family. Drisdel says both his grandfather and great-grandfather were preachers. "God would use me to bust it up," he explains. "You open your mouth and you can just say things. Sometimes it's in what we call an unknown tongue, other times it's not discernible by human standards. On the pulpit you get a thought. You stand and start bringing it forth. You may start getting louder or humming it, or however you want to bring your message across. A lot of times, though, your whole message will get twisted because the agenda that you have is not what God wants to come across."

Channeling the word of God taught him a lot about life, says Drisdel. "The thoughts that are bringing you towards what's righteous -- that's God. You've got God, you've got the Devil, you've got yourself.

"You learn to discern."

Leonardo Drisdel's police record in Missouri contains a single conviction: for driving without a license. Chet Pleban, Drisdel's attorney, believes Drisdel has a clean record in other states as well, though he says he hasn't performed an exhaustive search.

Drisdel's friends and family members were shocked by his arrest.

"I had no idea something like this could happen in my family," says Derrick Drisdel. "To my knowledge no one in my family had ever been to jail for anything, never abused any substances, never had a run-in with the law, never harmed anybody."

Adds Nick Kasoff, until recently a host at WGNU: "I was as probably close to him as anyone there. I talked to him on the phone a lot and thought I knew him fairly well. Leonardo Drisdel in my experience is a great guy with a good head on his shoulders."

"He seemed to be a nice, ordinary kind of a guy," says ex-Mayor Clarence Harmon, a sometime guest on Drisdel's show. "He was always cordial, pleasant. Took me to task, asked me the hard questions. It was never scripted. I respected him."

Janene Drisdel says recent family hardships caused her husband to unravel. Drisdel's half-brother Ernie Johnson died of a stroke in San Antonio last August. Also last year a stepbrother, Rodney L. Frasier, was found shot in the head, his body abandoned in the weeds by the side of an East St. Louis road. No one has been charged.

"When you lose a loved one, that's a challenge," Drisdel says.

Drugs were a way of coping with that challenge. Dan Comiskey says Drisdel spoke of his crack cocaine use in the years after he left Decatur. "He told me about the crack shit and stuff, but it seemed to be off and on," Comiskey says. "I thought -- I could be wrong -- that stuff was sporadic, not constant or compulsive."

But it was compulsive. According to Janene Drisdel, her husband checked himself into rehab centers a number of times, at Saint Louis University's in-patient psychiatric counseling program, the Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center and Provident Counseling.

Crack wasn't the only problem. Janene Drisdel says her husband was hooked on Dilaudid, a narcotic that had been prescribed for back pain. He used the opiate constantly, she says, in the form of suckers, patches and pills, until he switched insurance providers late last year. His new plan didn't cover the drug, and he couldn't afford what would have been $600 in monthly out-of-pocket expenses. Janene says Drisdel suffered from withdrawal symptoms after ceasing the Dilaudid.

She also says he heard voices, hallucinated and suffered from manic-depressive episodes.

When Drisdel was feeling good, Janene says, it seemed as though he could overcome his disabilities and do just about anything. He'd be chipper and talkative, or head to the Casino Queen on a whim and dump money into the slot machines. When he was down, he'd spend hours upon hours in bed.

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