Dead Reckoning

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

He frets about losing touch with life outside the jailhouse walls. "I have no newspapers, no contact with what's going on in the outside world," Drisdel says. "I didn't even know about the bombing in England. Me being in media -- you run to that stuff. There's a lot of crazy things going on, and it's scary when you've been doing the research, and now people are doing research on you."

Drisdel says he has been confined to his cell virtually around the clock, with only his two Bibles to keep him occupied. "Let me just say this: Where you lay your head and where you drop your turd is approximately two feet apart," he says of the accommodations.

("Leonardo is on special-needs status, and that's why he's locked down," responds Pat Schommer, assistant to the superintendent of corrections for the city. "Originally he was with the general population, but based on observations it was determined by staff psychologists and psychiatrists that that would be the best-suited place for him at this time."

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.

A typical day? "Pretty restricted," says Schommer. "He can come out of his cell to take showers and have recreation and make phone calls, and that's about it.")

With one cuffed hand, Drisdel peels off a white sock to reveal the physical toll of his stress: a left foot swollen to the size of a garden squash. "It's because of high blood pressure," he says. "First time in my life I've had high blood pressure. I feel like I'm on a boat. You know, waves? That's how I feel inside my body, physically. What's going on in my body is a trip." Later he'll remind a guard that a doctor has stipulated that his hands must not be cuffed behind him.

Now, however, he directs the conversation to a higher plane. "I'm in God's hands, man," he says. "What was I created to do? Serve God. If God has ordained for me to be in prison, I'll be in prison, raising my hands, praising God.

"We have to realize that no matter how we try to be, quote, 'good' on our own, we still need to connect to the true living God to make us right," he says, a vehement hand gesture stifled by his shackles. "Because we'll fail each time on our own."

"I always referred to her as my first birthday present, because she was born the day before my first birthday," Stephen Kovack Jr., known to friends and family as Yabo, says of his younger sister. "She would always call me on her birthday and say, 'Hey, I'm the same age as you. You're not my big brother anymore.'"

A Chicago native, Kovack cherished her adopted hometown of St. Louis and the vast array of friends she'd made here. She loved to play pool at a favorite hangout, Coffee on Grand, and go to clubs like Magnolia's or Velvet. Friends describe her as generous in the extreme.

"She's been known to have $2 in her pocket, and someone needed something to eat so she'd give them the whole two bucks," says Ralph Lucas. Christi Finnell, Lucas' wife, says Kovack was known to adopt stray kittens off the street.

"The age range of her friends was all over the place," adds Joel Lovins, a.k.a. DJ Skeletal, who runs an online goth group in which Kovack participated. "She had a roommate for years that had to be approaching her seventies."

After growing up in the Chicago suburbs, bouncing between the homes of her mother and father, who were divorced, Kovack moved to St. Louis ten years ago. Her father says she came to St. Louis with plans to attend college but "just never got around to it." Instead she held a series of administrative and temporary jobs, all the while suffering from Crohn's disease, which afflicted her with debilitating intestinal pain. She was unemployed at the time of her death.

Kovack's family and friends were angered by media coverage of the murder when several news outlets made it seem as though Cassandra had used drugs with her assailant. (An autopsy reportedly found no traces of illegal substances.) Most of them were unaware that she knew Leonardo Drisdel at all.

Janene Drisdel says that when he returned home late on the night of the murder her husband had to explain who Kovack was, reminding her that they'd met Cassandra and a friend at a bookstore about four years back. "I remember meeting the friend, but I don't remember Cassandra," she says.

Kovack's ex-boyfriend Jon Jackson says Cassandra and Drisdel maintained a casual friendship, falling out of touch for months at a time, only to catch up at length whenever they ran into each other. "We had him over for dinner once," Jackson remembers. "It was primarily Cassandra and Leo doing the talking -- about politics, music, pretty much anything and everything -- and me just kinda sitting there being quiet."

Of Drisdel, Jackson says: "He seemed all right. Nothing really struck me as odd about him. The first time I met him was when he was collecting donations for the St. Louis public school systems, at Grand and Gravois. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, a radio talk-show host out doing some charity work."

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