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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"This Was No Accident," Bob Cassilly's Widow Says

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 6:46 AM

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click to enlarge A photo from the scene of Bob Cassilly's death shows him in the bulldozer, which was found nearly upright with the artist's body slumped in the cage. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERT WATKINS
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF ALBERT WATKINS
  • A photo from the scene of Bob Cassilly's death shows him in the bulldozer, which was found nearly upright with the artist's body slumped in the cage.

There are a few reasons Giovanna Cassilly has found herself wondering, time and again, if her husband was beaten to death at Cementland — and one reason is that he'd been beaten there before. While Giovanna was in Portugal that May before her husband's death, she says, he told her he'd been beaten up at the site.

Her second-hand recollection is the kind of maddening detail you run into repeatedly when you're probing a five-year-old incident that never got a full contemporaneous investigation. Giovanna remembers Bob telling her that he'd been jumped, that it was three white guys, and that it happened at Cementland. “I thought I was dead,” he told her. He fought them off, he said, with some kind of piece of scrap metal.

Richard Fortner, a member of the Cementland crew, says he has no memory of Bob mentioning such an attack. But while it might be easy to dismiss a distraught widow, confirmation comes from both the couple’s neighbor (who remembers being told of the incident at the time) and Cassilly's longtime massage therapist (who also spoke to the RFT on the condition that we not use his full name).

The masseur says he worked on Cassilly soon after the beating. He remembers scuffed-up hands and a bruised back and arms.

“I asked him what happened, and he said something like, 'You should see the other three guys,'” the therapist recalls. “He said, 'I got some good clumps on them too.'” He remembers Cassilly saying that he hadn't called the cops, which wasn't surprising. It wasn't his style.

The beating wasn't the Cassilly family's only violent incident in the year before Bob's death. In December 2010, Giovanna had taken out a restraining order against Bob's son from a previous marriage, Max, after the 27-year-old left a voice mail threatening to kill her in her sleep and calling her a “dumb fucking whore.” (“Hey! And Dad! You go fuck yourself too,” he says on the message.)

Eight months later, just one month before Bob's death, Max Cassilly was shot repeatedly with an AK-47 in his south-city apartment.

According to the prosecutor's sentencing memorandum, a “persistent offender involved in illegal drug and gun activity” named John Blake went to Max's home in south St. Louis with another man “under the guise of buying marijuana from [Cassilly's] roommate.” But instead of buying pot, the two men forced their way in, the memo says, with the unnamed man asking where Max Cassilly and his dogs were.

“The gunman demanded [Cassilly's] money and started shooting,” the memo says.

Reached by phone at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, Missouri, Blake describes a chilling scene, albeit one different than that in court files.

He confirms that he was a drug dealer, and was there to buy pot from Cassilly's roommate. But while he was making the purchase, Blake says, another man forced his way into the apartment with an AK-47 and demanded money. He asked for Max — and he began shooting.

Blake fled the scene. Apprehended by police after he crashed his Hummer, he was charged as an accomplice.

He pled guilty, he says, because he knows he shouldn't have fled (he was on probation at the time, and worried about getting in trouble). But he wasn't in cahoots with the other guy, he says: “I couldn't tell you who he was if I saw him today.” The shooter has never been apprehended.

Max made a surprisingly swift recovery from the semi-automatic blasts, and by all accounts, the incident brought him closer to his father. In fact, Max and his father met for lunch on the Saturday before his death. The police report notes he was likely the last person to see his father alive.

Max is now married and running the rooftop cafe at City Museum. He is also running for a Democratic Party committee seat. He credits the terrible events of that summer for helping him get his life together: “It set my ass straight.”

The way he describes it, his roommate had been tempted by the ease of getting pot in Colorado, where it had recently been legalized, and got in over his head. “He wanted to make a whole bunch of money for no work, and people in the industry don't like that,” he says.

But Max says that's not what led to his shooting — instead, he believes, his roommate was too trusting, and an acquaintance saw their apartment as a ripe target for armed robbery.

What happened to him, he insists, is in no way connected to his father's death. He saw the accident scene, and in light of Cementland's topography, it made sense. “If it was an inside job, they were amazing at what they did,” he says.

If it was murder, he adds, “It would be fucking awesome – it would answer so many questions. Unfortunately, the shittiness of the world is to blame, not some secret society.”

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