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VALLEY PARK, Mo. – Cassandra “Casey” Williamson should be turning 27 this year. Sadly, whatever hopes or dreams Casey and her family may have had for her life were cruelly snatched away nearly 20 years ago. One man, described as a family acquaintance, robbed Casey Williamson’s family of all she ever could be.

Casey Williamson
Casey Williamson

Family and neighbors described Casey, a kindergartner at Valley Park Elementary School, as a happy girl with a bright smile, who loved riding her bicycle and singing.

She and her family were staying at a friend’s house on Thursday, July 25, 2002, located across the street from their own home. The following morning, Casey’s father, Ernie Williamson, woke before 7 a.m. to see his daughter standing in the living room with 24-year-old Johnny Johnson, who also spent the night at the residence. When Ernie came back from the restroom, both Casey and Johnny were gone.

Ernie and Angie Williamson, Casey’s parents, contacted police to report their daughter missing.

Johnny Johnson mug shot in 2002
Johnny Johnson’s mug shot at the time of his arrest in July 2002.

St. Louis County police, members of the FBI, and scores of volunteers—nearly 100 people in all—spent the next several hours combing the nearby woods along the Meramec River in a desperate search. People who lived in the area reported seeing Johnson carrying the 6-year-old in his arms; she still had on her nightgown.

Sometime after Casey had been reported missing, two county police officers located Johnny Johnson walking down the street near the home where everyone had been staying. According to then-St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle, Johnson was soaking wet. Police took Johnson into custody as the search continued.

The body of six-year-old Casey Williamson was discovered inside this pit at the site of the old glass factory in Valley Park.

Around 3 p.m., authorities ended the search and asked the volunteers to leave the woods. One of the volunteers had been searching the site of the old St. Louis Plate Glass Company when they found Casey’s body in a pit, less than a mile away from her home. She’d been buried beneath large rocks and debris. For the Williamsons, worry and heartache gave way to devastation and grief.

Around the same time, Johnson, who spent the last several hours denying to have had any contact with Casey, suddenly told police where to find her. He claimed Casey had died in an accident and that he buried her. Investigators determined Casey had died as a result of blunt force trauma, likely from being struck by rocks, and did not believe Johnson’s story.

Johnson told a police detective that he had exposed himself and only killed Casey after they both started “freaking out.” But later that evening, Johnson’s story again changed. Police said he admitted to kidnapping Casey with the intention of raping and killing her. They determined he went to the Meramec River to clean himself off after the crime. Johnson was then charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, kidnapping, and attempted forcible rape.

casey williamson funeral
Casey Williamson was laid to rest following a service at Twin Oak Presbyterian Church.

In the aftermath of Casey’s funeral at Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church, the community embraced the Williamsons to offer comfort and support. Strangers attended the funeral and contributed to memorials outside the Williamson home out of respect and compassion. The family found some respite from their sorrow reading condolence letters.

When the time came for trial years later, Johnson’s public defense attorneys claimed he had a diminished mental capacity and suffered schizophrenia, which drove him to kill the girl.

Johnny Johnson
A recent mug shot of Johnny Johnson. (Missouri Department of Corrections)

The story did not sway jurors, who convicted Johnson on all counts. On March 7, 2005, a judge sentenced Johnson to the death penalty for the murder conviction and consecutive life sentences for the other crimes.

Johnny Johnson remains on death row at Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri, following a 2012 attempt to overturn that sentence.

The site of the old glass factory was cleared to make way for the Meramec Valley River Basin Levee. The levee was completed in 2006.

The Williamson family established a scholarship fund for kids in Valley Park as a way to honor Casey’s memory. The family also organized the annual Valley Park Safety Fair as a way to honor Casey’s life and empower parents and children with knowledge to protect themselves.

“Casey was such a beautiful and joyful child that she deserves to be remembered for good things and not just the horrible thing that happened to her,” Della Steele, Casey’s great aunt, said in 2017.