Almost nine years after young mother Holly Cassano was found dead in her mobile home, sexually assaulted and stabbed 60 times, police have arrested a man she once knew.
The Champaign County Sheriff's Office arrested Michael F. A. Henslick, 30, of Mahomet, Tuesday evening after snapshot DNA analysis led police to him.
Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said Cassano and Henslick both lived in the Candlewood Estates mobile-home park at the time of murder in 2009 and had attended the same high school together for a couple of years.
"Holly and our arrestee did know each other, as they had mutual friends and acquaintances, but that was the extent of the relationship," he told members of the media at a press conference held Wednesday.
Authorities declined to give a motive in the case.
Cassano, 22, was last seen alive at about 10:15 p.m. on the night of Nov. 1, 2009 at Meijer, a retail chain, where she worked as a cashier. She later texted her mom at around 11:20 p.m., according to The News-Gazette.
Her mom had been watching Cassano's 17-month-old daughter, but when she was unable to reach her daughter the next morning she became concerned and went to check on her. She found the door ajar, the TV on, and her daughter's dead body laying on the bedroom floor, the News-Gazette reported.
It's a case that had "troubled the Sheriff's office for years" Walsh said, adding that many of the investigators came to view Cassano as a member of their own family.
The break in the case didn't come until earlier this year when the Sheriff's Office enlisted the help of Parabon NanoLabs. They had the lab compare DNA found at the crime scene with data from a public genetic genealogy database to identify possible individuals who share a "significant amount of DNA" with a potential suspect in the case, a spokesperson for the Champaign County Sheriff's Office said at Wednesday's press conference.
"Champaign County Sheriff's investigators took the very compelling and extensive genealogy research and used traditional police work to continue the investigation whereupon Michael Henslick was identified as a suspect," the spokesperson told the media.
Investigators then followed Henslick over a two-day period to obtain discarded DNA from cigarette butts and litter left behind by Henslick. The samples were taken to the crime lab on Monday and returned a positive match 24 hours later, the sheriff said.
Henslick was apprehended Tuesday evening at the Market Place Mall in Champaign, arresting officer Captain Shane Cook said.
Henslick, who was arrested on a $10 million bond arrest warrant, is slated to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon. He is facing four counts of murder in the first degree.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz declined to say whether Henslick confessed to the crime during an interrogation yesterday, but said she believed they had a strong case.
"We have sufficient evidence to proceed on the charges and his statements were consistent with that evidence," she said at Wednesday's press conference.
Henslick has had past run-ins with the law, including possession of a controlled substance charge in 2009 around the time of the murder. He was also charged in 2015 when police found close to 60 grams of cannabis and a small amount of cocaine in his possession, Reitz said. He also had some felony domestic violence charges, she said.
Brittany Dreger, who has known Henslick for about five years as a regular customer who usually drank gin and tonics at the Champaign-area bars she managed, told Oxygen.com that although she knew he had a criminal record, she never thought he'd be capable of murder.
"I was really surprised," she said of the arrest, though she added that he had always seemed a bit "odd."
She described him as a normal guy who would regularly frequent the bar.
"He always showed up to the bar by himself, so a bit of a loner, but he socialized with the employees and other regulars often," she said.
She remembers when news broke of his domestic violence charge, she and a friend, who also served Henslick, discussed "how his record didn't match his personality" when they saw him at the bar.
"He was never my favorite, but I didn't have a good reason why," Dreger said. "(I) just thought he was slightly odd."
The only indication she ever had that Henslick could be violent occurred one night when she said Henslick was joking around with staff at the bar. After one employee asked another to watch his drink while he went to the bathroom, a second employee joked that they were going to put a roofie in the drink.
"Mike followed up with 'I do that [to] my roommate all the time'," Dreger told Oxygen.com. "Everyone laughed and then he followed it up with the fact (that) he snuck sleeping pills into her drinks when she wasn’t looking."
At the time, Dreger thought adding the additional details was odd, but dismissed it as just a joke.
[Photo: Champaign County Jail]