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‘She deserves justice’: Mother says daughter’s death in Independence motel room was murder

Six years to the day after her 21-year-old daughter was found dead inside an Independence motel room, Cindy Caswell renewed her call for justice and a new, independent investigation into her daughter’s death.

She alleged her daughter, Libby Caswell, was murdered and investigators with the Independence Police Department failed her by being too quick to rule the death a suicide.

“She deserves justice,” Caswell said during a press conference Monday outside the Jackson County Circuit Court in Independence.

“Her life mattered.”

Caswell was surrounded by friends and family members who held signs calling for justice for Libby, saying her life mattered and that she was always loved, never forgotten and forever missed. They were joined by members of the Justice Project, a program of Alliance for HOPE International, which investigated her death.

Family and friends of Libby Caswell gathered with posters and photos calling for a new, independent investigation into the 21 year olds death in 2017. Her mother, Cindy Caswell, said her death was a murder, not a suicide.
Family and friends of Libby Caswell gathered with posters and photos calling for a new, independent investigation into the 21 year olds death in 2017. Her mother, Cindy Caswell, said her death was a murder, not a suicide.

“We know that Libby’s death was a murder because it was investigated not only by the Alliance for Hope International, but we shared our investigation with several hundred law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, forensic professionals and we all reached that same conclusion: This was not a suicide,” said Gerald Fineman, a retired prosecutor representing the Justice Project.

They are asking that the case be reopened and that the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office request an independent review of the entire case by another law enforcement agency.

Independence police responded to a “suspicious medical” call shortly after 8 p.m. on Dec. 11, 2017 at the Sports Stadium Motel at 9803 E. U.S. 40 highway in Independence. There, they found Caswell dead in a motel bathroom with a belt around her neck.

Detectives interviewed witnesses and others who might have been in the room at the time. Investigators determined no arrests were warranted at the time, Officer Jack Taylor, a spokesman for the Independence Police Department, said in a statement Monday.

Although they released the motel room, he said the investigation continued. The case was reviewed by multiple detectives within the department’s criminal investigation unit, he said.

Independence police reopened the case at the request of family and the Alliance for Hope International. The FBI assisted Independence police and the case was presented to prosecutors to determine whether any criminal charges were warranted, Taylor said.

“Detectives believe that given the evidence that was available, Elizabeth Caswell’s death was most likely a suicide,” Taylor said.

Police welcome any witness statements that have not already been given to investigators, as well as an investigation by an independent party, he said.

In a statement, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker expressed sympathies to the family, and said her office worked closely with the Independence Police Department and other law enforcement partners to review Libby Caswell’s death.

The prosecutors office reassigned a second veteran prosecutor to review the case a second time, but determined that “the evidence was insufficient to justify criminal charges for multiple reasons,” she said.

The family was notified of that prosecutor’s determination and findings earlier this year, Baker said. Those findings, however, were not released publicly in the statement.

“The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has worked diligently to determine how Libby’s life ended and whether criminal charges were supported,” she said. “We will continue to look at any new evidence.”

‘Failed my daughter miserably’

Libby Caswell, who was born and raised in Independence, was a mother of a 4-year-old boy at the time of her death. She was in an alleged abusive relationship with her boyfriend and a week prior to her death, he strangled her, her mother said.

A Facebook page called Justice for Libby, dedicated to Libby Caswell, promoted a news conference Friday calling for a new investigation of her 2017 death in Independence.
A Facebook page called Justice for Libby, dedicated to Libby Caswell, promoted a news conference Friday calling for a new investigation of her 2017 death in Independence.

A national podcast on iHeart Radio, “What Happened to Libby Caswell,” has sparked renewed interest in her death.

Cindy Caswell and the Justice Project, are also assembling a team to pursue legal remedies against her daughter’s killers and the Independence Police Department for wrongful death and civil rights violations, according to a press release from the Alliance for Hope International.

“We have been fighting to get justice for many years,” Cindy Caswell said. “She was tossed aside like garbage by the killers and by the Independence detectives on her case.”

Her murderers should be held accountable as well as Independence Police Department’s death investigation unit which “failed my daughter miserably,” said Caswell, who added that police investigators ignored a history of domestic violence.

The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded she died from asphyxiation, but the manner of death was undetermined.

The physical evidence “unequivocally speaks to the fact that this was a homicide,” said Fineman with the Justice Project.

She was found with a camouflage belt wrapped around her neck with a twist. The markings on the back of her neck were not consistent with someone who would have hanged herself, Fineman said.

The markings found indicate that she was strangled not once, but multiple times, he said. There was also a footprint on her back, indicating she was probably tortured. A witness had come forward allegedly saying that others who were in the motel room had been telling people that Libby Caswell was dead hours before the 911 call.

There was also indication that her death had been staged, including the placement of her body in a bathroom which allowed the door to be opened, he said.

In addition to calling for a new investigation, Fineman asked for witnesses with information to come forward by sending emails to info@allianceforhope.com or by calling 888-511-3522. He said they would be interested in other cases where Independence police deemed a death to be a suicide rather than conducting a thorough investigation.

“Libby’s death is not going to go unnoticed,” Fineman said. “We will not go quietly into the night. We will fight for justice for Libby and for everyone else in the City of Independence.”