Open Case Virginia: Lynchburg family seeks answers about daughter's 2009 murder
Just as she cradels the only photo she has left of her daughter, Catherine Morton holds tight to the memories she has of her child.
"She was a wonderful girl," said Morton. "She was real sweet. She didn't bother nobody. She stayed to herself."
Cassandra Morton was her mother's best friend.
"Every little problem she had, she came and we talked about it," said Morton. "We were really close."
For as close as they were, Morton said she couldn't keep her daughter away from trouble.
"Things just got out of hand, you know?" Morton explained. "She moved up here and just got in the street."
Morton said her daughter would stay out late and interact with dangerous people.
Morton tried to intervene.
"I used to talk to her and tell her, you know, why don't you come home," said Morton. "She would tell me 'Mama, I'm grown.' I said, okay. Ain't too much you can do when they are grown."
Morton said her worst fears played out in early October, 2009. Cassandra didn't come home for a few days. She was last reported seen getting into a black car along Park Avenue in Lynchburg.
Cassandra's stepfather, Rawleigh Myers, reported her missing.
"Won't much we could do but pray and hope that we would see her again," said Myers.
Six weeks later, Cassandra Morton's remains were found in the woods along Camp Hydaway Road, on the back side of Candlers Mountain in Campbell County.
For Morton's mother the discovery was emotionally paralyzing.
"I just couldn't remember anything," said Morton. "It just caught me off guard, you know. Because I never would have thought they would find my daughter like that."
Campbell County Sheriff Steve Hutcherson said Morton was likely killed around the time she was reported missing. After being exposed to the elements for more than six weeks, her remains were badly decomposed, creating a number of challenges for investigators.
"You lose a lot of evidence as time goes on, and being out in the elements absolutely increases the loss of evidence," Hutcherson said.
In the early days of the investigation, Hutcherson said detectives received a large number of tips but those leads didn't go anywhere. The lack of developments in recent years has frustrated Morton's parents.
"A lot of cases have been solved, but it looks like ours is just back in the file cabinet catching dust," said Myers.
Hutcherson said the case is far from cold.
"We don't close homicide cases," remarked Hutcherson.
When new tips come in, Hutcherson said they're fully vetted. A few years ago he looked into Jesse Matthew, the man responsible for murdering Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington and University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.
"There was some talk on the Internet that he was possibly involved in Cassandra's death and we followed up on it," said Hutcherson.
Morgan Harrington and Cassandra Morton disappeared within a week of each other and Matthew had ties to Lynchburg. Detectives gave Matthew a serious look.
"He absolutely was not involved in the case," Hutcherson said of Matthew. "He wasn't in the area at the time of her (Cassandra's) death."
Hutcherson believes someone does know who killed Morton and he's hoping that person will come forward.
"I'm sure there are a lot of people that we were not made aware of, that we didn't interview initially, that may have that small piece of information we're looking for," said Hutcherson.
As they travel through their neighborhood each day, Myers and Morton say they wonder if their daughter's killer might be living among them.
"I walk around here every day and I could be talking to the person," said Morton.
If that person is among them, they hope one day they'll feel compelled to talk.
"Why is it still on your conscience?" Myers asked. "Can you not write a letter and sneak it in the mailbox or call anybody? We still need help finding out who killed our daughter."
It's a plea they hope will bring closure.