Nearly 9 years later, cigarette butt leads cops to suspect in brutal stabbing death of young mother

A discarded cigarette reportedly helped police in Illinois identify a suspect in the 2009 stabbing death of a young mother whose body was found in her home.

According to The News-GazetteMichael Henslick, 30, was charged with the November 2, 2009, murder of Holly Cassano, 22, whose body was discovered by her mother in their home in the Candlewood Estates mobile home. Cassano was reportedly stabbed dozens of times and her body showed evidence of sexual assault.

Police have been mostly silent regarding a motive or how they came to identify Henslick as a suspect. However, Sheriff Dan Walsh said during Wednesday’s press conference that Henslick and Cassano attended the same high school at the same time and had mutual friends.

Officers took Henslick into custody outside Market Place Mall on Tuesday and interviewed him for five hours. State Attorney Julia Rietz said their case against him is strong and that he’s made comments that lined up with their evidence.

The News-Gazette reported that police conducted a five-day stakeout, where they obtained Henslick’s DNA when he threw out a cigarette butt over the weekend. Along with the cigarette, litter was reportedly taken to be tested.

Chief Deputy Allen Jones said the police department elicited the help of Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs who produced preliminary information about traits in June. It was last week when the laboratory provided police with the identity of a potential suspect.

Reports indicated that Parabon NanoLabs used genetic genealogy testing—the same method used to identify Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer, in April.

While the suspect’s DNA was taken from the crime scene and entered into genetic genealogy databases, his DNA wasn’t in those systems—despite having an extensive rap sheet which included two open felony charges.

ABC News reported that was convicted of possession of a controlled substance in 2009 but wasn’t required to provide his DNA because he was a first-time offender. Authorities said he was arrested for possession of drugs during a traffic stop in 2015 but he failed to appear in court.

Henslick was ultimately convicted and sentenced to probation. However, he reportedly failed to go to the probation office and submit his DNA, rendering him an absconder. Authorities said he was re-sentenced to probation and, once again, he didn’t provide his DNA.

Henslick appeared in court Monday, the day before his arrest, for two pending felony domestic abuse cases.

CeCe Moore, the chief genetic genealogist of Parabon NanoLabs, explained that the lab’s genetic genealogy testing examines DNA voluntarily entered into their database. As a result, the lab can identify an unknown person if a distant relative is in the database—making it invaluable to law enforcement.

Henslick is facing murder charges and is being held on a $10 million bond.


[Featured image: Michael Henslick, Holly Cassano/Champaign County Sheriffs Office]