Pictured above: Cassie Kay Compton

In early 2021, a TikTok video exploded across social media. It showed a young girl sitting between two men in the back seat of a car, her two black eyes matching her dark hair. Without emotion, she looks at the camera. Soon, an Instagram made by the same girl appeared. Her name, she said, was Haley Grace; she was not Cassie Compton. The black eyes? Well, she had been mugged. Adamantly, she insisted she was just fine. Clearly she was not, but just as clearly came FBI confirmation that despite the incredible resemblance, she was not the missing hometown girl from Arkansas.

 

According to the official report, 15-year-old Cassie Kay Compton left home late afternoon Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, to get cigarettes — at least, that is what the Stuttgart Police Department was led to believe. The most credible information about Cassie’s movements that weekend came from Tracy Snyder, the mother of Cassie’s friend, Hunter.

On Saturday, the Snyder family took Cassie with them to the demolition derby in DeWitt. Afterward, as was fairly common, Cassie spent the night at the Snyders’. Their home, Tracy said, was sort of a safe harbor for the girl.

 

Cassie was one of those kids whose main challenge in life was to survive childhood. Studying for her GED by homeschooling, Cassie had chosen to drop out of public school. Sometimes the cruelest of places are the school hallways where kids often do the time for their parents’ crimes.

 

When Cassie’s mother, Judy Compton, moved back to Arkansas, she was required to register as a sex offender, one of 15 in Stuttgart at the time. Her husband, Roy, Cassie’s father, had sexually assaulted Judy’s daughter from a previous relationship. His 23-year jail sentence reflected the level of the abuse suffered by that girl. Judy Compton denied knowing the abuse was happening, but the Oklahoma judicial system saw it differently.

 

It was not only Judy Compton’s past but her latest relationship that kept her name — and Cassie’s — on the lips of locals in Stuttgart. By the time Cassie disappeared, Judy, then 42, had been in a three-year relationship with 24-year-old Brandon Lee Rhodes. Rhodes had moved into the Compton home with no job, no car and no driver’s license, supposedly leaving behind his meth use and squatting in abandoned houses.

Brandon Lee Rhodes

Hunter Snyder told police that when he dropped Cassie home around 6:30 p.m., Rhodes was standing outside. Cassie went straight into the house, but what happened to her after she walked through the door? Well, that depends on who you ask and when you ask, since both Judy and Rhodes’ subsequent accounts contradict not only each other, but even themselves.

 

The only constant in Judy’s stories is that having taken medication, she was laying down in the back bedroom. First she said she heard — but never saw — Cassie come in, change her clothes, then leave a little after 7 p.m. Her next version was that she slept until after 8 p.m.  Inexplicably changing their stories from Hunter’s, Rhodes and Judy initially said Rhodes was in the kitchen, cooking dinner, when Cassie came in. Rhodes later said he was instead in the back bedroom with Judy at the time.

 

After 9 p.m., Rhodes started contacting Tracy Snyder, the first time oddly asking if Cassie was still there. During his third and final call, Rhodes told Tracy that he had gone to the Stuttgart PD, as she suggested, but was told he would have to wait 72 hours before reporting Cassie missing. In fact, there is no legal wait period, nor is there evidence that Rhodes ever contacted SPD.   

 

Midmorning Monday, Judy went to the police department, saying she discovered Cassie missing after she woke up. That did not square with authorities because if Judy had been awake when Cassie came in or even if she slept till 8 p.m., wouldn’t she have been aware that by 9 p.m., Rhodes told Tracy that Cassie was gone? And if Rhodes had been that concerned, why would he not have woken Judy?

 

No Amber Alert was filed, allegedly because the SPD and Judy both felt Cassie had run away.  Why that stance changed is unknown, but by the last week of September, searches by multiple agencies had begun.

 

On Oct. 3, police went to Compton’s home, confiscating cell phones. The question remains: Did they find Cassie’s phone as well, or did she, like Rhodes claimed, leave with it? Shortly after the SPD left, the Compton house was seen burning, but only one area was damaged.

 

By Oct. 11, Judy announced that she and Rhodes had split up. That was after they both failed polygraphs, which Judy blamed, for her part, on medication. Sticking to the runaway scenario, Judy said she hoped Cassie would come home now that she knew Rhodes was gone. That was in contrast to her previous assertion that the two had a good relationship.

 

In fact, insiders told media that after Rhodes moved in, Cassie left home several times. Whether she believed Cassie was a runaway or not, as a registered sex offender, Judy faced serious legal problems if evidence emerged that showed sexual abuse had happened to another child under her care.

 

Judy further distanced herself from Rhodes, saying that he left the house Sunday night, and when he came back, she could hear him in the bathroom, vomiting. Around 7 p.m., Hunter got a text, supposedly from Cassie, saying she was going to get cigarettes. If she did actually smoke, she could not legally purchase smokes, being just 15 years old.

 

Even though he had a bike, Rhodes was known to “borrow” Judy’s car — a blue Chevy Impala with a disabled tag — if she was sleeping. Did he leave, as Judy said, and would Cassie have gone with him, hoping to get cigarettes?

 

Fast forward to Oct. 16, 2018:  Rhodes is pulled over for a traffic stop in Pleasant Plains, where law enforcement found it intriguing that he had an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in the car. A subsequent investigation revealed Rhodes had been paid $200 by a married man to kill the man’s supposedly cheating wife.  Rhodes’ rap sheet, lengthened since he left Stuttgart, now got a significant boost with a charge of conspiracy to commit capital murder. His next major squat would not be an abandoned house but, instead, the big house.

 

In 2019, Kaila Lafferty, then a KATV reporter, created the podcast Timeline: The Disappearance of Cassie Compton. Working with her was Tina Storz, a private investigator at Halo Investigations, who has, since 2015, been on Cassie’s case. Detained at the Independence County Jail in Batesville, Rhodes told the women that his charges of being a hit man were a con of his own making. He had wanted to be imprisoned, he said, so he could work undercover on Cassie’s case.

 

Recently, the successful Hell and Gone podcast released an episode about Cassie. Arkansas native Catherine Townsend, the force behind the podcast, is also a private investigator who is known for doing the kind of deep dive that retrieves information rarely found elsewhere.

 

Townsend found a 2023 request for an order of protection filed by Rhodes’ terrified ex-girlfriend, who had learned he was about to be released. Rhodes self-describes as a “violent person, very volatile,” and a man who “did not like women.” The document shows that Rhodes had repeatedly verbally, physically, and sexually assaulted the ex-girlfriend. It is also notable that the woman described Rhodes putting her in a chokehold, a move that can quickly incapacitate or kill someone.

 

Another important statement given by this woman was that Rhodes had forced her to give him control over her social media. Remember the text to Hunter that was supposedly from Cassie? After her disappearance and subsequent investigation, law enforcement officers determined that more than one person had access to Cassie’s Facebook page. Could the text have been a manipulation by Rhodes to make it appear that not only had Cassie left the house on her own that night, but that she was just a runaway?

A decade after Cassie Kay Compton’s disappearance, the status of the Stuttgart girl remains unknown.

All of that amounts to conjecture and speculation because there has never been enough evidence to charge Rhodes, Judy or anyone else in the case. A decade later, it is still not known whether Cassie is dead or alive. Is she a girl who ran from a bad situation or a girl who may still need help?

 

On Feb. 24, 2021, the girl in the video, Haley Grace Phillips, was found dead of an overdose in a Los Angeles motel. Her arrests and warrants across multiple states for drugs and prostitution indicate that she was being trafficked. After the second video, Haley Grace had gone silent on social media; the FBI involvement may have made her too much of a liability for those around her. Was her overdose murder or accidental?

 

It is unknown how Haley Grace came to such a dark place, but she was perhaps once just a hometown girl, like Cassie, who needed help. If you have information that can help Cassie Compton, please call SPD at (870) 673-1414 or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 800-843-5678.

 

READ ALSO: Murder Mystery: The Road at Romance