Melissa Moore became fast friends with Cassandra Gross in 1993.
Their relationship progressed from working together in a mailroom to meeting up outside of work. Moore would, at first, introduce Gross to others as her coworker, until one day when Moore used the word friend, instead.
“We moved from coworkers to friends and from friends to sisters,” Moore said through tears. “It was seamless.”
Their friendship did not fade after they both got different jobs later that decade.
“She was my confidant, and there was nothing I couldn’t tell her,” Moore said.
Moore and several other friends, coworkers and family members of Gross gathered Saturday in Crabtree to remember the kind, generous woman who loved shopping and her dog, Baxter. Gross has been missing since April 7, 2018. Friday would have been her 53rd birthday.
Baxter, who is blind and diabetic, was found April 9, 2018 wandering alone in the Beatty Crossroads area. The next day, Gross’ Mitsubishi Outlander was found burned along a rail line near Twin Lakes Park. Her credit cards have not been used and the only transactions in her bank account have been automatic withdrawals.
State police initially opened a missing persons investigation.
They now call the case a homicide.
Flowers decorated Marian Hall and about 75 people in attendance wiped away tears as songs from Gross’ favorite artist, Donnie Iris, were played while a slideshow of photos from her life was projected on a screen.
Cindy Keck described Gross, who worked as Keck’s executive assistant at ABB in Forest Hills, as intelligent, witty, funny and curious.
“She found a way to personally relate to everyone on our team and everyone in the Pittsburgh office,” Keck said.
Robin Byrd misses the “girlfriend time” she shared with Gross, when they talked about high school memories and current events.
“She was my cheerleader,” Byrd said. “She celebrated your accomplishments no matter how big or small.”
Gross was declared legally dead in January by a Westmoreland County judge, who determined she was the victim of a homicide. The lead investigator on the case testified behind closed doors.
No arrests have been made.
Gross’ on-and-off boyfriend, Thomas Stanko, 48, of Unity — who repeatedly has maintained his innocence — has been jailed for the past year on unrelated charges. In the days after Gross’ disappearance, state police descended on two Unity properties Stanko owns and they have been seen searching since at nearby Unity Cemetery.
A $10,000 reward is still being offered for information leading to Gross’ whereabouts. She is survived by her parents, son and other relatives.
Her aunt, Carol Rakaczky, recalled Gross’ nickname “Billy” and her niece’s love for shopping.
“We love her, we miss her and we will find her,” Rakaczky said.