ShareThis Page
Judge declares missing Unity woman Cassandra Gross legally dead | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Judge declares missing Unity woman Cassandra Gross legally dead

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, January 22, 2019 11:41 a.m

Kathe Gross talks about her daughter Cassandra Gross

Cassandra Gross hasn’t used her credit card since April.

There have been no withdrawals in the last nine months from the Unity woman’s bank account other than automatic transactions. Her 401k account has remained untouched.

“There’s no doubt in your mind, sir, that your mother’s subject to peril?” Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Scherer asked Gross’ son during a hearing Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, no,” Brandon Diebold replied.

Scherer ruled that Gross is the victim of a homicide and declared her legally dead as of April 7. A death certificate can now be issued and her son has access to the assets left behind and other rights, such as resolving a car loan and insurance.

Gross does not have enough assets to cover her liabilities, family said. She did not have a will.

Gross, who would have turned 52 in May, was reported missing by her parents April 9 — the same day her blind and diabetic dog, Baxter, was found alone and covered in mud in the Beatty Crossroads area. The next day, her burned red 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander was spotted by Norfolk Southern employees in a wooded area along train tracks near Twin Lakes Park.

Gross talked to both her son and mother multiple times a day and was a frequent shopper before her disappearance, according to testimony. Neither her son nor Kathe Gross, her mother, have heard from Gross since April 7 after she had lunch with a friend. They believe Gross was killed by Thomas G. Stanko, 48, a Unity man who worked as a landscaper at her condominium complex.

Both described for the judge occasions when Stanko stalked, harassed and abused Gross.

“They were dating on and off and towards the end it became pretty volatile,” Diebold said.

Authorities have been seen this year searching near Unity Cemetery and on two Unity properties owned by Stanko, who is jailed on unrelated federal and state charges. Cases in Westmoreland County have been delayed indefinitely while federal allegations of weapons violations are resolved.

Stanko has maintained his innocence. No charges have been filed in connection with Gross’ disappearance.

Members of the press and Gross’ family were barred from the courtroom Tuesday while state Trooper James McKenzie testified about the investigation into Gross’ disappearance. Some of McKenzie’s testimony could reveal evidence that has not been made public and jeopardize the case, Scherer said in closing court and sealing the trooper’s testimony.

Stanko’s attorney, Dante Bertani, said he thinks investigators may file a homicide charge based on the judge’s decision.

“I think that’s the only reason why they are doing it,” Bertani said after the hearing.

The decision would not help or hurt any possible criminal prosecution, said Saint Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak.

“It is entirely possible to prosecute a murder without a body,” Antkowiak said. “You have to prove a death, and you can prove it circumstantially and by criminal means. You don’t have to have a body to do it.”

The judge’s determination is essentially a civil remedy and likely cannot be used to prove an element of homicide. It might not be admissible, he said.

“The concern is more in proving somebody did it,” he said. “If they are confident they can do it, they can prosecute without a body.”

Gross’ family declined to comment.

Kathe Gross testified that Stanko’s stalking and threats were constant — he’d show up at her gym, peer in her windows, ring her doorbell incessantly, chase her in his car and threaten to kill her and her parents. Cassandra Gross was too afraid to get a protection-from-abuse order. She sent her building maintenance man a text message: “If anything happens to me, Tom did it,” Kathe Gross testified.

“Tom Stanko killed my daughter,” she said in court.


Renatta Signorini and Rich Cholodofsky are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.


Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


663652_web1_Cassandra-Gross
Categories: News | Westmoreland
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.