Missing woman Cassandra Gross’ family asks judge to declare her legally dead
Cassandra Gross, missing since spring, still has not been found, but her family wants her to be legally declared dead.
A hearing is set for January to consider the request filed by Gross’ son, Brandon Diebold of North Carolina. Gross, who would have turned 52 in May, was last seen April 7.
If a Westmoreland County judge approves the motion, it would allow Diebold access to the funds in Gross’ credit union account and 401(k). The Unity woman did not have a will.
If someone is declared dead, the administrator of that person’s estate would have access to the assets left behind and other rights, said attorney Ken Burkley, who spoke generally about the process and is not involved in Gross’ case.
“The administrator would be acting in the place of the decedent,” Burkley explained.
Gross’ parents reported her missing April 9 — the same day her blind and diabetic dog, Baxter, was found alone 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. Authorities have been seen this year searching near Unity Cemetery and on two Unity properties owned by Thomas G. Stanko, 48, who is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison on unrelated charges. One of those properties abuts the cemetery on White Fence Lane, where Stanko’s mother lives.
Gross’ family believes she was killed. No arrests have been made. Police continue to investigate.
Several reasons to establish Gross’ death were listed in the court filing, including:
• Searches for her by state police have been unsuccessful.
• Offering up a $10,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts has been fruitless.
• Her accounts have remained inactive since April 7.
• Troopers have told her family that they “have a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence that she is deceased.”
State law says a judge can be petitioned at any time for a legal declaration with a date of death after someone “is absent from his place of residence without being heard of after diligent inquiry.” A person who has not been heard from for seven years, and whose date of death may be in question, can be presumed dead under state law.
Judge Anthony Marsili ordered that notice of the Jan. 22 hearing be posted in the Latrobe area, in a newspaper and in the Westmoreland Law Journal weekly for four weeks. The notice states that anyone with information about Gross’ whereabouts is asked to attend the hearing or contact attorney L. Christian DeDiana, who filed the motion.
DeDiana could not be reached Wednesday.
A similar situation played out in Westmoreland County court in October 1996, when a judge declared Ada Jane Groomes legally dead after she had been missing for eight years. Police believed Groomes, 54, had been killed, but no one has ever been arrested and her body has not been found. Some of her children believed their father — with whom Groomes co-owned Groomes Transportation Co. in East Huntingdon — was involved in her Oct. 7, 1988, disappearance.
The couple had separated two years earlier. Groomes’ estranged husband got control of the family’s assets after the death declaration. He died in 2011.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.