Man declared dead in ’94 is alive, held in slaying
JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi man who drifted through several states after he was declared dead in 1994 will be charged with murder in the slaying of a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl whose body was found by hunters in remote Louisiana woods, authorities said yesterday.
Thomas Steven Sanders is scheduled to face a federal magistrate tomorrow at a detention hearing in Alexandria, La., on a kidnapping charge. Sheriff James Kelly in Louisiana’s central Catahoula Parish, where the girl’s body was discovered last month, said his department will charge Sanders with first-degree murder once federal prosecutors finish processing him on the kidnapping charge.
Federal prosecutors had charged Sanders with kidnapping Lexis Roberts after his arrest Sunday at a Gulfport, Miss., truck stop. Sanders was transferred to Louisiana the next day. Sheriff’s investigator Toney Edwards in Catahoula Parish said authorities there expect to book Sanders early next week.
The girl’s body was found off a dirt road Oct. 8. She had been shot, Edwards said. Authorities said security cameras showed Sanders buying ammunition Sept. 3 at a Walmart in Las Vegas and the bullets were consistent with the weapon used to kill Lexis.
Sanders, 53, also is a suspect in the disappearance of the girl’s mother, 31-year-old Suellen Roberts, who is now presumed dead, according to officials.
Authorities said remains found Monday in northwestern Arizona’s Yavapai County are likely those of the girl’s mother.
It could take a week for officials to positively identify the body through dental records and other means, Yavapai County sheriff’s spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said yesterday. The Sheriff’s Department said clothing and other items recovered at the scene led investigators to strongly believe the body is Suellen Roberts.
Sanders and Suellen Roberts were in a relationship after meeting a few months ago in Las Vegas and planned a road trip for Labor Day weekend when the woman and daughter disappeared, authorities said.
“It’s such a complicated case — a dead man who’s wanted for murder. All the different states involved. There’s even different jurisdictions within the states that are involved,’’ Kelly said.
John Weber, a public defender who represented Sanders at a brief hearing in Mississippi, said a new lawyer in Louisiana will be appointed to represent Sanders in the federal case.
Weber said Sanders agreed during the hearing in Mississippi to return to Louisiana, where the kidnapping charge originated. Weber had no other comment.
Sanders’s family petitioned a Mississippi court to have him declared dead in 1994. The family had not heard from him since 1987 and his wife had divorced him the following year, according to court records.
Even though he had been declared dead, Sanders lived unnoticed by authorities despite being arrested several times under his real name.
Much of his past is a mystery. He did not buy property or establish many bills in his name, things that create a paper trail for most people. The most definitive accounts of Sanders’s life after being declared dead come from arrest reports. Even some of those are sketchy.