Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lexis and Suellen Roberts: Killed by a Dead Man?



Thomas Steven Sanders
Thomas Steven Sanders
By early November 2010, authorities revealed that Lexis had died as a result of being shot multiple times before her body had been dumped deep in the woods in Louisiana. FBI officials in Louisiana revealed that additional progress was being made in the case although Sanders was still at large. FBI agents reported that surveillance video taken on September 3, 2010, at a Las Vegas Wal-Mart store depicted Sanders purchasing ammunition for a weapon that turned out to be consistent with the caliber of weapon used in Lexis's slaying. It was not revealed how investigators had become aware of the video footage. Although Sanders was known to change his appearance, the FBI issued photographs to the news media nationwide and asked for assistance in getting his face out to the public.

Lexis's family was devastated by the news of her death. Her grandmother, Mary Woodburn, said that she had cautioned her daughter about Sanders.

"It's beyond words," Woodburn told KTNV News. "There are no words for it at all...I warned her to not go out of state with this person, to check his background. You don't know anything about him. I was just concerned...this is really difficult. I'll always have an empty spot in my heart. And my heart is just like it's ripped out."

Woodburn said that she was hopeful that her daughter was still alive.

Suellen's great aunt in New Hampshire, however, held a more guarded outlook regarding finding the missing woman alive. Patricia Cloutier said that she did not have any idea about what may have happened to Suellen.

"Her daughter is dead," Cloutier said. "The authorities are not hopeful they will find Suellen alive."

As investigators continued their nationwide search for Sanders, his life between the time he had been declared dead and the time when he met Suellen Roberts remained mostly a blank. As he drifted from state to state, he had not purchased property, and few bills were ever created in his name. It seemed that he may have made a deliberate effort to avoid creating a paper trail. Despite having been arrested a number of times in which he had used his real name or a variation thereof, police had repeatedly failed to make any connection to his former life.

Although many people wondered how Sanders could have gone unnoticed by authorities for so long, Catahoula Parish Sheriff James Kelly told The Washington Post that Sanders had raised no red flags in part because there is no national death database in the United States. He also was not on disability, nor was he collecting Social Security benefits because he was only 53. It was also not clear whether Sanders knew that he had been declared legally dead.

However, investigators eventually received a tip that allowed them to track Sanders to the Flying J Truck Stop in Gulfport, Miss., where he showed up on Sunday, November 14, 2010. At approximately 7 a.m. that day, according to FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne, Sanders was taken into custody without resistance. Sheriff Kelly added that Sanders had been alone and unarmed.

"Right now we have a lot more questions than we do answers," Kelly said.

Kelly also said that Sanders was cooperating with investigators.

"It's such a complicated case," Kelly added. "A dead man who's wanted for murder. All the different states involved. There's even different jurisdictions within the states that are involved....You find a body, you don't know who it is, you have nothing to go with, and two weeks later the body is identified. I was prepared for it to be a very long investigation, but the pieces just started falling together."

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