Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lexis and Suellen Roberts: Killed by a Dead Man?



Thomas Steven Sanders
Thomas Steven Sanders
Investigators, of course, urgently wanted to speak to Sanders who, they learned, was nicknamed "Spider." Although they did not have anything concrete on him, they suspected him of kidnapping and believed he could provide at least a clue to what had happened to Suellen and Lexis. A nationwide APB was issued for him along with Suellen's car, which police believed Sanders was driving. Police cautioned that the car's license plate may have been removed or replaced since it was likely that Sanders would know that he was being sought in the disappearances. He had used such tactics in the past, according to police. As investigators learned more about him, the APB was followed up a short time later with a federal warrant charging Sanders with Lexis's kidnapping.

As investigators continued digging into Sanders' background, they learned that he had worked as a welder, night watchman at a mini-storage facility on the southeast side of Las Vegas, and a handyman. It was at the storage facility where he purportedly had met Suellen. He also collected scrap metal to earn a few bucks, and was known to exchange automobiles by dealing with salvage yards.

Police described Sanders as 5 feet 8 inches tall, about 200 pounds, with brown eyes and gray hair. His Nevada driver's license photo depicted him with a bushy gray beard and a receding hairline. Investigators also learned from Sanders' relatives that he has no upper teeth and only two lower teeth. He also has a scar on his abdomen and a tattoo on his chest. Sanders often went by his middle name, Steve, but sometimes used "Spider."

Thomas Steven Sanders, 1994
Thomas Steven Sanders, 1994
When detectives looked even deeper into his history, they learned that Sanders had been declared legally dead by the state of Mississippi in 1994 after his family reported that he had vanished. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sanders walked out on his first wife, Candace Tarver, of Hammond, La., and their three sons in 1987. His parents, brother and ex-wife filed a court petition to have him declared dead so that his children could claim death benefits.

"He just walked away and never came back," said Robert King, an FBI agent.

Sanders was originally from McComb, Miss.

Tarver had divorced Sanders in 1988 for alleged "habitual, cruel and inhuman treatment." Tarver was naturally shocked when federal agents showed up at her home and began asking her questions about his possible whereabouts. They also told her that he was wanted for questioning in the kidnapping of Lexis Roberts.

"I almost passed out," Tarver told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He's destroyed my life, and he's doing it again. I'm worried he's going to come back here."

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