JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man declared legally dead 16 years ago was arrested in Mississippi for the kidnapping of a Las Vegas girl whose body was found in Louisiana, and authorities were pressing the suspect Monday for information on the girl’s missing mother.
FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne said Thomas Steven Sanders was taken into custody Sunday at a truck stop in Gulfport, Miss., after a massive manhunt in a bizarre case that stretched across the country.
Sanders, 53, was wanted in the kidnapping of 12-year-old Lexis Roberts, whose skeleton was found by hunters last month in Catahoula Parish, La. Her 31-year-old mother, Suellen Roberts, is missing. Authorities fear the mother is dead too.
Catahoula Parish Sheriff James Kelly told The Associated Press on Monday that Sanders is cooperating with authorities. Sanders was alone when he was arrested at the Flying J Truck Stop. He was not armed and did not put up a fight, Kelly said.
“Right now we have a lot more questions than we do answers as far as his activity since we’ve been looking for him,” Kelly said.
Louisiana authorities want to extradite Sanders to face charges there, though it’s not clear how long that could take, Kelly said.
Court documents obtained by The Associated Press show Sanders abandoned his family in 1987 and was declared dead by a Mississippi court 1994. He lived unnoticed for years despite being arrested several times.
Despite being declared dead, Sanders had been able to move about the country easily. Investigators know he lived in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Nevada. He worked as a laborer, a welder and a scrap metal collector.
According to records obtained by the AP, his arrests included possession of drug paraphernalia and a number of traffic and motor vehicle incidents, all in Tennessee. He was sentenced to two years in Georgia for simple battery. State and federal authorities have said some of the charges involved minors, but they refused to elaborate.
In Nevada, Sanders met Roberts and her daughter Lexis a few months ago, the slain girl’s grandmother told investigators. The trio was in Williams and Flagstaff Ariz., and the Grand Canyon National Park over the Labor Day weekend, authorities said.
Hunters found Lexis’ remains Oct. 8. There was evidence she had been shot.
Officials said security cameras showed Sanders buying ammunition on Sept. 3 at a Walmart in Las Vegas. The bullets he bought were consistent with the weapon used to kill Lexis, authorities said.