JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man who was declared legally dead 16 years ago in Mississippi was arrested Sunday in the kidnapping of a slain Las Vegas girl whose body was found in the woods of central Louisiana, the FBI said.
FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne said Thomas Steven Sanders was arrested early Sunday at a truck stop in Gulfport, Miss. The arrest capped a massive manhunt in a bizarre case that stretched across the country.
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.
Sanders was wanted in the kidnapping 12-year-old Lexis Roberts, whose skeleton was found by hunters early last month. Her 31-year-old mother, Suellen Roberts, is missing. Officials say she is not a suspect in her daughters death — and they hope she has not met with foul play.
Thorne said Sanders was alone when he was arrested at the Flying J Truck Stop by FBI agents and Harrison County Sheriff's deputies.
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 Suellen Roberts and her daughter Lexis a few months ago, Robert'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 in Catahoula Parish 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, police said.