PHOENIX, Ariz. (CBS/AP) Thomas Steven Saunders, who was legally declared dead nearly two decades ago and who is now charged with kidnapping a Las Vegas girl, is now a possible suspect in the death of the girl's mother, whose remains were likely found Monday.
Sanders was arrested Sunday at a truck stop in Gulfport, Miss., and charged with kidnapping 12-year-old Lexis Roberts, whose body was found off a dirt road in Louisiana Oct. 8, said the FBI. Now authorities are trying to determine if Sanders is linked to the disappearance of the girl's mother, 31-year-old Suellen Roberts, whose remains are believed to have been found in a remote area off Interstate 40 in northwestern Arizona.
"There will be an autopsy in the next day or two to verify it was Suellen and possibly give us a time of death," said Yavapai County Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn. "We do believe it is Suellen based on evidence obtained at the scene."
Roberts and her daughter were reported missing from the Las Vegas area in September.
According to investigators, Sanders had met with Roberts and her daughter a few months before they disappeared. The trio was reportedly last seen Sept. 4 at the Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Ariz. Police said Sanders was recorded on surveillance video in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart purchasing ammunition the day before.
The bullets Sanders bought matched the weapon used to kill the teen, authorities said.
Little is known of Sanders' past since abandoned his family in 1987. "Right now we have a lot more questions than we do answers as far as his activity since we've been looking for him," said James Kelly, sheriff of Catahoula Parish in central Louisiana.
His wife, Candice Sanders, divorced him in 1988 accusing him of "habitual, cruel and inhuman treatment." In July 1994 Sanders' parents, brother and ex-wife petitioned a Mississippi court to have him declared dead so that his children could receive death benefits, though it is not clear if they did.
Despite being declared dead, Sanders was able to move around the country with ease either using his real name or pseudonyms Tom, Steve, or the nickname "Spider." According to investigators, he lived in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Nevada. He worked as a laborer, a welder and a scrap metal collector.
According to authorities Sanders was arrested several times on charges including possession of drug paraphernalia and numerous traffic and motor vehicle violations in Tennessee, but none of these charges alerted authorities to the fact that he was considered legally dead, because there is no national death database in the United States, said Kelly.
Sanders had his first court appearance in U.S. District Court in Mississippi Monday, said deputy U.S. Marshal, Melanie Rube. He will likely be extradited within the next few days to Louisiana, where the federal kidnapping charge originated.