January 16, 2019This is the second part of a two part walk down memory lane regarding a story I was assigned in September of 1999. The first part appeared in the January 9 issue.
At the end of the warm, September day I was tired, but pumped up. I was totally geeked to have been involved in a real-life K-9 recovery search. And with one of the highly touted experts with her super-sniffer dog. Sandra 'Sandee' Anderson and Eagle, the German shorthair-Doberman pinscher mix.
With high hopes to find something that would bring closure to a family whose 12-year-old went missing three years ago, the hours and miles we consumed that day netted just one antler shed. Still, it was a stellar experience. Full-on high energy fast- tracking it through dense woods, mucky streams and open fields near Wilder and Sutton roads in Dryden.
Anderson gave me high praise at the end of the trek, telling me I was the first reporter that kept pace with her. My ego grabbed that like a thirsty sponge. I wrote a glowing piece for our Spotlight page. A few years later, I wrote about Anderson again as a crew from the television show 'Unsolved Mysteries' came out to Goodland Township to re-enact a training exercise Anderson and Eagle were involved in. As Lapeer County Sheriff deputies looked on, Eagle lighted on some skeletal remains in the Mill Creek—this was before the September, 1999 assignment. The show featured Eagle as the 'Unsolved Mystery,' what with his amazing olfactory skills that including sniffing out bones immersed in water. The segment ran in July of 2001.
Turns out, there was another mystery unfolding. The mysterious thing that happens to some when the spotlight shines and attention grows. Not too much time would pass before I would write about Anderson again, and it would be a much, much different story.
In August of 2003, Anderson was indicted by the Feds on a whole host of charges that included falsifying and concealing material facts from law enforcement officials, obstruction of justice and lying to police. Ten counts in all, as she was accused of planting evidence in Ohio and Michigan, including the Huron National Forest and Proud Lake Recreational Area.
She reached a deal, and pled guilty to some charges. Others were dropped. She was sentenced to 21 months in jail and ordered to pay $14,500 in restitution to law enforcement agencies. She served three years probation after her release, and is forever barred from activities she was involved with prior to signing the plea agreement.
All this came about because of some law enforcement personnel—Michigan State Police Crime Lab Technicians Jenny Stites and John Lucey, and Oscoda Township Police Dept. Officer Mark David— could keep up with her too. According to news reports, each of them independently suspected Anderson was planting bones. David, in particular, was troubled. During a three-day search at the Huron National Forest in April of 2002, the officer thought he saw Anderson reach down as though to tuck her pant leg into her boot near the location where bones were found. He wondered if she was taking bones from her boots. He shared his thoughts with the MSP Crime Lab Techs, and the three of them agreed to watch her closely the
In the afternoon, Anderson kneeled down by a small stream which had been searched earlier in the day, insisting Eagle had found something. Her hand went from her boot toward the stream. Officer Stites quickly reached down and grabbed Anderson's closed hand, and a struggle ensued. When Anderson's hand was opened it contained
A year or so before this, Michigan State Police Trooper Matt Nutt thought he saw Anderson plant a bone on a search in Oakland County. He discussed it with his peers and higher ups, but Anderson's reputation prevented any further action. The allegations were too huge, and he was the only one who saw what he saw.
No one knows how long Anderson had been planting bones, though officials actually discovered her own blood and bodily fluids found in a crime scene wherein a Dearborn man was convicted. All of the court cases she was involved in were affected, and many—particularly those in law enforcement—felt betrayed and used.
As for me, well, I felt lucky. Instead of feeling badly that we didn't find anything on our exhaustive search, I felt like I understood why. Camera around my neck, plodding through the terrain side by side, perhaps there was no opportunity for deception, even to my untrained eye. Maybe the camera's eye was enough. Or perhaps she wasn't deceiving people by then. It's an Unsolved Mystery, for sure. Court TV ended up airing a story about the situation. It was called 'Bones of Contention.'
We were about the same age—42—back when I first met her in 1999. I have no idea what her life is like now, some 20 years later. Eagle passed away in 2003, before Anderson was sentenced for her crimes.
This is just one of the many surprising adventures I've experienced through this job here at Tri-City Times. Lots of big things happen here in our little towns, and I'm so grateful to have been a part of many of them.
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Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.