Florida Keys

26 years later, unsolved Keys murder still haunts cops


Lisa Sanders might have been dragged behind an auto.
Lisa Sanders might have been dragged behind an auto. KeysInfoNet via Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

Lisa Sanders died at the hands of a murderer in the Lower Keys 26 years ago, more time than she spent on earth.

The horrific death of Sanders, a 20-year-old leukemia survivor eager to begin a nursing career, has never been forgotten by investigators.

"Because of the gruesome way it occurred, it's always been a high-profile case that gets a lot attention from us," Major Crimes Detective Manny Cuervo of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said this week.

Crime Stoppers of the Florida Keys this month offered to commit $2,500 as a reward to help solve the case. Tipsters whose leads lead to an arrest might get paid.

"Lisa Sanders is the case where Major Crimes wants to offer the reward," Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Becky Herrin said.

"We are still pursuing it," Cuervo said. "We do have some good leads that we're following up with possible witnesses. If people who were around back then and have any information, we would like them to come forward."

Lisa Sanders moved to Big Pine Key two months before her December 1988 murder. The youngest of six children in the Sanders family, she spent many summers vacationing in the Keys from her native Michigan.

After years spent battling leukemia, Sanders intended to enroll in the Florida Keys Community College nursing program to help others with health problems.

She attended a crowded party on No Name Key in December 1988 but left early and started walking home. She vanished — until her battered body was discovered on Big Pine. She apparently had been beaten, stabbed and dragged behind a vehicle.

"This one was really rough," said Jay Glover, a retired Monroe Sheriff's Office detective who worked on the case.

"I'm not going to really be comfortable until there's some closure to it, until someone is convicted of it," Lisa's mother, Marilyn Sanders, told the Keynoter in 2006.

Cuervo said there is a "person of interest" in the case, a convicted murderer sentenced to a possible life sentence in Ohio.

Cuervo did not name the suspect but noted that he lived on Big Pine in 1988. The suspect reportedly was seen at both the No Name Key party attended by Lisa Sanders and a July 1988 party on Little Torch Key from which 4-year-old Patty Lanza disappeared. The child's murdered body was found nearby the next day.

"He was present at both those parties," Cuervo said. "But a lot of other people also were present at both. It's such a small community."

Glover, who now runs Investigations By Jay Glover in Marathon, attended the 1992 trial of Guy Billy Scott, now 53, in Ohio.

"There were a lot of similarities to the Lisa Sanders case," Glover said. "It happened after an outdoor party. The [Ohio] victim also was named Lesa."

"He is still a person of interest and may have been involved," Cuervo said, "but at this point, there is no conclusive evidence to link him to the murder."

The Crime Stoppers tip line is (800) 346-TIPS; or text a message to 274637 using the keyword TIP136.