Crime

Her nude body was found 30 years ago, slashed and heartless. Who killed Lisa Sanders?

The main road on No Name Key. This is a file photo from January 28, 2010.
The main road on No Name Key. This is a file photo from January 28, 2010. Miami Herald File

Her name was Lisa Sanders. She was a leukemia survivor. She had just moved to the Florida Keys. She was 20.

A few months later, in December 1988, deputies found her nude and mutilated body in a rural area of the island chain called No Name Key.

Her killer has never been found.

In 2015, the cold case resurfaced again as Crime Stoppers announced a reward to help solve the mystery.

It is still a mystery.

Here is a look back at the news coverage from the Miami Herald archives. The macabre discovery of her remains. The search for clues. A possible connection with two other horrific killings in the area. An interview with her mother a year after the murder.

The reporting was done by Miami Herald staff member Steve Rothaus and former writer Sydney P. Freedberg and Kevin Wadlow.

THE DISCOVERY

Published Dec. 20, 1988

Police have identified a woman found dead Saturday morning at No Name Key.

Lisa Sanders, 20, was killed late Friday or early Saturday. Her body was discovered on the side of a deserted road, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Becky Herrin said.

Sanders, of Michigan, had attended a party at No Name Key, about 30 miles north of Key West the night before.

“She never made it home,” Herrin said.

Sanders was staying with family who live in Big Pine Key. Early Saturday, Sanders’ family reported her missing to police. A short time later, Deputy Roger Allen found her body, Herrin said.

“We are calling it a homicide, but has of now the Sheriff’s Department is not releasing the cause of death,” Herrin said.

Police are not releasing any other information about Sanders’ death. Details are being withheld for fear of botching the investigation, they said.

“We really want to catch these guys,” said Herrin. Little is known about the party Sanders attended, police said.

Each week, dozens of young people gather near the rocks at the water in No Name Key. It is a popular place to party, according to Herrin.

“We are asking anyone who may have been at that party Friday night to call the sheriff’s office as soon as they can,” said Herrin.

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Lisa Sanders Miami Herald File


SEEKING CLUES

Published Dec. 23, 1988:

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department is desperately trying to find out who killed Lisa Sanders last weekend on No Name Key.

“The nature of this homicide is so devastating. Brutal doesn’t even adequately portray what happened,” said Community Relations director Annabel Brooks.

Police found Sanders’ nude body by the side of a road Saturday morning. The 20-year-old woman had been dead for several hours, police said. Sanders’ body was taken to Miami, where Dade County Medical Examiner Joseph Davis is trying to determine the cause of death, Brooks said.

Detectives aren’t sure how Sanders died or if she had been raped. What they do know is that her jaw had been broken and that Sanders had been dragged by a car or truck for at least a half- mile before being dumped.

Sanders, who was unemployed, had suffered most of her life from leukemia, Detective Sgt. Jerry Powell said.

“She fought for her life, most of it,” said Powell. “To have it end like this is a travesty.”

Police have not ruled out the possibility that whoever killed Sanders also is also responsible for the rape-murder of 4-year-old Patty Lanza on July 2 in nearby Little Torch Key.

Monroe detectives and agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI and Florida Marine Patrol are piecing together the events that led to Sanders’ death: Sanders, who moved to Big Pine Key from Michigan two months ago, arrived with friends about 7:30 p.m. Friday at a party in No Name Key. The spot is a well-known party area, police say, where local teenagers gather to use drugs and alcohol.

About two hours later, Sanders said she wanted to leave. Her friends weren’t ready. They saw Sanders walk away from the party, alone. That was the last time she was seen alive, police said.

Sanders’ family reported her missing that night.

Monroe County Sheriff-elect J. Allison DeFoor said that of the 120 young people who attended the party, someone must have seen something. DeFoor thinks if anyone saw anything suspicious, that person is probably afraid to tell police.

The Sheriff’s Department has added two incentives for witnesses to come forward: First, a $5,000 reward to anyone who can supply detectives with information that can lead them to Sanders’ killer. Second, complete privacy to any teenager who speaks up. Even their parents won’t be told, DeFoor promised.

HER LIFE IN MICHIGAN

Published Jan. 8, 1989:

Growing up in Battle Creek, Mich., Lisa Sanders was the sheltered youngest of Robert and Marilyn Sanders’ six children.

At age 9, Lisa was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Her childhood was marked by hospital stays, chemotherapy and painful bone treatments.

Two years ago, Sanders triumphed: Doctors declared the disease in remission.

“Lisa Sanders is proof a tragedy can have a happy ending,” began one article in a Battle Creek newspaper.

Last October, Sanders, 20, moved into a trailer at Big Pine Key, near her parents’ winter home. Six weeks later, she was dead, the victim of a heinous murder.

Nine nights before Christmas, Sanders and a group of acquaintances went to a party at a remote beach on No Name Key. Accessible by a dirt road, it is a popular teenage party spot.

That Friday night, there were about 50 teenagers there, many of them drinking and getting high. Few of them knew Lisa.

The next day, Sanders’ body was found by the side of the road, not far from where the party had been. Her jaw was broken, and she had been beaten around her head. Scrape marks seared both sides of her frail, 106-pound body.

Detectives said her killer tied her to the back of a car and dragged her for about a half mile along the dirt road.

The Sanders’ case has frustrated police, who say they have no leads. Sanders’ body was in such bad condition that even the exact cause of death may never be known, Monroe County detective Sgt. Jerry Powell said.

Marilyn Sanders, 52, and her husband, Robert, 56, want to take their daughter home to Michigan and bury her. But police are hoping to find more evidence, and that may require more tests on the corpse.

A few weeks ago, a memorial service was held in Battle Creek. Among the mourners was Phyllis Askew, a registered nurse. Eleven years ago, Askew was at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, the day 9-year-old Lisa Sanders was first admitted for leukemia treatment.

“She never complained. She would grit her teeth and go on,” Askew said.

On the morning of Dec. 16, Lisa and her mother drove to Cutler Ridge Mall in South Dade. At 6:30 p.m., they returned to Big Pine Key.

Dropping Lisa at her trailer, Marilyn reminded her of their plans to meet the next morning to go to the flea market. The next morning, when Lisa didn’t arrive, Marilyn Sanders hurried over.

Sanders and Terri Bougrand, Lisa’s neighbor, knocked on the door of the cottage behind Lisa’s trailer. A woman told them Lisa and some others had gone to a party at No Name Key.

Soon after arriving at the party, Lisa told her companions she wanted to leave. The others weren’t ready, and refused to drive her home.

The last time they saw her, Lisa was walking away from the party toward the dark, dirt road that leads to U.S. 1.

About noon the next day, deputy Roger Allen found the nude body.

Lisa’s clothes were nearby. Her pink-framed eyeglasses were missing.

“Nobody knows [what it’s like] until you go through it,” Marilyn Sanders said. “Until it hits your family.”

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The No Name Pub, a landmark in the area. Miami Herald File

A CONNECTION?

Published Aug. 13, 1989:

Sherry Perisho slept under the stars in a little green dinghy. She talked about the magic of Saturn. She said she had the power to make rain.

Everyone in these once heavenly Keys called her the Rainmaker.

Then, on the night after a full moon, someone from hell — lunatic or satanist — snatched the Rainmaker’s soul.

A killer slit her throat, cut open her chest and stole her heart.

The murder of Sherry Perisho, 39, a high school beauty queen from Illinois, is the third unsolved homicide of a female along this 10-mile string of rural, coral-rock barrier islands — Big Pine, Little Torch and No Name — within a year.

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Driver’s license photo of Sherry Perisho. Monroe County Sheriff's Office / Miami Herald File

One of the other victims, like Perisho, had a missing heart, and some people in these Keys, usually laid back and relaxed, are very, very frightened.

“The consistent story is that the murders had something to do with a satanic cult connected with drug shipments,” says Nancy Banks, 37, a bartender.

She moved to California last week.

Some women here are buying one-shot Mace cans, $10 apiece, and packing pistols. Others are taking a self-defense course at St. Peter’s Church.

Pastors attend to people “troubled by a spirit of fear.”

Detectives are mystified. They measure tire tracks, take clothing descriptions and confront an almost frenzied local rumor mill. They haul in for polygraph testing a variety of “Keys critters”: eccentrics, aging hippies with earrings, tattooed bikers, ex-cons and suspected druggies.

Monroe County Sheriff J. Allison DeFoor II, the ambitious young prosecutor-turned-judge-turned-cop, doesn’t advance a murder theory and downplays talk that drug cultists sacrificed the victims.

“We haven’t ruled it out,” the sheriff says. “But we haven’t ruled out Martians, either.”

All the victims were vulnerable females, one 4 years old. She lived with her mother. All the victims lived in a murky fringe world of transients, wild parties and talk of white powder and black magic.

Cult-related or not, the murders have brought attention to the growing problem of satanism in the Keys.

Rhonda Poor works at a church in Marathon. She says she has counseled six or seven recovering cultists.

“They’re bored kids,” Poor says. “They’ve been involved in initiations. They use girls for ritual offerings on altars,” making them lie on slabs. “One boy said he had to take a large live animal, kill it and drink the blood.”

On July 2, 1988, the first murder occurred. Little Patty Lanza, 4, wearing a white jump suit, went with her mother, Deborah, to a party on Little Torch Key. It was a big, wild affair.

People were “probably” doing cocaine, says Kim Normandy, who attended. She remembers Patty’s mother confused about where her little girl was. The mother was sort of out of it, Normandy says.

Sheriff’s deputies found the jump suit and underwear in the woods, not far from Patty’s body. An autopsy indicated that she had been sexually assaulted with a blunt object, then clubbed on the head with a different weapon.

Sheriff DeFoor suggests that the killing is not connected to the others. Investigators cite differences in the victims’ ages, and the way they died.

“Would someone who goes after a little girl go after women, too?” asks investigator Lavina French.

Sometimes, yes, says Dade County Medical Examiner Joseph Davis. He was a consultant on one of the Keys murders.

“Psychopathic killers frequently use different ways to kill different people,” Davis says. “There’s a very compelling link in these three murders: geography and time.”

The girl’s grandparents believe Patty’s death is cult- or drug-related. The grandmother, Alice Glendenning, asked the homicide investigators to send her surviving grandchildren to a psychiatrist.

“Especially one of them, I think, knows something and is afraid to talk about it,” she says.

Detectives questioned Patty’s mother and a friend, Mike Bologna, a tow-truck operator.

The second murder occurred Dec. 17, 1988 — and be it small-town coincidence or conspiracy, the victim’s parents lived next door to the Glendennings, the first victim’s grandparents.

Lisa Sanders, 20, was a small woman, four-foot-nine, 105 pounds. Recovering from leukemia, she came to the Keys from Michigan to join her parents. Her hair was still thin from chemotherapy.

Six weeks after her arrival, on a Friday night, she left her trailer park wearing blue jeans, a pink tank top, a silver necklace, two gold chains and her high school ring, with a topaz stone. She went to a wild party. Maybe 100 other people attended, too.

Almost every Friday the partygoers gathered on a deserted road to drink, smoke pot and raise hell.

This was on sparsely populated No Name Key, where about 250 little deer take refuge.

She was to meet her mother, Marilyn, at a flea market at 6 a.m. Saturday to sell Christmas decorations. She never made it.

At noon sheriff’s deputies noticed vultures near a rock pit, a mile from the party site. They found the body, nude, in some bushes.

They had to chase away the vultures.

A few days later, about 2,000 yards away, police discovered a pentagram on the coral roadway. A pentagram is a five-sided star sometimes used as sign of devotion to Satan.

Dr. R.J. Nelms Jr., Monroe County’s medical examiner, and Dr. William R. Maples, the curator of the human identification laboratory at the University of Florida, conducted separate autopsies.

Nelms reported that the victim had “multiple skull fractures” and “knot marks” on her neck, consistent with a rope and strangulation. Maples concluded that the killer had also clubbed her on the head, apparently with the butt of a pistol, and stabbed her with a double-edged knife — left to right, through both eyes.

Nelms noted numerous “holes,” measuring up to three inches — some, he says, caused by the vultures.

Missing from the body were most of the heart, brain, eyes, neck muscles, appendix, colon, vagina, left Fallopian tube, ovaries, bladder, thyroid gland and parts of the lung.

Neither the pathologists nor the detectives are certain how the organs were removed — by vultures, by a madman or by both. But it appears, investigators say, that someone dragged the victim down a hard rock road while she was alive, apparently behind a vehicle.

Marilyn Sanders says she thinks her daughter was murdered by a satanist.

“I don’t believe for a minute the vultures did it.”

Most certainly the vultures did not remove the heart of Sherry Perisho, the third murder victim.

Someone cut it out with a knife.

Says Nelms, the pathologist, “I think it is possible it was the same knife” used in the second murder.

Like the two other victims, Perisho was short, five foot two. She had a childlike innocence about her. She kept a diary, painted and liked to soak up the sun in a blue bikini. She rode around town on a bicycle.

Every evening, before calling it a day, she straddled her knapsack and pots and pans across her dinghy.

The little boat had her name on the back. She would row out under the Pine Channel Bridge, to about four feet of water, and sleep there, in the Swimming Hole, a popular hangout for the lonely.

About 10 p.m. July 19, a tourist from Ohio, fishing off the bridge, thought he’d hooked a big fish. It was Sherry Perisho’s left elbow.

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The main road on No Name Key is often only occupied by bicycles or Key deer. Marice Cohn Band Miami Herald File

THE PARENTS

Published Dec. 17, 1989:

Marilyn and Robert Sanders often think about moving from the Big Pine Key area after the mystery of their daughter’s death is broken and an arrest made.

But Marilyn Sanders, 53, said, “I may end up dying of old age here if it’s not solved.”

A year ago today the Sanderses learned that their 20-year- old daughter, Lisa, who successfully fought leukemia, had been slain in what detectives called the most brutal murder in Monroe County history.

“We could have accepted the fact if she had died of leukemia,” Marilyn Sanders said Friday. “Or an automobile accident. But not this. It certainly doesn’t get any easier when you know the person who did it is still running around.”

Sanders can’t believe that a year later, the murder is still a puzzle.

“I just thought it would be a few weeks and they would have caught him,” she said.

Authorities are also seeking the the killer of Sheri Perisho, who was slain in a dinghy off Big Pine Key in July, and of little Patti Lanza, who was bludgeoned and killed at a Big Pine Key Fourth of July party the year before.

“There haven’t been any significant developments,” said Becky Herrin, Monroe sheriff’s spokesman.

A $10,000 reward is being offered by the sheriff’s department and the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce.

Marilyn Sanders is confused, angry and heartbroken.

“People say time heals, but in this case it certainly hasn’t,” she said.

Lisa Sanders grew up in Battle Creek, Mich., the sheltered youngest of the Sanderses’ six children.

At age 9, Lisa was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Her childhood was marked by years of hospital stays, chemotherapy and painful bone treatments.

When she was 18, doctors said Lisa Sanders’ leukemia was in remission. At the same time, she graduated with her high school class.

“Lisa Sanders is proof a tragedy can have a happy ending,” began an article in a Battle Creek newspaper, heralding her victory over cancer.

In October 1988, Lisa moved to South Florida and into her own trailer in Big Pine Key near her parents’ winter home to begin a new life.

Lisa and her mother discussed her enrolling at Florida Keys Community College.

The morning of Dec. 16, 1988, Lisa and Marilyn drove to Cutler Ridge Mall in South Dade to do Christmas shopping. They were joined by two friends.

At 6:30 p.m., the four returned to Big Pine Key.

Dropping Lisa at her trailer park, Marilyn reminded her daughter of plans to meet at 6 a.m. the next morning to go to a flea market.

Lisa reassured her mother. “If I say I’ll be there, I’ll be there,” she said.

Marilyn Sanders never saw her daughter again.

After her mother left, Lisa told Terri Bougrand, a friend and neighbor, that she would stop by later to visit.

Lisa never showed up.

It was nine nights before Christmas.

Sanders and a group of acquaintances went to a party at a remote, desolate beach in No Name Key.

Accessible by a dirt road, it is a popular teenage party spot.

That Friday night, there were about 50 people there, many of them drinking and getting high. Few of them seemed to know Lisa.

Saturday morning, when Lisa did not arrive at her parents’ home, Marilyn Sanders called Bougrand, who checked on Lisa.

Lisa’s car was parked outside her trailer, but she was not there. Worried, Marilyn Sanders hurried over.

Sanders and Bougrand knocked on the door of the cottage behind Lisa’s trailer. A woman told them Lisa and the others had gone to the party at No Name Key, a few minutes away from Big Pine.

Soon after arriving at the party, Lisa told her companions she wanted to leave. The others were not ready and refused to drive her home.

The last time they saw her, Lisa was walking away from the party toward the dark, dirt road that leads to U.S. 1.

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Marilyn Sanders called the Monroe sheriff’s department.

Robert Sanders and several neighbors went to No Name Key to look for Lisa.

About noon, Deputy Roger Allen found Lisa Sanders’ nude body near a deserted road not far from the party site.

Her clothes were nearby. Her pink-framed eyeglasses were later found on a nearby road. The young woman’s jaw was broken, and she had been beaten about her head, possibly with the butt of a gun.

She was cut from one eye to the other.

Scrape marks seared both sides of her frail, 106-pound body.

Detectives said her killer tied her to the back of a car or truck and dragged her body for about a half mile along a dirt road.

Lisa’s heart and several other vital organs were missing, a gruesome twist that would later link her death to another woman’s brutal killing.

In July 1989, Sheri Perisho, a 39-year-old transient who lived in a dinghy off Big Pine Key, was also found murdered. Perisho’s heart was cut from her body after she was drowned, the county medical examiner said.

No one knows for sure if the murders of Sanders, Perisho and 4-year-old Patty Lanza are related.

Because of the missing organs in the older women, rumors surfaced this summer of satanic ritual killings in Big Pine Key.

“I don’t think there’s anything satanic about Lisa’s death,” said Phil Redo, a Marathon private investigator hired last month by the Sanders. “I believe that someone saw Lisa walking down that road and tried to pick her up. She was determined to walk home.

“At that point, that individual tried to get her to do something she didn’t want to do,” Redo said. “He feared he would be identified or would get a bad name in the community, and it escalated into what it did.”

According to Redo, “There are more suspects than Carter’s has pills.”

Several of the suspects had ties to all three Big Pine victims, he said.

“Phil told me there were a lot of people at that party who could have committed murder,” Marilyn Sanders said. “It’s hard to believe.”

A few days after Lisa’s death, a memorial service was held for her in Michigan. Sanders and her retired husband, Robert, now 57, returned to Battle Creek without their daughter’s body.

It was four months before the medical examiner agreed to release Lisa’s remains, which were later cremated and buried.

Now, it is holiday time again.

“Last year, we were looking forward to Christmas,” Sanders said. “We were going to have Lisa here. Then, this thing happened.”

She isn’t looking forward to the holidays this year.

“I’m not in the mood for Christmas trees, but I’ve made an effort.”

The Sanderses will spend this Christmas in West Palm Beach with another daughter and her family. Lisa’s death brought her parents and five brothers and sisters closer together, Marilyn Sanders said.

“But,” she added, “whoever killed Lisa has killed a part of everyone in the family.”

THE COLD CASE

Published June 2015:

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.

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.”

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The main road on No Name Key. This is a file photo from January 28, 2010. Marice Cohn Band Miami Herald File

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