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Leerburg Director of Search Team is Charged with Faking Evidence

Director of Search Team is Charged with Faking Evidence
Director of Search Team is Charged with Faking Evidence
Knight Ridder Newspapers

Posted on Mon, Jun. 23, 2003

(KRT) - A Midland, Mich., woman who has received international acclaim using a cadaver-sniffing dog to crack homicide cases was charged in federal court Monday with planting evidence at crime scenes.

The government said Sandra Anderson, 43, planted human bones at crime scenes in Oscoda, Bay City and Oakland County, Mich., between October 2000 and April 2002.

The charges were filed by lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington. They wouldn't discuss the case. Anderson was charged on criminal information, the route prosecutors often use when suspects are considering pleading guilty.

"All I can tell you is that nothing has been firmly resolved on any of those issues yet - discussions are ongoing," Anderson said. She referred reporters to her lawyers, who said they couldn't comment.

The government charged Anderson with lying to investigators and witness tampering. The maximum penalty for making false statements is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for witness tampering is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Under federal sentencing guidelines, suspects usually face considerably less time.

The government said Anderson and her dog, Eagle, searched Michigan's Huron National Forest in June 2001 and April 2002 for a 20-year-old Oscoda woman who vanished in 1980.

The government accused Anderson of planting and pretending to discover human bones and carpet fiber at the site.

Oscoda Township Police Chief Robert LaVack said investigators, several of whom were suspicious of Anderson after she and her dog found some two dozen human bones in the national forest. Tests showed the bones came from other humans, not the missing woman.

"This one hurt," he said.

The government said Anderson lied to the FBI and Justice Department about planting human bones in Oscoda and at the Proud Lake Recreational Center in Oakland County in January 2002 and at a business in Bay City in October 2000.

It's unclear what police were investigating at the other sites. Also unclear is whether anyone was convicted on the basis of her searches.

The government also said she tampered with witnesses in the federal court.

Anderson, the director of the Great Lakes Search and Rescue of Michigan K-9 Unit, in Midland, conducts about 200 searches a year, according to news reports. She has searched for mass graves in Bosnia and Panama, and helped search for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks at the World Trade Center.

Bones of Contention: Cadaver-sniffing canine's finds are under suspicion
Handler of world-famous dog is charged with planting evidence

July 14, 2003 from Detroit Free Press

JOHN COLLIER/2000 Free Press file photo

Sandra Anderson rescued Eagle, a Doberman pinscher German-shorthair pointer mix, 10 years ago and began training him to detect human remains. From the start, Eagle's abilities amazed even Anderson, who was already an established handler.

OSCODA -- After midnight on an unusually muggy April night, a small-town cop opened his eyes in the dark and blinked up at the ceiling from his bed.

Mark David couldn't shut off his brain. If what he suspected were true, it would wreck a 20-year murder investigation -- and cast doubt on countless other murder cases around the country.

It would also mean that Sandra Anderson, the world's most famous handler of the world's most famous cadaver-sniffing dog, had betrayed the trust of law enforcement agencies and many others from northern Michigan to Central America.

Investigators would be heartbroken. Convictions would be overturned. Families of the dead would be devastated all over again. And Anderson would face federal charges for what David thought was a macabre secret he was about to expose.

The FBI probably wouldn't even believe him -- a community police officer who taught driver's education on the weekends in Oscoda, a little vacation town on the shores of Lake Huron.

Maybe they'd be right. Maybe he didn't see what he thought he saw. As he lay in bed, he played the events of that morning over in his head, dissecting every moment.

Once acclaimed, track record of cadaver-finding team is in doubt

He was with Anderson and her cadaver-sniffing dog, Eagle, in the Huron National Forest on the edge of Oscoda. They were searching for the bones of Cherita Thomas.

The unsolved Thomas case had haunted Oscoda since 1980. Thomas was a black woman and young mother living in a mostly white, conservative town. She was on her way to pick up her baby daughter from the sitter when she vanished, barely a mile from the police station. Local police brought in the FBI when her disappearance was deemed a hate crime.

David, like everyone else in the tiny Police Department, knew that the lead detective, Sgt. Allan MacGregor, refused to file Thomas' case in a cabinet. He purposely kept the large brown box on the floor behind his desk. Every time MacGregor rolled his chair backward, he bumped into the box, thought of the young woman and made another phone call on the case.

After two decades of frustrating work, MacGregor finally caught a break in April 2002; new information led investigators to a corner of the forest where police believed Thomas had been killed and buried.

They immediately contacted Anderson and asked if she and her legendary dog could help search for Thomas' bones. Anderson and Eagle, they were told by other law enforcement agencies, were the best human-remains search team in the world. And Anderson happened to live nearby, in Midland. She did not charge for her services beyond gas, food and lodging. Oscoda gladly picked up the bill.

On the second day of the search, Anderson and Eagle began finding human bone fragments. MacGregor, David, Oscoda Police Chief Robert LaVack and the FBI agents on the scene were elated. They contacted Thomas' daughter and aging mother, and told them that soon they could finally put Thomas to rest.

And so, on the third day of the search, Anderson insisted on going back down to the creek, David recalled.

He said he had just returned from the creek, where he had been sifting through the muck on his hands and knees. He'd found nothing. So he said he decided to follow Anderson to the stream.

Anderson crouched near the water. David said he saw her put one hand back behind her foot. Did she pull something out of her boot? It happened so fast. He recalled her saying, "Check by my foot."

David plunged his hands into the muddy water. He was shocked to feel a hard nugget. It was a knuckle bone. He was sure it hadn't been there just minutes earlier.

That night, as he lay in bed, the image haunted him.

By morning, David hadn't slept at all, and it was time to go back to the woods with Anderson.

When he got there, a young state crime lab technician pulled him aside. "Mark," she said quietly, leading him to an area they had searched together for hours the day before, "do you think we missed anything over there?"

He said there was no way.

He said she responded, "Sandra says we missed this."

The technician showed him a 2-inch piece of carpet. That was it. Now he was convinced Anderson was planting evidence at their crime scene.

David and the lab technician agreed not to let Anderson out of their sight.

That afternoon, Anderson and the young lab technician were searching the creek together when the two women started shouting at each other and tugging on the same bone, David recalled. The technician accused Anderson of pulling the bone out of her boot.

It was now or never, David thought. He told detective MacGregor and chief LaVack what he believed he had seen.

MacGregor felt his insides flip and his head go numb. Tampering with a crime scene could mean certain failure in court. This is what it's like, he thought, to watch 20 years of work slip away. He could not fathom facing Thomas' relatives.

Chief LaVack recalled turning to the FBI agent on the scene and saying: "You'd better get a handle on this. This goes way beyond Oscoda."

By her own count, Anderson had worked on 1,000 cases for the FBI and police departments across the country in her 17 years as a handler. She'd traveled around the world finding bones from mass graves in Panama and Bosnia, searched for missing children in Florida, located ancient American-Indian remains and helped find human remains after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Phones in federal offices New York, Washington and Detroit began ringing with cell-phone calls from the Huron National Forest on the afternoon of April 18, 2002. Anderson called her lawyer. Everybody stopped looking for the bones of Cherita Thomas.

An hour later, Sandra Anderson, the world famous handler of the world's most famous cadaver dog, was being arrested and driven out of the forest.

"I can't believe you're doing this to me," she told investigators as MacGregor cuffed her. She was furious.

Bystanders remember her asking: "Do you know what you're going to be up against? Do you know who you're dealing with?"

They did.

Allegations explode
Last month, federal prosecutors filed a five-page document in U.S. District Court in Detroit charging that Anderson planted evidence at three crime scenes in Michigan. No date for arraignment has been set.

Anderson and Eagle's extensive body of work suddenly was thrown into question.

Scores of police departments, private organizations and government bodies that worked with Anderson are now reexamining her findings.

Anderson and her lawyers did not return repeated phone calls. The FBI would not comment.

But interviews with law enforcement officials and forensic anthropologists across the country reveal a growing investigation. According to law enforcement officials, the FBI is looking into about 50 criminal cases involving Anderson and Eagle.

At least three murder convictions nationwide -- including that of a Plymouth doctor serving a life sentence for butchering his wife -- could be appealed.

The fallout, many law enforcement officials say, is just beginning as investigators tackle the most disturbing question of all: If Anderson was planting bones, whose are they and where did they come from?

Law enforcement agencies say tests on bones from the Huron National Forest show the bones found there did not belong to Thomas. Bones Anderson located in Bay City and in Oakland County, and from a missing child case in Florida, all come from unidentified adults, according to DNA testing.

"This is enormous," said Brent Turvey, an Oregon-based forensic scientist for hire and author of "Criminal Profiling." He catalogs cases of investigative and scientific misconduct, and testified with Anderson in a Wisconsin murder case (he for the defense; she for the prosecution). "Every one of her cases needs to be reviewed. All of them. It will potentially unseat so many convictions."

But Anderson's defenders say that she is being targeted for speaking her mind and possibly stepping on the wrong toes in the pursuit of the truth.

They point to her solid 17-year track record.

"We stand strongly behind her," said Dr. Frank Saul, a well-respected forensic anthropologist based in Toledo who, along with his forensic anthropologist wife, Julie, frequently consults for the FBI.

"We've known and worked with Sandy since about 1995, and we think that Sandy and Eagle are terrific, a great aid to law enforcement and to historical searches."

And supporters point to Eagle, a Doberman pinscher German-shorthair pointer mix that for the past 10 years has routinely astounded all the humans around him with his almost supernatural ability to track decomposing human remains.

"We call him a freak of nature. He is a one-in-a-billion dog," said Adela Morris, who has been a dog handler for 17 years and is based in the San Francisco Bay area. She also founded the Institute for Canine Forensics, a search-and-rescue organization that uses dogs. "He is the most gifted dog in the whole world."

'Sherlock Holmes Canino'
Ten years ago, Eagle was just another mutt headed to the pound when Anderson rescued him and began training him to detect human remains. From the start, Eagle's abilities amazed even Anderson, who was already an established handler.

With Eagle, Anderson's career took off, and handler and dog developed a golden reputation for cracking impossible cases, finding human remains in minutes where other investigators had failed for months or even years. Eagle, Anderson had said many times, was never wrong.

She had already worked on high-profile cases in the United States when, in June 2001, the Panamanian government asked Anderson for her and Eagle's help in finding the remains of more than 100 victims of two decades of political dictatorship.

Anderson and Eagle immediately began finding bone fragments across the country. Dr. Sudhir Sinha, who has worked with Anderson, recalled a case in Panama when Anderson announced that Eagle sensed remains in or near a wall. Panamanian officials were hesitant to look; Anderson insisted Eagle was right. "They broke the wall, and there was a tooth inside. It was amazing," said Sinha, whose company, ReliaGene Technologies Inc. based in Louisiana, tested some of the bones discovered in Panama.

The Panamanian media dubbed Eagle "Sherlock Holmes Canino," and a national hero was born. Panamanian officials decorated Eagle with ribbons, and honored Anderson and Eagle at public ceremonies.

But now, some fear that those in Panama politically opposed to the Truth Commission, which is investigating alleged crimes by the regime of Manuel Noriega,will use the allegations against Anderson to derail the findings. Family members who thought they found closure are unsure of what to think.

"It's a very hot issue now," said Carlos DeLaguardia, a spokesman for the Panamanian Embassy in the United States.

At home, Anderson's work touched on other hot issues.

Last year, Anderson was hired to mark graves at Skunk Hill, a known American-Indian burial ground in central Wisconsin.

Anderson marked spots where Eagle sensed remains with little orange flags. By the end of the day, the hill was covered in flags. Local archaeologists were dumbfounded. Their own historical research did not support a grave of that size, and the soil was not deep enough for such an extensive burial ground.

According to Robert Birmingham, the state archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society, no human remains were ever discovered in the areas Anderson marked.

"It was kind of shocking to see the flags all over the place," said Birmingham. "It caused a lot of bad feelings for a while."

The tribes and the state have gotten past the controversy, especially in light of the Anderson allegations, Birmingham said.

"It is a great cautionary tale," he said.

Search Dog Society
Like most handlers, Anderson, 43, paid for her own training, and offered her services to law enforcement, only charging for travel expenses. She has said repeatedly that she did it for the satisfaction of helping families find peace. She quickly rose to the top ranks of an informal but dedicated community of mostly volunteer dog handlers.

Anderson became the director of the K9 Unit of Great Lakes Search and Rescue of Michigan, a volunteer network of dog handlers. As of Sunday night, Anderson was listed as director on the group's Web site.

Handlers have self-made standards and are not police officers, but police departments and the FBI rely on them regularly to help find people who are missing or dead.

The relationship between handler and dog is often so close that outsiders are unable to decipher the communication between the animal and its owner. Anderson and Eagle were often described by police as seeming to move as one.

Anderson was put on the stand to testify in several cases in which her interpretation of Eagle's behavior was crucial to a conviction. Defense lawyers complained she had no measurable qualifications.

But prosecutors and police were thrilled with her work. Anderson, police now say, capitalized on their desperation to bring justice to grieving families and solve cases. Cameras followed her and Eagle whenever they were involved in high-profile cases. Anderson thrived in the spotlight and was treated like a hero.

"As long as you're getting results, nobody rocks the boat," said MacGregor, the Oscoda detective. He said he will not abandon the Cherita Thomas case, and the search for her remains will resume. But the Anderson scandal was a real blow, he said.

"We wanted to believe so badly," he said. "I guess it was just too good to be true."

Once Acclaimed, Track Record of Cadaver-Finding Team is in Doubt
July 14, 2003

Sandra Anderson and her search dog, Eagle, had a stellar reputation among law enforcement officials until she was charged in June with planting bones and other evidence at three crime scenes in Michigan.

Cadaver-sniffing canine's finds are under suspicion

The allegations have cast doubt on their entire body of work and could affect murder investigations and historic findings around the world.

These are some highlights of the cases they worked:

1) Mid-'90s: Muskegon River. Eagle finds his first body when he's just a pup.

2) Oct. 1999: Holly Spring, Miss. Eagle and Anderson identify and mark slave grave sites.

3) Jan. 1998: Red Cedar River, East Lansing. They search for the body of a missing Michigan State student.

4) Nov. 1999: Monroe. The pair identify 200-year-old grave site of Monroe's first settlers. Eagle and Anderson find more than 20 pieces of skeletal remains that other researchers had not discovered.Town officials use the findings to decide where to place a gazebo.

5) Early Jan. 2000: Plymouth. Eagle detects blood stains on the basement floor in the home of biochemist Azizul Islam, who is convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife. Eagle and Anderson are featured on the national TV show, "Unsolved Mysteries," and are credited with supplying the evidence that broke the case and led to the conviction.

6) Feb. 2000: Madison, Wis. Eagle detects traces of blood in the case of a college student murdered by her cousin, Pete Kupaza. Anderson's testimony on Eagle's findings results in Kupaza's conviction and a life sentence.

7) Sept. 2000: River Raisin. They discover artifacts believed to date to 1200. Their findings are publicized by the Archaeological Institute of America.

8) Oct. 24, 2000: Bay City. Eagle finds a human bone on the grounds of StressCon, a construction site, in a missing person case. Local police have the bone tested, but discover it is not a match. Federal investigators later say Anderson planted it.

9) July 2001: Panama City, Panama and Coiba Island penal colony, off Panama's Pacific coast. Eagle finds bone fragments believed to be from hundreds of victims of Manuel Noriega's dictatorship for the Panama Truth Commission. Families of the dead say Anderson and Eagle's work has brought them closure. Panama now questions those findings.

10) July 10, 2001: Wayne County, Ohio. Anderson testifies in the Ohio murder case of John David Smith, in which she and Eagle helped Cleveland FBI agents locate and identify the remains of his wife in his garage. Eagle "has not been wrong," Anderson testifies. Smith is convicted.

11) July 26, 2001: Poynette, Wis. They search for the remains of Beth Kutz and find a finger bone that turns out not to be Kutz's.

12) Sept. 10, 2001: Lincoln, Neb, University of Nebraska. Eagle and Anderson mark areas believed to be American-Indian grave sites. Local anthropologists later try to dig sites and find nothing. Word spreads that the bones must have been stolen.

13) Sept. 12, 2001: Shanksville, Pa.Anderson and Eagle identify remains of those killed when United Airlines Flight 93 went down during the Sept. 11 attacks.

14) Oct. 2-3, 2001: Lincoln. Eagle and Anderson return to the University of Nebraska, where they rediscover American-Indian remains supposedly lost and find more.

15) Jan. 4, 2002: Proud Lake Recreation Center, Oakland County. Eagle and Anderson find a human bone after a tip leads the police to search the area for a dead body. The tip turns out to be a lie. Federal investigators later say Anderson planted the bone.

16) Feb. 26, 2002: Brooksville, Fla. Anderson and Eagle locate what police believe are the remains of a missing 3-year-old girl who died in 1991 from abuse by her mother's boyfriend. Eagle finds remains in minutes, after local police couldn't find them for three weeks. Recent testing shows the bone fragments are not the girl's, but those of an unknown adult. No charges are ever brought in the case.

2003, Detroit Free Press.

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Cadaver Hunter is Indicted
Woman is accused of planting evidence during victim searches

Thursday, August 21, 2003

DETROIT -- A federal grand jury indicted a woman Wednesday on charges of evidence tampering, accusing her of planting human remains while assisting police during missing-person searches.

The indictment levels 10 charges against Sandra M. Anderson of Midland, who has made hundreds of searches in the United States and other countries with her cadaver dog, Eagle, the Justice Department said in a statement.

The charges include five counts of falsifying and concealing material facts from federal officers, plus three counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of lying to law enforcement officials for allegedly trying to cover up evidence during the investigation of her conduct.

If convicted, Anderson could get up to 65 years in prison.

FBI agents arrested Anderson, 43, in April 2002 as she participated in a search in the Huron National Forest in northern Michigan.

The indictment says Anderson planted human remains and fiber evidence during that search and also planted remains during a search at the Proud Lake Recreation Center in January 2002.

Shortly after her arrest, Anderson delivered human remains to a law enforcement officer and gave false information about how she obtained them, the statement said.

It said she asked two co-workers to write false reports supporting her story, and that she made false statements to investigators after her actions in the Huron forest were discovered.

"The indictment alleges that Anderson lied when she told federal investigators that she had never planted evidence and had always legitimately found evidence of human remains, when in fact she had planted evidence in five other searches," the statement said.

Those searches took place in Delta and Lindsey, Ohio, and in Plymouth, Monroe County and Bay City, Mich., in addition to those in the Huron and Proud Lake areas, it said.

Anderson, director of the Great Lakes Search and Rescue of Michigan K-9 Unit in Midland, conducts about 200 searches a year with her dog.

They have searched for mass graves in Bosnia and Panama, and helped search for victims of the United Airlines jetliner that crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania after being hijacked as part of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks at the World Trade Center and in Washington, D.C.

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