Man declared dead 16 years ago arrested in disappearance of Vegas girl

Brett Michael Dykes

A dead man has been arrested in Mississippi.

Really. On Sunday, federal agents arrested 53-year-old Thomas Steven Sanders — who was declared legally dead in 1994 — in Gulfport, Miss., on the suspicion that he abducted a 12-year-old girl in Las Vegas. The girl, Lexis Roberts, was found dead in Louisiana last month following an enormous nationwide manhunt. Roberts' mother, Suellen — whom authorities believe is also dead — had been involved in a romantic relationship with Sanders.

So how did Sanders live openly under his birth name for so many years while being classified as legally dead? Well, for one thing, he made a point of leaving a scant paper trail, since there's no national database for deaths. Sanders wasn't collecting any sort of government benefits, never bought property or had many bills while he drifted from state to state. He'd cut off communication with his family years ago — leading them to report to authorities that they believed he was dead.

Lexis and Suellen Roberts were last seen alive leaving for a Labor Day getaway with Sanders. Officials said security cameras at a Walmart in Las Vegas showed Sanders buying ammunition consistent with the weapon they believe was used to kill Lexis.

(Photo of Sanders: AP/FBI)