Cold Case: WLOX revisits the Janie Sanders murder case
PASCAGOULA, Miss. - It’s a 47-year-old murder case that still haunts Pascagoula with thousands of pages of case files detailing the murder of a 16-year-old. WLOX is revisiting the Janie Sanders cold case murder mystery. We’re hoping someone has the clue that will solve it.
“To me, at 11 years old, this scared my mother to death - like oh my god, I can’t believe a child was kidnapped,” Lieutenant Darren Versiga with the Pascagoula Police Department said.
“It could have been me too,” Sander’s friend, Robin Rivera said. “I could have been right there with her is what’s so scary.”
“They don’t even understand what they did to our family,” Sander’s sister, Paula Hill said.
Any child could have been a victim that chilly September day in 1975. Janie Sanders was the unfortunate one.
“Janie was strong-willed, hard headed,” Hill said.
“She was sweet, she loved God, very religious, she trusted everybody - kind of on the naïve side,” Rivera said.
The last hours of her life were spent inside a Colmer Junior High School classroom. When the bell rang at 3 o’clock that afternoon, it was the last time her classmates would see her - besides friends who were walking home from school with her. Robin Rivera was one of those friends and one of the last people to see Janie alive besides her killer.
“We said we’d see each other tomorrow at school, and then I never saw her again,” Rivera said.
Pascagoula police say Janie disappeared at the intersection of Louise and Lanier Streets around 3:30 p.m. A call came in either at 4:05 or 4:20 depending on which report you read, alerting authorities to the body.
“That’s a very short window to rape, stab, and half their blood drain out of their body,” Lieutenant Versiga said.
She was found lifeless and nude, dumped like garbage in a makeshift trash heap off a dirt road across the state line in Grand Bay, Alabama. Coroners discovered her body was drained of so much blood indicating she wasn’t killed here where she was found.
“This is a dirt road - you would tend to stay off of that, especially if it’s raining, which it had been,” Lieutenant Versiga said. “So this was probably an ideal place to dump a body.”
An Alabama game warden was out posting no-trespassing signs when he noticed some suspicious activity.
“He saw fresh tracks come off that road and assumed someone may have been back there hunting - he’s the one who saw the blue El Camino pull off the road, and basically almost go head on with a car,” Lieutenant Versiga said.
When news of an unidentified body found near Mobile was broadcast, Janie’s family and friends were panicking.
“They were going to show her picture on the news and I couldn’t watch it,” Rivera said. “I had to leave the room when the picture came on and then I heard my step sister screaming that it was her.”
“Complete and utter chaos, it broke my mom,” Hill said. “My mom was a new mom. You have a baby, you have teenagers and you get this kind of news. All of us were just kind of shell-shocked.”
Now, the search was on to find her murderer.
”The question for me always was – why would she take a ride from a stranger?” Hill asked. “I can’t see her getting into a total stranger’s car.”
“This could potentially be a serial killer - I don’t think this was his first one and I don’t think it was going to be his last one,” Lieutenant Versiga said.
A napkin with a drop of blood and a pen found at the scene could have most likely cracked this case by now with advanced technology, according to investigators. However, due to misinterpretation of a law surrounding evidence in older cases, those items are gone. Tire tracks eliminated some red herrings in the hunt for a suspect and his vehicle. In order to convict though, a confession is needed.
Janie’s soul rests in peace now, but Versiga and those close to Janie will not rest until they receive peace of mind.
“Every person you know, you just look at their face going could they be the one?” Paula Hill asked. “It makes you not trust people. Even the man I married, when I met him. It took me a while for me to trust him as well because you just never know.”
“I would ask for him to come forward and especially if he’s on his death bed and he just wrote it down and said look, I’m the killer of Janie Sanders,” Lieutenant Versiga said. “Upon his death, it get mailed to me, I am good with that.”
“Please turn yourself in,” Rivera pleaded. “Clear your soul because you are going to burn in hell anyway. It’s been haunting me ever since I was 16 years old. Now I’m 63. You need to come forward and just give everybody some peace.”
If you have any information that could help solve this case, call 228-217-1308.
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