Here’s an oddball case that doesn’t involve gore and guts but nonetheless is quite fascinating to the more macabre among my (few) readers. This is the tale of an innocent dog and a narcissistic 43-year-old woman named Sandra Anderson, of Sanford, who used “man’s best friend” to her own advantage. She managed to fool many police forces she “assisted“, including the FBI, with Eagle, her incredibly talented Doberman. Dog handler Sandra Marie Anderson presented Eagle as a cadaver dog, an animal trained to detect human remains. Her Doberman-German short-hair participated in hundreds of searches, including the World Trade Center after September 11 and mass graves in Bosnia and Panama. Eagle and Sandra searched dozens of historical sites — from a Nebraska Native American burial ground to a Mackinac Island golf course, hunting for remains of soldiers killed in 1812. Eagle’s uncanny ability to unfailingly recover evidence at every site, earned Susan and Eagle international fame. Among many websites, Archaeology presented an article lauding Sandra’s talent. Eagle appeared to be an enigma in the K9 world.
Sandra also helped start a dog training company called Canine Solutions, Inc., and became director of the Great Lakes Search and Rescue of Michigan K-9 Unit. However cracks appeared in Sandra’s sterling reputation: in 1999, Sandra recovered “evidence” that didn’t match a crime scene. Eagle located bones in a brush where FBI were investigating the remains of a woman who had been missing for 20 years. Eagle miraculously discovered bones which, it was later discovered, were that of an older male, rather than a young female.
Finally, as with all criminals, she made a fatal mistake. On Jan. 4, 2002, Sandra quietly brought evidence, in this case a bone, to Huron National Forest, where the FBI and many other police forces, were searching for the body of a woman who had been missing for 20 years. This crime would be Sandra’s last: Oakland County sheriff’s deputy saw Anderson drop a bone from her right pant leg and “bury the object under a small but obvious pile of dirt with her foot,then claim to find the same object.” she was caught red-handed…finally. A day earlier, an Iosco Township officer saw Susan place a bone in an area that had been thoroughly searched and unbeknownst to Sandra, police kept a watchful eye the following day. Sandra was promptly arrested. Happily, Eagle was not. I have no idea if Sandra began to run and had to be taken down with K9 dogs. Perhaps they used Eagle.
Sandra eventually pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood. She admitted to planting bones, carpet fibers, a toe and a bloody saw blade. How is such a crazy crime possible? In the United States it is not required by law to register an animal used for human or police service. In one case not involving K9, a woman was reported for bragging that she placed a “service dog” over her animal so she could take him into the store with her when she shopped. Incidents like these are not as rare as you might expect. Nuts, isn`t it? There is another way, to oust fakes like Sandra: along with the ability to read clues and `sniff out“ evidence and suspects, dogs produce results due to a desire to please the master or mistress.
Several tests have shown that drug-sniffing dogs, scent hounds, and even explosive-detecting dogs are not as accurate as they are portrayed in court. A recent Chicago Tribune survey of traffic stops by suburban police departments from 2007 to 2009, for example, found that searches turned up contraband in just 44 percent of cases where police dogs alerted to the presence of narcotics. While 44% is nothing to sniff at (pun), it certainly must have left at least a lingering doubt for many officers, about Eagle’s supposed success.
In an interview before Sandra was exposed as a fraud, she stated convincingly: Dogs are honest creatures (she should take note). Once we get a litter down to one or two, and sometimes none, we bring out a large box with smelly human remains. Then we watch the dogs for an attraction or for being averse, which a lot of puppies are. We won’t even look at a dog like that again. If we have a dog that smells the box and that doesn’t want to leave it, even if we make noise or walk away, we probably have a winner.” Probably. Not good odds by Sandra’s admission, and here was Eagle outperforming even the most professionally trained K9’s in multiple police forces.
In an interview before her exposure, Sandra told author Katherine Ramsland that she began working with dogs at age 18. “Saying you ‘might’ be able to do it is cruel. I’ve seen where dog teams have come through and told an agency that an area is all clear. Guess where I find it? Right there where they said nothing was there.” Incredibly, Sandra’s “expertise” and Eagle’s remarkable talent, are still lauded on a website known as Crime Library.
There are far scarier concerns about phony search dogs. Canine testimony plays a role in murder cases. Last September the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the 2004 murder conviction of Richard Winfrey Sr. because the case against him was based on a”scent lineup” in which Fort Bend County Deputy Sheriff Keith Pikett claimed his team of bloodhounds alerted to the murder victim’s scent on Winfrey’s clothing. Prosecutors used the results from a scent lineup to retry Anthony Graves after a federal appeal court threw out his murder conviction. Graves, who served 18 years on death row, has been exonerated and freed. Personally I’m of the mind that Pikett is not another Sandra Anderson; most likely he believed fervently in his canines and had no idea about his many mistakes.
Since Sandra was exposed, lawyers for Azizul Islam of Plymouth, convicted in the 1999 murder and dismembering of his wife, have asked for a new trial based on the discovery. Islam was sentenced to life in prison in October 2000 in the death of his wife, Tracy. Parts of her dismembered body were found in Dearborn and Ohio. Sandra admitted to planting a blood-stained saw blade in the basement of the house. Sandra admitted to putting her own blood on the saw blade. Wasn’t Plymouth once the site where the first Puritan pilgrims arrived and eventually began an inquest that became known as wich hunts? Curious.
Why was this ordinary woman, Sandra Anderson, able to fool law enforcers for so long? FBI affidavits obtained by The Detroit News raised questions about why police didn’t catch Sandra much earlier than they did. Who knows? Perhaps it was Eagle’s supposed ability to close cold cases police wanted to put to rest. Or it may have been Sandra’s insistence that she not be paid for her work, making her a cheap investigative tool. Why did Sandra use Eagle to conduct so many bizarre frauds? Clearly, this woman is mentally unstable; a personality disorder could be at work. Perhaps there are hints of histrionic disorder at work. It would seem she sought admiration by dog proxy (there isn’t such a term… rather like Sandra, I made it up). My suggestion is that Sandra used her dog proxy, like Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, to gain attention and adulation for herself. Ultimately, she attained notoriety….and although she is no longer lauded or admired, perhaps that’s a reward in her mind…rather like throwing her a bone.
Sandra faced 65 years in prison for five felony charges. Ultimately she was sentenced to 4 years. Yep. 4 years. Sandra, however, isn’t alone in her quest for K9 celebrity. A woman named Penny Bell 54, is attracting attention along the lines of Sandra, except her ridiculous K9 claims has been very few, and not as vainglorious. Like many K9 professional wannabe’s, Penny shows up uninvited and unwanted at crime scenes (how she hears about them, who knows). Here is a snippet from her story:
Bell is the lead handler of Keeping Tracks, a Milwaukee, Wis., bloodhound search/rescue and recovery organization, that was founded in 1996 to help in the recovery of missing persons. About one case, she has claimed one of her dogs, Nixter, used a missing woman’s tennis shoe and the woman’s original bathing suit bottom to indicate that the vanished woman’s scent was present on now deceased, Marvin Dill’s property. Dill, a known criminal with a record for sexual assault, committed suicide as police closed in on his home. When asked how a bloodhound named Hoover knew where the woman had been brought Penny replied that the ways Hoover indicated he picked up the scent was to crawl through fences toward the Dill property and to stick his nose up in the air. Penny insisted to officials that there is no standard certification for bloodhounds, though there is a national standard used for law enforcement dogs.
She said she works in line with standards of the National Police Bloodhound Association. According to the website, the association is a source for information relative to the use of purebred bloodhounds in the field of law enforcement. The National Police Bloodhound Association has disputed Penny’s claims and said that membership qualification is limited to sworn law enforcement personnel and law enforcement agencies. She and Sandra Anderson have got to do lunch. Hot dogs, anyone?