Sheriff posts cold cases on Facebook for new leads

By Steve Estes

Two of the most gruesome murders in the history of the Lower Keys have become very public again.

Last week, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office opened a Facebook page dealing with unsolved crimes and missing persons in the county.

Featured on that page are two murders that happened 24 years ago, within six months of one another, the first on Little Torch Key and second on No Name Key.

Patricia Lanza was just four years old when she was killed. She and her mother had been attending a July 4 party at a home on Gato Road on Little Torch Key.

Her mother reported to police at the time that she had last seen the young girl about 10 p.m. that night.

The following day her body was found close by. She had been raped and hit in the head and her young body had been thrown in the bushes.

According to the Sheriff’s office information, hundreds of people were interviewed in the ensuing days and in the years since. At one point a man who admitted to being with the child late that evening said she was alive when last he saw her.

He was later arrested and charged with false imprisonment but there was never enough evidence to make the case stick. The man died in 1999 of natural causes and his DNA was tested post-mortem. That test cleared him as a suspect, leaving the sheriff’s office with no viable suspects.

Now, 24 years later, the cold case has been reopened and the sheriff’s office is looking for new leads to help solve the case, thus the Facebook social networking site.

Anyone with information about this case should contact Major Crimes Detective Geni Hernandez at 305-809-3040 or 305-797-0046. If you prefer to remain anonymous you can call Crime Stoppers of the Florida Keys at 1-800-346-TIPS.

Lisa Sanders was a small, popular youth, just 20 years old when her life was ended following a party of friends on No Name Key on December 16, 1988. Lisa, who lived on Big Pine Key, was just 4-feet, 10-inches tall and weighed 106 pounds.

Sanders was attending a party on the end of No Name Road on the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine. Friends reported they saw her leaving the party at about 9:30 p.m. on foot.

Her mother called the sheriff’s office the following day to report that the young lady hadn’t made it home. After a short search, police found her body lying on a dirt road near the gravel pit on No Name Key.

She had been beaten, stabbed multiple times and then dragged behind a car with a rope tied around her neck.

Attendees at the party were questioned exhaustively in the ensuing days, and sheriff’s investigators interviewed hundreds more in the intervening years, but there is still no solid lead on who committed the heinous crime.

At one point, a man who now lives in Ohio was being considered a prime suspect, but that lead is still open and has as yet gone nowehere.

Each year on the anniversary of Lisa’s death, her mother places a memorial in the News-Barometer asking for any information from any source that can move the case forward. With some health issues of her own, Marilyn Sanders says she is simply seeking some closure to what happened to her bright, energetic daughter on that fateful night in December 1988.

Several prominent locals were also in attendance at the No Name Key party the night of the murder, but their help over the years has proven to be fruitless in the attempt to close the case.

The sheriff’s office has enlisted the help of some cold-case specialists from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to try and clear these 24-year-old cases from the books and offer closure to the families of the victims.

To no avail as yet.

The local detective currently working the Sanders case is Major Crimes Unit Sgt. Linda Mixon. Anyone with information can contact her at 305-797-0089. And, if you wish to remain anonymous you may call Crime Stoppers of the Florida Keys at 1-800-349-TIPS.

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