Police investigate whether Helen Sanders drowned

Friday, August 22, 2008 | 5:58 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 11, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia police are investigating whether Helen Sanders, whose body was found Aug. 14 in the trunk of the car her son was driving, drowned in her bathtub, according to court documents filed this week.

Police requested a search warrant to re-enter the victim's home after Boone County Deputy Medical Examiner Eddie Adelstein reported finding a significant amount of fluid in Sanders' lungs during an autopsy conducted on Aug. 15, the affidavit said. Adelstein also reported that Sanders, 53, had broken ribs and a broken sternum. Police had previously said that Sanders' body did not show any obvious signs of injury.

Adelstein said the broken bones do not necessarily suggest foul play.

"These injuries are very commonly induced by untrained people doing CPR," he said. "You can't say if someone tried to hurt her or save her."

Toxicology results have not been returned to the medical examiner's office so the cause of death has not been determined. Adelstein said he has asked the toxicology lab to expedite the process, but he thinks it will take at least another week to get the results.

Daniel Sanders, 19, the victim's oldest son, is now a suspect in the investigation, Capt. Brad Nelson said. Sanders' 16-year-old brother remains a person of interest in the case.

A search warrant affidavit said Helen Sanders' bedroom is adjacent to a large tub "capable of holding enough water to successfully drown inside of." During a previous search of the home, Sgt. Ken Hammond noted scuff marks on the edge of the tub, but didn't think it relevant at the time, the affidavit said. In their most recent search of the Sanders home, police took a swab from the tub to be examined. Nelson said swabs are normally used to compare similar materials found in different locations.

Police also obtained a search warrant for Helen Sanders' 1997 white Mercury Grand Marquis GS. They seized several items from the trunk of the car, including a jack and lugnut wrench.

The affidavit said a motorist from Englewood stopped to help Daniel Sanders with a flat tire at about 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 14. The man told Sanders to look for a jack in the trunk of the car, but Sanders said he had already looked and did not open the trunk in the man's presence. The car is now in police custody.

Daniel Sanders is charged with felony tampering with evidence and is scheduled to appear for an arraignment in Boone County Circuit Court at 1:30 p.m. Monday.


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