The arrest Sunday of a suspect in the slaying of a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl whose remains were found in the woods of central Louisiana ended a nationwide manhunt and brought some relief to a grieving relative.
But the girl's family won't rest easy until her missing mother also is found.
Suellen Roberts, 31, and daughter Lexis Kaye Roberts were last seen in September in Arizona with 53-year-old Thomas Steven "Spider" Sanders, who was caught Sunday at the Flying J Truck Stop in Gulfport, Miss.
Lexis' great-aunt Patricia Cloutier, who lives in New Hampshire, said Sanders was driving Suellen Roberts' 2001 silver Kia Spectra. She said late Sunday that she hopes the arrest will shed light on the fate of her missing niece, who was dating Sanders.
"We feared this could go on with no resolution for years or forever," Cloutier said in a phone interview. "It was a relief that they did find him."
FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne said Sanders was alone when he was arrested by FBI agents and Harrison County sheriff's deputies.
Court documents show Sanders was declared dead by a Mississippi court in 1994 after he abandoned his wife and children. He lived unnoticed for years despite being arrested several times.
Authorities have said Lexis' mother is not a suspect in the girl's slaying.
Thorne, special agent with the FBI in New Orleans, declined to comment on whether Sanders made statements to authorities about Lexis' death or Roberts' disappearance. Authorities impounded the vehicle Sanders was using.
Lexis' skeletal remains were found Oct. 8 by hunters in Louisiana's Catahoula Parish. She had been shot several times.
Authorities named Sanders the prime suspect in the slaying and launched a nationwide manhunt involving numerous investigative agencies. Officials said security cameras showed Sanders buying ammunition Sept. 3 at a Walmart in Las Vegas.
The bullets he bought were consistent with those from the weapon used to kill Lexis, police said.
Sanders, Lexis and Roberts had traveled to Arizona and the Grand Canyon National Park over the Labor Day weekend, authorities said.
Mary Woodburn, Lexis' grandmother, told the Review-Journal that Sanders met her daughter, Suellen, in May at Pacific Mini Storage, near Pecos and Russell roads in southeast Las Vegas. Roberts, unemployed since January, stored her furniture there after she and Lexis moved in with Woodburn.
Woodburn said Sanders worked under the table as a night watchman and handyman at the business, where he also lived. He was infatuated with Roberts, and the feeling was mutual, Woodburn said.
According to investigators, Sanders lived largely off the grid, doing odd jobs or salvaging scrap metal. He lived in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Nevada.
In the years after he was declared dead, Sanders was arrested for various crimes, including possession of drug paraphernalia and traffic and motor vehicle incidents, all in Tennessee. He also was sentenced to two years in prison in Georgia for simple battery, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
State and federal authorities said some of the charges against Sanders involved minors, but they refused to elaborate.
Roberts, who was born in New Hampshire, moved to Las Vegas eight years ago, looking for a better job and a better life in the booming city, said Cloutier, Woodburn's sister. Most summers, Lexis returned to New Hampshire to spend a few weeks with her great-aunt. Cloutier described Lexis as a joy to be around.
Cloutier said now that Sanders is in custody, she expects the judicial process to come down hard on him
"He should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for whatever it turns out he's convicted for," Cloutier said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at email@example.com or 702-383-4638.