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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2004

Hopeless dog handler

TALK about trust betrayed. A Michigan woman who worked intimately with law enforcement to solve murders and missing persons cases with her detector dog turned out to be a fraud. A year ago when Sandra Anderson was accused of planting false evidence at crime scenes that her cadaver-sniffing dog Eagle could recover, she said doing so would serve no purpose.

But obviously it did: It built her an international reputation as a handler and trainer of dogs skilled in finding human remains in searches as big as Ground Zero in New York to one in Fulton County two years ago to find an injured motorist missing after a car crash.

Before pleading guilty to five felony counts, including obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal authorities, the 43-year-old and her dog were media stars. The pair compiled a resume that included a stint on TV's Unsolved Mysteries, presenting a forensic science seminar at the Medical College of Ohio, and being invited to help find victims of political repression in Panama and Bosnia.

But today that crime-solving claim to fame is all suspect with Anderson's admission that she planted bones and other fake evidence at various crime scenes, including in Michigan and Ohio. In the missing Fulton County motorist case, she and her Doberman mix mysteriously produced a severed toe that authorities, it seemed, had overlooked. The body of the victim was eventually found with boots on and feet intact.

"I still have never been able to figure out what was going on," said Dr. James Patrick, the Lucas County coroner who handled the autopsy of the missing motorist. "It's a very sad situation."

Sad because the hope Anderson and Eagle gave families seeking some kind of closure in the disappearance of loved ones was real. The dog had been useful in tracking murder victims, lost or kidnapped children, and senior citizens, and even assisted at airplane crashes.

But now many of those concluded cases will be called into question because of Anderson's conduct, apparently placing items like bone fragments, carpet fibers, and even articles stained with her body fluids at various crime scenes.

When Anderson apologized in court for duping law enforcement agencies, she all but admitted getting carried away with stardom. "I lost track of why I was offering my services," she said.

Maybe 21 months in jail will give Anderson time to ponder the investigations she compromised by her deception, not to mention the hope she destroyed. This is one CSI whose career as a crime scene investigator is surely history.

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