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Assumed Deceased: Bonita Sanders - NJ - 09/14/1986

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NCMC601887c1.jpg NCMC601887e1.jpg

Bonita Sanders

DOB:  Sep 17, 1984
Missing:  Sep 14, 1986
Age Now:  23
Sex:  Female
Race:  Black
Hair:  Black
Eyes:  Brown
Height:  2'6" (76 cm)
Weight:  30 lbs (14 kg)
Missing From:
United States

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The photo on the right is a composite image of what Bonita may look like at 19 years old. She was last seen sitting in a stroller on her front porch.

Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office (New Jersey) - Major Crime Squad

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My Story: Help Me Find My Baby

"I am the father of Bonita Sanders who suddenly disappeared from the porch of her home in Atlantic City, New Jersey, without a trace...Mr. Walsh, it has been nineteen years since my little girl was taken away from me! I truly do find it very hard to believe that such a thing could happen or take place without anyone seeing, hearing , or knowing anything!"

Father Writes To AMW As A Last Hope To Find His Baby Girl

My name is Abdul Salaam and I'm from Atlantic City, New host a show in which you continue to help a lot of people as well as families come to closure with those situations that have haunted and troubled them for so long..."

It was two days before young Bonita's second birthday. At about 6 p.m. on the evening of September 14, 1986, she was sucking on a popsicle in her stroller, while her mother cooked dinner inside. When her mother, also named Bonita, went out to check on her an hour later, she was surprised to see an empty stroller.

It was like the little girl had vanished into thin air.

Bonita Sanders searched the neighborhood for her young daughter, but to no avail. A community-wide search ensued, but still no one found little Bonita. Police and dogs scoured the area, but found nothing. The dogs picked up a slight trail leading into the backyard, but that too went cold. It was like the little girl had vanished into thin air.

"The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office are still and always have been in charge of handling the case.  They have not come any closer to solving the case since the day it happened, even though they have put a great deal of effort into it and I am grateful for their work and help."

Posted Image

Mr. Salaam thinks about his child constantly, and carries a faded picture of her in his pocket. He refuses to give up hope that someone, somewhere, knows what happened to his baby.

Bonita has some traits that would make her fairly easy to identify. She has a scar on her abdomen, a scar on the joint of her left wrist, and a hand that is slightly deformed and curves inward. If you know anything about the whereabouts of Bonita Sanders, please call our hotline at 1-800-CRIME-TV or submit your tip online.

"My child does and always will mean the world to me, and I will never accept the fact my little girl just up and disappeared off the face of this earth without a trace; or anyone seeing, or hearing, or having knowledge of anything."

Sex Female

Race Black

Age at Disappearance 2

Height 2'6"

Weight 30 lbs.

Hair (Color, Description, Facial Hair) Black

Eyes (Color and Correction) Brown

Other Physical Characteristics :Bonita has a slightly deformed hand that curves inward.

Last Seen

Atlantic City, NJ

In a stoller on the porch of her mother's Baltic Avenue home

Other Possible Locations

Atlantic City, NJ

Last Known Locations

Atlantic City, NJ

Baltic Avenue, Atlantic City

Posted Image

Abdul Salaam , seen here with Bonita's mother (also named Bonita) refuses to give up the search for his daughter

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Bonita Karen Sanders

Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image

Left and Center: Bonita Karen, circa 1986;

Right: Age-progression to age 19 (circa 2003)

Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

Missing Since: September 14, 1986 from Atlantic City, New Jersey

Classification: Non-Family Abduction

Date Of Birth: September 17, 1984

Age: 1 year old

Height and Weight: 2'0 - 2'6, 20 - 30 pounds

Distinguishing Characteristics: African-American female. Black hair, brown eyes. Bonita Karen has an abdominal hernia scar. She also has a scar on her the joint of left wrist. One of Bonita Karen's hands is slightly deformed and curves inward. She is left-handed.

Clothing/Jewelry Description: A short-sleeved yellow shirt, blue pants and blue and white sandals.

Details of Disappearance

According to Bonita Karen's mother, who is also named Bonita, her daughter was last seen strapped in her stroller on the porch of her family's residence in the Virginia Court Apartments on Baltic Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey at 6:00 p.m. on September 14, 1986. Bonita Karen was eating a popsicle and Bonita's other children were playing outside at the time. Bonita claimed that she looked outside at approximately 7:00 p.m. that evening and discovered Bonita Karen had disappeared from her stroller. Bonita claimed that she searched Baltic Avenue and the surrounding streets for her daughter, but she could not locate her. She reported her daughter as missing at approximately 8:30 p.m. Bonita Karen has never been seen again.

Bonita Karen's father, Abdul Salaam, was immediately eliminated as a possible suspect in his daughter's case. He had been seeking custody of Bonita Karen at the time she vanished and was also imprisoned on a robbery charge. Bonita allegedly abandoned Bonita Karen at birth and also attempted to abandon another newborn after Bonita Karen disappeared. Bonita reportedly walked out of an Atlantic City hospital in 1984 and left Bonita Karen at the facility. She was not charged in that case, but Bonita did face charges when she gave birth to a son in October 1986, one month after Bonita Karen was last seen. Bonita checked into Atlantic City Medical Center under the alias "Laura Smith" to deliver and was discharged on October 7, 1986. Bonita apparently then left with her newborn son and took a cab to an Atlantic City bus terminal. She boarded a bus to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and left the baby lying face-down in a terminal restroom in Atlantic City, where he was rescued shortly thereafter. Bonita was sentenced to nine months in jail for endangering the welfare of a child in January 1987 and her three other children were placed in foster homes. The father of Bonita's newborn son told authorities that she lied to him and said she had an abortion when she was pregnant with the child. He did not know she had carried the baby to term and given birth until he was contacted by law enforcement.

The prosecutor in Bonita's case told the court that she was uncooperative during the investigation into Bonita Karen's 1986 disappearance. He stated that she provided false leads and also lied to authorities. Bonita evidently never inquired as to the status of her daughter's case.

Salaam believes that his daughter was not abducted and has asked investigators to search the yard in back of the Virginia Court Apartments for human remains. Authorities utilized cadaver-sniffing dogs earlier in the case and could not locate any evidence in the area. Salaam also stated that New Jersey's Division Of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) was supposed to check on Bonita Karen's well-being prior to her disappearance at his request. DYFS arrived at the Sanders's residence, only to discover no one was home during their first visit. By the time DYFS prepared for a second attempt, Bonita Karen had vanished. Salaam continues to search for his daughter.

Some law enforcement officials believe that Bonita Karen choked to death on the popsicle stick she was holding on the day of her disappearance and was buried somewhere off the family's residence. There is no evidence to support this theory, however. Bonita Karen's disappearance remains unsolved and is still open. It is still classified as a Non-Family Abduction by law enforcement.

Investigating Agency

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:

Atlantic City Prosecutor's Office

Major Crimes Unit


Extension 4613

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New information in missing child cold case

Monday, February 23, 2009 | 11:53 PM  By Dann Cuellar

PLEASANTVILLE, Pa. - February 23, 2009 (WPVI) -- A one year old girl went missing September 14, 1986, in Atlantic City and now, there's new information that have police back on the case.

Authorities with the Atlantic County prosecutor's office will not acknowledge it, but Action News has learned that after 23 years since Bonita Sander's disappearance, a longtime friend of the family came forward telling detectives that the child has been dead all these years and that her body was buried in a wooded area off Brighton Avenue near Route 9.

Detectives from the Atlantic County prosecutor's office and New Jersey State Police dug into the ground and sifted through the dirt looking for the remains of Bonita Karen Sanders.

She was just one year old when she disappeared from outside her home back on Sept.14, 1986. All these years, her father had held on to hope she would be found alive.

"Going to sleep thinking, 'there's a good possibility I'm going to find her tomorrow, there's a good possibility that something's going to change tomorrow,' and then somebody comes and snatches that dream right out of your hand," Abddul Salaam said.

Back then, the child's mother, also named Bonita, claimed that she last saw her daughter strapped in her stroller on the porch of their home of the Virginia Court Apartments, sitting there eating a popsicle. The case was never solved, but authorities say the mother had a history if bizarre behavior.

Authorities say she allegedly had abandoned Bonita at birth at an Atlantic City Hospital and attempted to abandon another newborn in a bus terminal restroom after Bonita disappeared. The prosecutor told the court that the mother was uncooperative in the investigation of the missing child, and gave them false leads and lied to investigators.

But now family members say the woman's best friend came forward and told them what really happened and that the mom buried the child in the wooded area in Pleasantville.

Tameika Sander's is the child's sister who was four years old at the time.

"For some reason today, I couldn't sleep and then I got a phone call, and I had to say, 'wow, this is the reason why I couldn't sleep,'" Tameika said.

If the allegations are true, it appears the mother was involved in the child's disappearance all along.

"You don't want to suspect somebody like that. This is somebody I loved for a long time, she's the mother of my children, and the thing I want to know about it is why?" Abddul said.

Curiously, family members saw the mother, Bonita Sanders, two weeks ago at a school event, after not seeing her in years. Later that same day, authorities told them they had a break in the case.

Family members say that authorities are still trying to locate the mother for questioning, and that they will return to the wooded area again tomorrow hoping to locate and dig up the child's remains.

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Greg Browne ( ) - 2/23/09 11:35 pm

Last Updated - 2/23/09 11:38 pm

PLEASANTVILLE--- A police vehicle guarded a wooded area in Pleasantville Monday night, after additional crime scene tape was put up -- indications that investigators will, again on Tuesday, search the area for the remains of Bonita Sanders, who has been missing since 1986.

All day Monday, local, county and state investigators dug and sifted soil and used a cadaver dog in a large wooded lot just off New Rd., between Brighton and Wellington Av.

The search was apparently the result of new information, received by law enforcement just this week, about the nearly 23 year old cold case.

It was in September of 1986, when Sanders -- almost two years old at the time -- disappeared without a trace from the porch of her families home in Atlantic City.

"...I just want closure," said an emotional Tameika Sanders, standing only yards from where investigators were digging, quite possibly, for the remains of her little sister, "....I just want to bury my sister and I can't believe that she's over there, she's been there all this time."

The Atlantic Co. Prosecutors Office, which is in charge of the investigation, would not release any information about Mondays search, or even say if it was related to the Sanders case.

Sources have told NBC 40 that authorities have recently taken a DNA sample from Tameika Sanders, and according to the missing toddlers father, Abdul Salaam, it was just one week ago that the Prosecutors Office told him that they had solid information that his missing daughter was dead, "....who wants to believe in your heart that your child is wake up everyday living with a prayer that one day, it's a possibility she'll be home, and then to have somebody snatch that away from you."

Salaam, 44, said that he now just wants to give his daughter a proper burial, "....the hardest parts going to be going through that funeral, even though you're not going to physically see her."

Salaam also said that Bonita's mother -- also named Bonita -- has to come forward. He said that following a meeting at the Prosecutors office last week, she has been 'on the run', "....I just want her to turn yourself in, get it over with and lets find out what happened and lets put it behind us."

According to reports, Sanders has a long record of strange and disturbing behavior regarding her children.

After giving birth to her daughter in 1984, Sanders allegedly attempted to abandon the newborn by leaving the hospital without her.

A month after the toddler went missing, in 1986, Sanders gave birth to a son under an alias name, and then left the newborn in a bus terminal restroom.

Sanders was sentenced to nine months in jail for endangering the welfare of a child, and in 1987 her other three children were placed in foster homes.

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Authorities search for evidence in Atlantic County missing child cold case

by The Star-Ledger Continuous News Desk

Monday February 23, 2009, 8:05 PM

Authorities are digging in the woods off Route 9 near Pleasantville for information related to a missing child case filed more than 20 years ago, according to a report by NBC4.

The report said officials from the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office recently contacted the child's father, Abdul Salaam, about new information it had received about his daughter, Bonita Sanders.

"My daughter's dead, and it's just a matter of time before they find the body," Salaam told the television station.

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Possible Break in Missing Toddler Mystery

Updated 7:16 AM EST, Tue, Feb 24, 2009

Bonita Sanders' father says after 23 years, investigators have given him some crushing news about her disappearance.

Bonita Sanders disappeared just days before her second birthday.

She was in a stroller on the front porch of her Atlantic City home.

That was 1986.

Investigators searched a wooded area in Pleasantville on Monday, digging and sifting soil. Sources say the search could be connected to the Sanders case.

Bonita's father has been waiting for more than 20 years to find out what happened to his little girl.

He talks exclusively to NBC10's Ted Greenberg, saying he recently received some crushing news about his daughter's case.

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Investigators seek body of child missing 22 years

By MICHELLE LEE Staff Writer, 609-272-7256

Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ATLANTIC CITY - For 22 years, Abdul Salaam clung to the idea that his daughter Bonita Sanders was alive, even though she disappeared without a trace from Atlantic City just three days shy of her second birthday.

Salaam said he constantly checked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for tips and new posters of Bonita with age-progressed photographs. His daughter, Tameika Sanders, 26, called the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office on a regular basis for updates.

Their long search ended Feb. 11 when county officials told them there was a new lead in the case and Bonita was dead, Sanders and Salaam said in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City. Their worst fears were confirmed Monday afternoon when they found out investigators spent the day digging for evidence, possibly Bonita's remains, in a cluster of trees just off Route 9 in Pleasantville, between Wellington and Brighton avenues.

Sanders, a medical receptionist, said she drives by that spot every day to work and she immediately rushed over to the scene. "I just started crying. ... Why did you come here, who told you to come here?" Sanders said. "All I wanted to do was bring her to peace."

Salaam, who lives in Atlantic City and works as a cook, said he couldn't bear to watch the investigators and he went out for a long bike ride, then returned to comfort his family. "All you have is a hope and a prayer, and then now to have someone snatch it from you it's painful," Salaam said.

Click here to find out more!

"All we hoped was to find her and it's painful. .... It's not something you expect, and now I'm at the point where I have to deal with it," he said.

Salaam and Sanders said investigators found nothing Monday and will return to Pleasantville again today.

Madelaine Vitale, a spokeswoman for the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, said there was an investigation going on in Pleasantville, but she declined to confirm if it involved the Bonita Sanders case.

Bonita Sanders was last seen on Sept. 14, 1986, strapped in stroller and eating a popsicle on the porch outside her mother's home on Baltic Avenue, according to The Press archives. The mother, Bonita Sanders, told police her other children were playing outside and she was making dinner at the time, and she later noticed that the stroller was empty.

A massive search took place afterward, with helicopter and dog sweeps and investigators searching dozens of rooftops, buildings, streets, cars and homes in the surrounding area, according to the archives. No clues were found and a tip that came up in 1995 went cold.

Salaam said he always found it hard to believe that his daughter disappeared without anyone witnessing it. The mother, Bonita Sanders, was considered a suspect and Salaam said she has not been seen or heard from recently.

Tameika Sanders said she had few memories of her sister, but she always hoped that Bonita would be found. Sanders said she keeps a black and white photo of her little sister on the living room wall along with other family pictures as a reminder.

Sanders said the experience of searching for Bonita made her extra-protective of her own daughter, Samirah, 9, and son, Samaad, 7, and she picks them up from the bus stop every day. "I keep the pictures close and my kids close to my heart so they're always with me," she said.

Salaam said the family never held a memorial service for his daughter, Bonita, and he hoped the investigation would be over soon so they can move forward.

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Search continues for NJ toddler missing 22 years

February 25, 2009

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. - Authorities are entering their third day of digging in a wooded area for the remains of an Atlantic City toddler who went missing 22 years ago.

Police have been digging at a site near the Atlantic City Expressway since Monday, but won't say why.

But the father of Bonita Sanders says prosecutors have told him the girl is dead and that they're searching for her remains.

On Tuesday, police were seen using cadaver dogs, leaf blowers and rakes to aide their search.

The girl was last seen strapped in a stroller on her family's front porch in Atlantic City on Sept. 14, 1986.

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New Evidence in Case of N.J. Toddler Missing for 22 Years

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. —  It wasn't much as far as slim hopes go, but it was all that relatives of Bonita Sanders had to cling to for more than 22 years.

"I thought maybe she was adopted somewhere, you know, sold on the black market somewhere, and that we may never see her again but at least she'd be all right and happy," said her aunt, Danielle Dabney.

But that hope was dashed earlier this month, family members say, when prosecutors in southern New Jersey told them there is evidence that Bonita was killed and her body might have been buried in a wooded area a few miles from the home where she disappeared on Sept. 14, 1986.

The girl was three days shy of her second birthday and strapped into a stroller on the porch of her home eating an ice pop the last time anyone saw her.

According to news accounts at the time she went missing, the girl's mother, also named Bonita Sanders, told police her other children were playing outside while she made dinner, and that later she noticed the stroller was empty.

Dabney said the family has not heard from Bonita's mother in at least a week and doesn't know where she is. The Atlantic County prosecutor's office and local police departments would not discuss the investigation.

Investigators spent a second day Tuesday digging in a wooded area just off the Atlantic City Expressway in Pleasantville, a blue-collar suburb of Atlantic City. Cadaver-sniffing dogs centered on a specific area of the woods where authorities searched intensively with rakes and leaf blowers before bringing in a back-hoe to dig deeper into the frozen earth.

The search continued through Tuesday afternoon.

"They said they got strong evidence that the little girl is dead and that the person told them where to look," Dabney said.

Madelaine Vitale, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, would only say "there is an investigation in Pleasantville," declining further comment.

In an interview Monday, the girl's father, Abdul Salaam, also said authorities told him Bonita is dead.

"We have good information now that we know she is dead, and we're just trying to find the body," he told NBC 10 television on Monday. "I just want to know why."

The aunt recalled little Bonita, which means "pretty girl" in Spanish, as an inquisitive, adventurous child.

"She was such a sweetheart," Dabney said. "She couldn't walk or talk yet, but she was real playful. She had those adventurous eyes, always real alert. We were looking forward to her birthday party."

She said the family is devastated at word that little Bonita is probably dead.

"This has been our biggest fear all along," she said. "They just don't know how this tears a person apart.

"We just need justice now," Dabney said. "God has got us, and we'll be all right. God didn't bring us all this way just to let us down."

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Father never believed story told by mother of missing toddler

By LYNDA COHEN Staff Writer, 609-272-7257 and ERIC SCOTT CAMPBELL Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The story’s pieces never seemed to fit. They still don’t.

Bonita Sanders was “a beautiful person, a good mother,†Abdul Salaam said. Yet, when the younger of their two daughters disappeared Sept. 14, 1986, he never believed Sanders’ story.

She said she was inside their Baltic Avenue home in Atlantic City with the toddler  also named Bonita Sanders  on the porch, hooked into her stroller and eating a popsicle; the child was just shy of her second birthday. But the woman waited an hour and a half before calling police. No witnesses were found.

“It was an area where something like that cannot take place,†Salaam said, recounting the busy bar and restaurant that surrounded the home near Virginia Avenue Court, a complex that has since been demolished. “It just never looked right. It never came out to make any sense.â€Â

But the update he received recently doesn’t make sense to him, either.

On Feb. 11, investigators with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office had Salaam and his other daughter with Sanders come in.

“They said, ‘You already have an idea, you know she’s gone,’†he said. “When I heard that, that hurt more than anything. It let me know they knew something they didn’t know before.â€Â

There was a break in the case. Someone was talking, although the investigators wouldn’t tell Salaam who that was. That break may be what brought law enforcement to the woods across from Pleasantville’s Recreation Center on Brighton Avenue, apparently digging for Bonita’s remains. Wednesday was their third day searching the area. The only difference was a half-hour visit to the scene by Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel.

“I have no comment, it’s a pending matter,†he told reporters as he drove from the scene.

No officials have commented on the record about what  or who  led them to this area. Salaam, 46, doesn’t believe it was Sanders.

“(The investigators) made it clear right after I spoke with them that they wanted to see her,†he said. “We know she hasn’t been seen by them. We know.â€Â

He doesn’t know what really happened to his daughter  or to Sanders, now 43.

He first noticed the pretty preteen when she walked through his Six Bedroom apartment complex around 1976. The 14-year-old boy sitting on his stoop was smitten.

They would be together eight years. In that time, Sanders would give birth to four girls: the first when she was 16; only two were Salaam’s.

“It was just something that I had to accept,†Salaam said of Sanders’ infidelity. “I was young. It happened.â€Â

He made his own mistake. A robbery charge landed him in jail in July of 1984  two months before little Bonita was born. Maybe that’s when Sanders changed.

“I don’t know what was going on with her then,†he said. “I don’t know what happened to her.â€Â

The woman Salaam said loved her children gave birth to Bonita on Sept. 17, 1984, then left the hospital without her, according to a Division of Youth and Family Services investigation. No charges were filed.

Early in 1986, Sanders became pregnant again. Soon afterward, the purported father dropped her off at an abortion clinic with money to cover the procedure, a prosecutor said later. She didn’t go through with it, but said she did.

After Bonita disappeared, the eight-months-pregnant Sanders decided to abandon her new baby, according to her statement to investigators. She admitted herself to Atlantic City Medical Center on Oct. 5 as Laura Smith and gave birth to a son.

She took a taxi to the city bus terminal when she was released from the hospital two days later. She took the bus to Philadelphia, and left the baby face down in a bus station bathroom, dressed in hospital clothes and a yellow blanket.

Investigators who worked Bonita’s disappearance and knew Sanders was pregnant connected the dots for those investigating the newborn’s abandonment. Sanders was arrested Oct. 23, a week after the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office said no family members were suspected of abducting Bonita.

Then-Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz amended that stance a day later, saying: “We are not prepared to make any statements about possible suspects.â€Â

Sanders pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child. Then-Assistant Prosecutor Steven M. Janosko recommended the maximum sentence of 18 months, saying she had lied to investigators and tried to abandon a baby once before. Defense attorney Philip H. Shick pushed for no jail time, emphasizing Sanders’ stress over Bonita’s abduction and saying she at least had left the boy where he could be found. The judge split the difference with a nine-month term.

Janosko, who now works for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, talked about Sanders on Wednesday.

“I have a recollection of her being a typically irresponsible young person, or maybe atypically irresponsible young person,†he said. “She just had some personal issues, and she chose to deal with them with pretty much disregard for the value of human life, including her own flesh and blood. And why that was, only she knows.â€Â

Shick, now retired, said he does not remember her or the case.

Sanders was paroled sometime in March 1987, after five months in the county jail. She violated her parole less than a month later, shoplifting $59 in merchandise. The woman who twice tried to abandon her children was now going to prison for stealing baby clothes.

The violation earned her a three-year term. She served 15 months, getting out in October 1988.

Three more sons followed: in February 1992, September 1993 and December 1994. In 1997, The Press wrote a story commemorating Bonita’s 13th birthday and tried to interview Sanders. She declined.

But Sanders never seemed interested in finding the girl, Salaam said. She would refused to talk to him about the disappearance. Meanwhile, he kept the story alive, even contacting “America’s Most Wanted.â€Â

“This is your child that’s missing,†he said Wednesday, expressing his thoughts about Sanders. “You have never attempted to find her. You never took part in any event to help me find her.â€Â

The last time he saw her was more than an hour before the Feb. 11 meeting with Prosecutor’s Office investigators. They were both at an awards ceremony for their grandchildren. She looked thin, but good, he said. Just about 110 pounds on her 5-foot, 2-inch frame.

Salaam waits for the day he can ask Sanders what happened.

“I know that she’s going to be charged,†he said. “I know it. I know it in my heart.â€Â

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Phaedra Laird ( ) - 2/25/09 04:34 pm

Last Updated - 2/25/09 06:51 pm

PLEASANTVILLE--The search continues in Pleasantville for the remains of a missing Atlantic City toddler who disappeared more than two decades ago.

Crews were back on the scene just off of Route 9 Wednesday, and continued clearing the patch of woods for the third straight day.

The Atlantic County Prosecutor toured the scene, and watched as a front-and loader and backhoe pushed around dirt and knocked down small trees.

Sources have confirmed authorities are looking for the remains of Bonita Sanders, who went missing in 1986, just days before her second birthday, after receiving new information about the case.

Authorities are remaining tight lipped, "I have no comment. It's a pending matter and it's not my policy to comment on pending matters," said Atlantic County Prosecutor, Ted Housel.

No word yet if authorities have found anything of interest during their search.

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Family still waiting for news from site of Pleasantville dig

By ERIC SCOTT CAMPBELL Staff Writer, 609-272-7227

Published: Friday, February 27, 2009

PLEASANTVILLE - Investigators packed up their shovels and earth-moving vehicles, took photographs and left the wooded lot on Brighton Avenue by 3 p.m. Thursday.

It was not clear whether the move signified the suspension of what family members of Bonita Sanders have said is a search for the remains of the toddler who disappeared in 1986. But the crews left significantly earlier than they had on the three previous days of activity there.

"I am here every morning starting at 9 and stay until the police go home at about 4:30," said Danielle Dabney, Bonita's aunt. "This is not like them to leave so early."

Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel would not comment on the schedule of the pending investigation, according to his spokeswoman, Madelaine Vitale. The Prosecutor's Office also has declined to specify what it is looking for. Housel visited the scene Wednesday morning.

One investigator said, as he left the scene, that work might resume today.

The ground that was thick with leaves at the beginning of the week is now mostly clear, covered in tread marks and countless piles of tan and gray dirt. Yellow ribbons encircle several trees, and a tape boundary remains around the entire lot.

On the evening of Sept. 14, 1986, Bonita's mother, also named Bonita Sanders, found on her Atlantic City porch an empty stroller where the 2-year-old had been sitting no more than an hour before. She called police an hour and a half later, but no trace of Bonita was ever found and no suspects were publicly identified.

Authorities have said Bonita's mother attempted to leave the baby at the hospital after giving birth. She also pleaded guilty to abandoning her newborn son in a bus-station bathroom, three weeks after Bonita's disappearance.

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NJ prosecutor to speak about search

February 27, 2009

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. - Five days after authorities began looking in a wooded area for the remains of an Atlantic City toddler missing 22 years, the county prosecutor is expected to speak about it.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel has called a Friday news conference near where the search has been taking place. Housel's office did not say what he would be speaking about.

Police began searching the area on Monday but wouldn't say why.

The father of Bonita Sanders says prosecutors told him the girl is dead and that they're searching for her remains.

The girl was last seen strapped in a stroller on her family's front porch in Atlantic City on Sept. 14, 1986.

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LATEST NEWS: Pleasantville search for possible remains of toddler ends early on fourth day


Published: Thursday, February 26, 2009

PLEASANTVILLE  Investigators packed up their shovels and earth-moving vehicles, took photographs and left the wooded lot on Brighton Avenue by 3 p.m. Thursday.

It was not clear whether the move signified the suspension of what family members of Bonita Sanders have said is a search for the long-missing toddler’s remains. But the crews left hours earlier than they had on the three previous days of activity there.

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No remains found in search for missing NJ toddler

By GEOFF MULVIHILL | Associated Press Writer

February 27, 2009

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. - Authorities in southern New Jersey said Friday they're ending a search of a wooded area near Atlantic City after failing to turn up any remains of a toddler missing for 22 years.

The search began Monday after prosecutors got a tip that Bonita Sanders was killed and her body might have been buried in the lot in Pleasantville.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said he can't prosecute the case as a homicide without a body or other evidence.

Bonita was last seen strapped into a stroller, eating an ice pop on the porch of her family's home on Sept. 14, 1986 _ three days before her second birthday.

"This is an important case," Housel said. "The disappearance and/or death of a 2-year-old is a tragedy."

He said his focus is now trying to find the girl's mother, also named Bonita Sanders. Investigators have not been able to locate her. He would not say what information the woman might have.

Over the decades, some in Bonita's family have held out hope that she was still alive, taking their pleas for help to "America's Most Wanted."

Housel said a tipster gave "significant and credible evidence" earlier this month that pointed investigators to a specific portion of the wooded lot where the child's body may have been abandoned. The 1.7-acre tract was right across the street from the Pleasantville Recreation Center.

For eight straight days, cadaver dogs, radar and earth-moving equipment were used to try to find the child's remains. Some searchers were still on the scene Friday, but they planned to return the site to its owner by Monday.

Housel said it's possible that the remains had decomposed completely, that they were removed by people or carried away by animals _ or that they were never there.

He would not say whether there was another place to search.

The missing toddler's sister, Tameika Sanders, now 26, said she had rarely heard from her mother for years. But the woman turned up at a school event for Tameika's children on Feb. 11. Just hours later, Sanders said, prosecutors told her about the break in the case.

She said she was disheartened that the search didn't turn up her sister's remains and disappointed that her mother has not come forward.

"I was hoping to put my sister to rest," she said.

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Case of missing A.C. tot still open

A search this week in woods turned up nothing. The Atlantic City girl vanished in 1986.

By Jacqueline L. Urgo

Posted on Sat, Feb. 28, 2009

Inquirer Staff Writer

PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. - Following a week spent clearing trees and debris, extensive digging, and the use of cadaver dogs, investigators yesterday announced that nothing was found in a wooded lot here that could be connected to the disappearance of a toddler from her Atlantic City porch 22 years ago.

The sister and aunt of Bonita Sanders - who was three days shy of turning 2 when she vanished - left a curbside meeting yesterday afternoon tearfully clutching each other after Atlantic County Prosecutor Theodore Housel apparently informed them that the search for the child's remains was unsuccessful.

In a news conference shortly afterward, Housel would not say if investigators planned to move to another site or whether there were other leads. The case remains open, he said, and will be treated as a missing-person investigation unless there is the discovery of remains or other evidence that suggests a homicide.

"At the conclusion of the day, the scene will be closed and it will remain off-limits until it can be returned to a proper and safe state," Housel said of the excavation site off Route 9 between Wellington and Brighton Avenues.

Housel said considerable taxpayer money was spent to have dozens of personnel from the Prosecutor's Office as well as the local police, state police and FBI staff on the scene. The location was guarded 24 hours a day since the search began on Feb. 20, he said.

"But we think it was money well spent, because this is an important case, even though it is 22 years old," he said.

"This is about a missing child. I have children of my own, and as a parent I know that people want answers."

The prosecutor said investigators had obtained information that the child's remains "were not deeply planted." They sifted over the entire lot, he said, but concentrated on one area.

A state police forensic anthropologist had indicated that, given the time that has passed and the child's age, it was unlikely that any remains except for "one particular part of the body" could be found, Housel said.

It also is possible that the body was moved by the perpetrator or that "scavenging carnivores" carried off the remains, he said.

It was the latest disappointment in a case that has haunted Bonita's family since Sept. 14, 1986.

The child's mother, also named Bonita Sanders, told police that she had left her daughter strapped into a stroller and sucking a frozen pop on the front porch of her Baltic Avenue home while she was inside cooking dinner. When she checked about an hour later, Bonita was gone, she said.

Housel would not comment specifically on the lead that brought investigators to the 1.6-acre lot, though he called it "reliable and credible to believe" the area might have contained the remains.

Investigators would like to talk to Bonita Sanders, because she may have information about the case, Housel said. He would not reveal an address for the woman, who was seen by a family member on Feb. 11.

"We've attempted to locate her without success," the prosecutor said.

Speculation that the mother may have had something to do with the child's disappearance has been rampant among family members, according to Abdul Salaam, father of the missing girl.

Salaam, a cook from Atlantic City, was in prison when the baby disappeared. The child and her older sister, Tameika, also Salaam's daughter, were living with their mother. Salaam and Sanders never married and were not a couple when the toddler disappeared. The woman had a new boyfriend and was about to have another baby.

When she gave birth to a son in Atlantic City Medical Center about six weeks later, Sanders did so under an assumed name. She eventually abandoned the infant in a bus station bathroom and served five months in the county jail after pleading guilty to endangering the welfare of a child.

Salaam said investigators told him that an old friend recently came forward with information that implicated Bonita Sanders in the disappearance of her daughter. He said he was informed that the friend and other acquaintances, including a relative of the mother's, also could be involved.

Salaam could not be reached for comment yesterday. He has said that he has never given up hope that his daughter will be found.

Salaam said he stayed in contact with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and, in 2005, was interviewed about Bonita's case on the Fox program America's Most Wanted.

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Staff Writer ( ) - 5/6/09 05:10 pm

Last Updated - 5/6/09 06:51 pm


ATLANTIC CITY--Officials have the Atlantic City woman, wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of her daughter more than 20 years ago, in custody.

It's reported that Bonita Sanders, 43, was arrested at the Stanley Holmes Village late Tuesday night on an unrelated charge.

Her daughter, also named Bonita, went missing off the front porch of their home in September of 1986, just days before her second birthday.

Authorities searched a wooded area in Pleasantville for a week, after new information suggested the little girl's remains were buried there, but nothing was found.

Sanders is currently being held in jail.

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Atlantic County investigators determine kidnapping case is fabricated

By Matt Dowling/The Star-Ledger

May 08, 2009, 5:26PM

Authorities say an Atlantic City woman's claim that someone snatched her 2-year-old daughter from her front porch nearly 23 years ago is a lie.

Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel says little Bonita Sanders died and her body was hidden. He won't say how she died.

Her mother, also named Bonita Sanders, had been sought for questioning earlier this year as authorities dug up a Pleasantville lot, looking for her body. It was not found.

The mother was arrested earlier this week on an unrelated charge, but made bail the next day.

Housel won't say whether Sanders was questioned, only that the investigation is ongoing. No telephone listing could be found for her.

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Service held in Atlantic City for girl gone missing more than 23 years ago

With timeline and letter to Bonita Sanders from her sister, Tameika

By LYNDA COHEN Staff Writer | Posted: Saturday, January 30, 2010

ATLANTIC CITY — Tameika Sanders last saw her baby sister more than 23 years ago.

Little Bonita was reported missing from her family’s porch Sept. 14, 1986, just three days before her second birthday.

Sanders never got to say goodbye. On Saturday, she finally did.

Nearly a year after confirmation that her sister had died, Sanders held a memorial service at the All Wars Memorial building Saturday.

“It’s closure,” Sanders said. “I wanted to make sure she got her day.”

While the family struggled for decades with the mystery of the toddler’s disappearance, little seemed to happen with the case. Then, last Feb. 11, Sanders and her father, Abdul Salaam, were called by investigators from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.

They confirmed what the family long believed: Little Nita — as the bright-eyed girl was known — had died. But the details were still unknown.

A search for the remains in a Pleasantville lot followed. But nothing was found. The girls’ mother was sought for questioning, but she was held in jail on warrants for just a day before being freed, her fines paid.

Prosecutor Ted Housel later released a statement saying the girl was not abducted but had died and her body was hidden. No other details followed, including the cost of the more than weeklong search for remains.

After almost another year without news, Sanders decided finally to lay her sister to rest.

“This should have been done years ago,” said Marty Jackson, Nita’s uncle. “But you couldn’t because she always was ’missing’.”

“She finally got her day,” said Sanders, who was just 4 the fall day her sister disappeared from her life.

But she remembers everything, including the orange Popsicles both she and Nita were eating.

“Just like it was yesterday,” Sanders said. “Because everything changed from that day on.”

On Saturday, both Sanders’ shirt and the balloons released following the service honored the last treat she and her sister shared that day.

“Fly, Nita,” people called as the orange balloons rose through the snow fall. “Fly, baby, fly.”

Now, Jackson hopes there is also closure for the rift in the family. Both Sanders and Salaam believe the girls’ mother was involved in the disappearance. She was not at the ceremony, but some of her family was.

“They’re hurting just like we are,” Jackson said. “It’s not a one-sided hurt. It’s a two-sided hurt.”

But Sanders would not talk about that. She wanted only closure for her baby sister.

“The short time we shared was a blessing to me,” she said through tears as she read a letter she wrote to Nita. “I’m here today hoping you can finally be free.”

The ceremony may have been a big step toward freedom for the family as well.

“Finally, my sister is at peace,” Sanders said. “And I can move on.”

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