Bones of Contention
But when investigators began to raise questions about Anderson's discoveries, reality came crashing in. On April 18,2002, Anderson, 43, was arrested on federal charges of obstructing an investigation, in turn raising explosive questions about dozens of cases across the country on which she'd worked. "She was widely known—she touted herself as having the perfect dog," says Dee Wild of the National Association of Search and Rescue. "This throws into question everything she's ever done." On Aug. 20 a federal grand jury issued a 10-count indictment charging Anderson with planting human remains and lying to police. The FBI is said to be pursuing up to 50 cases she may have tainted. She denies the charges. "I haven't done anything," she told People. Police claim otherwise. "She's obstructing major murder cases for her own gain, her own personal satisfaction," says MacGregor.
It was MacGregor and an FBI agent he was working with in 2001 who recruited Anderson to investigate the 1980 disappearance of Cherita Thomas, a young mother. In March 2001 the police got a lead that pointed them to an area of Michigan's Huron National Forest. Anderson found a bone there almost immediately, but officer Mark David recalls wondering why it smelled like chlorine bleach. "No one could explain that," says David. But he didn't voice his concerns until her later visit in April 2002. Twice after David and two other investigators thoroughly searched an area, he recalls, Anderson suddenly and inexplicably located skeletal remains. When one of the investigators said she had seen Anderson pull one of the bones out of her sock, Anderson was confronted and placed under arrest. (DNA evidence later showed none of the samples matched the victim.)
Oscoda police quickly learned that theirs wasn't the first department to have doubts about Anderson (see box, right). One of the most troubling cases in which she was involved was that of Azizul Islam, a Plymouth, Mich., chemist whose wife, Tracy, was reported missing in 1999. Two weeks later police searched his home with Anderson and Eagle, who found a tiny amount of the victim's blood under a freshly painted basement floor-and, nearby, a bloody hacksaw. Though the blood on the saw didn't match that of the victim or the suspect, and the saw wasn't admitted as evidence, Anderson's testimony at the trial helped land Islam, 53, life without parole for murdering and carving up his wife, leaving her remains in several locations. But a November 2002 FBI DNA analysis of the hacksaw showed the blood was Anderson's. "This woman came in with her bogus, planted, false, fabricated evidence and got up on the stand seeking to get him convicted," says Islam's lawyer Michael Schwartz, who is seeking a new trial.
As for Anderson, she took a roundabout path into the world of evidence gathering. A native of the Detroit area, she taught dog obedience classes for years before becoming interested in search-and-rescue work. (Divorced from the father of her two grown sons, she is married to William, a software consultant.) In the early 1990s Anderson says she rescued Eagle, a black puppy, from a pound parking lot. Using techniques she had learned at special seminars to find lost people, "we found he was more inclined to finding lost deceased people," she says. Overtime the pair gained a reputation, working on cases as far away as Panama and Florida—often attracting throngs of reporters whom, police say, she summoned herself.
She is certainly attracting the spotlight now, with charges that could get her up to 65 years in prison. Still, Anderson insists she is innocent. "In the long term, you have to live with yourself," she says. "You're the only one who has to believe you." Ultimately, she maybe one of the few people who do.
Lauren Comander in Oscoda and Midland, Mich.