MU freshman Daniel Sanders faces questioning over mother's death

A man who was arrested after police found his mother's body in the trunk of his car and his younger brother, who was also detained by police, were both taking classes at MU.

Police pulled over MU freshman Daniel Sanders, 19, on Aug. 14 in response to multiple complaints his car had been swerving and driving without headlights, Columbia Police Capt. Brad Nelson said. While searching the vehicle, police found a body wrapped in a blanket in the trunk of his Mercury Marquis, Nelson said.

The body was identified as Helen Sanders, his mother. The car was also registered to her, Nelson said.

Daniel Sanders was unwilling to cooperate with initial inquiries regarding the body, Nelson said.

"He refused to answer any questions about the body in the trunk," he said.

Daniel Sanders' younger brother Gary Sanders, 16, who takes classes at MU, was detained in their home on Melrose Drive.

Gary Sanders was released to grandparents in St. Louis on Aug. 15, Nelson said.

The corpse showed no outward signs of injury. During an autopsy, medical examiner Eddie Adelstein found fluid in the tracheobronchial tree, a condition known as pulmonary edema that may result from many causes, including drowning or drug use. 

The autopsy also revealed broken ribs and a broken sternum, sometimes indicative of attempted CPR but seen "not uncommonly" in bodies Adelstein examines, he said.  

"It could be caused by anything," Adelstein said. "It could be intentional by somebody, but it could also be caused by somebody not trained but trying to resuscitate someone."

Helen Sanders had a history of breast and pancreatic cancer, though neither appears to have played a role in her death, Adelstein said.

Toxicology test results worked on at St. Louis University could help Adelstein determine a cause of death, but the test can take from three days to a month to complete.

"I've asked them to hurry this up," Adelstein said. "We don't ask them to expedite many cases."

Police have been holding Daniel Sanders in the Boone County Jail under a charge of tampering with evidence, a felony that carries as much as a four-year sentence and a fine of up to $5,000 if convicted. A date for his trial will be set on Sept. 2.

His bond is set at $250,000, but a judge agreed Monday to take under advisement a defense attorney's motion to have the bond reduced.

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