Shelton Sanders: Found or Missing? Is He Dead or Alive? – Shelton Sanders, 25, vanished in the early hours of June 19, 2001, while travelling to his family’s residence in Rembert, South Carolina. He was last seen at a residence in Columbia, South Carolina, not far from his place of employment and educational institution. The evening Sanders vanished, he was assisting with planning a friend’s bachelor celebration. The last person to see him alive was later accused of murder, but the jury was deadlocked. Sanders’ family just wants to know where his corpse is now so they can properly bury him.
The bizarre incident is detailed in Investigation Discovery episode “Still A Mystery: Taken Before Graduation,” (season 5 episode 1) which also follows the subsequent police investigation that attempted to provide closure for the family.
What Happened To Shelton Sanders?
Shelton John Sanders was one of four children of his parents, William and Peggy. Shelton was an example for his other siblings because he was the family’s oldest child.
Shelton grew up in a time when computer technology was developing alongside him, and he quickly developed a passion for computers. He also enjoyed other pastimes, but they were more typical childhood pursuits like boy scouting and spending time outdoors. He was a percussionist in the marching band at his high school and enjoyed cooking. He loves animals. After completing his high school education at Hillcrest High School, he enrolled at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he majored in administrative information management.
Shelton developed a reputation as a “computer expert” who was as trustworthy and dependable as anyone he worked with at both work and school. He worked as a computer systems manager at the USC School of Medicine while attending classes at the University of South Carolina. He intended to pursue a career in computer programming after earning his degree. He had a solid chance of finishing his degree in 2001’s second half with a 3.5 GPA, when Shelton turned 25.
On the evening of June 19, 2001, at about 9:00 PM, Shelton’s cell phone made its final call. He called his family from Columbia and informed them that he would be returning home in about two hours.
Ten minutes later, he attempted to call Mark Richardson, the friend-of-a-friend who had been serving as his bachelor party companion that evening, on his cell phone.
After these two calls, Shelton and Mark visited at least three hotels in the Columbia area to find the best option for their anticipated bachelorette party.
According to NBC News, Police in Sumter County will monitor Shelton Sanders’ bank accounts and cell phone data after his disappearance to look for any indication of activity. His last contact on his mobile phone that evening was to his friend Mark Richardson at 9:07 PM, who reported losing his own cell phone and requested Shelton to call it to help him find it. However, none of his accounts or cards were touched following his absence.
Investigators would briefly consider whether Shelton had been singled out because his father, William, had served as a county magistrate who presided over bond hearings at the Sumter County Correctional Center. However, just like their other leads, this turned out to be a dead end in the investigation, and days later, investigators abandoned this notion.
Police searched for signs of wrongdoing for months, but they never discovered Shelton’s body. Shelton and the items he was carrying at the time (including a black Movado watch) were never seen again. The Sanders family had offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of his remains, but it was never claimed.
Shelton Sanders: Missing or Found? Is He Alive or Dead?
Although Shelton is still unaccounted for today, most people—including his parents and law enforcement officials—believe that he has subsequently passed away. The primary suspect in this case, Mark Anthony Richardson, who is thought to have shot Shelton Sanders to death and then covered up the killing, was the last person to have seen Shelton Sanders alive.
Shelton had been with Mark, his longtime friend, throughout his last known hours. If you recall, Mark had already admitted to the authorities that Shelton had left him at his residence on Columbia’s Olympia Avenue between 11:00 and 11:30 PM on June 19, 2001. But Mark’s cell phone records showed that he had tried to call multiple people less than two hours later, requesting another trip from a different part of town—a location not far from where Shelton’s car was discovered over two years later.
Although Mark was the last person to see Shelton alive, despite the abundance of circumstantial evidence pointing to his knowledge or involvement in Shelton’s disappearance, investigators would struggle to find evidence supporting Mark’s guilt.
More than four years after Shelton’s disappearance, in October 2005, 30-year-old Mark Richardson was detained and accused of killing Shelton Sanders. Although Mark’s trial wouldn’t start until 2008, prosecutors tried to make a strong case based on his declining mental state and his suspicious behaviour at the time of Shelton’s disappearance while trying the case without Shelton’s body.
You might remember that between 1999 and 2000, Mark reportedly began to exhibit symptoms of untreated mental illness. At the time, he reportedly told associates that he heard voices that urged him to harm others violently. Friends of Mark described him as a strange, paranoid man whose behaviour had become frightening during this time.
The prosecution also presented the testimony of Mark’s neighbours, who recalled hearing three gunshots in his home on June 19, 2001. This testimony is corroborated by the time Shelton dropped Mark off at home (according to statements from Mark himself). When a neighbour stopped by Mark’s home to see how he was doing, Mark informed the visitor that the noise was caused by his car backfiring in the garage.
A Glock.45-caliber pistol was discovered during a 2001 search of Mark’s home, and several of Mark’s acquaintances claimed that in the days following Shelton’s death, he had tried to sell a separate.38-caliber revolver, which he claimed “he didn’t need anymore.” The retrieval of these weapons would, however, be essentially useless without a body.
Cell phone records also showed that Mark had been close to the Greenbrier Apartments, where Shelton’s car had been abandoned, for around two hours following their parting. Mark’s cell phone had pinged off of cellular tower #147 while he was trying to wake up his brothers for a ride home. This tower was extraordinarily close to the Parklane Road apartment building, where Shelton’s car was discovered in April 2003.
Additionally, the prosecution showed the police Mark’s 2005 half-confession, which he had made after asking, according to Richland County Sheriff’s Sergeant Walter McDaniels:
“How do I explain getting rid of a body?”
Mark seemed to be pointing to a scenario where he expressed regret for inadvertently killing Shelton in his confession, which he had quickly retracted. This was merely a hypothesis on the part of the authorities as they tried to determine why he would have wanted to kill Shelton Sanders since he hadn’t fully confessed.
The defence presented a considerably weaker case, contending that there was enough room for doubt to exonerate Mark Richardson. They argued that since Shelton Sanders was still listed as missing, it was hard to prove that a crime had actually been committed without a body.
Nearly seven years after Shelton went missing, the Mark Richardson trial concluded in April 2008. The jury would remain divided due to his attorneys’ persuasive arguments, and when they could not reach a consensus, a mistrial would be declared. If additional information about this case comes to light, Mark Richardson might face a retrial.
Sadly, not much has been written during the past 20 years concerning Shelton’s case.
Only one South Carolina newspaper covered his case for the first few years, so his case hadn’t initially drawn much notice. However, after Mark Richardson’s case ended with a hung jury, that focus practically vanished. Shelton’s younger sister didn’t start giving the tale new life until 2018.
Wilveria, who was only 11 years old when Shelton vanished, has loved him ever since and still does. She is determined to either find her older brother or learn what happened to him as she continues to look for him.
To bring attention to her brother’s case, Wilveria has been circulating among investigators, lawyers, government representatives, journalists, and anyone interested in this matter. She has been successful in getting the case covered by several South Carolina media sites and getting billboards around the state with Shelton’s photo and the reward posted on them.
Wilveria says that she and her family aren’t involved in retribution and that they would even accept less than full justice as long as it resulted in the recovery of Shelton’s remains. Shelton’s passing after twenty years is all that she and her loved ones want to be able to do so that they can start truly grieving his loss.
The family is now offering a $25,000 reward for accurate location and discovery of his remains.
“We just want closure. Please help the Sanders family bring closure,” said Wilveria.