Church Searched for Clues to Cantu's Murder

April 7, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police name no suspects, but say they aren't ruling anyone out in the murder of Sandra Cantu. The search for a missing little girl is now the search for a killer.                 |   Watch Videos Above for Extended Coverage   |

Among those who have been questioned on Tuesday was a pastor of a church in Tracy. He lives in the same mobile home park as Sandra.

Police deny they have focused on any single individual or suspects. They are clearly paying a lot of attention to the small Clove Road Baptist Church. An FBI evidence team arrived late Tuesday afternoon and removed some possible evidence from the church to a staging area. They also focused along the back fence of the church and spent time looking at the crawl space underneath the church. Even pieces of trash were tagged and identified.

The pastor of the church, Lane Lawless, told ABC30 he had nothing to do with Sandra's death and is cooperating with police.

Police say they still don't know exactly how 8-year-old Sandra was killed. Her body was found around 10 a.m. on Monday inside a black suitcase in a drained irrigation pond north of Tracy. The results of the autopsy are still pending.

"Right now, the best information I have is that the coroner is going to release that information to us when he is finished with his investigation," said Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman.

In the meantime, an FBI evidence team began searching the church just down the street from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park where Sandra lived.

Lawless told ABC30 he spent three hours being questioned by police, until early Tuesday morning. However, he denied any involvement in the second grader's murder.

Police confirmed they questioned Lawless and searched his home, but stopped well short of calling him a suspect.

"He has been interviewed as have hundreds of people. Everyone we speak to could be considered a person of interest," said Sgt. Sheneman.

The pastor's wife, Connie Lawless, told ABC30 the couple is cooperating with investigators. When asked if her home had been searched Monday night, she said, "Well, they took the usual stuff, phone, computers, things of that nature. We were very open to them taking anything they wanted to take."

Carlos Martinez has been the mobile home park's handyman for 14 years. He says Lawless never spoke to him and that he's not friendly with the rest of the neighborhood.

"I think that is his way. He's like that," said Martinez.

However, the pastor and his wife say they had a close friendship with Sandra since she often played with their great-granddaughter.

"She was at our house quite often. She was the sweetest little thing and it breaks our heart that anyone would take such a tiny little thing and abuse her and murder her," said Connie Lawless.

Martinez, whose daughter also played with Sandra, worries the little girl's friendliness may hamper the investigation.

"I bet you in 75-percent of those houses they're going to find some fingerprints of her because she went to every single house. That is the problem," said Martinez.

Neighbors say Lawless has led some of the prayers at the nightly vigils held for Sandra, since she disappeared March 27th.

"He's been praying for having the candlelight [vigil], showing up and praying with all of us for her safe return home," said neighbor Nina Jones.

Late Tuesday afternoon investigators went back to the homes of two residents who have also been called persons of interest.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Tracy Police at: 1-209-831-6TIP
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Sandra Cantu Cards & Donations

Mail should be sent to:
Tracy Police Department
100 Civic Center Drive, Tracy, CA 95376
209-831-4550

Cash donations should be sent to:
Sund-Carrington Foundation
301 Downey Ave., Modesto, 95354
209-567-1059
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