Real Name: Stephen Alton Sandlin
Nicknames: Steve Sandlin
Location: Mountainair, New Mexico
Date: May 7, 1988
Details: Twenty-one-year old Steve Sandlin was a rookie New Mexico police officer who was found shot in the police station while working alone just eight weeks after joining the force. Several bloodstains were found around his body, and he was pronounced dead soon afterwards. His gun was found by his side, and the bullet that killed Steve came from the gun. Many concluded that Steve either committed suicide or died in a tragic accident, while his family is certain that he was murdered and that his death may have been covered up by the police department.
On the afternoon of Steve's death, he returned to the empty police station after arguing with Chief Carson over some tickets that he had written. The last person to talk to Steve before his death was his girlfriend, who claims that at around 7 pm, their conversation was interrupted by an unidentified female who was with Steve. He told his girlfriend that there was nothing to worry about, and he hung up the phone. Less than an hour later, at 7:45 pm, Steve was found dead and Chief Carson assumed that Steve committed suicide or was the victim of an accident. Steve's autopsy results were deemed inconclusive, and several believed that Steve's gun had been at least two feet away from his head when he was shot. Also, the powder residue on Steve's hands were rather insignificant for the hands of someone who had shot themselves with a gun.
However, the attorney general refused to rule out suicide, and Steve's family began their own investigation. They believe that he was killed because he knew too much about some illegal activity. Through their investigation, his family uncovered that on April 11, a few weeks before his death, Steve had arrested a drunk driver and found that the man was in the possession of marijuana. When the man's home was searched, investigators found more than fifty-four pounds of marijuana.
Steve began receiving several death threats as a result of the arrest, and at around that same time, the Mountainair Police Department was being investigated for mishandling evidence, which greatly upset Steve. Steve was later questioned by a man named James Scarantino who worked for New Mexico's Attorney General's office, who is certain that Steve would not have committed suicide, and was most likely murdered.
Shortly after his death, Steve's house was searched by police officers, but when Steve's mother went looking though his kitchen, she found several bags of marijuana. Also, Steve's mother found out that the tapes that Steve had made of every traffic stop were all missing.
Several questions remained in Steve's death, including: if Steve was murdered, who was responsible, who planted the marijuana in Steve's house, and were the Mountainair Police Department involved in Steve's death. Those questions remain unanswered and Steve's death remains unsolved.
Suspects: The Mountainair police officers were obvious suspects in Steve's death, along with the man that Steve arrested who had marijuana with him.
James Scarantino spoke to several witnesses who claimed that they had seen Chief Carson's vehicle parked outside of the Mountain Police Department between 7:15 and 7:25 pm on the night of the shooting. This suggests that Carson may have witnessed or was involved in Steve's death. However, he denies any involvement in the case. He agreed to take a polygraph examination with the FBI and passed.
Extra Notes: This segment originally aired on the February 14, 1990 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Results: Unresolved. Authorities later learned that five months before Steve was killed, law enforcement received a tip that a police officer was going to be killed by drug dealers. Investigators noted that evidence at the scene suggested that his body had been moved. Scientists determined that Steve was ducking away from his gun when he was shot. Steve's case was later classified as a homicide, but no one has ever been arrested and the case remains unsolved.
When questioned by an Army investigator, the soldier who found Steve's body claimed that he would go to jail if he "told the truth." The investigator believed that he was withholding information. Investigators also learned that a police officer from another agency had confessed to killing him. The officer allegedly said that "if he had kept his nose out of things (he'd) be better off. (Sandlin) wouldn't have died." However, it is unknown if police ever followed up on the alleged confession.
One of the prime suspects in the case, Melvin King, died in 2004. King was the man whom Steve had arrested a few weeks before his death. Interestingly, the marijuana confiscated from King's home later went missing from the police department's evidence room. King was never prosecuted.
- Steve Sandlin at Unsolved.com
- Policeman found shot dead in Mountainair
- Discrepancies Tangle Mystery of Officer's Death
- Discrepancies Complicate Mountainair Mystery
- Studies May Clarify Physical Evidence in Shooting
- Officer’s death still a mystery after 25 years
- Steve Sandlin at Find a Grave
- Steve Sandlin at Officer Down Memorial Page