Police arrest Sanders for murder

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

What started out as a search for a missing person resulted in police finding a dead body in the woods around 7707 East New Cut Rd., in Scottsburg, but within the Washington County limits, on Monday, July 23. Police have arrested Michael Sanders, 34, who lived at the property, for the murder of Skyler Naugle.

On Saturday, July 21, Amy and William Naugle reported to Deputy Ryan Larrimore their son, Skyler Naugle, 35, was missing and had been for a few days. Amy Naugle told Larrimore her son had last been at their home on North West Point Road in Salem around 10 p.m. on July 15.

Naugle and his wife, Ashley Perry, had been living there for the past three weeks after living for some time in Fort Wayne. He had gotten a job with Ohio Valley Pre-Cast in Charlestown, but had not shown up for work all week and hadn’t picked up his paycheck.

The hunt is on

Perry began contacting her husband’s friends, hoping to locate him. She told Larrimore she had talked with a Michael Sanders, 34, who lived at 7707 E. New Cut Rd. Sanders told her he had received a text message from Naugle on Monday morning, July 16, asking for a ride to meet a girl from New Albany.

“Ashley Perry stated that Michael first told her that he didn’t know who the girl was and she was in a red Chevy Blazer, and then he changed his story and told her Naugle met with Mercedes Roll of Salem, Indiana,” ISP Detective Matt Busick said in his probable cause affidavit.

Larrimore conducted an emergency phone ping on Naugle’s cell phone and Verizon told him the phone was last used at 9:15 a.m. on Monday, July 16, almost three miles northeast of the tower at 6990 Ramsey Rd., in Washington County. Larrimore checked the coordinates Verizon provided and contacted Indiana State Conservation Officer Nate Berry for assistance in searching the location of the cell phone ping. The search began around 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, but they found nothing.

Investigators then went to Sanders’ home, who repeated what he told Perry — Naugle had contacted him for a ride to meet up with a girl from New Albany. Sanders said he met up with Skyler at 5 a.m. on Monday around New Cut and West Point Roads and brought him back to the area of his house on New Cut Road. He said the last he saw of Naugle was as he left with an unknown woman in a red Chevy Blazer.

“Officer Larrimore noticed Michael Sanders to act very nervous during his conversation with him and Larrimore informed him that Skyler was not in trouble but that he had been reported as a missing person,” Busick said in his affidavit. He said Sanders provided Larrimore with his cell phone number during their conversation.

Investigators then went to speak with Mercedes Roll at her home in Salem. She denied having contact with Naugle since Friday, July 13, when she’d received a text message from him about go-carts and that Naugle had spoken with her husband on the phone. She said she’d been at work during the time investigators mentioned and couldn’t have seen or been with Naugle.

On Monday, July 23, ISP Detective David Mitchell went to speak with Sanders further about the missing person investigation. Sanders provided Mitchell with another account of the events.

Sanders told Busick and Mitchell that Naugle had informed him he was going to visit Chris Schneck, not a woman from New Albany, when Naugle asked Sanders to pick him up around 3:30 a.m. on July 16. Sanders said Naugle was at his home for about 20 minutes before a woman in a red Chevy Blazer picked him up.

Busick contacted Schneck, who said he knew Sanders from living with him in Salem. He hadn’t seen Naugle recently, but he’d talked on the phone with him about two weeks before.

Investigators questioned Sanders again, telling him that Schneck said he did know Sanders. Sanders then told officers he knew of Schneck, but didn’t know him, changing a previous statement to police.

Sanders told the investigators he’d lost his cell phone in the woods three or four days before, motioning to the woods north of his home, around the area where Naugle’s cell phone ping was last received.

The hunt is over

It was time for a search warrant. When investigators informed Sanders of this, he began walking away from them to a garden on the property and began working. When Mitchell told Sanders more troopers would be coming to assist in the search, Sanders asked what the search was for and Mitchell told him the search was being held to locate Naugle.

Soon after, Sanders left the garden and was last seen walking down East New Cut Road.

More troopers arrived with a search warrant and, after receiving permission from the landowner, Richard Morgan, troopers searched the area and found what appeared to be Naugle’s deceased body buried in a shallow grave about 75 feet away from the home in a ditch line. The body was wrapped in black plastic material, which matched the black plastic material found elsewhere on the property. Investigators found drag marks leading from the home to where the body was located. They also found evidence of the disturbance of a small boat on the bank of a pond on the property.

Officers secured the property, which was now, officially, a crime scene.

Around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, July 24, Pekin Town Marshal Jeff Thomas and ISP Troopers Kenon Ward and Jeremy Simcoe were outside the home and heard movement and sticks breaking in the woods behind the home, in the direction of where the body had been discovered the evening before, but saw no one.
Busick arrived at the scene about 20 minutes later and remained in his vehicle for about 10 minutes about 150 feet from the house. Then he heard a loud thud and a commotion coming from the east side of the home.

Officers converged on the area where the sound came from and heard what they believed were footsteps on the porch and someone running away. They called out to the mystery runner, but the individual fled into the woods.

Busick found a blue butane torch that was hissing where the valve was slightly opened and a search of the home yielded no one present.

By 9 a.m., ISP CSI Tech Phil D’Angelo arrived at the scene and reviewed photographs he’d taken the day before. A photo of the east side of the home clearly showed the torch sitting on a table above where the officers located on the ground. Officers believe the torch’s falling to the ground made the sound they heard.

Busick said in his report it wasn’t uncommon for Sanders to spend days in the woods, given his prior survival training learned during his tours in the military. He said be believes Sanders had been trying to access the home that morning.

Making a case

On Wednesday, July 25, an autopsy was performed on the body found on the property. The cause of death: a gunshot wound to the head.

Examiners couldn’t be certain of the identity, though tattoos located on the body matched Naugle’s. Investigators also found a plastic shotgun wadding “within organic matter” inside the body bag. Police said while the body has not been 100 percent positively identified as Naugle by coroner's standards, for the ISP investigative and probable cause standards, the body was identified as Naugle.

"If for some unknown reason the identification changes, it will be corrected," reads a media release from the Indiana State Police. "However, it does not matter if the found body turns out to be someone different, Michael Joseph Sanders would still have been arrested for murder."

Investigators spoke with Brandi Morgan, Sanders’s sister, who said she saw Sanders walking on the property with a “short” shotgun on Saturday, July 14, shooting multiple rounds into the pond in front of the home. She said she messaged their mother about Sanders owning and firing the gun. Trinity Cole, Morgan’s boyfriend, also saw Sanders shooting multiple rounds into the pond. He described the shotgun as a “single-shot sawed-off shotgun.” This was also confirmed by Richard Morgan, Brandi Morgan’s father, who told Busick the gun was a .20 gauge sawed-off shotgun he personally owned and kept at the residence above the front door. He said he contacted Sanders on Sunday, July 15, and asked him what he was doing and Sanders told him he was shooting at raccoons and had only shot twice. Morgan said he told Sanders to stop shooting the shotgun. Richard Morgan said he had gone to the home on July 16 and unloaded the gun, disassembled it and wrapped it in a jacket before placing it in the basement of the home. Richard Morgan also told investigators he had a large, black roofing-type material covering a lawn mower in the rear of the residence.

Officers found a gun matching the Morgans’ and Cole’s descriptions on top of the pool table covered with an article of clothing. The gun had been dissembled. They also found a burn pile located behind the residence on the south side of the home. Nearby, they found a .20 gauge shotgun shell casing and wadding, consistent with the plastic shotgun wadding discovered within the body bag. They also found a large piece of black plastic sheeting material similar to what the body was found wrapped in. When they checked the lawn mower Richard Morgan told them about, they found it was missing the material Morgan said he’d draped it with.

Officers also found a round-nose shovel on the property, crusted with fresh soil consistent with the soil where the body was found, along with a five-gallon bucket with a small amount of the same soil. Crime scene technicians used Luminol to test the area of the property where the body was discovered. The testing showed a trail from where the shotgun casing was discovered near the burn pile to the location where the body was buried.

“All of which has given me probable cause to believe that the crime of murder, a felony, has been committed by Michael Sanders,” reads Busick’s affidavit.

Sanders was later found by an Austin City Police Officer while on the hunt for a stolen gold 2007 Ford Focus. The officer stopped him near Boatman and York roads in Austin. Sanders was incarcerated at the Washington County Jail.

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