Debunking Girl Wanted

"We read but don't write down
I wanna hear
The truth right now"
- The Fix
I met Sarah Pender through an act of kindness.

It happened in 2010. Under the banner of the unofficial Florence Cassez Steuncomite Wervik, I launched a Mail-Art project in favor of Florence Cassez, a french woman currently jailed in Mexico on false charges. Over a course of 6 months, 51 mail-artists out of more than 18 countries and spread on four continents sent something in return. Among these participations, one particularly caught my attention : It bore the very unartistic stamp of the Indiana Department Of Correction which stated : "This stamp identifies this correspondence as having been mailed by an offender incarcerated at the above mentionned correctional institution."   The postcard had been sent by Sarah Jo Pender, a woman I'd never heard about. In the mysterious, wonderful, and typical way of the mail-art Network, My mail art call had reached someone in the most unexpected place : going through prison walls into the small cell of a prisonner placed in solitary confinement.

Out of curiosity, I googled her name : astonishing page titles popped up. Apparently, I was dealing with the "Female Charles Manson" ! Most answers the search engine gave me had to do with her 2008 escape from Rockville Correctional Facility. On that occasion, she had been placed on the US marshals' most wanted list. An american TV show, "America's Most Wanted" had run a feature about her on several occasions, leading to her capture. In a Fox news article published in September 2008, a prosecutor named Larry Sells made a particularly scary depiction of Sarah Pender. "Lurking within is a dark evil demon , he said, She has the ability to seduce others into committing atrocious acts. She's like Charles Manson.  Besides having a Jeckyll/Hyde personality, she has a Charles Manson-like ability to manipulate people to act as surrogates for her to commit crimes."  The fact that this woman, according to news reports, had seduced a prison guard, Scott Spitler, and had mentally controlled him to such an extent that he'd actually helped her to escape did corroborate this idea.  In the days following her escape, Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner Edwin Buss had told a local TV crew : "She had manipulated him to the point where [he had planned his day] to get a vehicle inside the facility and then take her outside the facility,"

If information about Sarah Jo Pender's 2008 jail break was easy to come by, information about the crimes for which she had been condemned were scarce and sketchy at best. Searching further and deeper into the web, I slowly began to piece out the events - the crime - for which she had been condemned to life in jail. I'd expected to read about crazy followers going on murder sprees, as had been the case with Charles Manson or Yahweh Ben Yahweh. I had expected collective suicide as with the Heaven's Gate cult. I found none of this. What I uncovered was a cheap white trash murder - actually a double homicide - that took place more than 10 years ago in the suburb of Indianapolis.

In october 2000, Sarah Pender's former boyfriend, Richard Hull, had shot their roommates Andrew Cataldi and Tricia Nordman. The two victims were fugitives from Nevada. Along with Hull, they were engaged in heavy drug dealing.  Sarah Pender (the only one in the household who held a legitimate job, by the way) had been accused of having planned the murder because she'd bought the murder weapon at a Wal-mart on the very morning of the murder and later, after coming home from a walk and finding herself at a fresh murder scene, had helped get rid of the bodies. Both were thrown away in a dumpster four blocks from the place where the two couples lived. What was mansonesque about a killing over drug money eluded me.  Buying a gun in one's own name on the morning of a murder, getting rid of two dead bodies almost right at one's doorsteps struck me as pure stupidity, rather than clever planning by an evil mastermind.

While searching extra info on Scott Spitler, the prison guard who helped Sarah Pender, I made a startling discovery.  A fact that went completely contrary to the depiction of a man controlled by a femme fatale.  Spitler's court papers contained information that no media - and certainly not America's Most Wanted - had ever revealed.  Scott Spitler had put a price tag on Sarah Pender's freedom and expected a $15, 000 payment for his "help".  For a man supposed to have been seduced beyond reason, this prison guard certainly hadn't lost sight of his own financial interests. How could anyone seriously pretend that such an opportunist and corrupt man had been manipulated against his better judgment ?

From that moment on, I became convinced that something was wrong with the way Sarah Pender had been depicted in the media. Comparing Sarah Pender to Charles Manson was not only a gross exaggeration, but also pure defamation. Furthermore, over the course of time, reading online and purchasing court documents, I became convinced that Sarah Pender had been condemned to a life sentence by means of forged evidence and extremely dubious testimony.

Still, I was hungry for more information than just those I found online. I was curious about what she did during her four months of freedom. While we exchanged letters, I never asked her about it : knowing her mail could be intercepted and read, I doubted very much she'd volunteer anything about her escape.  I didn't want to be lied to and the best way to make sure this would not happen was to not put her in a position where she might have to lie to me.  But I was curious and for that reason, I waited impatiently for the publication of "Girl, Wanted; the chase for Sarah Pender", which was supposed to shed light on the matter. A few weeks before its official release, I pre-ordered it on the website. Unfortunatly, when the Fox network began to report on the book, it was plain I would be in for a huge disappointment. When I finally began to read the book, armed with my knowledge about the case, it was plain from page 2 on that Steve Miller was hiding key elements about the case in order to mislead the readers, demonize Sarah Pender, and give credibility to a personal theory which amounts to a work of fiction.

In the following pages, I will show, quoting from Miller's book, that he could not ignore certain information, and deliberately lied by omission about key facts of the case. While Miller makes it impossible to source his "information", I will provide, as much as possible, references. What I present here is NOT Sarah Pender's version of facts : these are court records and testimonies by witnesses. These are truths suppressed by Steve Miller.  You be the judge.

The first postcard I received from Sarah Jo Pender
was an act of kindness and altruism