Sandra Cantu Found in a Suitcase; Police Closing In on Suspect

Sandra Cantu was found stuffed into a suitcase, 10 days after going missing.

ByABC News
March 30, 2009, 3:28 PM

April 7, 2009— -- Police say they are closing in on a suspect in the death of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, whose body was found stuffed into a suitcase Monday, 10 days after the second-grader vanished from the mobile home park where she lived.

"It's not as big a mystery as it was," before, said Tracy, Calif., police Sgt. Tony Sheneman to, "and we believe we're getting significantly closer."

"We're hopeful that we will have something in the next couple of days," he said.

The discovery of the suitcase by farmworkers brought a tragic end to a massive search that had enveloped the town. Police were aided by hundreds of volunteers, dogs, horses and the FBI.

In the end, it was a twice-yearly practice of draining a collection pond used for irrigation that led police to Sandra's body.

When the pond, about 125 to 150 yards long and about 30 yards wide, began to empty, the suitcase appeared.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had translated missing posters into Spanish to alert the largely Spanish-speaking population, many of them migrant workers, that live in the area.

"They saw the suitcase come up to the surface and thought it was odd," Sheneman said.

When the luggage was opened at the morgue, investigators found Sandra's body inside, still dressed in the pink Hello Kitty T-shirt and black leggings she was wearing March 27, the day she disappeared.

Autopsy results are expected later today.

Sandra's uncle Joe Chavez declined to comment on her death, telling that "the family has no comment" right now.

Barbara Sokoloski, the family's neighbor in the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, told today that everyone there is "devastated."

Sandra, along with other neighborhood children, would often visit her home to get homework help or play games with her son's girlfriend. Sokoloski said she bought Sandra the Hello Kitty shirt for her birthday a few weeks earlier.

"She just liked to visit with people," Sokoloski said. "She was an innocent, sweet girl."

Last month, Sandra's aunt Angie Chavez described the little girl as "bright, bubbly and friendly" who loved Hannah Montana and visiting her friends in the neighborhood.

Sheneman declined to elaborate on possible suspects in the case. Police have questioned everyone that lived in the 100-home trailer park, including a man police and Sandra's family have said was looked at closely after kissing the little girl on the mouth at the park's pool nearly two years ago.

Area television station KCRA identified that man as Frank Wohler, who told them that he had nothing to do with her disappearance and that he kissed her at the pool "to be nice." Wohler also said the police had taken "a couple of CDs" from him.

Local news media have also reported that Sandra's father, Daniel Cantu, who has been living in Mexico and had little contact with his daughter, was also interviewed, but not detained.

Sheneman said he could not comment on whether or not Cantu was a person of interest in the case.