DULUTH — Authorities in New Mexico have accidentally put Robert Craig Sandman, a once-convicted murderer tied to the scene of a Gwinnett man's death, back on the streets.
Sandman was arrested April 7 after “being a nuisance” outside a casino in San Felipe Pueblo, N.M. Officials from the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office eventually learned that he was wanted some 1,400 miles away in Gwinnett County, charged with stealing the Porsche of 57-year-old Donald Singer — the Duluth man found dead inside his Montheath Pass garage on March 28.
Sandman was held in the Sandoval County Jail while supposedly awaiting extradition. For a while, anyway.
Duluth police discovered just last week that a court order dated May 13 erroneously set Sandman free. While he’s not been charged in Singer’s death, he has been described as a person of interest.
Now nobody knows where he is.
“We’re still trying to determine exactly what happened in New Mexico,” Duluth Police Maj. Don Woodruff said Monday. “But … we are more importantly trying to find (Sandman) to re-arrest him.”
Singer’s daughter reportedly found his body wrapped in blankets on the garage floor of his home, authorities also noting a ladder set up overhead, a broken window pane and the “overwhelming” smell of bleach wafting through the air. His 1988 Porsche 944 was missing from the scene.
Warrants for theft by taking were issued for Sandman six days after Singer’s body was found. The Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled the cause of the death undetermined, but police are working the case as a homicide.
For three months, local authorities thought they were waiting for Sandman to be extradited for questioning. They were notified officially on Friday that their suspect, convicted 20 years prior for the murder of his wife, had been on the loose for almost two of those months.
“Sandoval County advised they notified authorities here in Georgia (of Sandman’s pending release),” Woodruff said. “As far as we know, they did not notify this agency or the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department Extradition Unit.”
Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Rich Vandever said a hold was placed on Sandman shortly after his arrest in New Mexico, but that there was “no further communication” between agencies.
“The extradition process was never started because New Mexico didn’t let the SO know that they were no longer going to hold him on their charges,” Vandever said. “Because of the hold that was put on Sandman, the SO should have been notified that Sandman was going to be released so that the extradition process could start.”
Deputy Shannon Volkadov of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office echoed Vandever's sentiment.
"The sheriff's office did place a hold on the individual with Sandoval County, however they did not send the necessary paperwork back to us," she said. "It was erroneously sent to another agency."
Sandman was also charged with violation of probation.
Messages left with officials from the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office were not immediately returned Monday.
According to reports from KRQE-TV in New Mexico, Sandman previously served nine years in prison after admitting to the 1992 murder of his wife.
“Virginia Sandman’s body was found floating in the Pecos River just hours after her husband had reported her missing,” the station said. “Investigators say she had obvious signs of trauma on her body.”
Duluth police have denied any direct connection between Sandman and Singer. That said, Sandman was released from a Georgia prison just two days before Singer’s body was found — after serving a 10-month sentence stemming from a violent relationship with a former girlfriend, who lived just two houses down from Singer.
The Sandoval County Jail is in Bernalillo, N.M., about 15 miles north of Albuquerque and, depending on the route, less than 300 miles from the Mexican border.
Sandman also has ties to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he served his parole.