EDGEFIELD COUNTY, SC (WJBF) – A local family wants justice after an Edgefield County man’s murder during a home invasion. The crime from more than a decade ago is this month’s Cold Case Project.
Nearly 11 years ago, the lives of a mother, brother and two young girls changed when someone broke into the home of Larry Donnell Sanders Jr and left him dead. But before we talk about how his life ended, we want to shine a light on his 28 years here.
“We called Larry LJ,” his mother, Carolyn Bates said. “Everybody knew him as LJ.”
Bates and LJ’s brother, DeJuan Sanders, sat down with the Cold Case Project still hopeful that one day the right information will surface to solve the murder and bring them closure. While Sanders may be gone, the memories those closest to him are left with, are not.
“He was a very, very hyper, energetic, had this attitude, I’m going to do what I want to do,” his mom reflected.
And he did just that, his mom told us, charting out a life for himself that was set apart from what children normally aspire to do.
“When he was younger, he really didn’t say I want to be a police officer or a fireman or anything like that,” Bates said. “He did want to be an underwater welder.”
Eventually, that dream moved closer to becoming a reality. Bates said her son enrolled in Aiken Technical College to become that welder. And for two years he worked on that goal. And during that time, his younger brother remembers a very strong willed man who sometimes made decisions that caused DeJuan to step in as older brother.
“I remember he was working at Walmart and I want to say the car broke down or something,” DeJuan Sanders recalled. “One way or another, he used to have to walk to work. It wasn’t a bad walk, but he had to walk to work. He didn’t want to do it, ‘man I think I’m going to quit.’ ‘Dude, just go to work, save your money, you can get you a new car.’ He wasn’t trying to hear that.”
Along with that strong will came some challenges, which Bates said improved when Sanders had his two girls.
“He changed. He matured. Started being more responsible,” LJ’s mother shared of the past. “He and I relationship was just so much better because I think he was able to relate to being a parent.”
Not long before Sanders was killed, his brother said a shocking, similar incident happened when LJ lived in Chalet North Court Apartments in North Augusta.
He told us, “Somebody tried to break into the apartment and so he moved out. He stayed in a hotel for a week or two until he found another house to move to. He moved to that house. Things were quiet for a minute and I heard there was a few situations where him and someone didn’t get along.”
Sanders said his brother did not report the break-in, he only left because he felt unsafe. And his brother said he was never scared.
“You got kids now, you’re going to school so you have stuff to live for,” DeJuan Sanders believed.
“July 10. Lord, have mercy,” Bates sighed when asked about the day her son was killed.
It was a day that started out like any other day for Bates who said she went to work that Saturday and enjoyed an evening out. And then the clock hit midnight and her youngest son, DeJuan, called.
“I heard he was dead, but I guess me saying did someone call the ambulance would make me feel better thinking that once the ambulance gets there he would be ok,” she hoped.
But LJ was not.
An incident report from Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office details some of what happened on the day Sanders was killed at his home on the 100 block of Eagle Road, in the Merriwether community near Fox Creek High School. The responding officer searched outside the mobile home for a suspect. Then he went inside and found LJ shot to death on the floor of his bedroom. Also in the room was LJ’s 19-year-old girlfriend at the time, Cali Whitaker. The report states she was covered in his blood after attempting to give him CPR.
Bates described the scene of the crime when she arrived at her son’s home.
“I do remember just a lot of screaming. Then when I pulled up to the house and saw all the police cars and the people outside and the yellow tape, it was real then.”
DeJuan described his moment too.
“I look at my phone I have over 15 missed calls.”
Before he made that call to his mother, DeJuan was asleep at home. And then he received a knock at the door.
“Went to the door, my friend was at the door and he came in and told me what happened,” he said.
As he drove to his brother’s home, DeJuan began reflecting on the two weeks leading up to that moment, the break-in and LJ’s beef with someone. But this July makes 11 years since that tragic night and still there have been no arrests.
“All these people around my brother all the time, somebody got to know something,” the younger Sanders told us, adding that his brother had a lot of people in his life he called friend.
Edgefield County Sheriff Jody Rowland spoke with us about the case. He said South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) joined local investigators to look into how someone broke in Sanders’ back door that day and killed him.
Sheriff Rowland said, “Some people were in South Carolina penitentiaries at the time, but friends, neighbors, some of the acquaintances of Sanders and the girlfriend were all interviewed.”
Sheriff Rowland, who was not leading the office back in 2010, said investigators put in hours on the case. And he said there is more to the shooting, calling it suspicious because it links Sanders to a drug business.
“The investigation in this case turned a lot of witnesses who related to us the workings of drug deals that were in and out of the Sanders home, in and out of the Eagle Road area,” said Sheriff Rowland who took office in January 2021 and not wanting to release too many details about the case.
We also know that investigators said witnesses reported seeing a red car leaving Sanders’ home that night. No make or model was given. And the same type of vehicle may have been spotted by witnesses in another break-in less than two miles from Sanders’ home in a mobile home park on Hayes Drive. That’s when deputies found 22-year-old David Banks dead, laying face down in the grass and connected to a blood trail from another mobile home. Investigators believe that incident is drug and gang related, but the homeowner justifiably killed that suspect.
It’s a narrative the family said they’ve heard from law enforcement before.
“Four of them,” DeJuan Sanders said about a time when he was questioned. “They called me and my friend in. We thinking we about to answer some questions. It almost felt like they were interrogating us as far as drugs. It wasn’t even nothing about my brother.”
LJ’s ex-fiancé, Monique Moore, shared with us off camera that her friend and child’s father left his negative past after high school.
It was one that included being in a gang and even getting shot in December of 2000, a case that turned into the double murder of Richmond County teenagers Corey McMillian and Neiteka Wesbey. Sanders suffered a gunshot wound to the neck and was in critical condition during the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s reporting of the case. A fourth victim, Monique Hicks, was inside an apartment on Raeswood Drive during the shooting, but was uninjured.
While he ran with a rowdy crowd from time to time, Moore said he also loved music just like his now 15-year-old daughter does. And he even enjoyed writing and rapping, a passion that led to him opening a recording studio. His daughter, Mone’, was just four years old when she took her last trip to the zoo with dad and her sister, LJ’s other daughter who was also 4 at the time.
Moore writes in this letter to LJ years later:
It seems like yesterday that we were laughing on the phone as teenagers. Never thought that our relationship would grow into what it became. Even when we stopped dating our friendship and bond was forever. I miss the phone calls that started off with Monique what do u think about this. Or the ones that ended with ok MOM. I hate that you were taken from us way too soon. I still remember the first time you held our daughter. You were so excited that she looked like you, even though it didn’t last long. I remember laughing while saying you were loosing her and she was starting to look like me. You were robbed of seeing her grow up and become an awesome young lady. She hasn’t been able to see your bright smile or enjoy your silly personality. You didn’t get to cheer her on at award days, violin concerts, or dance the night away with her at her daddy/daughter dance. You won’t be there when she walks across the stage for her High School graduation. Those things were stolen from us. Now we only have our memories and pictures of the good times, to try to fill the void that was left in our hearts. You always said, don’t worry I’m going to handle her teenage years. I truly wish you were here to experience them with me. It’s definitely an adventure. Although we miss you, I am grateful for the time we did get to share together. As you once said, I am glad I had kids so when the day comes that I’m no longer here, apart of me will continue to live on in the world. You are missed, you’ll never be forgotten, and you’re always in our hearts.
Bates added, “I would like to think that if L was still here, on this beautiful day, he would be somewhere with his daughters.”
It’s these girls that Bates wants closure for, answers to the questions she’s sure they now have about the father who left them so soon. And for mom and brother, it’s also about not having to look over their shoulder anymore.
“You don’t know who you can trust,” DeJuan Sanders shared. “So, certain people you might go around or used to go around or used to be cool with.”
Sheriff Rowland added that people need to speak out about the case.
“We will listen to almost anything. If there is a witness, even remotely connected, we will listen, find out what they know and try to connect the dots.”
Anyone with any information about Larry Sanders Jr’s case should call the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office at 803-637-5337.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take you to McDuffie County where a community of loved ones and friends took to the streets to demand justice for Jonathan Gurley, who was shot and killed outside of his Thomson home in 2014. What the family and law enforcement need to get closure and close the case.
Photojournalist: Regynal McKie