Mark Bumpers was standing behind his Red Bird home late on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 26, when a stranger walked by. In one arm, he carried a leaf blower. Tucked beneath the other was a DVD player. He pushed an electric lawnmower with his free hand.
The man paused when he saw Bumpers. Would he like to buy anything? No? He dug in his pockets and produced a half dozen rings and two women's watches. Still no? The man shrugged and continued through the alley.
Bumpers probably suspected the things were stolen. What he didn't know at the time was that they belonged to a neighbor, 73-year-old Penny Terk, who'd just been strangled, stabbed and shot to death in a home scarcely a block away.
Terk's fate wouldn't become clear until two days later, when her daughter, worried by her mother's silence, stopped by the house to check on her. Pushing open the unlocked front door, she could see the house had been ransacked. She quickly backed out and called police, who found the body.
Terk's death sparked bewilderment among those who knew her. She was a kind woman, a former actress whose primary vice was organizing book clubs. They couldn't fathom what type of person would murder her over a few pieces of electronics and some jewelry.
Detectives, on the other hand, had a pretty good idea. The day after Terk's body was discovered, they lifted a set of fingerprints from an Ozarka water bottle found in the home and matched them to Gary Anthony Sanders, a 51-year-old ex-con with a history of burglary and aggravated robbery.
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They met with Sanders' girlfriend later that day. She hadn't been with him on the afternoon of the 26th, but he'd called her the next morning to pick him up from his hotel room at the Grand Inn on Camp Wisdom Road. She noticed that he had some small cuts on his hand and a drop of blood on his white shorts. She gave detectives a pair of blood-stained Nikes he had left at her apartment.
The cops showed up at Sanders' hotel room the next day, June 30, but the woman who answered the door said he wasn't there. A detective, eying the three rings and silver watch adorning the woman's hand, told her he was investigating a murder involving the theft of jewelry.
The woman immediately began pulling the rings off her fingers. "He gave this to me; it's not mine," she said. Sanders had left them on the bed stand when he'd left three days earlier. She's assumed they were for her. She handed them over to police, who confirmed their provenance after they were identified by Terk's daughter.
Sanders was arrested that same day on burglary charges but was described only as a "person of interest." Later, the results of a DNA test on Sanders' Nikes revealed that the blood on the shoes belonged to Terk. Police announced today that Sanders has been charged with capital murder.