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A ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ Of Bones: Exhumation Shows Man Killed His Dad, Staged Crime As An Accident
An Alabama businessman, Mark Landers, claimed his father died in a bulldozer accident. His dad's body told another story.
On February 12, 1992, an urgent 911 call went out in rural Wetumpka, Alabama: Robert Landers, 63, had been crushed beneath a bulldozer.
“We found the body positioned under the right track of the bulldozer,” Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin told “Exhumed: Killer Revealed,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
The bulldozer’s engine was not running, but was in reverse gear, according to court documents. The victim’s wife, Lanita, and son, Mark, who ran a construction company that owned the land where the event occurred, were at the scene.
Mark said he had asked his dad to help him clear the property and then left to attend his son’s basketball game. Mark told officials there must have been a horrific accident in which Robert slid off the machine and fell under it.
Robert’s body was taken to the morgue, while investigators observed the scene. They found no bulldozer tracks near the body, and that raised suspicions.
In the daylight, Franklin saw that chain binders that would have been crucial to making sure the bulldozer didn’t move during transport weren’t in place. The sheriff also noted that Robert’s bent eyeglasses were on the left side of the bulldozer, while the victim’s body was under the right side. Later testing revealed that type O blood, the same type as the victim’s, was located on the glasses, court documents noted.
Inconsistencies led Franklin to suspect that the scene had been staged and that Robert had been murdered. He was counting on an autopsy to prove it.
However, based an external examination, Dr. James Lauridson, the state medical examiner, said the cause of death was an accident. Robert was buried at his final resting place.
Franklin stuck to his theory, though. He enlisted help from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation for help, and they recreated the bulldozer accident. The experiment confirmed suspicions about the missing tracks on the ground and sparked new ones about the position of the bulldozer blade at the time Robert was found.
A close examination of crime scene photos showed blood on the sole of Robert’s shoe, leading to questions about what happened before he ended up beneath the bulldozer.
Investigators knew that an internal autopsy was needed and that would require an exhumation. As they waited for a court’s approval, they dug deeper into Robert’s background.
They learned that Robert — who had four children with his first wife and kids Mark, Lisa Marie, and Victoria with second wife Lanita — was having an affair. It was an open secret for family members who’d seen Robert and Lanita’s relationship go from bad to worse over time.
“They fought all the time,” said Robert and Lanita’s daughter Victoria. “They really didn’t do anything together.”
Could jealousy have been a motive for murder? Or was something else at play? The fact that Lanita served time in Tutwiler Prison for setting up frauds and schemes to defraud added a layer of complexity to the case, according to “Exhumed: Killer Revealed.”
Three weeks after Robert’s death, investigators obtained approval to exhume his body. Dr. Lauridson observed horizontal cleat marks going up the body, as he had before. He also observed something new: a vertical injury at Robert’s left temple that was not consistent with the horizontal bulldozer track marks. He noticed signs of hemorrhaging at the spot.The wound indicated that Robert had been hit in the head and was still alive when he was struck.
Lauridson focused on the victim’s skull, which was in pieces in an examination tray.
“It’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle,” he said.
When he glued the pieces back together it revealed a wound that would not have come from the weight of the bulldozer. The wound lined up exactly with the victim’s bent glasses. He concluded that Robert had been struck by something like a hammer – or possibly a chain binder – and that his death was a homicide.
In light of past scrapes with the law and her fractured marital relationship, Lanita topped the list of potential suspects. Investigators subpoenaed her financial records.
“There was a life insurance policy for $1 million that had been taken out about six months before Robert’s death,” said Franklin. But the beneficiary of the policy was not Lanita — it was his son, Mark, who told officials that his father made that choice for tax reasons.
Mark’s siblings had a different version of the events. They told producers that it took nearly a year for Mark to convince Robert to take out the policy.
Investigators considered why a businessman like Mark would want to kill his father. Mark’s family members told authorities that he lived beyond his means and was deep in debt.
According to Franklin, an insurance premium of $30,000 was coming due before Robert’s death: “Mr. Landers was either gonna have to die or Mark was gonna have to pay a $30,000 premium.”
Victoria was so convinced that Mark killed their father she agreed to wear a wire for officials. But when she tried to get him to confess to the murder, the plan failed. She suspected that Mark was aware of the trap that had been set.
By 1995, the case was at a standstill. Greg Biggs, a prosecutor with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, got involved in the case after Victoria wrote a letter seeking help.
Biggs immediately zeroed in on the $1 million payout from the life insurance policy. He believed that Mark’s company’s financial records could reveal useful information.
“Before they hand over a million dollars, they’re gonna make Mark sit for a deposition,” said Biggs, adding that the statement Mark gave under oath could be used against him.
The deposition revealed that Mark worked for insurance companies and that he’d hatched numerous schemes to commit fraud with car accidents.
While the circumstantial evidence against Mark was strong, Biggs found no signs that Lanita was involved in Robert Landers’ homicide and she was never charged in relation to Robert's death.
In October 1996, Mark Landers was arrested for his father’s murder.
During the ten-day trial ,the prosecution made its case: They alleged that Mark Landers struck his father in the head and then ran over him with the bulldozer and staged the scene as an accident, according to a Montgomery Advertiser report in 1997.
The jury returned a guilty verdict. In 1997 Mark Landers was sentenced to life without parole. He is currently serving his time in the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama.
Lanita Landers died at age 78 in 2017.
To learn more about the case, watch “Exhumed: Killer Revealed,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.