Ex-Soldier arrested four decades after the rape and murder of five-year-old Anne Sang Thi Pham in 1982

July 12, 2022

This post contains mention of the abuse and murder of a child. Reader discretion is advised.

Genetic genealogy has aided investigators in the arrest of Reno resident, Robert John Lanoue, who was charged last week with raping and murdering five-year-old Anne Sang Thi Pham in 1982.

Anne lived with her parents, Tuong Pham and Nu Lui Pham, at 1520 Sonoma Avenue in Seaside, Monterrey County, California, and was one of ten children. Despite being just five years old, Anne Pham was very responsible, getting herself ready for school each morning, ever conscious of the time.

She was born in Beaumont, Texas in 1976, the first of her siblings to be born on U.S soil, and was named after St. Anne's Catholic church. St. Anne’s sponsored the Pham family when they came to the United States and meant a lot to them.

Her parents were refugees who had fled Vietnam in 1975. Her father, Tuong, had been elected president of the Vietnamese Catholic community in Seaside just a few months before his daughter's murder and prior to relocating to the U.S had worked as a fisherman as well as a soldier fighting against Viet Minh.

It was not easy for Tuong to support his large family in Texas, so the Pham family moved to Seaside, California in the late seventies, with the hope that Tuong could once again work as a fisherman like he had done back home in Vietnam.

On the morning of January 21, 1982, little Anne, just five years old at the time, asked her mother and older brother if she could walk by herself to Kindergarten at the nearby Highland Elementary school. It was a rainy morning in California, and Anne, the youngest of the siblings, usually walked to school with her mother and brother, however, that day- she wanted to walk alone. As the school was just a few blocks away, a five minute walk heading east on Sonoma Avenue towards Vallejo Street, Anne’s mother agreed, and the kindergartener left the house that day alone, never to return.

Anne was quickly reported missing by her distraught family.

Her body was discovered at Fort Ord by Military police on the afternoon of January 23, 1982, two days after she went missing, near South Boundary Road. Up until its closure in 1994, Fort Ord was a United States Army post built on Monterey Bay of the Pacific Ocean coast of California. Military officers stumbled upon the child’s body while searching for evidence of a marijuana growing operation in the vicinity of the post.

It was later revealed that Anne Pham had been raped and strangled to death before being dumped in the brush near Fort Ord.

Despite their best efforts, police had no leads, and without a suspect or any information to go on, the case inevitably went cold.

Following Anne’s murder, the family immediately began to fear for the safety of their other children and felt they no longer wanted to live in the area and instantly began to discuss relocating. The expenses of Anne’s funeral were too costly for the family; however, A trust fund was set up to help the family, overseen by Allstate Savings and Loan on South Main Street, Salinas and the account number printed in The Californian paper.

The murder went unsolved for over four decades, but a recent injection of cash into the investigation of the long-unsolved cold case, was the push investigators needed to evaluate evidence and nail their suspect. Anne Pham's case was reopened in 2020 and DNA from the crime scene was submitted for testing.

A warrant for a Mr. Robert John Lanoue arrest was obtained July 6, 2022, at the time, the suspect was being held in the Washoe County jail for a violation of his parole.

Robert John Lanoue, now seventy years old, was once a soldier stationed at Fort Ord at the time of Pham's rape and murder. The suspect, who escaped justice for over forty years, and is a registered sex offender in Nevada, was arrested last week and charged with one count of first-degree murder, with special circumstance allegations that he murdered Anne Pham in 1982 while committing kidnapping and a lewd act on a child under the age of fourteen.

At the time of Pham’s kidnap, rape, and murder, Lanoue, who would have been around thirty years old, lived just a stones-throw away from the victim’s home and would have seen her grieving family often after callously taking their youngest daughters’ life.

In an interview with PEOPLE magazine, Seaside Police Chief Nicholas Borges said of Robert Lanoue: “The guy is a complete monster, he's every person's nightmare. The world is a safer place with this guy off the streets.”  

Borges admitted that Lanoue was never a suspect, adding: “You could throw a rock from his house to hers, no problem. He had to go and drive by her house every day when he left his home. Every single day in this man's life, he had to drive by her home. And there is no way you don't see ten children about a property every single day. He just saw prey when he drove by.”

Evading arrest, Lanoue went on to continue committing crimes against children, and according to Nevada state prison records, had a 1998 conviction of lewdness with a minor, possession of child pornography and the use of a minor in producing pornography. He was incarcerated for almost two decades for his crimes, before being released on parole around 2017.

Robert Lanoue is currently being held in Washoe County Jail while he awaits extradition to California to face the charges against him- however, more recent reports state that he has waived extradition to Monterey County, California.

Sources: [X][X][X][X][X]

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