Case #: 114-86
County: Atlantic County
Date of Last Contact: September 14, 1986
Date of Birth: September 17, 1984
Weight: 30 lbs.
According to her mother, who is also named Bonita, Bonita Karen Sanders was last seen on September 14, 1986 strapped in a stroller on her front porch in the Virginia Court Apartments in the 900 block of Baltic Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey at 6:00 p.m. She was eating a popsicle and Bonita’s other children were playing outside at the time.
Bonita claimed that she looked outside at approximately 7:00 p.m and discovered her daughter had disappeared from her stroller. Bonita claimed she searched Baltic Avenue and the surrounding streets for Bonita Karen, but she was not located. She reported her daughter missing at approximately 8:30 p.m. The young girl has not been seen again.
Bonita Karen’s father, Abdul Salaam, was immediately eliminated as a possible suspect in his daughter’s case. He had been seeking custody of Bonita Karen at the time she vanished and was imprisoned on a robbery charge. He and Bonita were together for 8 years and Bonita had four children at the time, two of whom were Abdul’s. But the two were never legally married. Abdul has stated that he does not believe Bonita’s account of their daughters disappearance. There is a picture of Abdul Salaam posted above.
Allegedly, Bonita tried to abandon Bonita Karen at birth and also attempted to abandon another newborn after Bonita Karen disappeared. Bonita reportedly walked out of an Atlantic City hospital in 1984 and left Bonita Karen at the facility. She was not charged in that case, but Bonita did face charges when she gave birth to a son in October 1986, one month after Bonita Karen was last seen.
Bonita checked into Atlantic City Medical Center under the fake name “Laura Smith” to deliver, and was discharged on October 7, 1986. Bonita then left with her newborn son and took a cab to an Atlantic City bus terminal. She boarded a bus to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and left the baby lying face-down in a terminal restroom in Atlantic City, where he was rescued shortly after.
Bonita was sentenced to nine months in jail for endangering the welfare of child in January 1987 and her three other children were placed in foster homes. She was paroled after 5 months, but served another 15 months when she was arrested for shoplifting baby clothes while on parole.
The father of Bonita’s newborn son told authorities that she lied to him and told him she had an abortion when she was pregnant with the child. He did not know she had carried the baby to term and given birth until he was contacted by law enforcement. Bonita had three more sons after the one she abandoned in 1986.
The prosecutor in Bonita’s case told the court that she was uncooperative during the investigation into Bonita Karen’s disappearance. She provided false leads and also lied to authorities. Bonita evidently never inquired as to the status of her daughter’s case.
Abdul believes that his daughter was not abducted and has asked investigators to search the yard in the back of the Virginia Court Apartments for human remains. Authorities used cadaver sniffing dogs earlier in the case but could not locate any evidence in the area.
Abdul also stated that New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) was supposed to be checking on Bonita Karen’s well-being prior to her disappearance at his request. DYFS claims they arrived at the Sander’s residence, only to discover no one was home during their first visit. By the time DYFS prepared for a second attempt to see Bonita Karen, she had vanished.
Abdul Salaam still continues to search for his daughter.
In 2009, authorities began searching a wooded area in Pleasantville, New Jersey for Bonita Karen’s remains. Reportedly, Bonita’s best friend went to the police and said Bonita had buried her daughter there.
Nothing was recovered at the search site, and investigators discontinued their efforts after a week. A forensic anthropologist noted that given Bonita Karen’s age and the amount of time that has passed since her disappearance, it’s possible that even if her body had been there at one time, there would be no trace of it now.
Some law enforcement officials believe that Bonita Karen may have choked to death on the popsicle stick she was holding on the day of her disappearance and was buried somewhere off the family’s residence. There is however, no evidence to support this theory.
Bonita Karen’s disappearance remains unsolved and is still open. Police now believe she was never kidnapped, but died on the day she vanished.
If you have any information, please contact the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800