Bonita Karen Sanders

Left and Center: Bonita circa, 1986 and a sketch made of Bonita in 1986

Right: Age Progressed to age 19

Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

Missing Since: September 14, 1986

Missing From: Atlantic City, Atlantic County, New Jersey

Classification: Non-Family Abduction

Date Of Birth: September 17, 1984

Age: 1 year old

Height and Weight: 2’6″ and 30 pounds

Distinguishing Characteristics: African American Female, Black hair, Brown eyes, Bonita has a slight deformity on one of her hands, she has a abdominal hernia scar as well as a scar located on the joint of her left joint and was known to be left handed, she might use the nickname “Nita”

Clothing/Jewelry Description: A short sleeved yellow shirt, blue pants, and a pair of blue/white sandals

NCMEC Number: 601887

Details of Disappearance

Bonita Karen was last seen in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 14th 1986. She was last seen strapped in her stroller on the porch of her family’s residence in the Virginia Court Apartments in the 900 block of Baltic Avenue. Bonita was eating a popsicle as her siblings played outside at the time.

Her mother, Bonita, stated that she checked outside at approximately 7:00 pm that evening and noticed that Bonita Karen had disappeared. She would go on the state that she searched all of Baltic Avenue and surrounding areas for her before reporting her disappearance to authorities at approximately 8:30 pm.

Investigators looked at both of Bonita Karen’s parents in her disappearance. Her father, Abdul Salaam, was quickly ruled out as a suspect in her disappearance. He had been seeking to gain custody of his daughter and was in prison at the time for robbery. He and Bonita were together for 8 years by the time their daughter vanished.

They had four children during the relationship and two of them were Abduls but the pair had emend actually married. Salaam has told investigators that he never believed the events about Bonita’s disappearance to be true and he also doubts she was abducted by someone unknown to her.

After Bonita Karen’s birth, Bonita attempted to abandon her at the Atlantic City hospital where she had been born in 1984. She was not charged with any wrongdoing in relation to that incident.

In October of 1986, Bonita gave birth to a baby boy. She had checked into the Atlantic City Medical Center under the alias name “Laura Smith”. She was discharged from the hospital on October 7th 1986 and she left with her newborn son. She reportedly took a cab to an Atlantic City bus terminal where she caught a bus to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Before getting on the bus, Bonita left her newborn son lying facedown in the terminal bathroom. He was found and rescued shortly afterwards. She was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child. She was sentenced to 9 months in prison in January of 1987. Her three other children were placed in foster care and sent to a home.

She was paroled after serving 5 months but was sentenced to another 15 months after she was caught shoplifting baby cloths while on parole. The newborn sons father told investigators that Bonita had lied to him and said she had an abortion while she was still pregnant.

He was completely unaware that she had carried the baby to term and gave birth until he was contacted by police following her arrest. She would go on to have 3 more sons afterwards.

The prosecutor in Bonita’s abandonment case has told the court that she has been uncooperative in the investigation into her daughters 1986 disappearance. She also allegedly lied to investigators about her daughters disappearance and provided false and unreliable leads about her daughters whereabouts.

She never even asked investigators about the status of the investigation into her daughters disappearance. They along with Salaam believe that Bonita is possibly dead. He asked investigators to search the area behind the Virginia Court Apartments for her possible remains. Authorities did use cadaver dogs in the initial investigation and found nothing in that area.

In 2009, authorities started to search a wooded area in Pleasantville, New Jersey for the child’s remains. This search occurred because Bonita’s best friend went to investigators and stated that Bonita had buried her daughters body at that location. After a week of searching, nothing was found and investigators called stage search off.

It’s possible that even if Bonita Karen had been buried at the location specified, her remains might be unrecoverable due to her age and the fact that 23 years had passed since she disappeared.

Salaam chaos told investigators the New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services was to check on Bonita Karen’s well being and health prior to her disappearance. He had requested them to do so. They did in fact go the family’s residence but found that no one was at home.

By the time they planned another visit, Bonita had disappeared. Abdul continues to search for his long missing daughter. He believes that her mother knows more about her disappearance then she has told to investigators.

Investigators believe that Bonita was not abducted but rather died on the day she vanished and was buried to conceal her death. Some investigators believe that she may have choked to death on the popsicle stock she had that day but there’s no evidence to support this. Her mother has never been publicly named a suspect in the child’s case.

Bonita’s disappearance remains open and is considered unsolved. Her case is still listed as a non family abduction. Her sister held a memorial service for her in 2010.

Investigating Agency

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:

Atlantic City Prosecutors Office – Major Crimes Unit 609-645-7700

Source Information

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

The Charley Project

The Doe Network


Press of Atlantic City 01/30/2010

Press of Atlantic City 05/06/2009