Soldier Arrested 40 Years After Girl, 5, Was Abducted on Her Way to School and Later Found Dead

“The guy is a complete monster,” Seaside Police Chief Nicholas Borges tells PEOPLE. “He's every person's nightmare. The world is a safer place with this guy off the streets”

Anne Pham
Anne Pham. Photo: Courtesy Seaside Police

A Nevada man has been arrested and charged with the decades-old murder of Anne Pham, the 5-year-old elementary school student who was abducted on her way to her kindergarten class.

Robert John Lanoue, 70, a former Fort Ord soldier, was charged July 7 with one count of first-degree murder, with special circumstance allegations that he killed Anne while committing kidnapping and a lewd act on a child under the age of 14.

"The guy is a complete monster," Seaside Police Chief Nicholas Borges tells PEOPLE. "He's every person's nightmare. The world is a safer place with this guy off the streets."

Anne's gruesome 1982 slaying shocked California's Monterey County city of Seaside.

The girl was abducted on her way to her kindergarten class just before 11 a.m. on Jan. 21 of that year.

The youngest of 10 siblings, she had convinced her mother that she wanted to walk the few blocks to school alone.

"Normally she walked to school with her mom but on this particular day it was raining, and she convinced her mom and older brother she wanted to walk to school herself," Borges previously told PEOPLE.

She never made it.

Her body was found on the Fort Ord Army base by Army investigators two days later about one mile away from her elementary school, near a shooting range.

She had been suffocated and sexually assaulted, according to police.

Borges says Lanoue lived around the corner from Anne and her family.

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"You could throw a rock from his house to hers, no problem," he says. "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's no way you don't see 10 children about a property every single day. He just saw prey when he drove by."

Lanoue, then 29, was never a suspect at the time, and Anne's case eventually went cold.

"This guy was never on the radar," says Borges. "Never. This guy was totally hidden in plain view, just right there."

Lanoue, who lives in Reno, eventually left the area and spent more than 20 years in prison for sexual assault offenses, according to Borges. He was in jail on a probation violation at the time of his arrest.

In 2020, Monterey County District Attorney's Office Cold Case Task Force and the Seaside Police Department reopened Anne's case and submitted evidence for DNA testing.

"A new type of DNA testing not previously available to earlier investigators identified Lanoue as the suspect in Pham's murder," the district attorney's office said in a press release.

"The DNA process, it is a newer technology, but it hasn't been used in a criminal conviction previously," Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni tells PEOPLE. "This involves DNA which doesn't come from the root of a hair."

"I wish that he would've been caught earlier, because this guy went on with his life, to just create havoc and horror wherever he went," says Borges. "She was a five-year-old little girl in this country to start her life, to make her family proud and to just live the American dream and that in and of itself is just heartbreaking. This family fled from Vietnam. They fled from war. The United States of America was paradise for the family. So never in their wildest dreams did they think coming here and being in this cute little town, even though it was rough back then, would result in losing their little angel."

Lanoue is currently being held in custody in the state of Nevada and is awaiting extradition back to California. He has yet to enter a plea.

Anyone who has information about Pham's case is encouraged to contact DA Investigator Justin Bell at 831-755-5070.

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