Former soldier arrested and charged 40 years after abducting, then killing 5-year-old girl on her way to school

A Nevada man has been formally charged with one count of first-degree murder, with special circumstance allegations that he killed 5-year-old Anne Pham in 1982 while committing kidnapping and a lewd act on a child under the age of 14.

Robert John Lanoue, now 70, managed to fly under the radar for decades. But in 2020 the Seaside Police Department and Monterey County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Task Force reopened the case.

“A new type of DNA testing not previously available to earlier investigators identified Lanoue as the suspect in Pham’s murder.”

Anne’s family fled Vietnam and “were refugees on a boat, somewhere out at sea when the U.S. Navy intercepted them and brought them to the United States.”

They lived in Seaside, California for two years before the youngest of 10 siblings, Anne, was born.

On January 21, 1982, Anne convinced her mother to let her walk to school. Typically, she’d walk with her mother, but it was raining and she managed to convince both her mom and older brother she was capable of going herself.

“She never made it to the school. The teachers never saw her. It’s really frustrating from my perspective, because it’s literally just up the street,” Seaside Police Chief Nicholas Borges told People.

“She was very quiet and very careful,” Borges said. “She’s not the type of girl based on what her family said that’s going to have a car pull up and someone say, ‘Hey, can you come help me find my dog? Or ‘Here’s some candy and get in a car.’ Something happened swiftly.”

Her body was found two days later on the Fort Ord Army base. Her remains were found near the shooting range. She had been dumped approximately two miles from her home.

She had been suffocated and sexually assaulted.

Despite officials best efforts, her killer was never caught.

Cold case

Her case went cold, and Anne’s family went without justice for decades until in 2020 the police and district attorney’s newly formed cold case task force reopened the case.

“Whoever is responsible for this is a monster,” Borges said.

Officials once again asked the public for help, and thanks to new technology not previously available to investigators, officials had a suspect: Robert John Lanoue of Reno, Nevada.


“It’s a very strong case. DNA has a large part, genealogy has a large part and circumstantial evidence, in this case, is extremely powerful,” Interim Seaside Police Chief Nick Borges said in February 2022. “The suspect lived about a block and a half away from Anne Pham.”

Borges admitted Lanoue was never on their radar, despite his close proximity to the Phams’ house.

Following the abduction and murder of Anne, he left the area and moved to Reno. He served more than 20 years in prison for sexual assault offenses and at the time of his arrest he was in jail on a probation violation.

“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.”

Lanoue is currently in Nevada waiting to be extradited to California.

It’s sickening how this man got away with so much for decades. Let’s hope this puts him away for good.