Sandra Podgorski: Cook Brothers’ Survivor is Not Publicly Active Today

Image Credit: NBC 24 WNWO/YouTube

In May 1981, Sandra Podgorski was out with her boyfriend, Thomas Gordon, living an ordinary life without anticipating the horror that awaited them. While crossing Utica Street in Toledo, Ohio, they were abducted by two unfamiliar men. The terrifying ordeal escalated when they were taken a short distance away, where Sandra was attacked and Gordon was killed. ID’s ‘People Magazine Investigates: Surviving A Serial Killer,’ episode titled ‘Surviving the Cook Brothers,’ Sandra courageously recounts the harrowing events of that night and discusses whether she eventually found any semblance of justice.

Sandra Podgorski Was Left For Dead By the Cook Brothers

On the night of May 14, 1980, Sandra Podgorski was out with her boyfriend, Thomas Gordon. At just 18, she felt her life was full of promise, eagerly anticipating all the peaks and pleasures the future held. She was in love with Gordon, the man she envisioned spending her life with, who treated her as well as she had always hoped. However, she did not know the events of the evening would change her life forever. As the couple reached Utica Street in Toledo, Ohio, they were approached by two men.

The spot where Sandra was assaulted and Gordon killed//Image Credit: WTOL 11

The men were carrying guns and were able to take control of the car that the couple was driving in. They took them, physically overpowered them, and drove them to Lucas County, Ohio. When Gordon tried to escape and struggled against the men, they shot him. They then proceeded to sexually assault Sandra and stabbed her multiple times with an awl. Leaving her to die, the men fled, but Sandra persevered. She managed to survive and call for help. When the police arrived, she informed them that the men who had attacked her were African American and detailed the events that had transpired.

Losing Gordon was devastating for Sandra, and the police had no immediate answers for her. Eight months after Gordon’s murder, the body of 18-year-old Connie Thompson was found at the same spot. She had also been assaulted and stabbed 43 times with an awl. The lead investigator deduced that the same person carried out both attacks. Similar cases continued to emerge in the area over the next 17 months until Anthony Cook was arrested and convicted of the murder of Peter Sawicki.

The police initially had no further leads in Sandra’s case. Although they collected DNA from the scene, the lack of technological advancements made it useless until 1997. Through visual identification, the police identified Anthony’s brother, Nathaniel Cook, as a suspect. When they had the means to make a DNA match, the results came back positive. The police also suspected Anthony of being an accomplice, as Sandra had reported two men. Testing his DNA confirmed his involvement as well.

Where is Sandra Podgorski Now?

On February 13, 1998, Nathaniel Cook was charged with the murder of Gordon and the attempted murder of Sandra. Due to the police’s suspicions of the brothers’ involvement in other crimes, they spoke to the victims and offered the perpetrators a plea deal. The deal stipulated that Anthony Cook would spend the rest of his life in prison for Gordon’s murder while Nathaniel would serve 20 years. In exchange, the brothers had to provide details about all the crimes they had committed in the Toledo area in the early 1980s.

In 2018, when it was time for Nathaniel Cook to be released from prison, Sandra Podgorski made her presence known in court and read an emotional victim impact statement. She expressed her displeasure at his release, stating that the man deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison. Her fears stemmed from concern for the safety of others who might be at risk with the perpetrator being free. Talking about what she had experienced that night, she said, “God was there with me. In the end, [God] is the one who they will have to answer to.” She was comforted by the lead prosecutor while making her ordeal known.

Since then, Sandra, who now goes by the name Sandra Rollins, has kept a low profile. She is not publicly active, and she may be working towards coming to terms with her perpetrator’s release. It would not have been easy, but coming to court and making herself heard was the bravest thing she did, and the impact of that will resonate with many other survivors like her.

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