Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross


Mother's Day by Dennis McDougal
Mother's Dayby Dennis

According to the 1995 book Mother's Day, by Dennis McDougal, Theresa Jimmie Francine Cross was born on March 12, 1946.   Her father, Jim Cross, was an assistant cheese maker at Sacramento's Golden State Dairy, and her mother, Swannie Gay Cross, worked at a local lumber company.  Theresa had an older sister, Rosemary, born in 1944 and two older stepsiblings, William and Clara Tapp.  The stepchildren were from Swannie's first marriage, which unexpectedly ended with the death of her husband in 1939. 

The Cross family prospered over the years and by the early 1950s they were able to move out of their small Sacramento bungalow and purchase a large house in Rio Linda, California.  Nonetheless, their happiness was short lived, and sometime during the late 1950s, Jim Cross fell ill with Parkinson's disease.  He could no longer work and was forced to quit his job.  Following his diagnosis, Jim fell into a deep depression and often took his anger out on his children.

Theresa Cross Knorr
Theresa Cross Knorr

According to friends of the family, Theresa was a loner and jealous of her sister Rosemary.  If they weren't fighting over a neighborhood boy, they were competing for their mother's attention.  Theresa was especially fond of her mother, and outsiders felt that Swannie favored Theresa over Rosemary.  In retrospect, the afternoon of March 2, 1961, probably affected Theresa more than anyone could have imagined.  Theresa was escorting her mother to a local store that day when her mother suddenly collapsed.  As Theresa held the woman in her arms, Swannie breathed her last breath and died.  Her cause of death was congestive heart failure and on March 6, 1961, Swannie Cross was buried at Sunset Lawn Cemetery. 

Following the death of her mother, Theresa fell into a deep depression, from which she never seemed to fully recover.   Without Swannie's income, Jim Cross could no longer afford to keep the family home and was forced to sell it.  Bit by bit, every piece of security Theresa had known was taken away from her.  With her life in disarray, Theresa latched onto the first man that walked into her life. 

Clifford Clyde Sanders was five years older than Theresa when the two first met at a mutual friend's house.   Within weeks, the young couple was in love and discussing marriage.  Whether Theresa actually loved Clifford or simply wanted security in her life is anyone's guess.  Regardless, on September 29, 1962, Theresa Jimmie Cross became Theresa Jimmie Sanders.  Shortly after the wedding, Theresa dropped out of junior high school and the couple moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the North Highlands district of California. 

It did not take long for the marriage to start going down hill.   Theresa was very possessive of Clifford and kept him on a short leash.  On July 16, 1963, Theresa gave birth to their first child, Howard Clyde Sanders.  Things seemed to settle down for a while, but eventually Theresa reverted back to her old ways.  Howard was unhappy in the marriage and had it not been for Theresa's second pregnancy in the spring of 1964, he probably would have left her.  Their one bedroom apartment was too small for another child and the growing family moved into a small white house just outside of Sacramento.

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