MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A woman comes home from work to find her roommate dead in the bathtub. Months earlier, the roommate had filed for divorce from her husband. Was he involved? This is the story of Thomas Robert Lane.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Thomas Robert Lane’s story is the sixteenth in the series.
It was around 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003, when Pelagia Wilson headed home from her overnight babysitting job. Wilson lived at a home on 15th Street in Irvington with her roommate, Theresa Lane. When she got home, Wilson found Theresa Lane completely submerged in the bathtub, dead.
Thomas Robert Lane met Theresa Lane in the mid-1990s over the internet. Theresa, a native of the Philippines, married Thomas and moved to the United States with him. The two were married for nine years before separating in late June 2003. This would be when Theresa would move in with Wilson and Thomas would keep the couple’s mobile home.
According to court documents, on July 3, 2003, Theresa hired an attorney to begin the divorce paperwork. Theresa’s next move would be to remove Thomas from her life insurance policy, which was worth $161,000.
Initially, Theresa and Thomas’ divorce was “uncontested,” however, issues started to pop up that would delay the divorce. Thomas allegedly became upset because of how long the divorce was taking. Investigators said soon after the couple’s separation, Thomas began “shopping on the internet for a new mail-order bride” from the Phillippines. Thomas had selected a woman named Lorna Abe to be his new bride. Abe was under time and money constraints due to the father of his prospective bride making certain demands.
Court documents claim that while Thomas and Theresa were going through the divorce process, Thomas was harassing Theresa’s attorney in an attempt to speed the process up. One of the times Thomas talked to the attorney, the attorney claimed Thomas showed him a picture of a young woman that he said was “waiting on him,” which is why he needed a quick divorce.
On the morning of the murder, neighbors of Thomas said they saw him at his home between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Thomas told his neighbors he was going to get some coffee and doughnuts and then he left in his 1970s Ford pickup truck. One neighbor told investigators she noticed Thomas’ dog was upset and when she asked Thomas about it he said it was because the dog could not go with him to get coffee and doughnuts. The neighbor thought this was odd because, according to her, Thomas took his dog with him everywhere. Neighbors left their homes to go to church and when they got back at 9:30 a.m. Thomas’ truck was home.
A neighbor of Wilson and Theresa said they saw Thomas’ truck parked across the street from the home at 8:30 that morning. The neighbor said he saw a person get out of the truck and walk up to Wilson’s front porch but then lost sight of the person. Court documents say that at 11 a.m. Thomas went to a friend’s home and was acting odd. The friend said Thomas was pacing the floor and fidgeting.
After Wilson found Theresa’s body, Wilson called 911 and first responders arrived at the scene. The supervisor of the Major Crimes Division with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene around 1 p.m. after Theresa’s body had been removed. Because of this, the death was initially considered suspicious but was not considered a homicide until the autopsy was performed.
The forensic pathologist confirmed the manner of death was homicide based on multiple factors:
- Theresa had foam around her mouth when she was found, meaning she had water in her lungs
- She had petechial hemorrhaging in her eyes, meaning she was strangled
- She suffered from “several blunt force impacts”
- She had bruises on her right shoulder and chest, showing that she had been held down
- She had bruises on both of her forearms, elbows, right thigh, right knee, right ankle, which were defensive wounds
Multiple friends testified during the trial that on the night of the murder Thomas told them that Theresa was found in the bathtub, even though investigators hadn’t told him anything about the crime or the crime scene. Investigators also thought it was suspicious that Thomas tried to collect Theresa’s life insurance policy on the afternoon of the murder.
On Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m., Thomas was arrested for Theresa’s murder. All of this evidence was shown during the trial and a jury voted 8 to 4 to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, the trial court overrode the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Thomas to death. As of Feb. 2023, Thomas Lane is on death row at Holman Prison in Atmore.