The Black Widow of Rancho Mirage

She mates, she kills, she mates again.

Nonfiction by Arthur Lyons
Illustration by Stuart Funk

Talk about a stormy life. The way she tells it, Andrea Claire grew up in New Jersey; at age 15 she was raped by a 22-year-old friend of her sister, got pregnant and was forced by her mother to marry the man, bore him yet another child, was beaten violently during the marriage and eventually sued for divorce. And that was just her early years.

Ms. Claire then moved to Los Angeles with her children where she worked off-and-on as a waitress and a secretary. Untrained and unskilled, she drifted from job to job and husband to husband, working intermittently as a call girl to provide for her family. Her second marriage lasted all of three days, ending in divorce after her husband demanded she give up her children. Husband number three was a Jordanian; the union was more of a business arrangement than a marriage, as he needed a wife in order to stay in the U.S. She married a fourth time in March 1980 after a ten-day courtship. That marriage lasted the same amount of time, until her husband went into a jealous rage. Andrea ran him out of their Tarzana apartment at the point of a butcher knife, threatening to put the blade between the man's shoulder blades.

While she was in her mid-20s, Andrea then took a stab at acting and managed to land bit parts on M*A*S*H, Bewitched and the soap opera, Days of Our Lives under the stage name Samantha Scott. But her acting career never took off, and she once again turned to her call-girl ways to support herself and her children. It was in that capacity, in 1980, that she met wealthy lumber company owner Robert Sand. She was 39; Sand was 69.

Sand had for some years been confined to a wheelchair, following an adverse reaction to sleeping pills and subsequently breaking his leg. Neither being an invalid nor the fact that he had been married to the same woman for 30-odd years had quelled Sand's appetite for sex. At the time Andrea came calling, Sand had an $800-a-week prostitute habit, which was why, in large part, Frances Sand, his wife of 30 years, was suing him for divorce.

The lumber baron took an immediate liking to the sexy, blonde Andrea and booked her for a return engagement. Soon he was seeing her regularly. In addition to providing him with sexual favors, Andrea administered therapeutic massages, telling him she wanted to help him walk again. By the time the Sands' divorce became final in December of 1980, Andrea had moved into Sand's Westwood apartment. It was there he proposed. Shortly thereafter, they married and moved to the desert and bought a condo at The Springs in Rancho Mirage.

On the surface, Robert and Andrea Sand seemed to be a happy couple. She took him in his wheelchair to watch her play golf and her favorite pastime, tennis. They shopped together, and she dutifully administered her physical therapy. But behind the walls of their condo at 6 Brandeis Court, there were darker goings-on.

Due to Sand's infirmity, the couple had little social life. Her husband did not allow her to go out alone or have her own friends, and Andrea began to feel like a prisoner. Furthermore, Robert Sand's appetite for sex and voyeurism had begun to intensify, putting pressure on Andrea. According to her, he made her pose nude for photograph sessions and walk around the house naked. She said among his other pleasures was spanking her with a paddle and masturbating while she acted out the sexual fantasies he dictated of her having sex with other men. The older man who Andrea had thought was different from her other husbands, who had made her feel so safe and unthreatened, now began to take on a different, more demonic face, as he became more demanding in his requests.

On May 14, 1981, at a little before 4 a.m., security guards at The Springs responded to an alarm at Sands' address. Finding the front door ajar, they rang the bell and were greeted by Andrea wearing a black robe. She appeared to be upset. After being seated on the living room couch, she told the guards that there had been a male intruder in the house and he had run out of the sliding glass door in the living room. Then she rose and led them into the master bedroom.

The first thing that stunned the guards was the blood. It was everywhere. Then they saw the 220-pound body of Robert Sand, nude except for the T-shirt, lying on the floor next to the bed in a large pool of blood. They immediately called The Springs' Security Control Center to phone the sheriff.

Sheriff's Detective Fred Lastar, who would be chief investigating officer on the case, arrived at 4:45 a.m., after deputies had secured the scene. Andrea Sand repeated her story of the intruder, after which she was allowed to go to a neighbor's condo while police and technicians went over the scene.

Preliminary investigation determined that Robert Sand had been stabbed numerous times as well as sustaining a blunt force trauma to the head. (It was later established that he had been stabbed 27 times and hit over the head several times with the 1' x 4' slantboard Andrea Sand used for exercising.) Investigators found a trail of blood from the bedroom to the living room's sliding glass door, but only a single bloodstain outside on the patio and no footprints on the grass where Andrea Sand had said the intruder made his escape. One thing that struck Lastar as unusual in the condo was the decoration in the master bathroom above the toilet - a wet-T-shirt poster of Andrea Sand, her nipples clearly visible beneath the fabric.

After going over the scene, Lastar interviewed Andrea Sand. She told him she had taken some sleeping pills and gone to bed early and had been awakened by her husband's screams for help. Responding, she caught a glimpse of one, maybe two men running out of the house. Then she made an incriminating admission - her first in a long series - that after she had determined her husband was dead, she washed her clothes which had gotten bloody while she was trying to help her husband. Then, she said, she went back to sleep for two hours before summoning the security guards.

Although the initial search of the premises failed to turn up a weapon, a re-examination of the scene turned up a four-inch kitchen knife - part of a set owned by the Sands - under the living room couch. When it was determined that the knife had been the murder weapon, Andrea suddenly "remembered" having pulled it out of Robert Sand's chest and washing off the bloody weapon while she was washing herself and her clothes. Lastar, by this time, had come to look at Andrea Sand as a prime suspect in the murder of her husband. His suspicions only increased when she backed out of taking a lie detector test.

After Andrea relayed the sequence of events to her therapist, Dr. Morton Kurland, chief psychiatrist at Eisenhower Medical Center, Kurland told her to stop talking to police and get herself an attorney, recommending the now-late Gary Scherotter. She took his advice and hired Scherotter, then widely known as the best criminal attorney in the desert.

 Palm Springs, like so many other communities known for an abundance of millionaires searching for a pleasant and quiet place to retire, was a fertile hunting ground for predatory females looking to cash in on that wealth. There loomed the possibility that Andrea Sand was one such woman.

On July 23, the first of a number of bizarre calls came into the Indio Sheriff's Department requesting assistance at 6 Brandeis Court. Arriving at the condo, deputies found Andrea Sand naked on the kitchen floor, her hands and feet tied behind her and a kitchen knife protruding from her buttocks. Andrea told the officers that she had returned to the house after a two-week trip to New Jersey to visit her mother and had been attacked by two men and a woman who tied her up and repeatedly raped her. During the rape, the trio confessed to her that they had been the ones who had murdered her husband and that they would be back.

Detective Chris Brown investigated the incident, but didn't believe Andrea. For one thing, the ropes had been tied with slipknots so it was possible she had tied herself up. For another, he knew she was a primary suspect in her husband's killing. During one interview, Brown relayed his doubts to Andrea, to which she responded: "If you don't believe me, why don't you arrest me?"

"It's possible you'll be arrested," he told her. "Based on my past experience, one of three things is going to happen. You'll either kill yourself, kill someone else, or I'll have another call back her for another phony situation."

He would be correct on all three counts.

Andrea continued to call the police on a regular basis, claiming that "the people who killed Bob" had returned and raped her again. (She would eventually claim to have been raped at least 30 times). She also received threatening letters, allegedly from the gang of murderer-rapists, which she turned over to the detectives. Examination of the letters determined that they were fakes. The only fingerprints on the paper belonged to Andrea Sand.

"She'd call in with another rape," one investigator told me in a later interview, "and we'd go out and cut out pieces of her carpet and tear down her drapes. Then she'd call again and we'd go out and do it again." At one point, police staked out Andrea's condo trying to catch her staging one of her phony rape scenes, but were unsuccessful. "We knew she'd killed her husband," D.A. Investigator Dan Riter said. "We just had to prove it."

While the police and D.A. were trying to build a case against Andrea, she met Joe Mack Mims, a 56-year-old widower and water pump consultant, at a Christmas party at the Evangelical Free Church. Mims was a religious churchgoer and Andrea, at the urging of a neighbor, had found Jesus shortly after the murder of her husband. Mims was immediately smitten by Andrea, so much so that he believed everything she told him - including the stories about the murder of Robert Sand and the repeated abductions and rapes by his phantom killers.

Andrea's rape claims continued after she began to go out with Mims. At one point, Mims and Andrea visited Deputy D.A. Jim Hawkins, who had also been assigned to the Sand case, to complain that the police were doing nothing about it. Mims excoriated Hawkins for the shoddy work by the police, telling them if they'd investigated the way they should, they "would probably have the murderer by now." That was when Mims dropped the bombshell that he and Andrea were to marry. Hawkins advised Mims against it, saying that Andrea was their primary suspect and they were close to charging her.

"Go ahead and charge her," Mims said defiantly. "I'm still going to marry her."

During the entire conversation, Andrea listened without saying a word.

On March 25, 1982, Gary Scherotter was notified by the D.A.'s office that his client, Andrea Sand, was going to be charged with first-degree murder. He surrendered her to the court, after which she was arraigned; the bail set at $100,000. Andrea immediately posted bail and was released. The following day, she and Joe Mims were married.

Joe Mims had a house on Broken Arrow Trail in Palm Desert, but Andrea had $50,000 of her own money sunk into the condo at The Springs, and did not want to sell it, at least until Robert Sand's estate was settled. Mims put his own house up for sale and moved in with Andrea. His presence at Brandeis Court did not stop Andrea from being raped, however.

On May 21, 1982, Joe Mims called Fred Lastar and told him Andrea had been kidnapped. Police began a search, but Andrea returned to the house later that night claiming she had been abducted and raped, again by the same murderous trio. As usual, no physical evidence turned up to substantiate her allegations. Still, Joe Mims believed her.

If you ignore all the kidnappings and rapes, things seemed otherwise blissfully peaceful with the Mims' marriage. To all who saw them, socially and at church, the couple appeared to genuinely care about each other. On Halloween night, 1982, Andrea and Joe tried unsuccessfully to make love at The Springs condo. She suggested they take a drive. They drove up Highway 74 and turned down a dirt road where they stopped. Andrea put a bedspread on the ground and proceeded to fellate her husband. After Joe had climaxed, she spit his semen into a tissue and told him to roll over on his stomach, that she would give him a massage to relax him.

Joe began to loosen up under her expert touch, and then something hard hit him on the head, causing him to scream in pain. He was hit again and turned to see Andrea holding a hammer, which was poised to strike him again. Mims pushed her off and grabbed her arm, wresting the hammer from her grip.

"What in the name of God are you doing?" he asked.

They look in her eyes was crazy, like an animal's. "I've got to knock you out so that people will believe I've been raped."

Joe Mims was afraid. He knew Andrea had tried to kill him and that she had somehow intended to use the semen in the tissue to prove to police she'd been raped. He hurriedly dressed and hustled Andrea into the car. After dropping her off at home, he went to Eisenhower to tend to his lacerated scalp, which was bleeding profusely, then returned to his own house on Broken Arrow Trail.

The next morning, knowing his life was in danger, Joe Mims moved out of the Brandeis court condo and notified Dan Riter and Gary Scherotter of the assault, resulting in the charge of attempted murder being added to the first degree murder charge against Andrea. On January 12, 1983, Joe Mims filed to have his marriage with Andrea annulled. At the time, Andrea's bail was revoked and she was remanded to jail to wait trial.

In the meantime, Scherotter had come to have doubts about his client's sanity and petitioned the court to have her examined for competency. Andrea was taken to Riverside General Hospital for observation. During her stay there, she tried to commit suicide twice by slashing her wrists.

Andrea was found by a jury competent to stand trial. But before she was to have her day in court, Gary Scherotter resigned as her attorney because the Sand estate had been tied up in litigation and she was no longer able to pay him. The court appointed Public Defender Charles Stafford as Andrea's new attorney, and Stafford immediately changed Andrea's plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming she had been driven crazy by the men in her life who had cruelly dominated her and her fourth husband Robert Sand, who had forced her to take part in violent, sadomasochistic games.

The trial began in January 1984. The deputy D.A. opened arguments by telling the jury he would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Andrea Claire-Mims had premeditated the murder of a helpless and crippled Robert Sand, the motive being his money. Attorney Charles Stafford, while not disputing the fact that his client had killed her husband, contended that she had done it in a state of insane frenzy brought on by Sand's ever-increasing demands of violent sexual role-playing.

Dr. Rene Modglin, who had performed the autopsy on Sand, testified that Sand had died from multiple stab wounds, the fatal several having been to the aorta. Defensive wounds on the victim's arms and hands indicated that he had been conscious and trying to ward off the attack. Furthermore, because the victim had been 6-foot-2 and weighed 220 pounds, Modglin testified that it would have been difficult for Andrea to have inflicted such wounds if Sand had been standing up, leading to the conclusion he had been lying down at the time of the murder. Under cross-examination, the doctor agreed that the slaying fell under the category of "overkill," defining "overkill" as "trying to get even by trying to inflict multiple serious injuries."

Sand's ex-wife Frances took the stand and told the court about Robert Sand's numerous extramarital affairs, as well as his prostitution habit. They had first been married in 1939, were divorced in 1947, and remarried in 1952.  She had first found out about her husband's infidelities in 1973, which ended their sexual relationship, but not their marriage, which terminated in divorce in December 1980. By that time, Sand with living with Andrea. During the extent of their marriage, Frances testified that she had never seen her husband lose his temper, nor did he ever try to harm her.

The prosecution then put on the stand Richard Cordine, a convict serving a 12-year-stint for robbery at Nevada State Prison. Cordine said that Andrea had started up a pen pal relationship with him in 1977, which continued until Joe Mims objected and put a stop to it. According to Cordine, during her marriage to Sand, Andrea had called him and confessed, "I stabbed the bastard."

After the prosecution rested, Andrea Mims, looking prim and proper in a white sweater and skirt, her hair now brunette and bobbed, took the stand. She told a mesmerized jury that on the day of the murder, she and Sand had had several "sessions" during which he had made her act out violent sexual fantasies of being gang-raped:

That night, she was awakened by Sand yelling, "Andrea! Andrea! Help me!" She rushed into the bedroom where Sand grabbed her. He wanted her to play more sexual games, but she refused. He told her that she was going to be raped by two men he had hired. Then Sand, she said, grabbed some scissors and threatened to cut her hair. She wrested the scissors from him and he came at her with a knife, which was in the bedroom as part of their role-playing. What followed, Andrea told the jury, was an "out-and-out battle." To defend herself from homicidal Sand, she said she grabbed the exercise board and hit him over the head with it repeatedly. He dropped the knife and she picked it up and began stabbing him, she didn't know how many times. She blacked out and awakened to find "blood all over," after which she took Sand's head in her lap and said, "Don't die daddy. Who will share my 40th birthday with me?" As an addendum, she told the jury she hadn't remembered killing Sand until she had been hypnotized in September 1983. Hypnotism had apparently finally dispelled her rapist intruders.

During closing arguments, the D.A. called Andrea Mims a "liar, a forger and a desperate fortune seeker," who had brutally murdered her husband for money. Attorney Stafford countered that Andrea was not responsible for her actions and had been driven to violence by her past history with men and the sadism of her husband.

After deliberation, the ten-woman, two-man jury found that Andrea Mims had been sane at the time of the killing and found her guilty of first-degree murder. When the judge sentenced her from 26 years to life and ordered her to the California Institute for Women in Frontera, Andrea slammed a tissue box violently down on the table and screamed: "I killed him because he called me a whore! Why don't you give me the death penalty?"

As Andrea was starting her prison stint, husband-five Joe Mims began a new life. He had gone back to college and was working his way toward an A.A. degree. But he couldn't get Andrea out of his mind. He believed Andrea had killed Robert Sand. In fact, he claimed she had confessed the deed to him. However he felt sure that she had been driven to it as her attorney had claimed, that she was not really that kind of person. His wishful thinking was confirmed for him when he heard a radio program about PMS. After further study, Mims concluded that Andrea had been suffering from the condition when she had killed Sand and when she had attacked him with a hammer.

Mims contacted Andrea in prison and told her of his findings and the two resumed contact, Mims coming to prison regularly to visit her. Andrea went to the prison doctor and requested progesterone, which was at first denied, as the doctor found no evidence of PMS. The doctor finally relented and gave her the drug, which seemed to improve her demeanor.

Andrea was described by prison officials as an "ideal" prisoner, having a "positive influence" on other prisoners. Convinced she was now cured and that he would be able to gain a new trial for Andrea on the basis of the PMS theory, Joe Mims proposed once more and Andrea accepted. On May 13, 1986, Joe showed up at the prison for the ceremony that would unite him with his beloved Andrea. At the front gate, he began to tremble and suddenly went limp. He was rushed to Chino Community Hospital where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack at 11:30 a.m.

After Joe Mim's death, Andrea reverted to her story that intruders had killed Robert Sand. Although she was up for parole in 1997, at last report, she was still in prison, having been moved to a penal facility in northern California still awaiting parole. PSL