Life with Robert Hansen: There Seems to Be More

The “why” answer discussed in our previous post is a long one. And in all likelihood incomplete. Even Assistant D.A., after answering that question, had to say, “but there seems to be more.” Yes, there does seem to be more. There seems to be a lot more. Here we glide from cause to effect; once his killing spree started, Hansen seems to have created an elaborate and deadly set of reinforcing behaviors. One thrill begat the next one.

Seems
Trophies at Hansen’s house (Alaska State Troopers)

“This hunter who kept trophies on the wall had a world record.

Seems
Hansen with his World Record Dall’s Sheep

“Well, he now has trophies scattered throughout southcentral Alaska. He put his little notches on the map. And isn’t it interesting that two of his maps were found in his bedboard behind his bed. You can just see him when he has a moment to himself, pulling them out and looking at the little X’s on the map, of women he’d killed and buried.

Seems
Hansen Map (detail)

“He admits to there being at least 20 to 30 women where everything went okay and he dropped them back off on the streets. We fear there were many more; we don’t really believe for a minute that he’s told us the full story. He is a compulsive liar. He gives us what he knows he has to give up — give us [that] and no more.

“It’s a game you see, Your Honor, it’s a game with authority, it’s a game with police, it’s trying to outfox, it’s the big thrill.

“And his family? Well, from back in ’62 on [when he was arrested for arson in Iowa], he always talked about his family. Oh, I care so much for my family, I’m so worried about how this will affect them.

“That’s a fiction.

“His family was a prop so he could hide behind decency, to show I’m a family man. And he’s a baker and he makes money and it’s just all part of the game.”

“Now there are, Your Honor, 13 bodies still out there to find.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Life with Robert Hansen: So Then We Ask Why

“So then we ask why,” Assistant D.A. Frank Rothschild said as he addressed Judge Moody. “Why did he do all this?”

It’s the question everyone asks. These days there seems to be but one answer to such questions. It’s mental health, they insist. These people are crazy. Frank Rothschild did not take that approach; even if it was the easy way out.

“He said he was frustrated as a kid, his friends had to have all the fun, they got the girls and he didn’t,” Rothschild said. “He had acne, he stuttered, people made jokes of him, talked about hiding, going under the bed, not coming out for a day.”

Why

“And he said this is the reason; he wanted to feel wanted and you can’t feel wanted in a motel room. He called that too commercial. He didn’t like this slam, bam, do it again [sic], m’am stuff. He didn’t like this quick stuff.

“He wanted them under his control as long as he wanted and he tried hard to convince himself, he says, that they wanted to be with him too, that it wasn’t bought sex, that they really wanted to be with him.

“He said, I wanted to control things. It made me feel masculine or powerful or in control of my life, that he got into it for his own ego. Maybe this quote sums it all up:

“He said, I was just seeing everybody else got theirs, then it’s my turn to have fun now.”

There were other “why’s.”

Why

Bob’s domineering, old-country dad, who constantly belittled him — and exploited his labor — even as he praised Bob’s older sister, who didn’t seem able to do anything wrong. A mother who was incapable of defending him. The attempts to fit in, that didn’t quite work (like joining the high school football team or the Junior Police; after all of that, they still misspelled his name in the high school yearbook).

His learning disabilities (which his second wife, Darla, tried to fix but couldn’t). His whore-madonna complex. His resentment of authority, shown in full-color when he burned the bus barn in Pocahontas, Iowa.

And, yes, his mental illness, for which the professionals seemed to have too many names. Schizophrenia. Obsessive-compulsive. Manic depression (now more commonly called bipolar).

So there you have it. No easy answers.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Life with Robert Hansen: Rothschild Defines “Cold”

As Assistant District Attorney Frank Rothschild articulated the depth and depravity of Robert Hansen’s crimes, one description rose to the top. “This man was cold,” Rothschild told Judge Moody. Everything about him, everything he did. Cold.

“He said, I tried to act tough as I could to get them as scared as possible. Get my hand on the girl’s hair, hold her head back and put a gun in her face to get them to feel helpless, scared right there… [He] talked about wanting to have complete control and domination over these people. As long as I can control the situation then there’s going to be no problem, I won’t have to kill anybody. I’ll get what I want and send them back on the streets,” Rothschild continued, paraphrasing Hansen. […]

“And when asked, well, what happened Mr. Hansen, if they didn’t go along with the program, he said, well, then they stayed. Those were his words. He would even tell them if things don’t go right, boy, this is where you’re going to stay. To scare them.”

At this point, the Assistant D.A. took a leap into conjecture. Informed conjecture, but conjecture nonetheless. It was the kind of conjecture that gets movies made.

“And while he doesn’t talk about it or admit to it, it’s obvious from reading through and looking at where things started and where the women ended up, he hunted them down, Judge. He let them run a little bit and then he enjoyed a little hunt just like with his big game animals. He toyed with them, he wanted to scare them, he got a charge out of all this.

Cold
Hansen Victim Grave (clothing and shoe)

“They weren’t shot right where it all started; he let them run, he grabbed them and they’d claw a little bit and he’d let them run a little more and he played with them. He doesn’t look big and strong but he is.

“One time he called this a summertime project. What a lovely word for his handiwork, a summertime project. And he did admit that none of them went willingly. Even when he went through the map and talked about where all these women were and pointed out to us where they were, it was cold. He said, well, there’s one here and there’s one there and you’ll find one next to this tree and one under that road. They weren’t people to him. They weren’t human beings to him.”

Cold
Trooper Dig on Knik River

It’s here that I disagree with Rothschild (and others). I personally don’t find it completely credible that Hansen routinely released his victims so he could toy with them. In part that’s because of what Rothschild himself says of Hansen:

[He] talked about wanting to have complete control and domination over these people. As long as I can control the situation then there’s going to be no problem…[emphasis added]

By releasing his victims, even in the relative safety of the Alaskan bush, Hansen was effectively reliquishing control. That goes in the face of everything else Hansen did. Remember that Hansen was meticulous in his precautions. He sought to control things down to the knat’s ass last detail.

  • Never going on a “date” at the first meeting, but making a rendezvous at the time and place of his choosing.
  • Making sure they met him at a location where he could ensure they were unaccompanied.
  • Abandoning the rendezvous if he saw them with other people.
  • Using restraints so the women wouldn’t get out of control in his car.
  • Forcing them to sit on the floor of his vehicle, so no one could see them.
  • A pistol always at the ready, the better to maintain control.
  • Choosing private and/or remote locations for sex.

In this context, the notion that Hansen routinely toyed with these woman, as Rothschild suggests, is incongruous. Robert Hansen wanted complete control, at all times.

Cold
Measuring Grave Depth

That the women were often found a distance away from the start of their ordeal also doesn’t require Rothschild’s definition of cold. Remember Cindy Paulson’s escape.

Cindy used a single distracted moment to make it hundreds of feet — in handcuffs — before Hansen caught up with her. Had she been in the bush, she would have been dead right there. Instead, a citizen in a truck came by to save her life.

We know that other women also fought off Hansen and tried to escape, including Christy Hayes — who succeeded. By Hansen’s own admission, others tried to fight him off. And lost.

That said, there remains the possibility that Hansen’s crimes evolved to the point that they reached the levels Rothschild supposes. Glenn Flothe tells us that Hansen’s acts of violence became increasingly savage toward the end. That he shot them multiple times, past the point of death. And then he knifed them, striking so ferociously that he appeared intent on obliterating them. That much we do know. The rest is speculation.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Life With Robert Hansen: Assistant D.A. Frank D. Rothschild

It was up to Assistant District Attorney Frank Rothschild to articulate the depth and depravity of Robert Hansen’s crimes. When he went before Judge Ralph E. Moody at Robert Hansen’s sentencing, he stood in for all the victims who could not be heard, and for the few who got away. He also stood in for all the upstanding citizens of Alaska, as their voice and their conscience. He did not spare his criticism of those who aided and abetted Robert Hansen. In good conscience, he could not.

As Rothschild recalled Cindy Paulson’s escape from Robert Hansen, he noted her fear. “Dr. Hollingshead, who saw [Cindy] in the emergency room, and he’d worked there for years and seen victims of all kinds of crimes, he’s seen people fearful, had never seen a woman so scared out of her wits that she’d seen her Maker.”

Rothschild went on to describe what happened next.

Rothschild
Assistant D.A. Frank D. Rothschild at Robert Hansen’s Sentencing

“But he had an alibi,” Rothschild told the judge, referring to Robert Hansen. “Just as he always said he was going to do to all of the women in the speech he gave them, he told them that he had someone waiting to give an alibi so they might as well not talk. It wouldn’t do them any good, who would believe them, a hooker, a dancer who dances naked, versus this man, respectable, and his friends.”

Rothschild
Judge Ralph E. Moody

“[Hansen] was a little worried this time, though, because she had handcuffs on when she ran out and he had some concerns about that. He thought she might be a little more believable given the fact that she was wearing handcuffs, so he rushed home and called his good friend John Henning, he’ll alibi for me. And sure enough he did.”

“Now, he didn’t tell John Henning the truth about what had happened and John Henning is a man who says that, in his mind, why, it’s just an occupational hazard of women who work the streets to get a little roughed around or have these kinds of problems. So he stood up for his buddy, agreed to provide the police with a alibi, took his weapons from him because he was afraid the police might be suspicious with him having weapons; not only that, but it would have been a crime for him to have a handgun, of course.”

“And when the investigator called him, he told then flat out, he was with me all night, couldn’t have been with that street prostitute. Was confronted twice more by the investigator, once at the police department. Oh, no, he was with me. The police officer read him the riot act and said, now this is the time to come forward and these are serious charges and you could be obstructing justice. And he said, oh, no, he was with me, just as calm and cool as can be.”

Rothschild
Cindy Paulson

“He does more than that, we find now. They get the wonderful idea and Mr. Henning says, hey, why don’t we get another alibi since we’re doing it. I know some cab driver friend, let’s get him to come forward and say that he delivered pizza and beer while we were together that night. We got two alibis now. And they go over to this guy’s house, the two of them, and they tell the man, we need an alibi. […] And he went along with it.”

“This same friend tells [Hansen] to rush off, that he’d better get an attorney. This same friend who knows a doctor out there at Humana Hospital, goes to his doctor friend, tells him about the trouble his buddy is in and asks him to go into the records and get, if he can, the name and address of the woman who accused him of rape. That doctor went to the emergency room doctor and asked him to get those records.”

“And he didn’t give them. And he told his doctor, the police are involved. Dr. Hollingshead suspected this was the man who was abducting all the women off he streets and he told him he better back off. And he did.”

“But Mr. Henning sure was a good friend.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Robert Hansen’s Fantasies: Sunday Singles (Audio)

Listen to Robert Hansen at his most amoral. Hear him casually encourage his wife and kids to tour Europe for an entire summer, so that he can arrange “dates” through a singles service. Hear him confess to planning this more than a year in advance. This is Robert Hansen at his most manipulative.

He had somehow gotten the idea that he wanted to find someone for the summer. Someone he could be close to, someone who wasn’t a prostitute. If he could be with her at his home, he reasoned, maybe things wouldn’t go wrong — as they had so many times before, when he picked up women on the street. This would be different.

And then, after that, if things went well… who knows?

Four weeks before Darla left for Europe, Robert Hansen twice put an ad in the Anchorage Daily News, which at the time ran the singles column called “Sunday Singles.” Here’s Robert Hansen’s ad:

“Adventurous male, 42, 5-11, 165 pounds, looking for a lady proud to be a woman, to share sincere, honest attachment. Must like to dance and enjoy social life. Willing to put on jeans. Join me in finding what’s around the next bend, over the next hill. Enjoy flying own plane, beachcombing, fishing, camping. Life is much fuller if shared. Send recent photo.”

Audio: Robert Hansen talks about his Sunday Singles ad during his confession.

Singles

On June 8, 1983, one of the women who answered his ad came to his house. She was, it turned out, an employee of the Alaska State Troopers. He took her to the basement. Showed her the stuffed animals on the walls, the hunting trophies he was so proud of. He hoped to have sex with her on the bear rug. She turned him down. It was a first date. She wasn’t that kind of woman.

As Frank Rothschild recounted during Hansen’s sentencing, “It was five days later that he picked up [Cindy Paulson]. Five days later that he put her in handcuffs, took her down to the basement, chained her and put her on that same bear rug.”


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Teens Commit Murder in Anchorage: History Repeats Itself

Tip of the Hat: The 2016 murder of David Grunwald was not the first time that Alaska teens were responsible for the inexplicable murder of an erstwhile friend. James Voss recently shared a two decades old tale involving four different teens. That case is instructive, if only because of the sentences handed down after the teens were found guilty.

In September 1995, four teens lingered for hours outside the Villa Nova restaurant, waiting for 17-year-old Allen Boulch to get off work.

Teens
Villa Nova Ristorante, Anchorage

They lured the young Mormon (LDS) teen, who was working as a chef at the Villa Nova, to Kincaid Park on the pretext of drinking, smoking marijuana and shooting targets (two of which were forbidden by his religion). But Philip Chad Wilson, the mastermind who’d talked for days about killing Boulch for allegedly burglarizing his family’s home, had other ideas. He emptied his gun into Allen Boulch, then directed another teen to shoot him with a sawed-off shotgun, mere inches from the victim’s face. A third teen fired into Boulch after that.

Teens
Kincaid Park (south of Ted Stevens International Airport, Anchorage)

Only one of them, Ryan Chernikoff, didn’t join in the violence. But when the teens took $157 from Boulch’s wallet, Chernikoff accepted $20 from their dirty haul. It was Chernikoff who went to the police and told investigators what he and the others had done.

A little more than two weeks later, all four were charged with first degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy. Three of them immediately entered not-guilty pleas; Philip Wilson ultimately claimed that he meant to shoot at a beer can but, on impulse, shot Boulch instead. The fourth defendent’s arraignment was delayed because his attorney was not immediately available.

Six months later, the first log broke from the dam. In exchange for dropping charges of murder and conspiracy, Ryan Chernikoff agreed to testify against his co-defendants. A week later, Willie Moore also agreed to testify against the remaining two defendants; Moore claimed he took the last shot because he was afraid the others would kill him. Moore also told police that Wilson wanted to kill again.

“Afterward, he [Wilson] said it felt good to kill Allen,” Moore revealed to police. “He thinks it’s an addiction, like pot.”

Wilson’s attorney called that “just teenage bravado.” Judge Karl Johnstone wasn’t having any of it.

He sentenced Philip Chad Wilson to 99 years. Alex Pappas got 65 years for wielding the shotgun. Willie Moore, who testified against Wilson and Pappas, got 55 years. Ryan Chernikoff accepted a plea bargain, was convicted of second-degree robbery, and sentenced to four years.

The four were among the first in Alaska to be prosecuted for murder under a 1994 law that established that 16- and 17-year olds charged with serious crimes can be treated as adults. That same law was applied to Erick Almandinger and his co-defendants. It’s deja vu all over again.

Murder on Knik River Rd: Lord of the Flies

In the Mat-Su jungle of Erick Almandinger, Dominic Johnson, Austin Barrett, Bradley Renfro and Devin Peterson, it was the kids who had taken charge. By the time David Grunwald wandered onto their island, they’d become a lawless pack, a faded facsimile of characters that was more Lord of the Flies than Lord of the Rings.

The adults had mostly abdicated. Even the Grunwald’s had ceded some control. David had earned their trust, true; but part of him was drawn to that wild place, inhabited by the savages, not the Lord. Some might say he was there only for the video games and Rodney Almandinger’s pot, but it was island rules as soon as he landed.

David’s remorseless beating at the hands of Dominic Johnson and Austin Barrett was pre-ordained by their creed as the “pale Crips,” an assertion of their clan’s superiority over anything David Grunwald could see, hear, feel, smell, touch — or think. That which was not of them was the enemy and must be destroyed.

As in Golding’s novel, the sniveling began when the Officers arrived. The bravado of this posse was tinsel thin. Their alibis, bits of dander, floating on random gusts of pretense. Their “genius” nothing more than a shamboozlement of self-deception, a boondoggle of the ego and the id.

When they woke up, these kids were in chains.

Lord

Murder on Knik River Rd: Meet the Parents, Part II

Given that both the suspects and their victim were in their teens, it is difficult to overlook their parents, if only because some supporters pointed fingers at the suspects’ parents. That means we should look at everyone. This time, we meet the suspects’ families.

Meet The Almandinger’s
In his early teens, Erick Almandinger entered cookies in the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Now he stands convicted of murder. Clearly, he lost the through-thread of his life.

Rodney Almandinger, his father, testified in court that his son wasn’t going to school regularly that fall of 2016, and had been living at drug houses over the summer. Erick appeared to come and go as he pleased. The Sunday night that Grunwald went missing — a school night — Erick Almandinger told troopers he was at a party in Anchorage. His father testified he wasn’t worried when he looked in Erick’s room at 1:00 in the morning and his son wasn’t home.

Meet
Rodney Almandinger

State court records indicate, moreover, that the Almandinger family had some issues. Domestic violence protective orders were filed against Rodney Almandinger several times in the 2000’s by Erick’s mother, Chrystal. Rodney in turn filed for a protective order against her.

It was altogether a strange domestic situation. Rodney lived at his mother’s house, running a small stained glass business out of her basement. By all accounts — including Rodney’s — it was Myler Almandinger who ruled the roost: on the day of David Grunwald’s murder, Rodney deferred to his mother when David Evans asked if he could resume living at the Almandinger residence.

That Erick was even living with his father was yet another story. His mother had kicked him out of her house months earlier for, among other things, hanging out with kids she didn’t approve of. Yeah, those kids.

Meet The Johnson’s
In court jurors heard from Dominic Johnson’s mother, Misty Johnson, and got some insight into his life before his arrest.

“This is you to Dominic,” defense attorney Jon Iannaccone read aloud from text messages Misty sent to Dominic. “No you won’t because I’m not visiting you in jail, no one will. You sure turned out to be quite a piece of shit.”

Meet
Misty Johnson

Iannaccone read another volatile text message exchange between Misty and Dominic on November 11, 2016, just two days before troopers said Dominic took part in Grunwald’s murder. “I’m going to throw a party when your ass goes to jail, a fucking party. Say hi to your dad while you’re in there,” Misty wrote.

Misty told jurors she was upset Dominic “hadn’t been acting like himself” and that’s what prompted those messages. “He was hanging out with kids I didn’t allow over and he was very upset I wouldn’t let them over and we got into a heated argument,” Misty said.

Although she denied that Dominic was ever homeless he, too, was adrift and moving from place to place. Worse, when Misty let some of Dominic’s friends stay over, they proceeded to rob her father’s safe, stealing cash and jewelry. One of the accused robbers was none other than Austin Barrett, he of the 9mm pistol used to kill David Grunwald.

Meet
Facebook Message Posted by Misty Johnson on the Justice for David Grunwald page

Meet the Barrett’s
Little is publicly available about Austin “Andrew” Barrett’s family. We do know that he was persistently homeless. That he stayed with Misty Johnson one Thanksgiving and returned the favor by helping to steal her father’s safe, taking cash and jewelry in the process. We do know that, on the night David Grunwald was killed, Austin Barrett slept in a car in front of Devin Peterson’s house. We also know that he was in the Valley Hotel with the other suspects on December 2nd, the day troopers pulled all the threads together; he was there because… he was homeless and on the run.

Meet
Austin “Andrew” Barrett (Misty Johnson identified the watch on Barrett’s wrist as one that belonged to her father)

Meet the Renfro’s
Bradley Renfro denies participation in David Grunwald’s murder. But he was the one who purchased the gasoline used to torch Grunwald’s Bronco. And Renfro was the connection fo Alissa Bledsoe — she was his girlfriend and she gave them shelter when they were on the run after the murder. Bledsoe was also with Bradley when they tried to check into the Valley Hotel. Like his friends, he was homeless and on the run.

It was Renfro’s grandparents who were present in the courthouse at the close of Erick Almandinger’s trial, awaiting the verdict. They told reporters they believed their grandson would meet the same fate that Erick Almandinger met.

Meet
Bradley Renfro

There was sadness in that admission. No matter what the verdict for their grandson, they said, there was no good outcome. A teen was dead and the young men, including their grandson, would never have the chance at a normal life.

Meet the Peterson’s
When Devin Peterson was arrested for his role in David Grunwald’s murder, police seized his cell phone. They found a video he’d taken of an intoxicated 15-year-old being raped. Child porn charges followed quickly. Devin’s brother Damien, meanwhile, was brought in on being an accomplice in a homicide that was originally ruled an accident. With Damien Peterson the night of that murder: Austin Barrett.

According to their mother, Alanah, Damien and Devin have different fathers. She told reporters that Damien’s father lives in Anchorage and maintains a relationship with his son. Devin’s father recently moved back from Pennsylvania, Alanah said, but Devin refuses to have a relationship with him.

Meet
Alanah Peterson

Alanah Peterson, who works three jobs, says she called police repeatedly to have Devin arrested on probation violations in the hopes of getting him out of the lifestyle. “They were already doing crazy stuff, but I didn’t think anybody could kill anybody. It just didn’t seem like they gave a crap. They just took stuff from people and they didn’t care,” Alanah said, adding that she could see a change for the worse come over Devin once he started hanging with the Almandinger posse (1).

Peterson also told reporters that the public condemnation of the parents of the accused — which Alanah said has included death threats — is misplaced. “It’s not the parents’ fault,” she insisted. “At a certain age kids have to know right from wrong. If they didn’t learn it from you they learn it at church or school. This could be anybody’s child. It doesn’t have to be a bad kid to get in this situation.”


(1) Devin had been in trouble with the law since his first criminal act at the age of 11. His criminal activities appear to have picked up from age 15 on. His mother is dissembling when she attributes changes in his behavior solely to his Mat-Su Valley friends.

Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTVA-11, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, The Frontiersman

Murder on Knik River Rd: Meet the Parents, Part I

Given that both the suspects and their victim were in their teens, it is difficult to disregard their parents, if only because some supporters pointed fingers at the suspects’ parents. That means we should look at everyone. We’ll start from the top.

The Grunwalds
By the time David Grunwald was born, his mother was in her late 30’s and his father was in his early 40’s. Both in the military — he in the Air Force, she in the Air National Guard — Edie and Ben were already parents to two adopted children. While their own careers were important — Edie started with the rank of Airman and retired as a Colonel after 30 plus years — David was always their special someone. As parents, his family — Edie especially — made a point of taking him on a range of field trips, “so he could be different and be a leader.” That also meant following a strict military discipline of curfews, household chores and exceptional performance.

David seemed up to that ambition. At the time of his death, he was enrolled in the prestigious Mat-Su Career and Tech High School. Each summer he attended Aviation and Space Camp. His dad had started him on flying lessons. Predominantly schooled in Christian institutions during his elementary years, he joined Bible study at Valley Baptist Tabernacle in Palmer and, each summer, attended the Solid Rock Bible Camp. According to his obituary, he “accepted Jesus as his Savior.”

But things weren’t entirely rosy in the Grunwald household. By mid-2014, the Alaska Air National Guard was engaged in a full-blown scandal. And Col. Edith Grunwald was smack in the middle: Grunwald was director of human resources for the Guard, and a “senior advisor on manpower/personnel matters.” The Guard was having personnel problems galore.

Parents
Col. Edith Grunwald, Alaska Air National Guard

A 2014 investigation by the National Guard Bureau, Office of Complex Investigations (OCI), found a range of extremely troubling issues:

  • The OCI found that the Alaska Air National Guard was suffering from “hostile climate issues,” stemming from a “general pattern of inappropriate behavior that was not being addressed by the leadership.” Examples included the “public display of nude pictures, sexual innuendo and inappropriate touching” within the workplace.
  • Inappropriate use of government travel and purchase cards was uncovered, as was one incident of embezzlement and a separate incident involving the misuse of equipment, including a helicopter, and personnel for personal gain.
  • The investigative team also found that while there were many kinds of misconduct (failed urinalysis, alcohol violations, sexual assault, assault, fraud, etc.), there “was a lack of consistency in the tracking of various cases…” and “a lack of consistent punishment for like offenses.”

“Overall, the survey reveals a perception of lack of leadership integrity within all levels of command,” investigators wrote in their final report. Col. Edith Grunwald, along with two other officers, was fired.

David adored his mom, calling her “the best mom ever.” Suddenly — publicly — that authority was being called into question. Did that, in some way, lead David to act out in ways that betrayed his straight-arrow reputation? Or was it just teenage rebellion after so many years towing the strict lines laid out by his parents? Whatever it was, David dove into a world he little understood and was ill-equipped to handle.

Parents
David Grunwald and his mom, Edith Grunwald (courtesy Edie Grunwald for Lt. Governor)


Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTUU, Alaska Public Media

Murder on Knik River Rd: Guilty on All Counts

May 31, 2018
After a nine day trial in Palmer, Alaska, Erick Almandinger was found guilty on all nine counts he was charged with. The now-18-year-old was found guilty on counts of Murder 1, Kidnapping, Murder 2 (intend injury), Murder 2 (Extreme Indifference), Murder 2 (Felony murder), tampering with evidence, vehicle theft and arson. The four counts of murder and one count of kidnapping are all unclassified felonies, which could each come with a 99 year sentence at a judge’s discretion.

Counts
Erick Almandinger Verdict (courtesy KTVA-TV)

By all measures, it had been a brutal nine days. Both of David’s parents — Edie and Ben Grunwald — had testified. They spent some time, of course, as character witnesses. But more crucial was their narrative of David’s disappearance. They were bulldogs as they searched for their missing son, even sanctioning a search on the Almandinger property. In the end, finding David alive was futile; they wore the look of profound loss on their faces. That said more than words could tell.

Counts
Edie & Ben Grunwald (testifying in the Erick Almandinger trial)

Victoria Mokelke’s tearful testimony brought home the pivotal role she played in the last hours of David’s life. Most heart-wrenching were her pleas to Erick Almandinger. Several days after David’s disappearance, she sent Almandinger a message at 4 a.m.: “I haven’t slept in days… I’m completely heartbroken and lost. I just want to know if my baby is safe,” Mokelke read, sobbing.

Counts
Victoria Mokelke (testifying in the Erick Almandinger trial)

Erick’s parents, Rodney Almandinger and Chrystal Carlson, also told jurors what they knew. Rodney’s father spent the better part of a day on the stand, trying to explain what he did — and didn’t — know. He spent most of his time admitting his complete and utter ignorance of what was happening literally beneath his nose.

Counts
L-R: Prosecuting Attorney, Roman Kalytiak; Rodney Almandinger; Chrystal Carlson

Erick’s defense attorney Jon Iannaccone, meanwhile, put forth a nearly-passive defense. In it, he declined to argue with the facts of the case as presented by the cops and prosecutors. The prosecution’s case — bolstered by physical evidence, cell phone pings, social media messages, security camera images, autopsy data and eyewitness testimony — was a strong one.

Iannaccone instead argued that Erick did not participate in the actual murder. He insisted that Erick went along with the others because he feared for his own life. In his closing argument, he went so far as to suggest that Erick’s so-called friends had used him, caring more about his pot than Erick himself.

Counts
Defense Attorney, Jon Iannaccone

Not that Iannaccone’s defense had been passive throughout. He had introduced several motions to suppress evidence, including four interviews Erick had with Alaska State Troopers, as well as pictures found on his social media accounts and photographs of Grunwald’s body taken at the crime scene. Those were all motions he lost.

For his part, Erick Almandinger barely registered in the courtroom. He maintained a blank look throughout the trial, save for a few suppressed smiles during conversations with his attorneys. His emotions, it seemed, were saved for closing arguments, when he was seen to shed a few tears. Sorry, Erick. Too late. “You needed to come home, get on your knees and say, ‘Grandma I fucked up.’”

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Erick Almandinger cries during closing arguments


Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTVA-11, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, The Frontiersman