Murder on Knik River Rd: What Erick Almandinger Knows

Erick Almandinger was, ultimately, at the center of a universe that slowly but surely got out of control. It was Erick who played ringmaster to a diverse — and eventually antagonistic — group of friends. Unlike David Grunwald, Erick was only a sometime-student; he preferred to drink and smoke dope and party with friends. He’d spent the better part of his previous summer at nearby “trap houses,” doing drugs.

Some of his friends were chronically homeless, periodically involved in criminal activities and, perhaps most incongruously, trying to emulate the L.A.-based gang known as the Crips. In their adolescent fantasy world, it seemed to matter little that the Crips were black — and Erick’s friends were mostly white. The following represents a parallel timeline, one that overlaps and ultimately overtakes Victoria Mokelke’s timeline.


Erick Almandinger at his 2016 Arraignment (Age 16)

November 13, 2016
6:00 p.m.: David Evans arrives at Erick Almandinger’s house, dropped off by David Grunwald. Evans has been living at the Almandinger’s, but after staying elsewhere for a week, needs to reestablish his permission to live there. Rodney Almandinger tells Evans that, due to his leaving the house without communicating with anyone, he has to move out. But Rodney adds that Evans should “ask Gramma,” Rodney’s mother, because she ultimately rules the roost.

Approximately 6:00 p.m.: Christian Ward, who lives across the street from the Almandinger’s, has dropped by to watch movies with Erick Almandinger and is at the residence during “an argument” between Rodney Almandinger and David Evans. Growing uncomfortable, he goes to the garage to say goodbye to Erick. The lights are off, but he sees “3 or 4 kids in there.” That the lights are off tells Ward that “something was weird.”

Approximately 6:10 p.m.: David Evans, accompanied by Erick Almandinger, asks Gramma (Myler Almandinger) if he (Evans) can move back into the house. After a passionate discussion, Gramma says “no.”

6:22 p.m.: Erick’s friend Dominic Johnson messages Erick. “We’re at the camper” (which is parked at the Almandinger residence). Johnson is one of the “3 or 4 kids” that Christian Ward “saw” in the Almandinger garage.

Erick
Almandinger Trailer at Alaska State Troopers evidence facility

Approximately 6:30 p.m.: David Evans, who arrived with a single daypack, goes downstairs to pack the rest of his belongings into plastic garbage sacks. Having not showered for a week, he also takes a long shower at the Almandinger’s. He later testifies that he did not see Grunwald after he was dropped off at the Almandinger residence (at 6:00 p.m.).

6:40 p.m.: David Grunwald arrives at the Almendinger’s residence on Esty Drive in Palmer.

7:07 p.m.: David shares an Instagram conversation with Angela Dicus, telling her he is “smoking a J.”

Approximately 8:00 p.m.: Rodney Almandinger sees David Evans and his son Erick with plates of food.

8:09 p.m.: Dominic Johnson messages Erick, asking to “borrow a toolie,” a reference to Erick’s .40 Ruger pistol. Johnson, who is 6 feet, 3 inches and 250 pounds, intends to pistol-whip Grunwald with the weapon because he “doesn’t like” him.

Erick
Dominic Johnson in jail scrubs after his arrest

8:10 p.m.: David Grunwald messages Angela Dicus using Snapchat.

8:16 p.m.: Dominic Johnson again messages Erick Almandinger, this time with more urgency, saying “I gotta act fast like (right now) fast you feel me.” Erick eventually complies, handing his .40 Ruger to Johnson through the door of the camper. Johnson and a second friend, Austin Barrett, begin to pistol-whip David Grunwald. Erick Almandinger soon enters the camper to join them.

8:35 p.m.: Last cell data ping from David Grunwald’s phone, near Palmer.

After deciding that David Grunwald “knows too much,” he is taken into the woods off Knik River Rd and killed with a single shot from a 9mm Ruger.

9:43 p.m.: Per cell tower ping, Dominic Johnson’s phone is in the Butte area, southeast of Palmer. Later that evening, accomplices Erick Almandinger, Dominic Johnson, Austin Barrett and Bradley Renfro go to friend Devin Peterson’s house, ostensibly to ask Devin to ditch their weapons after murdering David Grunwald. Peterson calls them “stupid fucks,” but takes the weapons.

9:48 p.m.: David Evans is picked up by his brother and leaves the Almandinger residence.

9:55 p.m.: Victoria Mokelke, who knows Erick Almandinger from their days at Colony High school, starts messaging Erick.

10:20 p.m.: Rodney Almandinger starts messaging Erick. By 10:50 p.m., he has been contacted by David Grunwald’s parents and knows David is missing.

11:37 p.m.: Erick Almandinger responds to Victoria. He lies to her, claiming “Im not home I’m at a friends house in anchorage drunk as fuck.”

Erick
Erick & Victoria (Facebook Messenger)

12:12 a.m., November 14, 2016: Erick Almandinger finally responds to his father.

Erick

Murder on Knik River Rd: What Victoria Knows

It only took a few hours for David Grunwald’s life to take a wrong turn. He went from a leisurely Sunday with family to a sudden, inexplicable disappearance, all in the span of two and a half hours. The only link between these events is his girlfriend, Victoria Mokelke. She is the tenuous through-thread of memory that binds things together. The following timeline shows how quickly things deteriorated on the evening of November 13, 2016.

Sunday, November 13, 2016
David Grunwald spends the day dining out and shopping with his family and girlfriend, Victoria Mokelke. It is, by all accounts, a typical Sunday. The plan is to wrap things up early, because the following day is a school day.

5:40 p.m.: David and Victoria leave his parent’s house, bound for her mother’s house.

5:53 p.m.: David and Victoria pick up his friend David Evans at Pioneer Pizza in Palmer; Evans needs a ride to Erick Almandinger’s house, a request which David is more than happy to fulfill. Erick’s father grows marijuana and Erick seems happy to share it with his friends.

Approximately 6:00 p.m.: After dropping Victoria at her mother’s, Grunwald takes David Evans to the Almandinger’s house, which is close by. David returns to Victoria’s mother’s house, picks up Victoria and her sister, Crystal, then drives them to their father’s house, about 20 minutes away.

6:12 p.m.: David Grunwald stops at a Carrs grocery store to get water; the in-store video captures him entering and leaving the store.

Approximately 6:20 p.m.: David drops off Victoria and Crystal at their father’s house near the Butte. He tells Victoria he might return to the Almandinger’s and “hang out.”

Victoria
David Grunwald & Victoria Mokelke

6:30 p.m.: David calls his mother to get his 9:20 curfew extended. His mother readily agrees: David Grunwald bears all the earmarks of his Christian education — he is polite, considerate and invariably follows the rules set down by his parents. They know he will act responsibly.

6:40 p.m.: David arrives at the Almendinger’s residence on Esty Drive in Palmer.

7:07 p.m.: David shares an Instagram conversation with his friend of one week, Angela Dicus. After an mandatory exchange of greetings, Angela asks David a question:

Angela: Whatchu doin?
David: Smoking a J.
Angela: Damn I wish I was too.

David asks to switch to Snapchat, a precaution no doubt encouraged by the sensitive nature of their conversation and that service’s automatic message delete feature.

8:09 p.m: David sends Angela a Snapchat message, but she is sleeping and doesn’t pick it up until the next day. She never hears from him again.

8:35 p.m.: David Grunwald’s cell phone connects to the network for the last time.

9:40 p.m.: When David hasn’t returned home at the appointed hour, his parents call Victoria Mokelke, awakening her. Victoria says she thinks David left her house an hour earlier.

Fearing he may have rolled his car, Edie and Ben Grunwald twice drive Smith Road near the Mokelke residence without any luck. They then drive to the Palmer Post of the Alaska State Troopers to report David missing.

Victoria later remembers that David said something about going to the Almandinger’s residence.

Approximately 10:49 p.m.: Edie Grunwald contacts Rodney Almandinger, Erick’s father, and asks if he has seen her son David, whom he knows from David’s past visits to the residence. Rodney tells her he hasn’t.

10:50 p.m.: Rodney Almandinger attempts to contact his son via Facebook Messenger.

Victoria
Facebook Messenger chat between Rodney & Erick Almandinger (Click to enlarge)

Murder on Knik River Rd

When I read that David Grunwald was murdered on Knik River Rd, I instinctively harkened back to Robert Hansen. This was, after all, in or near one of Robert Hansen’s primary killing fields. Further research brought several important revelations.

First, Grunwald was killed on the south side of the river, about 7 miles due east of the Old Knik River bridge. So, not in Hansen’s Knik River killing field, but too damned close. Second, law enforcement painted the murder as one where a good kid got mixed up with some bad kids. And this is where the story became profoundly disorienting: 4 white teens, who identified with the Crips gang, of all things, had killed Grunwald execution-style and then torched his car. Let that sink in.

White kids. Crips. Alaska. Alaska?

Knik River Rd


David Grunwald, 16, went missing on November 13, 2016. He dropped off his girlfriend near the Butte, Alaska, in the Mat-Su Valley, early that evening. His parents started to worry about him when he didn’t return home by about 9:30 p.m. Relatives, friends and helpful strangers mounted a concerted search, with few initial leads, for a home-schooled teen described as punctual and responsible.

Knik River Rd
David Grunwald (courtesy Anchorage Daily News; photo Edith Grunwald)

Troopers found Grunwald’s 1995 Ford Bronco around noon the next day, burned to the metal and up a dirt track at the base of the Talkeetna Mountains north of Wasilla.

Knik River Rd
David Grunwald’s 1995 Bronco (courtesy KTVA-TV)

That was about 21 miles from the house on Smith Road where David dropped off his girlfriend, according to a route search by his father, Ben. Also, at least one cellphone “ping” from David’s phone was tracked to a tower near Palmer in the hours after he went missing.

In early December of 2016, four teens were arrested and charged as adults in David’s murder, after one of them directed troopers to his body, near Knik River Rd, south of the Butte, Alaska. According to trooper interviews, 16-year-old suspect Erick Almandinger said Grunwald came to his house on Esty Drive in Palmer on Nov. 13 “to drink and smoke [pot]” in a camper trailer in the yard.

At one point, Almandinger told troopers he left the trailer and went into the house. He said a friend, identified only as “D.J.” in the charging document, messaged him and asked him to bring a gun back to the trailer.

“Almandinger said he brought a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun to the trailer and handed it to D.J., at which time D.J. bludgeoned D.G. with the pistol,” Trooper Sgt. Wegrzyn wrote in the affidavit.

Almandinger alleged that the other teen loaded Grunwald into the Bronco and they drove to the Butte, according to the affidavit. On the way, Grunwald was going in and out of consciousness and unable to defend himself, the affidavit said; during moments of semi-lucidity, he asked to be taken to his girlfriend’s house in the Butte, but his kidnappers bypassed her road and kept going.

Ten minutes later they pulled over on Knik River Rd and walked into the woods with Grunwald.

Knik River Rd
MAP: David Grunwald’s Disappearance (courtesy Anchorage Dispatch News; Hansen overlay Leland E. Hale)

“Almandinger admitted he went with D.J. as they escorted D.G. into the woods and acknowledged that D.G. was pleading for his life as they walked,” the investigator wrote.

Almandinger said D.J. killed Grunwald, according to the affidavit. He later changed his story and identified the shooter as another 16-year-old, identified in charging documents only as “A.B.”

Almandinger said he decided to destroy the evidence, and told troopers that the pair got some gasoline and drove the Bronco up a 4-wheeler trail off Sitze Road, and burned it.

They later tried to destroy the bloody evidence in the camper by burning a carpet and applying bleach to its bloodied interior. Almandinger said he then stayed in a friend’s shed for several days.

Wegrzyn wrote that it was when he contacted D.J. on Friday, December 2, 2016, that he was led to where Grunwald was killed — but only after the teen consulted with an attorney. Another investigator found a single 9mm shell casing at the murder scene.

Almandinger showed little remorse during the interrogation, Wegrzyn said. The only motive cited by Almandinger was that Grunwald “had smoked all his weed,” the sergeant wrote. “He said they didn’t get any money.”

As it turned out, Almandinger wasn’t telling troopers everything he knew.

Credit: Zaz Hollander, Anchorage Daily News, “Documents shed new light on slain Palmer teen’s final moments,” published December 5, 2016.

That Certain Kind of Woman: Rudy Giuliani vs Robert Hansen

“I respect all human beings. I even have to respect criminals. But I’m sorry, I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman and as a person and isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.”

Rudy Giuliani, former New York Mayor

Woman

“I’m not saying that I hate all women. I don’t. Quite to the contrary. I guess in my own mind what I’m classifying is a good woman, not a prostitute. I’d do everything in my power, any way, shape or form, to do anything for her and to see that no harm ever came to her. But I guess prostitutes are women I’m putting down as lower than myself.”

Robert Hansen, Serial Killer

Woman

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Last Gasp

Although there would be additional attempts to identify bodies, June 1984 marked the last gasp in the contemporaneous search for Hansen’s gravesites. Given that Hansen’s first known murders occurred in the early ’70’s, each passing year meant trace evidence grew thinner. Even spots where there was a match between Hansen’s aviation map and his on-site ID’s, the prospect loomed large that wild animals or humans had disturbed, or even removed, portions of those remains.

It’s telling that the last entry in Sgt. Flothe’s memorialization waivered between positive and negative. Even with the help of a dog, his search for remains at Hansen gravesite #7 were initially written up as “negative.” And then the “negative” was mysteriously crossed out. In other words, it read exactly like a last gasp entry:

Last Gasp

Last Gasp
Trooper Cadet Ray Jennings Searches Along the Knik 1984 (courtesy Anchorage Times)

For the record, Flothe’s detailed matrix ultimately identified Gravesite #7, “adjacent to Goulding grave,” with a blank entry denoting negative results.

Last Gasp
Sgt. Flothe’s Victim Matrix (excerpt)


Thirty years later, authorities would exhume the body of an unidentified victim, hoping that new science would unpack her identity. Some speculated this victim, who was nicknamed “Horseshoe Harriet” because her body was found near Horseshoe Lake, was actually Andrea Altiery.

In 1984, however, Sgt. Flothe had identified this woman differently, saying it was “Tentative Delynn Frey.” Frey, whose dancing name was “Sugar,” was 20 at the time of her disappearance in March 1983. Angela Feddern had disappeared in February 1983 and was found near Figure 8 Lake, just due west of Horseshoe Lake. That seemed to link them in time as well as space, which appeared to make DeLynn Frey the more likely answer.

At this writing, however, the identity of Horseshoe Harriet is still unconfirmed.

Last Gasp
DeLynn Frey (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Last Gasp
Horseshoe Lake (Google Maps, illustration by Leland E. Hale)


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Fish Necklace

Andrea Altiery was originally from Hawaii, the daughter of a prominent local family. She made her way to Anchorage in the early eighties, seeking the elusive fortune of exotic dancing. Maybe she had Rock Fever, that sometimes disorienting disease borne of being stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At any rate, after moving to Alaska one thing led to another. Somehow, she got entangled with Bob Hansen, likely on another “photo session” that promised hundreds of dollars. That Hansen killed her was certain. Her fish necklace was found among the mementoes in his attic.

There was no mistaking that necklace. It was gold and custom-made. It was one of Andrea’s prized possessions. No way would she have voluntarily gifted it to Bob Hansen.

Fish Necklace
Andrea Altiery’s Fish Necklace (photo courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

No. Bob Hansen stole that necklace after he killed Andrea Altiery. Stole it and hid it in his attic, among his other mementoes. Neither Mona Altiery nor her semi-famous father would ever learn more about their daughter.


NOTE: 10-21 = Call by Phone

Fish Necklace


Fish Necklace
Andrea “Andra” Altiery (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Resurrection Bay

There is no special consideration for Bob Hansen’s “most despicable” crimes. They were all variations of bad to worst. That’s how it rolls when you’re dealing with a serial killer. But the name “Resurrection Bay” always looms as a cruel reminder that even irony went missing with Robert Chris Hansen.

Resurrection Bay brings us Mary Thill and Megan Emerick, whose probable murders stand out as particularly callous deeds in a career defined by callousness.

As Sgt. Flothe had learned, Robert Hansen was loathe to confess to any murders that didn’t involve prostitutes. In Hansen’s world, prostitutes were “lower” than him and ready-made victims. But Hansen claimed that a woman who was not a prostitute was someone he “put on a pedestal.” Denying that he killed Mary and Megan seemed to be the only way Hansen could deal with the cognitive dissonance erupting from his murder of innocents. For Megan and Mary, that meant that theirs would always be a watery grave, deep in Davy Jones’ locker, with no hope of recovery (1).


NOTE: 10-21 = Call by Phone

Handwritten

Resurrection
Mary Thill (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)

Resurrection
Megan Emerick (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


(1) I was contacted by a TV producer some years ago who wanted to mount a sniffer dog search for Mary and Megan. Maybe I’m missing something in the imagination department, but that was one of the most far-fetched things I’ve ever heard. I dunno. Give ’em credit. Maybe they had super-underwater-dogs from outer space.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Bring in the Cat

5/14/84
As May moved along, the ground started to yield and the days grew longer. It was then that troopers brought in heavy equipment to assist in the search for bodies. It represented a kind of desperation: there is nothing particularly delicate about a Cat, although a skilled operator with a deft touch can come awfully close to turning a Cat excavator into a precision tool.

And yet, even with the heavy lifters, the Knik refused to give up all its secrets.

Cat


Cat
Detail: Hansen’s Map – Knik River Sites (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: When Human Rituals Go Missing

Humans have developed elaborate rituals surrounding the key turning points of our all-too-brief lives. The “baby shower” for the mother-to-be. The “christening,” and the “bris,” for the newborn. The First Communion and the Bar-Bat Mitzvah for coming of age. The “Wedding,” yes, that one too, for it brings the expectation of a new human (maybe more). And, of course, the funeral, the final rites, the easing of the once living into the next orbit. There are many ways to do them, but each ritual is rooted in the same need.

At each of these rituals, we are joined to the great arc of our forbearers, our family, our community. These are joining’s, not leaving’s; even at the ultimate moment, when our lives are memorialized in the funeral ritual, we are remembered through the presence of those who will go on living, until they too meet this day.

These rituals are what people refer to when they speak of “closure.” The rings cannot be closed without them. At death we want the rituals.

Not this:

“Body located w/ head in northerly direction in the embankment under six inches of leaves and soil and under a log, on its back.”


Handwritten

Rituals
Lisa Futrell

NOTE: Beginning in May of 1984, when troopers began searching Hansen’s grave sites in earnest, Sgt. Flothe abandoned his typed diary and started making handwritten entries. The first of these is presented here.


Purchase Butcher, Baker

Arrest of Robert Hansen: Sue Luna Identified

Nearly two years had passed since Sue Luna’s disappearance. The only way to identify her was through dental records. Sgt. Flothe remembered her well: she was one of the first ones he’d called out on his victim matrix. He now knew that Hansen had not only killed her, but taken back the $300.00 he’d paid for an hour of sex. That post-mortem theft was not only the definition of cheap, but of cold-blooded.


4/27/84: Body removed from grave site #2 east of Knik River bridge positively identified as SUE LUNA. LUNA identified from dental records by Doctor ROGERS. ROBERTA MOOREHEAD, [her] sister, reported her missing to the Anchorage Police Department on 5/30/82. S[he] was to meet an unidentified male at Alice’s 210 Cafe for $300.00.

Sue
Sue Luna (courtesy Alaska State Troopers)


Purchase Butcher, Baker