Murder on Knik River Rd: Finding David Grunwald

After torching David Grunwald’s Bronco, and taking a cab to Palmer, Erick and his friends made it back to the Almandinger residence. Erick heated pizza pockets and chimichangas while Johnson and Renfro cleaned up the trailer and tried to burn a small, blood-stained carpet runner. Erick then grabbed more convenience food, raided the liquor cabinet and, at 4:00 a.m, messaged Alissa Bledsoe, who gave them permission to stay in a nearby shed.

By November 14th, all five suspects — Almandinger, Peterson, Brad Renfro, Austin Barrett and Dominic Johnson — ended up in the shed. According to Bledsoe, “They were just hanging out. Sitting, drinking and smoking. Hanging out like friends do.” But ultimately they were cold and hungry. They left and came back. By November 16th, Erick Almandinger told Bledsoe he’d found a place to stay; in fact, he went back to his father’s house.

The rest of them, though, were pretty much homeless. This turned out to give troopers tremendous leverage, although it wasn’t immediately apparent.

David Grunwald Missing Poster

After several failed attempts, trooper investigator Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn finally caught up with Erick Almandinger on November 16th. Erick denied seeing Grunwald the night he disappeared and said he had taken a cab to Anchorage. That was a lie.

On a subsequent visit, Wegrzyn seized Erick Almandinger’s Samsung tablet. Cellular data from Almandinger’s tablet indicated it had been near Grunwald’s SUV the night it burned. Troopers also found a cabdriver who had picked up Almandinger and two other teens near the SUV.

When troopers ranged through the Almandinger’s social media accounts, they found even more evidence. Almandinger posted a missing poster but also searched the Etsy online shopping site for “unique Crip-related items.” Almandinger told Devin Peterson the investigators “literally have nothing and think they can get me (to) say I did some shit I didn’t do.” Photos obtained from Almandinger’s tablet included a photo of him with the word “Killahs” superimposed over it.

Erick Almandinger’s “Killah’s” photo, found on his tablet

As investigators trolled Erick’s network of friends — and talked with other sources — they started to develop an ever-tighter profile of his likely accomplices. Although Erick had the luxury of his father’s house, the rest of his friends were finding life on the run more difficult than they’d imagined.

Alaska State Troopers lured several of the teen suspects to Valley Hotel in Palmer during the early morning hours of December 2nd and then questioned them. Sgt. Wegrzyn paid for Bradley Renfro, one of the suspects, to stay at the downtown hotel with his girlfriend, Alissa Bledsoe, after Palmer police reported them there at 2 a.m. trying to get a room. The other teens later charged in connection with the killing showed up too: Dominic Johnson, Austin Barrett and Devin Peterson.

Four killers in handcuffs after their arrest (l-r: Bradley Renfro, Dominic Johnson, Austin Barrett, Erick Almandinger)

Wegrzyn knew the teens would scatter if he told Renfro he wanted to talk to him the morning of December 2nd. In that, they seemed predictable. But troopers were waiting to detain them.

Their first break came when Devin Peterson told them that Erick Almandinger admitted to being the trigger man in David Grunwald’s execution.

That afternoon Dominic Johnson, accompanied by attorney Jon Marc Petersen, helped investigators locate Grunwald’s body, frozen to the ground and covered with snow in the scrub brush, 200 feet off Knik River Rd. An investigator found one shell casing nearby.

By then, it was almost 3 p.m.

David Grunwald’s body, in the snow near Knik River Rd

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

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