On December 2nd at 6:00 p.m., Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn summoned Erick Almandinger, his father, mother and grandmother to the Palmer Trooper Post. What he wanted, more than anything, was for Erick Almandinger to come clean.
While Erick waited in another room, Wegrzyn briefed Rodney Almandinger and his mother, Myler, on the status of the investigation. Erick, he told them, had long been a “person of interest” in David Grunwald’s disappearance and murder. Both of them peppered the sergeant with questions and complaints.
Wegrzyn methodically plowed forward, showing the two evidence photograph after evidence photograph. Blood in the trailer. The outline of David Grunwald’s body on its floor. Slowly, surely, they began to see the outlines of Erick’s involvement.
Alaska State Trooper Investigator, Sgt. Tony Wegrzyn
In an effort to shift the blame, though, Rodney tried to imply that David Grunwald wasn’t the upstanding kid everyone made him out to be. Wegrzyn quickly came to Grunwald’s defense. “He was a good kid,” Wegrzyn told him.
Rodney & Myler Almandinger, Palmer Post Interrogation Room
“The only reason he isn’t a good kid, honestly, he smokes weed. That’s his worst flaw in life. He’s a 16 year old boy who worked all summer to afford that truck, ok? He has a curfew that he abides by, he’s got a long-time girlfriend, he goes to a charter school that you don’t just get into, you gotta apply. He’s moving forward and taking college classes as a 16 year old boy. David was a good kid.”
Ever protective, Rodney and Myler next tried to point the blame elsewhere, to another of Erick’s friends. Wegrzyn was patient, but not buying it. Finally, he told them he had evidence that Erick was the shooter. It was time for them to face reality.
Troopers led Erick Almandinger into the Palmer Post interview room to join his father and grandmother. The room was cramped, with barely enough space for four chairs and a table. A brief game of musical chairs took place as Erick assumed a spot directly across from his grandmother. Then the fireworks began. Both his grandmother and father tried to get him to come clean.
Rodney, Myler & Erick Almandinger, Palmer Post Interrogation Room
“They said you shot him,” Erick’s father shouted during the interview. “You pulled the trigger!”
Erick’s grandmother Myler, also in disbelief her grandson could be involved in the killing, admonished him. “You needed to come home, get on your knees and say, ‘Grandma I fucked up.'”
In the face of this onslaught, Erick maintained his innocence. That only served to anger Rodney and Myler, who shouted at him to stop lying to investigators.
“You killed him over weed?! Why the hell would you shoot someone over weed,” Rodney asked.
“Tell me the logic in that,” Erick countered. Unrepentant, Erick was steadfast in his denials. It was too much for Rodney, who eventually left the room and could later be heard, beyond the walls, wailing inconsolably.
He was replaced by Erick’s mother, Chrystal. Slowly, under his mother’s tough-love guidance, Erick opened up and began to tell the trooper sergeant what went down that fateful night. Not coming completely clean, but approaching it. He was still clinging to his alternate reality.
Chrystal, Myler & Erick Almandinger, Palmer Post Interrogation Room
Wegrzyn had already confronted him. “Do you think Devin, Dominic, Bradley Renfro, that any of those guys are going to sit there and take the fall for you?”
Erick Almandinger said Peterson was one of his best friends and wouldn’t believe Peterson or any of the other suspects would give him up. “They would take the fall for me if I did this. They would. I know that on everything I’ve ever believed in,” he said.
No one was buying that one.
As the admissions trickled out, Almandinger (falsely) told Sgt. Wegrzyn that he, Renfro, Barrett and Johnson all burned Grunwald’s Bronco together after they shot him in the woods. [Barrett was not present at the burning.] And Erick insisted it was Johnson who pulled the trigger. “Dom was holding him by the shirt, made him walk the whole way. Turns him around, as soon as he looks up, bang! He just drops.”
Then, seemingly on a whim, Erick changed his story and claimed it was Austin Barrett who was the trigger man. Maybe coming clean meant nothing more than finding someone else to take the fall.
Austin “Andrew” Barrett
And from there it was a sick romp through the rest of their night. How he slipped into a creek as he tried to escape. Dropped off the murder weapon at Devin Peterson’s. Bought gas to torch the truck. Smoked dope while they waited for a cab to pick them up. Cleaned out the trailer. Went to the shed as a hideout.
Partied as they lived out the banality of evil.
Erick Almandinger Interrogation, December 2, 2016, Palmer Trooper Post (courtesy KTVA-11)
Sources: Anchorage Daily News, KTVA-11, KTUU, Alaska Public Media, The Frontiersman