CONCORD, CA (Mar. 16, 2023) — Utah resident James William Grimsley’s extradition to California began the long-awaited legal process in a nearly 30-year-old cold case in the death of Terrie Lynn Ladwig.
He had an initial court appearance in Contra Costa County Superior Court on March 6, with a formal arraignment scheduled for March 20 to answer the lone charge of murder.
After being booked into the Martinez Detention Facility on March 4, Grimsley appeared in court to hear and acknowledge the charge contained in the warrant issued by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, but no plea was entered. The murder charge carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Grimsley, 55, a truck driver, is believed to have been working in the Concord area at the time of the December 1994 killing.
Body found in Concord apartment
Born Larry Earl Thompson Jr., Terrie was transitioning to a female. Media accounts at the time of the slaying noted she was preparing to have gender-reassignment surgery.
Steven Ladwig, Terrie’s spouse of five months, discovered her beaten and strangled body in the couple’s Sunset Pines apartment on Adelaide Street in Concord. Ladwig was not considered a suspect.
Ladwig was a petty officer stationed at the Bangor, Wash., naval station, where he served as a submarine crew member. Ladwig reportedly rushed back to Concord after Terrie reportedly called him on Nov. 28, 1994, to let him know someone was trying to break down the door of the residence.
There were no signs of forced entry, and Lt. Sean Donnelly noted they do not believe the banging on the door was related. A Concord police lieutenant on patrol found Terrie’s car about 1.5 miles away on Detroit Avenue; there was nobody in the car.
Break in the case in 2022
Fast forward to the summer of 2022, when this cold case started thawing as a combination of key factors, including DNA, led Concord investigators to start narrowing their focus on a person of interest.
“We had the physical, forensic and interviews, and ultimately we were able identify this person, Mr. Grimsley, as the person responsible,” said Donnelly.
He declined to go into detail about the forensic evidence except to say: “All the evidence we found was in Terrie’s apartment.”
A local judge’s signing of the arrest warrant this past January was a relief to those who had brought the case to the court, because they believe they had probable cause to make the arrest.
Donnelly called it “a step in the right direction” toward bringing “closure” to her loved ones.
“We want justice for Terrie, who was murdered at such a young age,” he continued.
Wide interest in the case
Donnelly lauded the thorough job of Concord Police officers and detectives at the time of the killing, long before current detectives dusted off this case to take another look at the evidence.
Among them was the late Det. Mike Warnock, who reportedly offered a theory that someone had reacted violently after finding out that Terrie Ladwig was biologically male. Such has been a defense strategy involving more recent homicide cases linked to transgender victims.
“As resources and time allow, we look back at these cases and we put fresh eyes on them. We are continuously looking at a number of cases as resources permit and seeing if something was there,” said Donnelly, adding: “We were able to zero in on Mr. Grimsley.”
Grimsley’s January arrest prompted renewed headlines in the decades’ old case, with a wide range of media outlets – from mainstream news to LGBTQ+ outlets to even specialized entities like a trucker publication – picking up the story.
Case delays ‘not unusual’
A public defender has been assigned to Grimsley. After his arraignment, a date will be set for a preliminary hearing and the prosecution will lay out its case.
Grimsley was arrested in Salt Lake City in a joint operation with the Contra Costa County FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the Safe Streets Task Force of Salt Lake City.
The lengthy delay in Grimsley’s extradition from Salt Lake City was “not unusual,” according to Deputy District Attorney Satish Jallepalli. There is an application process that must be followed, and then it goes before a judge to review. There’s also a court calendar in another jurisdiction to take into account.
When Grimsley was taken into custody in late January, a bail of $1 million was set. Defense counsel may argue for a lower bail amount during the arraignment hearing, but the DA will argue bail should at least remain at the current level. That will be up to the judge.
David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.