‘Somebody out there knows what happened’

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Washougal homicide victim Sandra Ladd (second from right) is pictured with three of her six grandchildren in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Mikaela Sasse)

Family members of Sandra Ladd, the 71-year-old Washougal grandmother found murdered in her home in June 2020, say they are frustrated by what they consider a lack of movement in the homicide investigation.

“It’s in the hands of the detectives at the Washougal Police Department,” said Kelly Upjohn, Ladd’s niece. “Oregon Crime Stoppers have been posting and in communication with them as well. But aside from that, from what I’ve been told, there’s nothing else. We just have to wait.”

For Upjohn, waiting is only increasing the anguish she felt after discovering her beloved aunt had been murdered.

“We lost her, and it was horrible,” Upjohn, a Battle Ground resident, recently told The Post-Record. “You start the grieving process as a human being, and you go through it, but then there’s … no closure. Hopefully they get answers, and eventually when it gets to a point where they make an arrest, we can move on and finally get closure.”

Ladd, a longtime Washougal School District employee, was found dead in her Washougal home, located in the 1900 block of 41st Street, June 14, 2020. Police later said Ladd was the victim of homicidal violence. An autopsy showed Ladd died from stabbing wounds to her torso.

The crime has never been solved and police, who have revealed few details about the murder, have never publicly identified any person or persons of interest.

But Upjohn said she and other members of Ladd’s family believe “somebody out there knows what happened.”

With the fourth anniversary of Ladd’s death just four months away, Upjohn said she couldn’t wait any longer to make another public appeal for help solving her aunt’s murder.

“I finally got to a point where I’m not going to wait any longer. I’m coming in, and I’m coming in hard.” Upjohn said. “I can’t just sit here and wait. I’m going to do something. I’m going to be a loudmouth, and I’m going to speak for my aunt, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that (we) get closure,”

Upjohn took to social media and reached out to a Portland television news station to help spread the word that Ladd’s family is still waiting for answers to their many questions about the person or persons behind Ladd’s killing.

“We would like answers. We would like to know if there’s anybody out there that may have any information, or that knows of anything. We just really, really need people to come forward, even if they’re scared. You can be anonymous, whatever you need to do to protect yourself. Just provide the information that we need so that the family can have closure, and my aunt can have justice,” Upjohn said. “I am literally begging at this point to please just give this family closure and my aunt justice. Otherwise, this guilt is going to be with you every single day.”

But Washougal Police Chief Wendi Steinbronn said she does not have any new information she can share publicly

“I do not want to do anything to jeopardize the ongoing investigation,” Steinbronn said. “I am not going to answer any questions about it right now.”

The police chief declined to say if the public should be worried or if police have, in fact, identified a person of interest in the case.

Upjohn said Washougal police have also declined to provide more information to Ladd’s family members.

“I have been communicating with the detectives,” Upjohn said. “I try to get as many updates as I possibly can … (but they) cannot answer my questions (because) it’s an active investigation.”

Upjohn said the investigation is taking far longer than she originally anticipated.

“At this point, I would have hoped to have more answers and more explanations. It just does not make sense. How does something like this happen, and three and a half years later, there’s still nothing?” she said. “I was expecting (an arrest) a week after, a month after, six months after, even a year after. I’d be like, ‘OK, we have to be getting closer. There’s got to be something.’ How is it going on this long? I never, at that point, would have thought (we’d be waiting) four years or five years or six years. I never, ever would have imagined that. It doesn’t make any sense why it would need to be that long. I don’t understand.”

Ladd, who was born in Portland and moved to Washougal as a child, graduated from Washougal High School in 1967, earned her associate’s degree from Clark College and attended the University of Washington. She worked as an administrative assistant and receptionist for the Washougal School District from 1987 until 2015. During that time, she worked at Cape Horn-Skye Elementary School and assisted with the school district’s special services and summer meal programs. Ladd also was active with Washington’s Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, which trains classified school staff members throughout Washington state. Ladd also worked at a Burgerville in east Vancouver from 1996 until she was furloughed in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upjohn said she and other family members have no idea why anyone would have wanted to harm her aunt.

“That’s the frustrating part. She was a great person, and she did no harm to anybody. This doesn’t make sense. She was not into drugs or anything crazy,” Upjohn said of Ladd. “She was very low-key, kind, calm and all about her kids and her grandkids and family.”

Ladd is survived by her four children — Mikaela Sasse of Vancouver, Jaymes Ladd of Yacolt, Ryan Ladd of Washougal and Trevor Paul Ladd of Washougal — and six grandchildren. According to Camas resident Rebecca Vrandenburg, a family friend of the Ladds, Ladd was divorced and lived with her son, Trevor, at the time of her death.

“I’m going to stay positive about this, because that’s the type of person I am,” Upjohn said. “That’s why I always say ‘when’ eventually the arrest is made, and I’m just going to stick to that. I hope and pray that somebody out there does the right thing and has a good conscience and comes forward and either says what they know or admits what they did.”

Ladd’s case was brought into the national spotlight in 2021, after online amateur sleuths looking into the November 2022 stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students in Moscow, Idaho, speculated Ladd’s death could be connected to the Moscow murders as well as to an unsolved August 2021 stabbing homicide in Marion County, Oregon, which claimed the life of 26-year-old Travis Juetten and severely injured his 24-year-old wife, Jamilyn Juetten. All of the cases involved unsolved murders and all of the victims had died by stabbing.

The Idaho Tribune reported in 2022, that there was another possible link among the homicides — the dates of each stabbing.

“In each of the cases, an unknown intruder entered the residence of the victims, stabbed them while they were in their beds, and no suspect has been publicly identified,” an article published Nov. 24, 2022, in The Tribune, stated, adding that “Ladd is presumed to have been sleeping when the attack occurred, leaving online investigators to believe she may have been attacked in the late hours of the night of the 13th of June 2020. If this is the case, all three incidents will have taken place on the 13th of their respective months, only a little more than one year apart.”

Police in Idaho, however, have charged 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger, a Washington State University criminology student, for the Idaho students’ murders, and said they had ruled out any connection between the University of Idaho slayings and the murders in Washougal and Oregon.

Asked if she had been in contact with law enforcement agencies in Marion County, Oregon, regarding Travis Juetten’s still-unsolved stabbing death, Washougal’s police chief declined to answer.

“We want to make sure that we have all of the information that we can possibly get,” Steinbronn said. “Sometimes people see something or know something that they don’t think is relevant. We want to draw that out. We don’t want people to worry about feeling silly. We want to hear about it, no matter if it turns out to be relevant or not. Some people who don’t know if their information is valuable or not might not be aware of the investigation. We want to raise the profile and keep the case fresh in people’s minds.”

Vancouver resident Mikaela Sasse, Ladd’s daughter, told The Post-Record in October 2020, that Ladd’s family members “just need answers and need someone to come forward and provide any information that will help bring us closure.”

“Not a moment goes by that we don’t think about her. Her fashion, smell, favorite stores, habits, sayings, places, pictures, holidays — everything reminds me of her,” Sasse told The Post-Record a few months after her mother’s murder. “This has been such a nightmare for the family, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that we have to keep faith that answers will come and we have to try to stay positive, which is harder than you can ever imagine.”

“It has been extremely difficult, personally for myself (and also for) the entire family, not having any answers on top of the fact that she was taken from us in the way that she was taken,” Sasse added. “I think about it every single day, and I miss her greatly.”

Crimestoppers of Oregon is offering a $2,500 cash reward for anyone who can provide a tip that leads to the arrest of Ladd’s murderer. For more information, visit crimestoppers or https://tin