Friday, August 10, 2012

Edward Ladner

Edward Ladner
The street lights flickered on and mixed with the dregs of day as 20-year-old Daniel William Pierce left his home, located in the 2500 block of Southwest 23rd Circle in Trout­dale, Oregon, and headed for his job as assistant manager at the Pizza Hut outlet in nearby Gresham. Although the winter of 1985 had mellowed into the bright, colorful spring of 1986, the evening air was still crisp, which prompted Pierce to turn his car’s heater on full blast as soon as the engine became warm enough.
Fifteen minutes later, with circles of fatigue beneath tired, uncertain eyes, Pierce walked into the pizza parlor, as ready as ever for yet another shift, inno­cently unaware that it would be his last.
A young, bright-eyed man, Pierce was described by friends, co-workers, and relatives as a marvel of organized effi­ciency, an ambitious man who didn’t feel right unless he was constantly mov­ing forward, going somewhere with his life. At times he burned the candle at both ends, but he seemed to have two wicks to burn in his aspiration to move upward. He was an amiable young man with a perpetual smile and, despite his ambitious nature; he was still boyishly benign, utterly harmless to anyone. That’s what made it so difficult for near­ly everyone close to the case to under­stand why anyone would want to kill him.
It had been a typically slow Monday at the pizza shop, which allowed Pierce to get the restaurant cleaned up, the cash tills balanced, and the deposit made, en­abling him to go home early to the house he’d moved into barely two weeks before and shared with two roommates. After the short drive from the pizza shop, he pulled carefully into the driveway to a spot near his roommates’ vehicles and, after he parked and locked his own car, Pierce let himself into the rented, split-level two-story house, located on the north side of a cul-de-sac, and walked quietly up the stairs to his room.
Pierce had apparently just finished readying himself for bed and had just laid down when the attack occurred — he pro­bably never even knew what had hit him. Even though the precise details of the attack are not known, one thing is cer­tain: the killer’s blood lust was at fever pitch as he raised the sharp hatchet over his sleeping victim’s head.
Pierce’s head must have erupted in blinding white pain as the hatchet fell, bringing with it a moment of extreme horror as he realized something terrible had happened to him. With each succes­sive blow colors likely exploded in his brain, bringing with them unconscious­ness and death moments later.
The following day one of Pierce’s roommates, a young woman named Sal­ly, who occupied the downstairs bed­room, noticed Pierce’s absence but thought little of it at the time, thinking that perhaps he’d spent the night some­where else. After all, Pierce was good looking, she thought, and women were naturally attracted to him. Since he worked in a public place, it was not an unreasonable assumption for Sally to consider that he’d met a young lady and had gone home with her. But when Pierce failed to return home by early Tuesday evening, Sally became con­cerned and decided to check his room.
She knocked softly on the door to Pierce’s bedroom and gently called out his name. Not receiving a response, she turned the knob and entered. She turned on the light, and the illumination was accompanied by an unanticipated exhala­tion of breath when she saw the blood.
A sudden, inexplicable chill overcame her, and goose bumps appeared on her arms.Terror, she soon realized, had stuck its icy finger to her heart. She also felt somewhat sickened by the awful con­frontation and its dreadful implications.
Sally rushed out of the room and ran for her other roommate’s bedroom. However, he wasn’t there, either, she soon learned, and the thought of being all alone in the immense house, where she knew something horrible had occurred, terrified her even more and prompted her to run to a neighbor’s house.
The neighbor, Cynthia Fuller, was having dinner when Sally frantically rang her front doorbell. She recognized Sally and, after seeing that she was upset about something, let her inside and asked what was wrong. Sally said she wasn’t sure, but insisted that Cynthia accompa­ny her to her house to look at Pierce’s upstairs bedroom.
“‘Do you see anything unusual?”‘ Sal­ly asked as she led Cynthia into the bed­room.
The neighbor stopped in mid-stride, cold dread clawing at her insides as she observed the pools of blood on Pierce’s water bed and headboard. She turned to Sally and told her to call the police.
A short time later, Troutdale Police Chief Douglas Dorsey and an officer ar­rived at the Southwest 23rd Circle resi­dence. He took a statement from Sally and Cynthia, viewed Pierce’s bedroom, then sealed the home. He notified the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Depart­ment that possible foul play had occurred at the residence and requested their help. He also asked for the assistance of the Oregon State Police (OSP) crime lab, and subsequently informed Pierce’s rela­tives of the suspicious circumstances.
By the time Pierce’s relatives arrived at the house, so had Multnomah County sheriff Fred Pearce (pronounced purse) and detectives from his department, as well as a deputy district attorney. Even though they were unsure what they were dealing with at this point, the usual offi­cials had been called to the scene and the situation was treated as a possible crime of violence.
Troutdale Police Chief Dorsey told ea­ger reporters, who received word of the suspicious circumstances over the police radios they routinely monitored, that there was evidence of foul play at the home, but he would not elaborate. However, another person at the house provided the reporters with a few details.
“‘There were bloodstains on the boards that were used in the water bed,”‘ said one person at the scene. “‘One hoard was broken. One bloodstain was eight or ten inches in diameter. Another was in the shape of an arc, about three feet long.”‘ The blood, observed one source close to the investigation, was like the after-image of a half-remembered night­mare…except this was very real.
The relatives told detectives they hadn’t seen Pierce for a few days, and that he hadn’t contacted them by tele­phone, either. Not enough time had elapsed for them to become concerned, and they said they assumed he had just been busy with his job. Sally, on the other hand, told the investigators she had last seen Pierce on Monday, March 10th, and hadn’t become concerned about his well-being until Tuesday evening.
Because of the large amount of blood and the shape of the bloodstains, crime lab technicians processed the house in the usual manner by collecting blood sam­ples, latent fingerprints, and trace evi­dence, concentrating their efforts in Pierce’s bedroom. Although they work- ed throughout much of the night, no one associated with the case would reveal if anything that could lead to Pierce’s whereabouts was obtained.
Over the next few hours detectives contacted people who were close to Pierce. They began with his co-workers, and learned that he had worked a full shift on Monday night, the last time anyone at the pizza parlor had seen him. Nothing unusual had occurred during the evening; it had simply been a typical, slow Mon­day night.
Like his co-workers, Pierce’s friends and acquaintances, as well as other rela­tives, had not seen him recently. Nothing had been troubling him, said one person, except that he was having a dispute over his bank account that he said he had hoped to resolve. When pressed for de­tails about the bank account, investi­gators were told that the bank’s figures didn’t match the balance in his check­book, and Pierce couldn’t understand why. On another occasion, said the wit­ness, Pierce attempted to shift money from his savings account to his checking account but found there was no money left in his savings account.
Although the case was quickly taking on Rubik’s Cube complexity, particular­ly since no one had seen Pierce after he left work Monday night and because of the unexplained blood in his room, in­vestigators had little choice but to write it up as a missing-person investigation at this point, with a notation that extreme violence may have occurred. Although no one close to the case really expected Pierce to turn up alive, his photograph was nonetheless made available to all law enforcement agencies in the area, just in case.
They didn’t have to wait long for a new development in the case. Detectives re­ceived a call at Pierce’s home from a person who declined to identify himself. The investigators would not comment on the significance of the call, which was placed early Thursday morning, March 13th. However, Troutdale Police Chief Douglas Dorsey said that his department, working with the Multnomah County sheriff’s detectives, was able to develop a lead involving a stolen car that was possibly connected to the case.
The car, they learned, had been stolen recently from Renton, Washington, near Seattle, and was recovered at a location in Tualatin, Oregon, a small community located a few miles south of Portland. Unsure of what role the car played at this point, Dorsey and Multnomah County detectives contacted the Tualatin Police Department for assistance. They didn’t waste any time getting to the site of the abandoned stolen vehicle, unaware, but at the same time hopeful, that it would supply them with the next piece to their complex puzzle.
As the detectives and officers walked casually around the car, they made a cur­sory examination of its interior and en­gaged in light conversation with each other. Finding little of significance in the front part of the car, they turned their attention to the trunk. When they gained entry to the trunk and saw the horrible body parts, their conversation stopped in mid-sentence. One of the officers retched with nausea and another turned pale and nearly fainted at the bloody, grisly sight.
The car and surrounding area was quickly cordoned off, and all the usual authorities were promptly notified that a homicide victim had been found. Every­one associated with the case knew they were really behind the eight ball on this one, and that they could leave no stone unturned to solve this case.
“‘During a subsequent search of the vehicle, identifiable parts of a victim’s body were found in the trunk,”‘ said Chief Dorsey when word of the gruesome discovery leaked out to the press. He said there was no way to immediately deter­mine the cause of death.
No one on the case would reveal just what anatomical parts were found inside the car’s trunk. However, one person said there was only a small percentage of a human body, but it would be enough for anyone familiar with the victim to make a positive identification.
As soon as the car and its unwhole­some contents were photographed and processed, the body parts were bagged, tagged, and sent to the Multnomah Coun­ty Morgue in Portland. A short time later, according to Dr. Larry Lewman, acting State Medical Examiner, the dismem­bered body parts were identified as Dan­iel W. Pierce. The positive identifica­tion, he said, was made by a sheriff’s deputy who was an acquaintance of the family.
Following an autopsy the next day, Dr. Karen Gunson, deputy medical examin­er, said that the small percentage of the body that had been recovered enabled her to confirm “‘who it was and that was about it.”‘ Although she could not deter­mine the actual cause of death because not enough of the body was available to examine, Gunson could confidently say Pierce died of homicidal violence.
“‘I drew my conclusions that I’d never see (Daniel) again,”‘ said one of Pierce’s relatives, struggling with tears. He said that when he went to Pierce’s house the night he was reported missing, it was very definite and obvious from the blood that Pierce was dead. “‘But until parts of his body were found I couldn’t make that statement to anybody but my own heart. I kept up the facade of hope.”‘
Pierce’s murder brought an already skyrocketing homicide rate in Portland even higher, causing concern for law en­forcement personnel and citizens alike.
“‘Part of the reason for the increase is because the city has grown, and we’ve annexed more areas,”‘ said Lieutenant Al Dean of the Portland Police Bureau. “‘But another reason, and this is only my opinion, is there’s just less respect for each other as humans…I think we all get anesthetized by television and movies where someone is shot. There might be a little bit of blood, but I think that death looks too easy. They don’t show what really happens when someone is shot in the side of the head (or cut up into pieces). It doesn’t happen all the time, but we’ve had suspects allude to the fact that the murder was different than what they thought it would be.”‘
In the meantime sheriff’s deputies continued searching for other of Pierce’s remains and sought additional informa­tion on the case. According to Sergeant James A. Davis, spokesman for the sher­iff’s department, there was just no rhyme or reason for Pierce’s brutal murder based on the limited information they had so far developed. He stressed, however, that detectives from his depart­ment would work around the clock if necessary to develop new leads.
Chief Dorsey, likewise, stressed that his department would do everything pos­sible to bring out a speedy resolution to the case, and he pleaded publicly for the anonymous tipster who called Pierce’s home early Thursday morning to contact the authorities. Chief Dorsey said it was possible the individual could have infor­mation important to the case but might not know it, and he assured that the per­son could call his office or the Mul­tnomah County sheriff’s department in confidence.
The next day authorities made yet an­other public plea for assistance, this time for help in the search for more of Pierce’s body parts. Sergeant Davis of the sher­iff’s department announced that detec­tives had installed a confidential tele­phone line with a recorder and that any­one seeking to help could call and have information recorded. The effort would eventually pay off, they reasoned, but they didn’t know how long it would take.
The detectives in this case were deal­ing with a “‘trunk murder,”‘ a name which is commonly used to describe a murder in which the perpetrator places the body of the victim inside a trunk, chest, large suitcase, box, or other simi­lar container in an attempt to dispose of the corpse. Even though a portion of Pierce’s body was concealed in the trunk of a car, the term still fit the crime in this case, perhaps even more so. The body in a trunk murder, it is interesting to note, is commonly cut up into several parts, as was the case here, but even more com­monly the victim is placed inside a sack or is covered with a blanket, tarpaulin, or articles of clothing.
The detectives knew from training and experience that the dismemberment of a body is either a defensive or an offensive act. While the offensive act is often asso­ciated with passion, sometimes regarded as a form of sadism when the victim is female or, as in some cases, a homosexu­al male, the defensive act, on the other hand, is utilized by the murderer who wishes to conceal the victim’s body or make it unrecognizable to aid him to his attempts to elude detection. Since Pierce was a young man and because there was no evidence that he’d ever been involved in a homosexual relationship, the detec­tives theorized that the dismemberment of his body fell into the defensive classi­fication. It was readily apparent that Pierce’s murderer intended to make identification of the body difficult by concealing parts of it at different places, likely spread out over a considerable ar­ea. Where he made his mistake, the de­tectives reasoned, was by leaving an identifiable part of the body in the stolen car’s trunk. They further reasoned that the killer must have been attempting to dispose of the parts in the trunk but in­stead had left the car in a panic, perhaps frightened away by someone.
If the identifiable part of Pierce’s body hadn’t been found so quickly, it would have been a much more difficult case for the investigators.
But the rapid discovery of a body part that enabled identification of the victim provided the sleuths in the Pierce case with a solid starting point.
Meanwhile, detectives stepped up their efforts in locating more of Pierce’s body parts. Although detectives re­mained tight-lipped about the case, sources close to the investigation re­vealed that the confidential telephone line, installed shortly after the mysteri­ous phone call to Pierce’s residence, seemed to be working. The investigators apparently developed enough information to lead searchers from the Mul­tnomah County Sheriff’s Department and the Troutdale Police Department to a heavily wooded area off Oregon highway 35, approximately 25 miles south of Hood River.
“‘Everything we have so far points to that direction,”‘ said Sergeant Jim Davis, without being more specific. He said a search party had been organized, and they would begin the endeavor the next day.
The searchers got off to an early start, shortly before dawn. As they drove through the Columbia River Gorge, they met the orange rays of the sun head-on as it made its way into the eastern sky. It was a beautiful sunrise as they entered the town called Hood River, well-known for its wonderful apples, and before they turned onto Oregon 35, they passed row after row of apple trees, the orchards being a major source of income for many in the area. The trees were budding beau­tifully, their delicate, pretty blossoms only a week or two away from making their first appearance, but unfortunately the lawmen weren’t there on a sightseeing trip.
The searchers soon found themselves in the deep shade of the heavily wooded area in the Mount Hood National Forest, making the morning chill all the more noticeable. A short time later they reached the area they wanted to search, and parked their vehicles and climbed out, some shivering in the cool morning air.
The giant fir trees stretched tall against the sky as they made their way into the forest. Nearby a pebbled brook chattered with cold water as it relentlessly polished its stones, and the twitter of birds still waking could be hard in every direction. One of the searchers pointed out a lone eagle that soared majestically overhead, and as they walked along they were occa­sionally distracted by ravens gliding by their nests on the sides of nearby cliffs. It was a captivating morning in enchanting area, much too beautiful to be out there searching for some poor soul’s body parts.
A short time later one of the searchers spotted a shape in the foreground, in it­self frightening, considering what they were looking for. But as the deputy came closer to it, he could see that it was a trap. He called out to his co-searchers that he’d found something.
It was wet in the forest and there were slugs galore, the slimy things were so thickly concentrated that the searchers actually had to watch where they step­ped. But they pushed on and in minutes reached the trap.
Even before they reached the trap the despicable odor told them they had found what they came looking for, at least part of it. With handkerchiefs over their noses, the searchers gazed at the trap in stunned disbelief, none wanting to re­move the covering and expose what was beneath it. But they knew they must, and when one of the searchers pulled the tarp to one side, all of the deputies and offi­cers stared in awe and horror as they watched the maggots helping themselves to the body parts that lay on the ground. The sight was so horrible that it unbraided something inside every one present, enough so that it left a scar on their souls. It was a sight they would relive for the rest of their days.
Because of the delicate nature of what they were dealing with, no one attempted to immediately move the parts. Instead, one of the deputies was sent back to his car to radio the gruesome discovery to his dispatcher, fighting to keep his voice steady as he described what they’d found.
Because the body parts required deli­cate handling from the beginning, han­dling and examination of the parts was left to the crime lab experts. When the technicians arrived at the remote site a short time later, they immediately exam­ined the wrapping for dirt, dust, and any­thing else that could indicate what had been wrapped in the tarp before using it for the body pieces. They also examined the tarp and the human segments for fin­gerprints, hair, and other traces of the perpetrator. However, they delayed us­ing any development media in their search for fingerprints until after the parts had been removed from the site and the laboratory experts had completed their examination to avoid contaminating the specimens. Despite their efforts, there was nothing from the extensive examina­tion to point the investigators toward a suspect.
In the meantime detectives were still trying to locate Pierce’s other roommate, whom they identified as Socrates Edward Ladner, 27, for questioning. Ladner, also known as Dan Brown, the sleuths learned, had met Pierce at the Pizza Hut restaurant in Gresham where they both worked. They lived together in Gresham for several weeks prior to finding Sally to share the house they rented in Troutdale.
Because of their strong interest in Lad­ner the detectives initiated a thorough background check on the subject. They learned that he was born in the Panama Canal Zone on March 22, 1959, and had relatives in Texas, but they were unable to learn when he came to the United States.
The background check provided an abundance of information on Ladner and enabled investigators to develop a num­ber of significant leads to run down. Sheriff’s detectives and Troutdale police traced Ladner to New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and, finally, Or­egon, and learned that their subject had outstanding warrants for his arrest in New Mexico on accusations of forgery, in Colorado on accusations of forgery and fraud, in Washington on charges of forgery, and in Texas on charges of pa­role violation and car theft.
According to Sergeant Davis of the sheriff’s department, Ladner had used at least 17 aliases including Eduardo So­crates Ladner, Louis Socrates Ladner, Louis S. Ladner, Ed Ladner, Louis Lad­ner, Ed Landier, Edward S. Landier, So­crates E. Osario, Virgilio Mario Stevens, Michael Stevens, Gary Free­man, Robert Linhart, David Canchola, Delbert Owen Thomas, Scott Thomas, and Dan Brown. The detectives strongly suspected there may have been other aliases, but they were unable to immedi­ately confirm those suspicions.
Further investigating revealed that the modus operandi (M.O.) of the suspect involved in the forgery and fraud cases typically shared a room with a victim for a period of time, took the victim’s blank checks, credit and bank cards, and through forgery and fraud, withdrew funds from the victim’s bank account and made charges on the credit cards. Often a car was stolen, driven to another state, and the process started all over again. Authorities believe the crime spree began in Texas in June 1985.
Because of the warrants on forgery and fraud in multiple states, as well as the M.O. that also fit in Pierce’s case, the detectives theorized that Pierce was mur­dered because he had found out about Ladner’s past and, because of the miss­ing funds from his own bank account, had put two and two together. The detec­tives speculated that Pierce confronted Ladner at some point, thinking he could handle the situation, but soon was out of his depth.
An APB was immediately issued for Ladner’s arrest, and he was taken into custody at an undisclosed location a short time later on the outstanding war­rants from Texas. He was lodged in the Justice Center Jail in downtown Por­tland, and an additional charge of murder was leveled against him.
Wearing a gray jacket and black-framed glasses at his first court appear­ance on the murder charge, Ladner told Multnomah County District Court Judge William J. Keys that he could not afford an attorney. Keys subsequently appoint­ed attorney Tommy Hawk to take his case.
After agreeing to talk, the detectives and Ladner squabbled for an hour in one of the interrogation rooms before they got down to brass tacks, the major prob­lem being that Ladner had agreed to talk but wasn’t giving them any useful infor­mation. His constant smile seemed to be a red herring to keep them from knowing his real intentions, but after a few more hours of interrogation, Ladner spilled the beans about Pierce’s murder. He re­fused, however, to discuss the motive.
In an unusual move, knowing that it would take two Philadelphia lawyers and a million bucks to get him out of this one, not to mention the horrendous fear of being indicted by a grand jury on a charge of aggravated murder (the legal theory being that Pierce was killed to conceal other crimes such as forgery and theft), which could bring the death pen­alty, Ladner appeared before Judge Lee Johnson and pleaded guilty to the murder charge before the grand jury had time to convene.
“‘We did this obviously to avoid a death penalty or a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence,”‘ said Defense At­torney Hawk. During the brief appear­ance Ladner admitted that he intentional­ly killed Pierce by striking him with a sharp object. When Judge Johnson asked what the sharp object was, Ladner told him it was a hatchet.
Ladner appeared before Judge Phillip J. Roth on Tuesday, June 3, 1986, for sentencing. Although Ladner never ad­mitted the motive for the killing, Deputy District Attorney Marilyn A. Curry said that Pierce was killed because he’d ap­parently made Ladner aware of what he knew with regard to his past and the for­geries made on Pierce’s accounts. She added that it would have been “‘un­characteristic for Pierce to confront any­one in a violent manner or to have made any threats.”‘
Prior to sentencing, Judge Roth de­scribed the confessed hatchet killer as a “‘predatory animal for a good period of time.”‘ He also said that Pierce’s murder was a “‘brutal slaying of a person who had befriended Ladner. The judge then asked Ladner if he had anything to say before sentencing.
“‘I know something terrible was com­mitted,”‘ said Ladner in a low voice. “‘That’s an understatement. I am not ask­ing anyone to feel sorry for me because I am getting what I deserve.”‘ Ladner said he was sorry for the killing.
Judge Roth then threw the hook at Ladner and sentenced him to life in pris­on, and setting a minimum term of 25 years before he could become eligible for parole. Roth added that Ladner was “‘very fortunate he’s only facing a life sentence”‘ and that he would be “‘derelict not to impose the maximum sentence”‘ available under Oregon law.


  1. Anyone check up on Ladner recently? I was a friend of Dan's and still have a hard time dealing with this act of violence. I really hope they NEVER let him out.

    1. He was released in May of 2011 and deported.

    2. He will do it again. Dan pierce was my friend. I met Ladner he appeared charming and persuasive, but he made me uneasy and he seemed predatory. I wish I had voiced my feelings to Dan.

  2. Dan was a good person. Raised in a loving family. He didn't deserve this horrid death. I pray that our Lord Jesus will either lead his murderer to his saving grace, or let him rot in Hell. I guess the choice is up to him. Terribly saddened by the horrific chapter in the lives of those who loved Dan. I know that he is with our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.