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March 2, 2024

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Years after slaying of Washougal woman, family still looking for closure

Sandra Ladd, 71, found stabbed at home in June 2020

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Sandra Ladd, (second from right), is pictured with her grandchildren (left to right): Emma Sasse, Hunter Sasse and Ben Sasse in an undated photo. Ladd, 71, was found murdered in her Washougal home in June 2020.
Sandra Ladd, (second from right), is pictured with her grandchildren (left to right): Emma Sasse, Hunter Sasse and Ben Sasse in an undated photo. Ladd, 71, was found murdered in her Washougal home in June 2020. (Mikaela Sasse) Photo Gallery

Family members of Sandra Ladd, the 71-year-old Washougal grandmother found slain 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.”

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.”

For Upjohn, the waiting is increasing the anguish she felt after her aunt’s death.

“We lost her, and it was horrible,” said Upjohn, a Battle Ground resident. “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 in the 1900 block of 41st Street on June 14, 2020. An autopsy showed she died from stab wounds to her torso.

Police, who have revealed few details about the slaying, have never publicly identified any person of interest.

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

Upjohn took to social media and reached out to a Portland television station to help spread the word that Ladd’s family is still looking for answers.

“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.”

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. She earned an associate degree from Clark College and attended the University of Washington.

She was an administrative assistant and receptionist for the Washougal School District from 1987 until 2015. 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. She 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,” 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 children Mikaela Sasse of Vancouver, Jaymes Ladd of Yacolt, Ryan Ladd of Washougal and Trevor Paul Ladd of Washougal; and six grandchildren.

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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.”

Crimestoppers of Oregon is offering a $2,500 cash reward for anyone who can provide a tip that leads to the arrest of a suspect in Ladd’s death. For more information, visit crimestoppers oforegon.com.