Local News

Victim's brother says escaped killer unpredictable

Posted September 25, 2012 3:15 p.m. EDT
Updated September 25, 2012 7:06 p.m. EDT

— As the search for an escaped murderer stretched into its third day Tuesday, the brother of one of his victims said he fears for people's safety.

James Ladd Jr., 51, was serving three consecutive life sentences for two 1980 murders when he walked away from a prison farm at Tillery Correctional Center in Halifax County on Sunday morning.

Dozens of law enforcement officers from various state and local agencies have searched day and night since then, using tracking dogs and aerial surveillance, but haven't been able to pick up his trail.

Authorities said they have received numerous tips as to Ladd's whereabouts, but none have panned out.

Ladd robbed and killed Johnny Henderson and David Edwards on a Yadkin County farm on Nov. 26, 1980. He was convicted of first- and second-degree murder and armed robbery.

Jack Henderson said his brother was a cattle broker who often hired Ladd, then 19, to work on the farm. He said Ladd shot both men in the back of the neck with a high-powered rifle so he could rob them.

Edwards had a young child at the time, while Johnny Henderson had just gotten married, said Jack Henderson, a former Yadkin County sheriff.

"If he'll do that, he'll do anything," he said. "I think what concerns me more than anything else is he might hurt someone else."

Tillery Correctional Center is a minimum-security facility where many inmates work on two unfenced prison farms. Department of Public Safety officials said a guard was supposed to check on Ladd periodically, noting that some inmates aren't supervised on the farms.

"I do not understand somebody that's convicted of two murders and is on a minimum-security prison. I do not understand that," Jack Henderson said, noting that the jury voted 11-1 in favor of a death sentence for Ladd.

"You've got to pay the price to start with, and he hasn't paid his time yet," he said.

All North Carolina prison inmates, with the exception of those sentenced to death or life without parole, have the opportunity to work their way into minimum-security custody to prepare for their eventual release, DPS spokesman Keith Acree said. They must be within five years of their release date or parole.

Ladd became eligible for parole last year, after serving 30 years in prison. He was denied parole and is scheduled for another parole review in 2014.

Acree said Ladd also had a good record behind bars, which allowed him to be shifted to Tillery Correctional Center.

Jack Henderson said he suspects that Ladd has long since left the area where law enforcement is searching.

"He's befriended someone in prison, and maybe that person has got out of prison (and) has got a car," he said. "He probably picked him up, and he's probably gone south or north or west. I don't know."

Ladd is described as white, with graying hair and a beard, which authorities said he might have shaved off. He stands 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs about 140 pounds and has blue eyes. He was last seen wearing green pants and a white T-shirt, but may also have a pair of black pants.

Anyone with information on Ladd's whereabouts is asked to call local law enforcement or the Tillery Correctional Center at 252-826-4165.