The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
Notice has been received from California state prison authorities that a motorcycle gang member has passed away while serving a life sentence in state prison for the gruesome murder of a young child.
Surviving family members of the victims were notified today of this outcome by Andrew Alvarado, the District Attorney’s Chief of Investigations.
Charles Anthony “Chuck” Diaz, age 75, the vice-president of the Vallejo chapter of the Hells Angels in 1986 when a family of four was murdered just outside of Fort Bragg, was convicted by a Mendocino County jury in 2004 of murder in the first degree of Dallas Grondalski by means of a knife.
On October 5, 1986, the newly-relocated Grondalski family was murdered in their “new” Mendocino coast farmhouse because of the husband/father’s past gang association with the Hells Angels.
The family consisted of Billy Grondalski, Patty Grondalski, 17-year-old Jerami Nolan Vandergriff, and 5-year-old Dallas Grondalski.
Billy, a former member of the Vallejo chapter, attempted to secretly move his family from the Bay Area to Fort Bragg to escape his past, hide from the gang, and start a new towing business in Mendocino County. Billy feared for his life and the lives of his family, a fear that morphed into a horrible reality once the gang found out where he was living.
Either before or after his murder, Billy’s gang tattoo was sliced away from his left arm. One motive for the killings was that Billy was out of the gang in “bad standing” and the gang wanted his gang-related tattoo physically extracted. Such tattoos are considered Hells Angel property and those in bad standing are not allowed to have them on their body.
The other three Grondalski family members were murdered because they were eyewitnesses to Billy’s execution.
While her parents and brother were shot to death, testimony received during trial proceedings was that Diaz was trying to decapitate the young Grondalski daughter with his knife when Diaz’s co-defendant instead shot the child because Diaz was taking too long to complete the task.
The Grondalski residence was later torched the following day by returning club members who had been reading up on the forthcoming new DNA science and its possible use to solve crimes.
The fire was intentionally set to destroy any trace evidence and incriminating DNA that might have been left behind, evidence that might later help law enforcement to identity the murderers.
The dead little girl was found by responding firemen and investigators alone in a corner of a bedroom still clutching a Matchbox toy in her grasp.
These crimes were characterized in media coverage at the time as “the worst mass murder in Mendocino County history.”
Diaz’s murderous co-defendant, Gerald Michael “Butch” Lester, age 75, the former Vallejo chapter president, is still alive and continues to serve a state prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole at the California State Prison Solano.
The law enforcement agencies that worked what eventually turned into a lengthy “cold case” investigation were the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, ATF, and DEA, the Vallejo Police Department, the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Police Department, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, and the California Department of Justice crime laboratory.
Special note and mention is made of the years of hard work undertaken by MCSO Lieutenant Phil Pintane and MCSO Sgt. Roy Gourley. Their tenacious investigation work ultimately identified those responsible for the four murders, as well as others who were prosecuted for helping to hide evidence.
Mendocino County’s current DA, David Eyster, was the prosecutor back in the day who worked long hours over weeks and months sifting through the often conflicting evidence to determine if there was sufficient evidence available to file formal charges.
If he determined there was, he was also tasked the responsibility to develop a plan for proving a case against both Lester and Diaz beyond a reasonable doubt. Eyster developed what became known as the prosecution’s “roadmap” that allowed Diaz and Lester to be arrested and, in time, successfully convicted.
In a letter of commendation issued in June 2004 by then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer to Mr. Eyster, the following observations and comments were made:
“I am writing to express my appreciation and admiration for the enormous amount of work you did in your investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the Grondalski family murders.
“You truly were a trailblazer on the most difficult and complex criminal case I have ever seen. I have no doubt that without your efforts neither Gerald Lester nor Charles Diaz would have been convicted.
“Later prosecutors who worked on this case had the distinct advantage of simply following the path that you had established.
“I genuinely hope you recognize that it was your own brilliant legal work, courage and perseverance that ultimately led to the solving of these horrible crimes and to achieving some measure of justice for the community and for the surviving family members, friends and relatives.”