Crime - Sacto 911

Was kidnap and murder of Gridley-area market employees ever solved?

Q: I read in The Bee of a heinous crme which took place, as I recall, in the 1970s, in which several persons who worked at a supermarket on Gridley Highway were kidnapped and murdered. Was this case ever solved?

Don, Citrus Heights

A: Willie Junior Johnson of Oroville was found guilty of kidnapping three people and murdering two of them during a failed holdup of an East Gridley market.

On April 19, 1982, Johnson accosted 30-year-old Mitchell Jenkins, of Live Oak, the market manager, and 39-year-old Candy Memmler, an employee, in the parking area just after the market closed and ordered them to open the door to the store, according to stories in The Sacramento Bee. They talked him out of it, warning him of burglar alarms.

Johnson then ordered Jenkins and Memmler into Memmler’s car, along with 56-year-old Murle Hudek of Anderson, who had stopped by the market to make a phone call.

They drove to a remote spot in a recreation area near the Feather River, east of Gridley, where Johnson ordered Jenkins and Hudek to lie on the ground, then fired a .22-caliber bullet into each victim’s head.

Johnson then ordered Memmler to drive him back to the market. Before they got to the store, she jumped out of the moving car. Despite a badly mangled leg, Memmler crawled into an orchard, where she hid until daybreak and was found by an orchard worker.

In addition to kidnapping and murder, a Butte County jury found Johnson guilty of solicitation for murder for trying to hire someone from his jail cell to kill two witnesses in the case.

The district attorney sought the death penalty, but jurors deadlocked 7-5 in favor of life in prison. Johnson was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Now 54 years old, he is at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy