A murderer convicted of the deaths of two Yadkin County farmers in 1980 has escaped from Tillery Correctional Facility in Halifax County.
According to a press release, Ladd was working on the prison farm on Sept. 23. Ladd was driving a tractor outside of the prison gates and was found to be missing at 10 a.m.
"Inmates that work in minimum security have earned that privilege," said Keith Acree, spokesperson for the North Carolina Division of Prisons. "This inmate had been in custody for 31 years. … He has been working for over seven years on the farm and has never had an incident or tried to escape until Sunday."
James Ladd, 51, was sentenced to three life sentences for the murders of Johnny Henderson and David Edwards.
"Johnny and David were getting ready to load cows at Johnny’s farm, and they were going to take them down to Turnersburg," said John Foster, a former SBI agent who worked on the case. "This boy, Ladd, had worked for Johnny before and knew that when Johnny went to a sale he carried all of his money in his bib overalls and dealt only in cash. So he waited in the barn for them to load the cows and then he shot them both with a 30/30 rifle. He took the money out of Johnny’s bib overalls and ran."
Foster said that Ladd had borrowed the rifle from someone, returned the rifle and headed to Statesville, where he spent a large portion of the money he had stolen. Foster said that he and other agents arrested Ladd at his home just past the Yadkin County line in Iredell less than 24 hours after the crime took place.
"They moved the trial from Yadkin to Surry County because of the publicity," Foster said. "He was tried in Surry and found guilty. He got a life sentence for each of the murders and a life sentence for the robbery."
Johnny Henderson was the brother of Jack Henderson, the Yadkin County Sheriff at the time of the crime. Jack Henderson said that he was upset and confused by the fact that Ladd was in a minimum security prison.
"It’s very disturbing for the families of the victims," Henderson said. "I have a great deal of confidence in the department of corrections and the local law enforcement, and I have all the confidence in the world that they will catch him as quickly as possible.
"I just pray that nobody else gets hurt while he’s out including himself," Henderson continued. "I know that he’s out there without money and without transportation, so I just hope that he doesn’t rob anyone. It’s a dangerous situation because he’s got nothing to lose."
Acree said that more than 60 prison emergency response team members and prison officers are activated and state wildlife officers and alcohol law enforcement agents are assisting with search manpower and investigative support.
Ladd is described as a white male with graying hair and a beard, which he may have shaven since his escape. He stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds. He has blue eyes. He was last seen wearing green pants and a white t-shirt, but may also have a pair of black pants.
According to the press release, anyone who sees Ladd should not approach or confront him, but should call 911 and alert authorities to his location.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.