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Crime News The Real Murders of Orange County

Retired Marine's O.C. Murder Traced To His Ex-Girlfriend and Her Two Accomplices

The fatal shooting of an "American hero" looked like "an open and shut case" until investigators dug deeper and found the real killers.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On August 20, 1986, a frantic 911 call came in at 10:52 p.m. in Santa Ana, California. When police arrived they saw a young man doing CPR on a man whose head was resting in a pool of blood.

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The victim appeared to have “at least one bullet wound to the temple,” Jim Donnelly, a retired officer with the Santa Ana PD, told The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.

The person giving CPR was Michael Grimes, 25. The victim was his father, Jessie Grimes, 55. “He kept claiming that his father had suffered a heart attack,” said Gary Mata, a retired detective with Santa Ana PD.

Paramedics arrived and determined that Jessie didn’t survive the shooting. He was declared dead at the scene.

Officers cleared the crime scene and collected evidence while Michael was taken to Santa Ana PD to be interviewed.

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Jessie Grimes' son is initial suspect in slaying

At the scene, police observed that Jessie had been shot in the chest and the head. Five bullet casings from two guns were recovered. At the residence, the coroner said the time of death was 10:30 p.m.

"Jessie Grimes was an American hero," said Jim Carlton, a former Orange County Register reporter. "He was in the Marine Corps for 27 years and retired as a captain."

A divorced father with three children, Jessie's second career was working as a family-law attorney. He had a strong relationship with his neighbors and community.

“Jessie was kind of like a father figure,” Marni O’Neil, a neighbor, told producers. Investigators also learned that Jessie and Michael had a strained relationship.

Neighbors told police they’d heard gunshots around 10:30 p.m. Before officers arrived, the witnesses reported that they saw Michael leaving the building with his friend David.

“It was obvious that two guns had been used,” said Mata. “I’m thinking those two people may have something to do with it.”

A photo of Jessie Grimes, featured in Real Murders of Orange County 310

While officers moved quickly to round up David, police questioned Michael at Santa Ana PD. While being interrogated, Michael said that he was at his friend Dennis’ condo. Around 10 p.m. he went to check on his dad, who’d previously had a heart attack, before returning to Dennis’ apartment.

About 45 minutes later, he returned to his father's place, where he found his father in a pool of blood. He assumed his father had hit his head because he saw no bullet wounds. To investigators, the account sounded far-fetched.

Michael claimed that after he called 911 he ran outside and saw David. They walked toward the street to wait for help to arrive, according to Mata.

Michael insisted he didn’t shoot his father. “I tried to bring him back to life,” he said in a recorded police interview.

Officers didn’t believe him and arrested Michael for his father’s murder.

The case of a Marine allegedly being shot by his son became a front-page story, according to Carlton. “It just seemed to be an open and shut case.”

As law enforcement and prosecutors worked the case, they tried to verify Michael’s alibi. He had said he was at Dennis’ apartment when Jessie was shot but Dennis couldn’t say with certainty that that was true because Michael left his condo on a number of occasions, said Jeoff Robinson, a retired deputy D.A. with the Orange County DA’s Office.

Jessie Grimes' Apartment Became a Crime Scene

Investigators tracked down David and questioned him. He said that around 10:30 p.m. he was with his friend Jennifer Gorman at her apartment when he heard a noise and looked out the window. He saw Michael, who appeared to be in distress, so he ran out to help him. Michael was covered in blood and kept saying that his dad suffered a heart attack. They rushed to the street to flag down paramedics.

Gorman confirmed David’s account and told police that before 10:30 p.m. she’d gone to Jessie’s home to look for Michael. At the time, a woman and two men in suits were with Jessie.

“Once we learned that there might have been other people involved, that was a pivot point for this investigation,” said Mata.

New suspects emerge — Valerie Kalman, George Peterson, Timothy Stotlar

Gorman didn’t know the men but she recognized the woman as Jessie’s ex-girlfriend whose name she didn’t know. Police found pictures of the woman in Jessie’s apartment and confirmed that she was the person Gorman saw.

Officials took the photos to Santa Ana PD, where Michael identified the girl as Valerie Kalman, 19. He explained that his father and Valerie became a couple after he helped her with a legal issue. She lived with Jessie for a while.

“My dad saw Valerie as a diamond in the rough,” Michael Grimes told producers. The romance ended not long before Jessie’s murder.

Detectives focused on tracking down Kalman, who had a juvenile record — but in a surprise twist, she reached out to investigators.

At the Santa Ana PD, Kalman denied being at Jessie’s home the night he was shot. However, officers knew she was there and pressed her for the truth, at which point she told police that she had been to the condominium with two men — George Peterson and Tim Stotlar.

She was dating Stotlar, who was friends with Peterson. She admitted that they went to Jessie’s home because, she said in a taped police interview, “they wanted his money.”

Mugshots of George Peterson, Valerie Kalman, and Tim Stotlar featured in Real Murders of Orange County 310

They arrived at the condo and told Jessie they were there to collect Kalman’s clothes. Jessie and Kalman went upstairs to talk, and after a few minutes she went downstairs.

That's when Peterson and Stotlar went to Jessie's room. “They went upstairs and shot him,” Kalman told police in the taped interview, adding that, after the shooting, they fled the scene in their car.

“At the conclusion of the interview it was obvious that Valerie had admitted to her participation with the homicide,” said Mata.

Kalman was arrested and Michael Grimes was released from custody.

Pressed by police for the whereabouts of Peterson and Stotlar, Kalman revealed that as they were driving to San Diego they were stopped for speeding. In the vehicle, the authorities found a pistol and a rifle. Peterson, the driver, was arrested for possession of the illegal firearms and taken to the Orange County jail. However, the California Highway Patrol officer knew nothing about the Santa Ana homicide, so Kalman and Stotlar were released.

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At the O.C. lockup, investigators questioned Peterson, who said what went down at Jessie's home "was all Valerie's idea," according to Mata. "She's the one that took us over there." 

“When I asked him about the motive, he said, ‘The reason we did this is because we needed some cash,’” Mata added.

Peterson said that he shot twice and Stotlar shot three times, which matched with evidence found at the scene. Peterson was arrested.

As the search for Stotlar continued, Jessie Grimes was buried with honors.

Through a tip that came in six weeks after the murder, Stotlar was apprehended on October 2. He immediately requested a lawyer and made no statement.

Between the confessions by Kalman and Peterson and the recovered weapons, prosecutors believed they had a strong case.

The three defendants were tried separately, beginning in July 1987. Stotlar and Peterson were convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Peterson served 32 years and was released in 2018. Stotlar left prison in 2019 after 33 years.

Kalman pleaded to second degree murder in exchange for her testimony against Stotlar and Peterson. She was sentenced to 15 years and released in 1996 after serving 10 years.

To learn more about the case, watch The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.