Joseph Edward Duncan III | American Serial Killer
Joseph Edward Duncan III
American Serial Killer
Crime Spree: 1978 – 2005
Joseph Edward Duncan III was an American Serial Killer and sex offender who was on death row in federal prison in conjunction with the 2005 kidnappings and murders of members of the Groene family of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Duncan was also serving 11 consecutive sentences of life without parole in conjunction with the same crimes as well as the 1997 murder of Anthony Martinez of Beaumont, California.
Additionally, Duncan confessed to, but not charged with, the 1996 murder of two girls, Sammiejo White and Carmen Cubias, in Seattle. At the time of the attack on the Groene family, Duncan was on the run from a child molestation charge in Minnesota.
Joseph Edward Duncan III
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Duncan’s lengthy criminal history dates to when he was 15 years old. In 1980, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting a boy in Tacoma and as a result has spent most of his adult life in prison. He was paroled in 1994 but was returned to prison in 1997 for violating the terms of his parole.
In May 2005, Kootenai County, Idaho authorities discovered the bodies of Brenda Groene, her boyfriend, and her 13-year-old son in the family home near Coeur d’Alene. Authorities also noted that Groene’s two other children, Shasta, 8 and Dylan, 9, were missing. After an intense search for the two children, Shasta was found alive with Duncan at a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene nearly seven weeks later, and Duncan was arrested in conjunction with her kidnapping. Dylan’s remains were found days later in a remote area near St. Regis, Montana. Duncan was subsequently charged with murdering Dylan as well as the three victims at the Coeur d’Alene home.
During his incarceration, authorities connected Duncan with the long unsolved murders of Anthony Martinez in California and two girls in Seattle, all of which occurred during Duncan’s parole from 1994–1997. Of those murders, Duncan has only been charged in the California case. In all, Duncan had been convicted in the state of Idaho for kidnapping and murdering the three victims in Coeur d’Alene, for which he was given six life sentences.
Early Criminal History
Joseph Edward Duncan III had a long history as a violent sexual predator. His first recorded sex crime occurred in 1978 in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington, when he was just 15 years old. In that incident, he raped a nine-year-old boy at gunpoint. The following year, he was arrested driving a stolen car. He was sentenced as a juvenile and sent to Dyslin’s Boys’ ranch in Tacoma, where he told a therapist who was assigned to his case that he had bound and sexually assaulted six boys. He also told the therapist that he estimated that he had raped 13 younger boys by the time he was 16.
In 1980, also in Tacoma, Duncan stole a number of guns from a neighbor and then abducted a 14-year-old boy and sodomized him at gunpoint. Duncan was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but was released on parole in 1994 after serving 14 years.
While out on parole, Duncan is known to have lived in several places in the Seattle area. He was arrested in 1996 for marijuana use and released on parole several weeks later with new restrictions. Authorities believe that during his parole, Duncan murdered Sammiejo White and Carmen Cubias in Seattle in 1996 and Anthony Martinez in Riverside County, California in 1997; however, both those cases went cold and were not tied to Duncan until after his arrest in the Groene case.
Joseph was arrested in Kansas and returned to prison in 1997 after violating the terms of his parole. He was released from prison again on July 14, 2000, with time off for good behavior, and moved to Fargo, North Dakota.
On The Run
In March 2005, Duncan was charged with the July 3, 2004 molestation of two boys at a playground in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. On April 5, 2005, he appeared before a Becker County judge, who set bail at US$15,000. A Fargo businessman with whom Duncan had become acquainted helped him post bail; however, Duncan skipped bail and disappeared. On June 1, 2005, a federal warrant was issued for Duncan’s arrest on the charge of “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
The Idaho Murders and Kidnappings
On May 16, 2005, Kootenai County, Idaho authorities discovered the bodies of Brenda Groene, 40; her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, 37; and her son, Slade Groene, 13, in their home along Lake Coeur d’Alene, outside the city of Coeur d’Alene. Two of Brenda Groene’s other children, Dylan, 9, and Shasta, 8, were missing. An AMBER Alert was issued and searchers combed the area for the missing children while authorities investigated the deaths at the home as homicides. Autopsies determined the cause of death to be blunt trauma to the head. Authorities also noted that the victims had been bound.
Searching For A Killer
Seven weeks later, in the early morning hours of July 2, 2005, Shasta Groene was seen in a man’s custody at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. A waitress, manager, and two customers at the restaurant recognized Shasta from the media attention and surreptitiously called police and positioned themselves to prevent Duncan from leaving. Police officers arrived at the restaurant and arrested the man, later identified as Joseph Edward Duncan III, without incident.
Shasta Groene identified herself to a waitress at the restaurant and to authorities, and was taken to Kootenai Medical Center for medical treatment and to be reunited with her father. Coeur d’Alene police, meanwhile, detained Duncan on kidnapping charges and on his outstanding federal warrant.
Joseph Edward Duncan III
When Shasta Groene was found without Dylan, authorities held little hope of finding Dylan alive. Police asked the public for tips, specifically with respect to sightings of the stolen red Jeep Cherokee with Missouri license plates that Duncan was driving at the time of his arrest. Authorities discovered that Duncan had rented the car in Minnesota and never returned it. A gas station employee in Kellogg, about 40 miles east of Coeur d’Alene, recognized the vehicle as one that had stopped at her station hours before Joseph Edward Duncan III was arrested. The employee suspected the girl wandering around the station might have been Shasta, but did not confront her, as nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The employee and her manager notified authorities after reviewing surveillance camera footage and seeing Duncan and Shasta in the video.
Many tips provided to authorities centered around remote areas along the Idaho–Montana border. On July 4, 2005, investigators found human remains at a remote makeshift campsite in the Lolo National Forest near St. Regis, Montana. The remains were sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia for DNA testing and were positively identified as Dylan Groene.
Shasta Groene’s Interview
Much of what is known about the murders of the Groene family was revealed by Shasta Groene herself. According to Shasta Groene’s police interview, Duncan killed her mother, older brother and her mother’s fiancé and then took her and her brother away in the red Jeep Cherokee.
Shasta told investigators her mother called her into the living room, from her bedroom where she had been sleeping, and she saw Joseph Edward Duncan III wearing black gloves and holding a gun. Her captor tied her mother’s hands with nylon zip ties, and did the same to her mother’s fiancé and her brother Slade.
Dylan and Shasta were then removed from the house and placed inside the stolen rental car. While she waited with her brother, she heard her mother’s fiancé scream out and then saw her injured older brother staggering away from the entrance to the home. Duncan then bludgeoned the three to death. Mercifully, neither Shasta nor Dylan witnessed the murders.
Both Shasta and Dylan were removed to other locations, where they were repeatedly molested for six weeks. She said that they drove a long distance and stayed in two different campsites. She said Joseph Duncan told her of having beaten her family members to death with a hammer.
Shasta also told investigators how Dylan was murdered. Duncan insisted that Dylan’s death was an accident but Shasta says differently. Shasta stated that she was standing on the other side of Duncan’s Jeep when she heard a loud boom. She ran to the other side of the Jeep where she saw Dylan lying on the ground screaming. Duncan was apparently digging through a clear plastic box looking for beer, when a shotgun, that was also kept in the box went off, hitting Dylan in the stomach. Shasta said that she then saw Duncan put the shotgun to Dylan’s head and pull the trigger, but it failed to go off. While Dylan lay begged Joseph not to kill him, Duncan reloaded the shotgun, put it back to the boy’s head and pulled the trigger, killing him instantly. According to Shasta, immediately after killing Dylan, Duncan started crying and told her that he only killed him to put him out of his misery.
Shasta also reported that Duncan nearly killed her days after killing Dylan. She said he gave her the choice to be killed either by strangulation or with a gun. Shasta chose the former and Duncan proceeded to wrap a rope around her neck and pull it tight. (Joseph Duncan had tortured her brother by hanging him until he was unconscious only to revive him so he could hang him again.) However, Shasta begged Duncan to stop, using his nickname, “Jet”, and he immediately stopped. He then asked her if she would like to meet his mother, to which she responded yes, and the two drove back towards Coeur d’Alene and stopped at the Denny’s restaurant where Shasta was ultimately rescued.
Dylan’s remains were found in a remote, woodland area in Montana days after Shasta was rescued.
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The Fifth Nail
For over a decade, convicted serial killer Joseph Edward Duncan III posted his journals to a blog from his cell on Death Row.
The blog was called The Fifth Nail, named after the legend of a gypsy who forged a fifth nail for the crucifixion of Christ, one that would have pierced his heart. In his journals,
Duncan relates previously unknown details of his crimes, his thoughts on society and the influences in his life that caused him to become a killer, and chronicles his life in prison.
These journals have now been curated and presented for the first time as four volumes in complete chronological order. (Amazon)
Duncan’s arrest led the FBI to launch a nationwide review of unsolved missing child cases. He was implicated as a possible suspect in several crimes that occurred between 1994 and 1997, when he was on parole, and between 2000 and 2005, when he was free from prison. Although he was cleared as a suspect in some of the cases, authorities in California and Washington had enough evidence to believe Joseph Edward Duncan III had committed unsolved murders in their jurisdictions.
On April 4, 1997, 10-year-old Anthony Michael Martinez was playing with friends in the front yard of his home in Beaumont, Riverside County, California when an unknown man approached the group asking for help finding a missing cat. When the boys refused, the man grabbed Martinez at knife point and threw him into his vehicle.
After a 2-week search, on April 19th Martinez’s body was found nude and partially decomposed in Indio. Investigators noted that he had been sexually assaulted and bound with duct tape. Although a composite sketch of the suspect was made available and a partial fingerprint taken from the duct tape found on Martinez’s body, the case eventually went cold.
In July 2005, bloggers noticed similarities between Duncan and the composite sketch in the Martinez case, as well as between Duncan’s vehicle and the one Martinez’s assailant was driving. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children became involved, and in turn contacted Riverside County authorities. Riverside authorities were able to match the fingerprint taken from Martinez’s body to Joseph Edward Duncan III, and on August 3rd the Riverside County Sheriff officially announced Duncan’s connection with the Martinez case.
Sammiejo White and Carmen Cubias
Additionally, federal prosecutors have revealed that Joseph Edward Duncan III confessed to the murders of Sammiejo White, 11, and her sister, Carmen Cubias, 9, who vanished on July 6th, 1996, after leaving the Crest Motel in Seattle, Washington to panhandle. Their remains were found February 10th, 1998, in Bothell, Washington.
A Killer on Trial
Joseph E. Duncan III was convicted by three separate courts. First, by the state of Idaho for the kidnapping and murders of Brenda and Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie. Second, by the U.S. federal court for the kidnapping of Shasta and Dylan Groene. Then for the murder of Dylan Groene, and various other crimes. And thirdly, by the state of California for the kidnapping and murder of Anthony Martinez.
Joseph Edward Duncan III first appeared in a Kootenai County court on July 13, 2005, where he was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first degree kidnapping, all in conjunction with the deaths of Brenda and Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie. Kootenai County prosecutors had initially planned to charge Duncan with the kidnappings of Shasta and Dylan Groene; however, they deferred those charges to the federal court system, as transporting children across state lines for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a federal offense under U.S. law.
Trial was set to begin on January 17, 2006, but was delayed until April 4, after the district judge granted a request to the defense for more time to prepare for the trial, and then again to October 26, after the judge in the case stated that “No one wants to try this case twice, including me.” Duncan’s defense attorneys blamed the multiple postponements on the prosecution’s insistence on pursuing the death penalty.
On October 16, 2006, shortly after the jury selection process began, Kootenai County prosecutors and Duncan’s attorney reached a plea bargain in which Joseph Edward Duncan III pleaded guilty to all state charges against him. He was immediately sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the three kidnapping charges.
Sentencing on the three murder charges was continued pending the outcome of his federal trial on kidnapping and murder charges. The judge said at the time that if he did not receive the death penalty on the federal charges, he would return to Kootenai County for a death penalty phase on the state murder charges.
Joseph Edward Duncan III
Over 2 years later, after being sentenced to death on federal charges, Kootenai County sentenced Joseph Edward Duncan III to three additional life sentences. Duncan also agreed to cooperate with Kootenai County sheriff’s detectives investigating his crimes and provide passwords to encrypted files stored on his computer.
In U.S. Federal Court
On January 18, 2007, Joseph Duncan was indicted by a federal grand jury in Coeur d’Alene on 10 counts of “kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death, aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, and sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death,” and other crimes related to illegal firearm possession and vehicle theft. He was arraigned the following day at a federal court in Boise, Idaho, where a judge ordered Duncan to stand trial the following March. Duncan’s defense attorneys immediately requested a postponement, which was granted the week the trial was originally scheduled to begin. A new trial date was set for January 22, 2008.
On December 3, 2007, Duncan pleaded guilty to all 10 charges against him. As a condition of the agreement, Shasta Groene would not have to testify in the penalty phase of the trial. Due to a gag order, other details of the plea agreement were not released.
The penalty phase for Duncan’s federal trial began on August 13, 2008. On August 27, 2008, after 3 hours of deliberation, the jury recommended the death penalty, and the judge in the case sentenced Duncan to three death sentences for “kidnapping resulting in death, sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death, and use of a firearm in a violent crime resulting in death,” all related to the death of Dylan Groene. On November 3, 2008, Duncan was sentenced to an additional three federal life sentences for kidnapping Shasta Groene and for sexually abusing Shasta and Dylan Groene.
On January 18, 2007 – the same day Joseph Edward Duncan III was indicted in federal court – Riverside County officials announced that Duncan was charged with Martinez’s murder. Despite attempts by Riverside County officials to extradite Duncan to California, including an appeal by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Duncan’s federal trial proceeded. He was eventually extradited to California on January 24, 2009, five months after being sentenced to death by federal court.
On March 15, 2011, Joseph Edward Duncan III pleaded guilty to Martinez’s murder. As part of his plea deal, Duncan was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the right to appeal.
Although Joseph Edward Duncan III could have faced a separate death sentence in addition to the ones he had already been sentenced to in federal court, Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach justified the life sentence by stating that he had consulted with the Martinez family, who wanted closure in the case, and that “the federal system will kill him long before the state of California would have seriously considered it.” He was returned to death row at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Death of A Killer
In October 2020, Duncan underwent brain surgery after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma. He declined any treatment and rejected chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Joseph Duncan died on March 28, 2021, at the age of 58.
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