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Joseph E. Duncan III
Born: February 25, 1963(1963-02-25)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
Number of victims: 7+
Span of killings: 1997–2005
Country: United States
State(s): Idaho
Date apprehended: July 2, 2005

Joseph Edward Duncan (born February 25, 1963) is an American convicted serial killer and sex offender who received national attention after being arrested in connection with the kidnapping of Shasta Groene,[1] aged 8, and her brother Dylan,[2] 9, and being featured on America's Most Wanted.[3] He pled guilty in December 2007 to 10 federal counts involving the kidnapping and torture of the children and the murder of Dylan at a remote campsite west of the Rocky Mountain Front, and was sentenced to death under federal laws for kidnapping resulting in death (he had already pleaded guilty in state court) on August 27, 2008. As of October 27, 2009, Duncan was being tried in Riverside County, California for the 1997 murder of Anthony Michael Martinez.[4]


Early criminal history

Duncan has 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 15 years old. In that incident he raped a 9-year-old boy at gunpoint, and 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, according to a report by the Associated Press. He also told the therapist that he estimated that he had raped 13 younger boys by the time he was 16.[5]

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 served 14 years then was released on parole and re-incarcerated for three more years for parole violations.[6]

In 2004, Duncan was charged with groping the genitals of a six-year-old boy. He was arrested in April 2005 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The judge granted bail at $15,000. A businessman in Fargo, North Dakota, Joe Crary, gave Duncan money for bail.[7] When freed, Duncan skipped bail.[8]

Idaho murders

According to Shasta Groene's police interview, Duncan killed her mother, older brother and her mother's fiance and then took her and her brother away in a 2000 Jeep Cherokee. Almost seven weeks after their abduction, a camera in a convenience store, approximately 40 miles outside of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, recorded Shasta wandering the aisles while Duncan read a newspaper. Later on, in the early morning hours of July 2, 2005, Shasta was found in Duncan's custody. The two had entered a Denny's restaurant in Coeur d'Alene. A waitress recognized Shasta from media reports, as well as posters that had been posted around town and in the restaurant. The waitress, Amber Deahn, worked with her manager to delay the suspect and contact local police. Deahn stalled the order until the police arrived and made a positive ID on the stolen rental car, which also displayed stolen Missouri state license plates. Police later entered the restaurant and arrested Duncan. When one of the officers asked Shasta where her brother was, she replied "My brother is in heaven." The girl was then removed to a local hospital for observation and care.[9]

Shasta told investigators her mother called her into the living room, from her bedroom where she had been sleeping, and she saw Duncan 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 fiance and her brother Slade. Dylan and Shasta were removed from the house and placed inside the stolen rental car. While she waited with her brother, she heard her mother's fiance scream out and then saw her injured older brother staggering away from the entrance to the home. Duncan then bludgeoned the three to death; neither Shasta nor Dylan witnessed the murders. Both Shasta and Dylan were removed to other locations, where they were repeatedly raped and molested for six weeks. She said that they drove long distances and stayed in various campgrounds, while Duncan bragged of having beaten her family members to death with a hammer.[10] Dylan's remains were found in a remote, woodland area in Montana days after Shasta was rescued. Shasta is now in the custody of her father.

Duncan appeared in court on July 6, 2005, during his arraignment on two counts of first-degree kidnapping. His 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 1st District Judge Fred Gibler stated that "No one wants to try this case twice, including me", thus granting Duncan's attorneys the six month extension. On October 16, 2006, Duncan pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of kidnapping for the deaths of Brenda Groene, Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie. In an agreement reached with prosecutors, Duncan, 43, will receive three consecutive life sentences on the kidnapping charges, which stem from the manner in which Duncan detained the victims before their deaths. His sentencing on the murder charges has been delayed until the completion of his case in federal court for crimes that allegedly occurred against Shasta and Dylan Groene after they were kidnapped from the family's home.[11]

In a January 23, 2007 interview, Duncan admitted to killing three other children in the California area. He was extradited in 2009 to stand trial for the murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez in 1997.[12]

Federal case

On December 2, 2007, Duncan appeared in Federal court in Boise, Idaho. At this hearing he pleaded guilty to a total of 10 federal felonies related to the Idaho kidnapping and murders. During this court appearance, he read a statement in which he said, "The not-guilty plea was not entered by me, but on my behalf." On 27 August 2008, a federal jury unanimously sentenced Joseph Duncan to the death penalty for three of the 10 federal charges of which he has been found guilty.

There was no deal made by federal prosecutors in return for the plea and Duncan was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008. In total, he received three death sentences and nine life sentences for the Idaho crimes.[13]

"The Fifth Nail" and "Fifth Nail Revelations"

Duncan recorded many of his violent sexual fantasies, even to the extent of becoming a sex offender advocate working for the repeal of sex offender law. He published his ideas on the Internet. He titled it "The Fifth Nail", which is also the URL for his personal Web site.[14] According to lore, in addition to the four nails used to pierce the body of Jesus Christ in His crucifixion, there was a fifth nail that was taken away and hidden by Roma. Duncan adopted the name for his own website and blog. The website depicted Duncan's day-to-day life as a sex offender.

Investigators are also considering the possibility that a "Minnesota girl" (Minnesotan) mentioned in his online diary could be related to another minor who is listed as missing.

"The Fifth Nail" advocates for sex offenders and contained material that called for the legal reform law aimed at sex offenders, calling them, "State Sanctioned Discrimination." Duncan was particularly angered by the requirement for sex offenders to participate in a public registry.

With the help of a "ghost blogger", Duncan posted to his new blog, "Fifth Nail Revelations", from prison. He wrote his blog entries by hand and mailed them to the "ghost blogger", who posted them exactly as written. According to media reports, law enforcement agencies have been watching the contents of the new blog in hopes of gathering incriminating information about Duncan's crimes, both known and unknown.

Other victims

In August 2005, California cold case investigators connected a single fingerprint to Duncan in an unsolved homicide. The case, cold since 1997, is the murder of 10-year-old Anthony Michael Martinez, a resident of Beaumont, California. Martinez was abducted April 4, 1997 right in front of his friends after an unknown male approached them with an offer of one dollar, if they helped him find his missing cat. The boys refused the offer, but the stranger grabbed Anthony by the collar, placed a knife near his throat, and threw him into a white vehicle. Anthony's nude body was found April 19 near Indio, California. His hands were bound with duct tape, where the killer left his fingerprint. Duncan is believed to have been in the southern California region around April 1997. It is unknown when Duncan will be formally charged.[15] If charged and convicted he may face a life sentence in Federal Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado in addition to the federal death sentence he has already received and the state sentences he is under. He will likely remain in federal custody unless he is extradited to Riverside.

In January 2007, Rod Pacheco, the Riverside, California District Attorney, stated he will seek to extradite Duncan to California for the 1997 murder. If convicted he will face the death penalty from the state of California.[16] On January 24, 2009 he was extradited to California to face trial.[17]

Additionally, federal prosecutors have revealed that Duncan confessed to the murders of Sammiejo White, 11, and her sister, Carmen Cubias, 9, who vanished on July 6, 1996, after leaving the Crest Motel in Seattle, Washington to panhandle. Their remains were found February 10, 1998, in Bothell, Washington[18].


  1. ^ Shasta Groene
  2. ^ Dylan Groene
  3. ^ America's Most Wanted
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Russell, Betsy (2008-08-15). "Details revealed in tape of Shasta: Children believed they'd go home". McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Retrieved 2009-05-19.  
  10. ^ ZRussell, Betsy (2008-08-20). "DUNCAN ALTERNATELY KIND, CRUEL, SHASTA SAYS; Victim describes her brother's death". Spokesman Review: pp. A.1. ISSN 10647317. Retrieved 2009-05-19.  
  11. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (2006-08-16). "Sex offender Joseph Duncan pleads guilty to killing three in deal with prosecutors". truTV. Retrieved 2007-03-14.  
  12. ^ QUANANDJOSEARBALLO, DOUGLAS (2009-01-24). "Man accused in boy's killing to face trial // EXTRADITED". The Press - Enterprise: pp. A.1. ISSN 07464258. Retrieved 2009-05-19.  
  13. ^ Russell, Betsy Z. (2008-11-04). "Duncan sentenced on remaining charges: Killer had pleaded guilty to all counts". McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Retrieved 2009-05-19.  
  14. ^ Poulsen, Kevin (2006-07-06). "Blog Bares Sex Offender's Demons". Wired News. Retrieved 2008-08-22.  
  15. ^ Martin, Jonathan; Mike Carter (2006-02-17). "Duncan tied to boy's slaying". The Seattle Times (The Seattle Times Company). Retrieved 2006-01-16.  
  16. ^ "". CBS News (CBS). Retrieved 2007-08-31.  
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ "Timeline of events linked to Joseph Edward Duncan". The Seattle Times (The Seattle Times Company). 2007-01-24.  
  • Dwyer, Kevin; Jure Fiorillo (2006). True Stories of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Berkley Books. pp. 192–205. ISBN 0-4252-1735-3.  

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