Investigators are now reviewing unsolved missing children cases nationwide for possible links to kidnapping and murder suspect Joseph Edward Duncan III.
Typically, the arrest of a violent sexual predator would prompt a regional review of unsolved cases, said FBI Special Agent Brent Robbins. But in Duncan’s case, the FBI decided to ask for a massive review of cases nationwide.
“Maybe he was in a town we wouldn’t have known about,” Robbins said.
Duncan, who is accused of kidnapping and murdering members of a Coeur d’Alene-area family in May, emerged Wednesday as the leading suspect in the 1997 kidnapping, assault and murder of a young boy in Southern California. Police in the Seattle area are also exploring if Duncan had any role in the 1996 disappearance of two young girls.
Shortly after Duncan was arrested at a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s Restaurant July 2, the FBI requested assistance in a database search from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Robbins said. The center devoted six full-time analysts to the search, which scoured thousands of unsolved cases for similarities, said Joann Donnellann, spokeswoman for the center.
“We came up with many cases that we turned over to the FBI for them to review,” Donnellan said. “I can’t go into any detail further than that. I can’t name names. It’s not fair to the families. We can’t raise false hopes.”
Authorities in several states are combing credit-card records and other evidence of his whereabouts to look for links to unsolved crimes, the Los Angeles Times is reporting.
Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez, spokesman for the Riverside (Calif.) County Sheriff’s Department, said he expects the revelation that Duncan may have killed 10-year-old Anthony Martinez will prompt more police agencies to review unsolved child murder and kidnapping cases.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of law enforcement agencies looking at those cases now,” he said.
Riverside County officials were tipped to the possible Duncan connection by the database review from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After FBI agents contacted the department in mid-July, sheriff’s investigators flew to Coeur d’Alene hoping to interview Duncan, Gutierrez said.
Duncan didn’t say much – he has previously refused to speak to investigators – but he did say that he had been in Southern California and he mentioned Martinez’s name, Gutierrez said. Contrary to other media reports, Duncan did not confess to the killing, Gutierrez said.
“He has talked. But a confession is, ‘I did it,’ ” he said.
DNA, likely from the abductor, was collected from the site where Martinez’s body was found, but authorities have yet to compare it with Duncan’s DNA, said Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle.
Doyle said there are obvious similarities in Duncan’s alleged Idaho crimes and the Martinez abduction and slaying.
Idaho authorities say Duncan used night-vision goggles to “scout” the Groene home in the days before his alleged violent rampage on May 16. Kidnapping victim Shasta Groene has told authorities in Idaho that Duncan repeatedly molested her and her brother before killing 9-year-old Dylan and leaving his body at a campsite.
Beaumont Police Lt. Mitch White, the lead investigator in Martinez’s abduction, said he believes that whoever snatched the boy also “scouted” Beaumont neighborhoods. As with the Idaho victims, Anthony Martinez was bound, and then killed. Like Dylan Groene, he was found to have been sexually assaulted, then killed and dumped at a remote area far from the sight of his abduction.
A rock was used to smash the head of the boy in Southern California. In Coeur d’Alene, the victims were bludgeoned with a hammer.
Duncan was released from prison in 1994 and sent back in 1997 for a range of parole violations, including smoking marijuana and leaving the state of Washington without permission. He completed the full term of his prison sentence in 2000 and moved to Fargo, N.D., following his release.
Duncan, 42, has spent only eight years of his adult life outside prison. He is known to have lived in – or visited – Washington, Florida, North Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota and California.
On one of Duncan’s Web sites, he mentioned a 5-year-old Minnesota girl who went missing more than two years ago. Investigators, however, have recently ruled Duncan out as a suspect in the case.
King County Sheriff investigators are reviewing the 1996 disappearance and murders of the two Seattle-area girls, said agency spokesman Sgt. John Urqhart. Duncan was believed to have been living near the girls when they went missing.
“We don’t have any evidence that links him to our double homicide,” Urqhart said.
“(Duncan) is certainly not a suspect at this point, but he has not been eliminated either,” Urqhart said. “Every police agency in Western Washington and everywhere else Duncan has lived is looking at him.”