TACOMA – Long before Joseph Edward Duncan III crossed paths with the two Idaho children he’s now accused of kidnapping, it was clear that something was seriously wrong with him.
In 1980, a psychological evaluation at a Washington state mental hospital found that Duncan – only 17 at the time – was preoccupied with “deviant sexual fantasies” and “meets the definition of the sexual psychopath.”
During assessments at Western State Hospital near Tacoma, Duncan detailed a sexual history that began at age 8, when he was allegedly performing incestuous acts with female relatives. By 12, he told doctors, he forced a 5-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him. At 15, Duncan told the doctors, he did the same thing to a 9-year-old boy, at gunpoint.
“It is important to note that Mr. Duncan did go out looking for victims,” the hospital report notes.
At 15, he tried to outrun police in a stolen car, at one point trying to run down a police officer. He was sent to the Tacoma-area Dyslin’s Boys Ranch for several months.
By age 16, he told doctors, he’d committed 13 rapes of young boys. In one case, he claimed, he tied up six boys, ages 6 through 10, forced them to perform oral sex, then raped them anally.
Then, just before his 17th birthday, he was arrested for breaking into a neighbor’s house, stealing guns, and then accosting a 14-year-old boy and raping him at gunpoint. That incident appears to have been the first time Duncan was charged with a sex crime.
“This position of power over children has developed into a very powerful and compulsive pattern,” clinical director Dr. William Voorhees Jr. and other officials wrote in their report. “… Mr. Duncan is not safe to be at large.”
Duncan was the fourth of five children born to Joseph E. Duncan Jr. and Lillian Mae Duncan. His parents were married in 1957 in rural Burnham, Pa.
A year later, Duncan’s father joined the Army. He’d stay a soldier for the next 20 years. His son would later complain to state doctors that until he was 12, the family moved every two years, from one military assignment to the next. They lived in Europe and at several U.S. posts.
“As a result of this, he kept to himself a lot and formed only a few superficial acquaintances,” the doctors wrote. The boy felt picked on and mocked, and said he spent most of his time watching TV and daydreaming.
In 1978, Duncan’s father retired from the military. He ended up getting a job with the U.S. Postal Service, working at a Tacoma-area bulk mail center.
A year later, after 22 years of marriage, Duncan’s parents separated, their marriage “irretrievably broken” for reasons unspecified in their thick divorce court file. Duncan and a younger sister were the only kids still living at home.
Duncan went to Lakes High School in Tacoma until his sophomore year, when he never returned after Christmas break. He had a 1.7 grade-point average, out of a possible 4.0, according to court documents. Duncan later told a pre-sentencing investigator that he was using marijuana daily by the time he got to high school, and tried LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates, valium and PCP.
During the car chase at age 15, he tried to run a police roadblock. The crash shattered his sinuses and the right side of his face.
In 1980, he committed the crime that landed him in Western State Hospital.
It started with a burglary. In the evening, knowing that a neighbor was gone, Duncan smashed out a storm window and broke into the man’s bedroom. He stole four pistols, about 1,000 rounds of ammunition and some pornographic magazines. He said later that he had intended to return home, look at the magazines and masturbate.
“Then I decided why not the real thing, so I got a gun … and went cruising for a victim,” he wrote in a court questionnaire.
He found the 14-year-old boy in front of a nearby school. At gunpoint, Duncan forced the boy into the woods and made him strip. He made the boy perform oral sex on him twice, hit him repeatedly with a stick, burned his buttocks with a cigarette, and then let him go. When Duncan got home, the police were waiting for him.
He subsequently pleaded guilty to first-degree rape.
“I held a gun to a juv. and forced him to commet sertan sex acts,” Duncan wrote on the plea form.
He later said the rape stemmed from a sense of rejection by his mother and father. He said he was upset because his parents had been fighting a lot and were breaking up, because he was doing badly in school, and because he couldn’t get into the Air Force with his auto-theft conviction.
He was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison, but the time was suspended. In lieu of prison, Duncan was committed to sex offender treatment at Western State Hospital.
By 1982, Western State Hospital had given up. Duncan was 19.
“After 22 months in the program, Mr. Duncan has shown an unwillingness to modify his sexually deviant behaviors and has chosen not to commit himself to program techniques,” his therapists wrote. Duncan showed “a constant need to maintain secrecy” about his fantasies, they said, and rebelled against treatment.
They cited a key incident. On Valentine’s Day 1982, Duncan’s mother came to stay with him at a Western State Hospital cottage used for family visits. After she went to bed, he gathered up his coat, gloves and an extension cord. He jumped the hospital wall and crept up to a nearby house, where he spied on an 18-year-old woman and people in other houses. When dogs began barking and a man spotted him, Duncan fled back to the cottage, where he woke up his mother. She then taught him how to disco dance, according to the report.
A week later, Duncan announced that he wanted to leave treatment and serve his time in prison.
“He exhibited little remorse or guilt for his sexual deviation while in treatment … He is not safe to be at large,” the therapists wrote to Pierce County officials. “… Mr. Duncan is available for transport back to your county by your sheriff at your earliest convenience.”
In 1982, he was sentenced to at least three, and no more than 20, years in prison. Duncan served 14 years for the rape and three more for parole violations.
Since then, Duncan has moved to Fargo, N.D. He disappeared after an April 5 hearing in Becker County, Minn., about an hour from Fargo, where he is accused of sexually molesting one boy and of attempting to molest another.