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Groene home slated for demolition

Thu., Nov. 20, 2008

House had been kept for evidence

Shoulder-high weeds obscure the front entry, but the house where a North Idaho murder spree began still stands, easily visible to travelers passing on Interstate 90 just east of Coeur d’Alene.

“I want the house torn down,” said Lee McKenzie Wood, whose son Mark McKenzie died in the house at Wolf Lodge Bay in a 2005 attack that also killed his fiancée, Brenda Matthews Groene, and her 13-year-old son, Slade. “It’s just eating me alive that it’s still standing, and it’s going on four years.”

She’s likely to get her wish. Attorneys say they no longer need the house for potential evidence in the case against convicted killer Joseph Duncan.

It could come down “in the very near future,” a spokeswoman for the Idaho Transportation Department, which now owns the house, said Wednesday.

Duncan burst into the home in 2005 and held the family hostage, then beat three family members to death with a hammer so he could kidnap and molest the two youngest children, one of whom he later killed.

Duncan received his final sentences Nov. 3 in federal and state courts – nine life terms in prison on top of three death sentences.

“Now it’s just a house sitting there empty and haunting everybody,” said Wood, who once lived next door.

The Transportation Department bought the property from the McKenzie family and plans to use it for wetland mitigation. But the department left the house standing in case it was needed for evidence.

The Transportation Department said earlier this week it couldn’t tear down the house until the Kootenai County prosecutor and U.S. attorney gave their go-aheads.

Bill Douglas, Kootenai County prosecutor, said he gave his office’s OK about two months ago.

“There’s no earthly reason to keep that house,” he said. “It is a constant reminder of a dark chapter in the history of this region.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan, head of the U.S. attorney’s Coeur d’Alene office, said she and U.S. Attorney Tom Moss sent ITD a letter Sept. 19 noting that the house should remain standing until Duncan received his final sentences.

Barbara Babic, spokeswoman for ITD in Coeur d’Alene, said she expects the department’s district office to get the go-ahead soon to demolish the house.

“We’d also like to see it torn down,” Babic said. “We just need to do it right, and that’s in the works. We aren’t going to announce when and all that – one day it will be there, and the next day it won’t. We don’t want to make a public spectacle out of it, out of respect for the family.”

Wood said she hopes a small monument can be placed on the site to honor the three people who died there.

Babic said, “That is certainly something we’d be open to.”

The Transportation Department bought the home Oct. 2, 2006, for $140,629. It came with 5.1 acres that officials said are suited to the department’s “wetland banking” program, which preserves wetlands as a tradeoff for area highway projects that encroach on wetlands elsewhere.

Wood said she avoids the area now, though she has pleasant memories of living there with her young family in a mobile home 40 years ago, when other relatives lived in the house.

“It was peaceful, but it was bad because the septic system was bad, and the flooding,” she said. “But otherwise it was nice being out there.”

The property, with its abundant foliage, sees plenty of wildlife, she said. “We had ducks and geese and everything else come down there.”

Staff photographer Kathy Plonka contributed to this report.

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