In March 1997, Joseph Edward Duncan III suddenly quit his job in Seattle, borrowed his girlfriend's car and fled parole. Ten days later, according...

Share story

In March 1997, Joseph Edward Duncan III suddenly quit his job in Seattle, borrowed his girlfriend’s car and fled parole. Ten days later, according to California authorities, he may have lured a 10-year-old boy into the car, then killed him and dumped his body.

The sheriff of Riverside, Calif., announced yesterday that investigators had linked Duncan to the boy’s killing. A partial thumbprint recovered from the scene matched a thumbprint recently taken from Duncan.

The body of Anthony Martinez was found in a remote canyon north of Indio, Calif., on April 19, 1997.

If the sheriff’s office is correct, this would be the first crime to be tied to Duncan since he was charged in July with killing a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, family, then abducting their 8- and 9-year-old children for sex and killing the older child.

Brenda Groene, Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie were killed in their home near Coeur d’Alene sometime late on May 15 or early May 16. Shasta Groene, 8, and Dylan Groene, 9, were abducted from the home. Shasta was spotted July 2 in a Coeur d’Alene restaurant in the company of Duncan, who was arrested at the scene.

Before the Idaho attack, Duncan was charged in July 2004 with molesting a 6-year-old boy on a Minnesota playground.

Amateur detectives have filled Internet blogs with speculation that Duncan, a 42-year-old from Tacoma, committed far more crimes than he’s been charged with. Two bloggers in mid-July described similarities between a composite sketch of the Martinez kidnapper and Duncan’s mug shot, and between the car Duncan was driving and the white four-door sedan used to lure Martinez.

“I thought the resemblance, the facial structure, was just so strong,” said Steve Huff, a 37-year-old opera singer in Georgia who writes a blog, “It just got my hackles up.”

FBI special agent Brent Robbins said the bureau contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children after the Idaho abductions and slayings to look for other possible victims.

“As a result of them correlating children, that helped us contact Riverside County,” he said.

Robbins declined to say if Duncan is suspected in other cases.

The Martinez case was high profile in California, and Riverside Sheriff Bob Doyle said the fingerprint match was “huge.”

“We followed up 15,000 leads over eight years,” the sheriff said. “You can imagine the elation.”

In 1997, Duncan fled Seattle while on parole for the rape and torture of a 14-year-old Tacoma boy in 1980.

He had been paroled in 1994, and in the next two years he landed steady work, according to parole-board records. He also got into several homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

But by June 1996, Duncan was having difficulty, according to the documents. He began smoking marijuana and stopped seeing his therapist regularly. He admitted to looking at pornography on the Internet and, on one occasion, hanging out at the Queen Anne neighborhood pool and watching naked, pre-adolescent boys change into their swim trunks.

“It looks like [Duncan] has some terribly confused boundaries and seems like [he] is going through a lot right now,” his parole officer wrote in June 1996. Four months later, the officer wrote, “His personal life appears a little less stable.”

In October, the Department of Corrections ordered Duncan arrested. His parole was reinstated with tougher conditions. His parole officer wrote: “[Duncan] is obviously a greater risk than his record suggests.”

By March 1997, Duncan had slipped further. He again was caught smoking marijuana and quit his $300-a-week job as a magazine salesman March 25 without informing his parole officer. He called two days later and claimed he was at his mother’s house in Tacoma. He borrowed his girlfriend’s white, four-door 1986 Chrysler New Yorker and disappeared.

On April 4, 1997, a group of boys were playing in Beaumont, Calif., when a thin, mustachioed man pulled up in a white, four-door sedan and asked for help finding a lost cat. The man tried to grab another boy before seizing Martinez.

The boy’s nude and decomposed body, bound with duct tape, was found under a pile of rocks after a ranger noticed buzzards circling the area. Doyle, the Riverside sheriff, said the boy had been sexually assaulted, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Riverside sheriff’s Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez said detectives are attempting to find the vehicle and search it for additional evidence.

Around the same time, parole records indicate, Duncan’s parole officer thought Duncan was headed to his father’s house in Las Vegas, which is 300 miles from where Martinez’s body was dumped.

Duncan stayed on the run until August 1997, when he was arrested in Kansas City, Mo.

Duncan was sent back to prison in Washington to serve the remaining three years of his 20-year sentence, for violating parole. He was released, unsupervised, in 2000.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605; Mike Carter: 206-464-3706