Two days after Joseph Edward Duncan wrote his last blog entry on May 13, 2005, he was on the run with two young children he’d kidnapped from a home in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. The children’s mother, Brenda Groene was found dead, along with her 13-year-old son Slade and boyfriend Mark McKenzie. Duncan was caught seven weeks later with Shasta Groene, 8, alive but sexually abused. The remains of her brother Dylan, 9, were found two days later at a Montana campsite. In the weeks leading up to the slaughter of the Groene family and Shasta’s kidnapping, Duncan’s blog, which he’d kept since January, 2004, became increasingly focused on Duncan’s surrendering to his demons. In his last entry, Duncan apologizes to his readers for being erratic in his writing and struggles with meaning.
Duncan called his blog “The Fifth Nail.” In the sidebar, he explains that the name comes from a legend in which Gypsies who made the nails to be used at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ concealed a fifth nail, which was meant to pierce his heart. The blog began in January, 2004, as a diary Duncan used to document his daily life as a sex offender. He begins positively, with excited descriptions of going skiing for the first time (“Wow, what a blast! I went skiing yesterday for the first time in my life. That was a lot of fun, and first chance I get I’m going back to the slopes!”) and declarations that “life is good.” But there is an undercurrent of fear and distrust in all of Duncan’s writings. Duncan installed a webcam that alerted his cell phone if movement was detected in his home. He said he wanted to use it to watch his beloved cats, but also to give himself an alibi should he be charged with a crime. He also listened to police scanners and followed news of arrests and crimes in his area closely.
Duncan had spent the majority of his adult life in prison; at age 15 he was sentenced to 20 years for molesting a boy in Tacoma, Wa. In his blog, Duncan wrote about his fear of returning to prison. Coupled with his intense distrust of authority, the idea of returning to prison seemed to govern much of Duncan’s thought process, even in his unconscious mind. In a May, 2004, entry, Duncan wrote about a dream he had in which he was back in prison:
Duncan goes on to cite statistics about recidivism rates in released inmates. Because he was so young at the time of his first offense, Duncan continued to consider himself a victim. In an early entry, he wrote about how because he’d been molested so often himself, he thought it was normal:
The “trouble” Duncan mentioned in his very last entry was a charge that he’d molested two young boys in Minnesota in 2004. A businessman from Fargo posted Duncan’s bail in the sum of $15,000. In a blog post titled “The Boogeyman Will Get Ya,” he denied the charge, but fled shortly after and remained on the run until being captured with Shasta Groene. After being accused of molestation, Duncan wished to die but believed his life was largely out of his hands.
By May, 2005, the persona Duncan referred to as “Happy Joe,” the one who had a job, and friends, went skiing and loved his cats had been completely overtaken by the “demons.” Happy Joe, Duncan concluded, was an unattainable dream. As long as the demons were there–and they always would be–Happy Joe could never stay alive.
After his capture, a blogger from Georgia noticed a similarity between Duncan and a composite sketch released after the 1997 sexual assault and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez in Beaumont, California. A fingerprint found on duct tape used to bind Martinez matched Duncan. He was convicted of that crime, as well as the murders of the Groene family and the kidnapping and molestation of Shasta Groene. Duncan also confessed to the 1996 murders of Sammiejo White, 11, and her sister, Carmen Cubias, 9, in Washington, but has not been charged with those crimes. Duncan is currently serving six life terms in federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Originally published December 12, 2012