This story was originally published on July 1, 2015.
FARGO — Ten years ago today, Joseph Edward Duncan III's heinous spree of killing and raping had almost come to an end.
At 2 a.m. on July 2, 2005, Duncan — who had lived in Fargo for the previous five years — was spotted with 8-year-old Shasta Groene at a Denny's restaurant in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
A waitress recognized Duncan as the man wanted for weeks for killing Shasta's family and kidnapping her and her brother.
Duncan's dark side hadn't been as easy to recognize during his time in Fargo, despite the former North Dakota State University student being the subject of the city's first-ever sex-offender notification meeting.
Many locals were surprised when his crimes filled national headlines, and at least two area men had been devoted supporters of the convicted rapist.
Despite since admitting to being a serial killer, Duncan continues to receive unexpected help from the outside.
As he did before his 2005 arrest, he maintains a blog.
In it, Duncan rationalizes his horrific crimes against children one minute and pleads for love and acceptance the next. He speaks as casually about sexually abusing a young murder victim as he does getting a traffic ticket while riding his bike.
The blog was updated as recently as last week. He corresponds via mail with about a half-dozen friends and a girlfriend-one of whom, presumably, maintains the blog on his behalf.
While the 3,000 or so death-row inmates in the U.S. receive mail from condemners and admirers alike, few have a conduit to the outside world like Duncan.
"I would say it's unusual," said Kevin Thompson, an NDSU criminal justice professor who talks about Duncan frequently in the classroom because of Duncan's notorious past and ties to NDSU.
"He (Duncan) wants to be heard and a true psychopath wants the spotlight on them," Thompson said. "It's true narcissism, in a way."
Former student now course subject
Duncan, 52, is serving multiple death and life-in-prison sentences at a high-security U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., for kidnapping Shasta and 9-year-old Dylan Groene from their Idaho home on May 16, 2005, after killing their older brother Slade, mother Brenda Groene and her boyfriend Mark McKenzie.
He repeatedly molested both children at a remote campsite in Montana for weeks before torturing and killing Dylan in front of his sister.
The crimes in Idaho happened the day Duncan was supposed to appear again in Becker County, Minn., court on charges he molested a boy and tried to molest another at a school playground in Detroit Lakes.
Duncan was described as an excellent student at NDSU who was close to earning a computer science degree when he abruptly left Fargo in spring 2005 after posting bail on the Becker County charges and before committing the murders in Idaho.
But when Duncan became the subject of the first sex offender community notification meeting in Fargo, Thompson was nervous about him being on the campus.
Thompson teaches a course titled "Deviant Behavior," which includes a focus on serial killers and psychopaths. He said Duncan is able to communicate in ways that have others believing he's reformed when he obviously is not.
"That is the mark of a true psychopath, (convincing) even trained professionals that they're OK," Thompson said.
Duncan's crime spree after leaving NDSU prompted the school to begin looking into background checks for students and forming a safety and security committee, Thompson said.
Now, when prospective students apply to NDSU, or to any North Dakota University System school, they must state whether they've ever been convicted of a felony, convicted of a misdemeanor crime involving violence and whether they're required to register as a sex offender.
If an NDSU applicant answers "yes" to any of those questions, the safety and security committee investigates further to determine how much risk the person presents to others.
'A wonderful smoke screen'
By the time Duncan came to Fargo in summer 2000, he'd already gotten away with kidnapping, raping and killing three children, unbeknownst to Fargo police or any other law enforcement department.
He since confessed to murdering two half-sisters, ages 9 and 11, near Seattle in 1996 — crimes for which he was never charged, and to killing an 11-year-old California boy in 1997 — for which he was convicted in 2011.
In his blog, he has recalled feeling a temptation when he once found himself alone with a young boy in a restroom at a ski hill not far from Fargo.
Duncan said the predator in him "awakened" when their eyes met and the boy "flinched" like an animal does when it's afraid.
And then: "It wasn't the boy's appearance, age, or circumstances that aroused me, it was his fear, and his fear alone. As I washed my hands, I metaphorically scratched the predator inside of me behind the ears and thought to it: not yet my friend; not yet... go back to sleep," he writes.
Some of Duncan's Fargo acquaintances say they still can't believe that person is the same "good guy" they once knew.
Jo McCleary of Harwood, N.D., worked with Duncan for at least six months at a now-defunct market research company.
"I give people the benefit of the doubt, maybe to a fault," said McCleary, who was the company receptionist and talked with Duncan often.
She said Duncan opened up to her about his troubled childhood, sexual orientation and criminal past, and something he once told her haunts her to this day.
"He said, 'I like who I am now, but I have another person in me that I don't like, that's evil, and if that comes out, I just want them to kill me,'" McCleary recalls Duncan saying.
A former landlord says he's still "totally surprised" by Duncan's split personality.
"He was an ideal renter for us," said Jeff Ware, who, along with his partner, still owns and rents the property at 810 7th St. N. in Fargo — Duncan's last permanent address.
Duncan had lived there for about a month when he told Ware just before the community notification meeting that he was a Level III sex offender.
Ware said he decided to give his tenant a second chance after Duncan explained the reason for his sex offender status-that he was "16 and dumb" and "had anger issues" in 1980 when he forced sex on a 14-year-old boy.
Duncan had shown the boy a gun, which he said was unloaded.
Larry Boomgaarden, a former Minnesota Corrections Department agent assigned to check in on Duncan after the Becker County charges were filed, found him to be "very compliant," typical of a sex offender, he said.
"He came across as very docile, which was a wonderful smoke screen," said Boomgaarden.
Duncan's Fargo allies
Others in Fargo were also deceived by Joseph Duncan.
Two prominent men in the community — one a physician, the other a businessman — gave Duncan moral and financial support at the time, and Duncan's blog hints heavily of a sexual relationship with one of them.
It was Dr. Richard Wacksman, a critical care physician at what was then MeritCare and now Sanford, who invited Duncan to Fargo.
According to the blog, Duncan met his physician friend "Rich" at a gay bar in San Francisco while out on parole in the mid-90s and they got together periodically.
After Duncan cut loose from parole and was captured by the FBI in 1997, a sentence review board in Washington weighed whether to send him back to prison.
Wacksman testified on Duncan's behalf, stating Duncan was a changed man and that Duncan could live with him in his Harwood home, along with his wife and children.
The parole board turned down the request and Duncan went back behind bars.
It appears, however, that Wacksman didn't give up on his quest to spring Duncan from prison.
In a recent blog post, Duncan writes about Rich hiring a lawyer to get him credit for lost juvenile time he'd served, and a judge ordering Duncan's immediate release in July 2000.
Then, Duncan writes, "Rich paid for a one-way plane ticket to Fargo, ND, and the best years of my life began."
Wacksman, who now operates a medical house-call practice in New Port Richey, Fla., with a son, did not return calls from The Forum.
Another of Duncan's former supporters, real estate developer Joe Crary, also could not be reached by The Forum.
Crary, a former executive member of the Fargo-Cass County Economic Development Corp., wrote Duncan a $15,000 personal check on April 5, 2005, the same day bail was set at that amount on the Becker County child molestation charges.
In a statement to The Forum after Duncan was arrested in Idaho nearly two months later, Crary said he and Duncan had become friends while biking in Fargo and that he wanted to help him financially, as he'd done for others before.
Demeanor of a demon
Sgt. Brad Maskell of the Kootenai County, Idaho Sheriff's Department thought it was a prank when he was called in to work May 16, 2005, a day off to celebrate his 50th birthday.
It was no prank, but a report of multiple murders at a rural Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, home.
"My recollection of walking into that house, seeing those bodies-it was one of the most difficult, upsetting cases that I have ever been involved with," Maskell said.
In the month and a half that followed, investigators would sort through thousands of leads.
But when Maskell got the call around 2 a.m. July 2, 2005, that Shasta Groene had been located in Coeur d'Alene, he was surprised to hear she was with Joseph Duncan.
"That name came in out of the blue," he said.
Deputies hauled in the fugitive, who gave Maskell a "long dissertation" about the legal system and asked for a cup of coffee.
Later, when Maskell interviewed Duncan with an attorney present, the sergeant described him as calm and articulate.
"Intelligent, soft-spoken, every bit the kind of guy living next door," said Maskell.
He would only see Duncan's "other" side upon discovering a small digital storage device in the stolen vehicle Duncan had been driving that contained videos of him molesting the Groene children.
Maskell describes the video clips, some of which were played at Duncan's trial, as shocking and difficult to even comprehend.
"Very graphic and violent sexual abuse, but also acts of torture committed upon Dylan, without apparent remorse, feeling or any kind of concern for the child at all," Maskell said.
Equally disturbing in the videos, he said, were Duncan's religious taunts and references to the devil.
"His actions and demeanor struck me as almost demon-like," Maskell said.
Duncan awaits 'release day'
Duncan awaits what he calls on his blog his "release day (a.k.a. execution)" on death row in Terre Haute.
The prison is also home to Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who raped and killed University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in 2003.
It will soon house Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It's also where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001.
But no one there has been executed since 2003, and there is no date set for Duncan's death by lethal injection.
Despite repeatedly waiving his right to fight his death sentences, attorneys continue to pursue appeals to keep Duncan alive, the most recent of which was filed in March.
Meanwhile, Shasta Groene, the lone survivor of Duncan's crimes 10 years ago, is now 18, and Maskell said he's heard she's having difficulty, including run-ins with police and time in juvenile treatment centers in Idaho and elsewhere.
Not surprising, he says, for someone who experienced such horrors firsthand.
As lead investigator, Maskell is also still haunted by Duncan's crimes.
"I don't think a day will ever go by that I'm not thinking about that case-and the videos," he said.
Timeline of Joseph Edward Duncan III
Feb. 25, 1963: Born fourth of five children to Joseph E. Duncan Jr. and Lillian Duncan in Tacoma, Wash.
1978: First run-in with law at 15 when he stole car and tried to elude police. Served time in a boys ranch program.
Jan. 24, 1980: At 16, stole guns from neighbor's home and forced 14-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him with gun he says was unloaded. Pleaded guilty to first-degree rape with a firearm and 20-year prison sentence was suspended.
March 1982: Terminated from an adult sex offender treatment program after sneaking away and peeping on woman. Said he wanted out of program because his therapist had tried to force sex on his mother at her home, in exchange for "going easy on" Duncan in treatment. Sent to prison.
Sept. 1994: Paroled after serving 14 years. Arrived at Interaction Transition House for ex-cons in Seattle. Registered as a sex offender and got a job as a telemarketer.
July 5, 1996: According to Duncan's blog, he kidnapped, raped and killed two half-sisters, ages 9 and 11 on this date in Seattle, but he was never charged. He said they were his first murder victims.
Oct. 1996: Parole revoked for marijuana use and firearms possession. Reinstated with conditions, but stopped reporting to parole officer and went on the lam.
April 4, 1997: Kidnapped Anthony Martinez, 10, from behind his Beaumont, Calif., home, raped and killed him. Only came to light after he confessed following Groene murders.
Aug. 1997: FBI arrested him at step-sister's home in Kansas City, Mo. Returned to prison in Washington for absconding from parole. Had several visits there from Dr. Richard Wacksman, a Fargo doctor whom he says he met at a gay bar in San Francisco while out on parole.
Dec. 1997: At parole revocation hearing in Washington, Wacksman testified he would let Duncan live in his home near Fargo with his wife and children if released. Parole board denied.
July 14, 2000: Duncan released from prison after Wacksman hires attorney to get him credit for time served as a juvenile. Goes to Washington to visit his mother. Then, according to blog, "Rich (Wacksman) paid for a one-way plane ticket to Fargo, ND and the best years of my life began."
July 21, 2000: Moved to Fargo, registered as Level III sex offender three days later. Enrolled in the fall at North Dakota State University.
Sept. 27, 2000: Fargo police hold what's believed to be the city's first-ever sex offender notification meeting to tell public about Duncan.
Sept. 28, 2000: Wacksman calls meeting with his neighbors, who are upset that Duncan had been visiting his home.
2004: Started Fifth Nail on-line blog from his Fargo apartment.
July 3, 2004: Report of sexual assault at Roosevelt elementary playground in Detroit Lakes. Duncan accused of molesting 6-year-old boy and trying to molest 8-year-old boy.
March 4, 2005: Duncan arrested and charged in Becker County, Minn. for molestation case.
April 5, 2005: Following Becker County court appearance, Duncan released after posting check for $15,000 bail and calling Fargo businessman Joe Crary for a loan to cover it. Promised to stay in touch with corrections agent.
April 13, 2005: Bought night-vision goggles, camcorder, tapes, radar detector and car battery from Fargo Walmart, according to receipt later obtained by police. Disappeared a week later.
May 2005: Nationwide arrest warrant issued for Duncan
May 13, 2005: Brags in blog that he has encrypted journal that won't be broken into for decades.
May 16, 2005: Kidnaps 9-year-old Dylan Groene and his 8-year-old sister Shasta from their Idaho home after killing their older brother, mother and her fiance. Same day he was supposed to appear again on Becker County charges. Bench warrant issued and bail forfeited.
July 1, 2005: According to Wacksman's later testimony at trial, Duncan calls Wacksman who "yells at him" for skipping court appearance in Becker County.
July 2, 2005: Arrested around 2 a.m. at Denny's restaurant in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho with Shasta Groene. He had kept the children at a remote campsite in Montana and molested them for weeks before shooting and killing Dylan. Idaho state police contact Fargo police around 7 a.m., asking them to barricade Duncan's apartment.
Aug. 2005: Fargo police seize computer from Duncan's apartment in Becker County case.
Oct. 16, 2005: Pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder in the deaths of Groene family in Idaho. Received three consecutive life sentences.
Dec. 2005: Victims' families file federal civil lawsuit against Duncan and Becker County over what they argued was a low bail given to Duncan.
Oct. 25, 2006: Federal civil lawsuit against Duncan and Becker County dismissed without prejudice.
Dec. 3, 2007: Pleaded guilty to kidnapping Dylan and Shasta and to Dylan's murder. Six months later, given three death sentences and three more life terms. Waives right to appeal death sentences.
April 2011: After pleading guilty, Duncan given two consecutive life sentences for 1997 murder of Anthony Martinez. Also confesses to killing half-sisters near Seattle in 1996. No charges filed.
Today: Imprisoned on death row in Terre Haute, Ind.