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Stolen in the Night
IDAHOA STATE PERHAPS BEST KNOWN FOR ITS NATURAL beauty, with a topography that consists of mountains reaching elevations of eight thousand feet or more and areas, like that of Hells Canyon, where the terrain plummets to fifteen hundred feet, or Snake River Canyon, which Evil Knievel tried and failed to jump on his motorcycle. Idaho's scenery is often breathtaking, and recreational opportunities include world-class skiing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, fishing, whitewater rafting, snowmobiling and snowboarding, to name a few. Noted outdoorsman Ernest Hemingway wrote portions of For Whom the Bell Tolls in Idaho, and in 1961 put a shotgun in his mouth and committed suicide there.
Idaho's motto is Esto perpetua, which means It is forever. The principal white settlements were established by the Jesuits in the early 1840s, and nowadays Idaho's family and religious values are heavily influenced by the Mormons, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1992, U.S. Marshals, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents stormed the home of Randy Weaver because of firearms charges against him, and his purported affiliation with the Idaho-based white supremacy group, Aryan Nations. His wife,Vicki Weaver, and their son, Sammy, were killed in the assault, as was the family dog; when Weaver had his day in court he was acquitted of all the major charges against him, and his case is one that many Idahoans won't let the federal government forget to this day. Even though it cost the Weavers dearly, the people of Idaho generally feel that Randy Weaver and his family were heroic for exercising their individual rights in standing up to the feds.
Liberty and freedom are very important to many of Idaho's citizens, and the state's lawmakers rarely create laws that infringe upon individual or property rights. It is also common for residents to own firearms. When all is said and done, it doesn't make much sense that a convicted child molester would make a conscious decision to travel hundreds of miles from the Midwest to a state where his past deeds, if discovered, were not likely to be readily accepted, a region whose conservative residents were not likely to put out the welcome mat and allow him to assimilate into their society. On the other hand, people there tend to mind their own business and are mistrustful of government in general. Joseph Edward Duncan III had no intention of making his past sex crimes known to the state or any of its citizens, so Idaho seemed like the perfect place for him to go to carry out his mission. That is exactly what he did, and in the process his alleged criminal actions would shock and horrify the state, stun the nation and ultimately destroy an entire family.
COEUR D'ALENE, IDAHO, LOCATED IN KOOTENAI COUNTY in the northern panhandle of the state, is an area blessed with natural beauty and a true four-season climate,with each season bringing its own unique splendor. Coeur d'Alene Lake is nearby, as is Lake Pend Oreille, and mountains add to the scenery. Early French fur traders named the lake Coeur d'Alene because they believed the local Indians were clever traders whose hearts were as sharp as a bradawl, a tool with a beveled tip used to make holes in wood for brads or screws.
It wasn't until Fort Sherman was established in 1878 that Coeur d'Alene began to grow and flourish, building its fortunes on logging, mining, fur trading and lake steamers. The town later became an important link on the transportation network linking the mining operations in the east, in Silver Valley, with the smelters that processed the mined ore. A major timber boom caused the population to increase dramatically in the early 1900s, and the small frontier town expanded into a political, business and recreational center. The expansion brought with it recognition, festivals, fairs and, later, unique restaurants and shopping malls.
The crime rate also grew, but was comparatively low when viewed alongside the rest of the nation. In 2003, the FBI recorded only 203 violent crimes, and only one of those was a homicide. The violent crime rate was 5.5 per 1,000 people; the area has an estimated population of 37,262.
Parents were not afraid to leave their children alone while they went into town to run errands. Children played outside without parental supervision, rode their bicycles wherever they wanted, and built forts in the nearby woodskids there simply did all of the things that kids would normally do where they felt safe.
Two years later, the story of Joseph Edward DuncanIII would change the way people thought about Coeur d'Alene.
DUNCAN ARRIVED IN KOOTENAI COUNTY SOMETIME DURING the second week of May 2005. It is not known precisely why he stopped in the Wolf Lodge Bay area, a quiet escape for nature lovers, lightly populated and located about 8 miles east of Coeur d'Alene, just off Interstate 90. Perhaps he had merely wanted to grab a bite to eat, or to rest for a while. At some point, however, he allegedly ended up on Frontage Road and drove past a small white house with green trim, the lower portion of which appeared to have been coated with stucco on one side. This was where the Groene and McKenzie family lived.
Witnesses later told the police that the Groene-McKenzie home was sometimes visited by strangers whose vehicles had broken down on the freewaytheir house was the first home anyone looking for help would see after getting off Interstate 90 and onto Frontage Road. People said that the family was always happy to help a stranger in need.
The house, somewhat secluded and surrounded by trees, brush and low-lying hills, was approximately 150 yards down a dirt driveway from Frontage Road and made an easy target for someone bent on wrongdoing. Many have speculated that Duncan likely saw his next victims, Shasta Groene, 8, and her brother, Dylan, 9, playing outside the house in the unseasonably warm May weather, frolicking in the yard, or walking or riding their bikes along Frontage Road, perhaps waving at a passing motorist, or motioning to passing truckers to honk the air horns on their semis. Shasta had been wearing her bathing suit on at least one of the days that weekend, andit has been suggested that it was the sight of two young children playing in their swimming suits that brought Duncan's depraved sexual madness to the surface.
It is believed that he reconnoitered the area for at least a day or two until he found the perfect vantage point where he could watch the kids and their family from a distance without being easily seen, using a night-vision apparatus during the evening hours. While the exact timeframe isn't known, police believed that Duncan may have stalked the family for a few days after becoming comfortable with his surroundings. Perhaps he even followed them to town when they shopped or ran errands.
Throughout the weekend of May 13-15, Shasta and Dylan's mother, Brenda Kay Groene (pronounced "grow-knee"), 40, came and went, as did Brenda's resident boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, 37, and Shasta and Dylan's older brother, Slade, 13. On Sunday, May 15, 2005, the family drove into Coeur d'Alene to run errands, and then returned home, where they enjoyed a barbecue with some friends. The gathering went into the early evening hours before it broke up. Their friends went home, and the residents prepared to go to bed. It was the last time that anyone would remember seeing Brenda and Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie alive.
The crime that Duncan was allegedly about to commit was out of character for him. His prior victims had been children, victims who were unable to defend themselves against an adult who, though standing 6-feet, 2-inches, weighed a mere 150 pounds. Tall and lanky, he should have been an easy match for another adult, particularly one trying to defend himself.
But he had come prepared.
Copyright © 2007 by Gary C. King.