Born in 1946, in Rosebud, Texas. Kenneth Allen McDuff was the fifth of six children. His mother Addie was known to be fiercely protective of her children, earning her the nickname of ‘Pistol-packing Mama McDuff’. She had threatened a schoolbus driver with a gun, after McDuff’s brother Lonnie had been forced to leave the schoolbus. In high school McDuff was known to be a bully, intimidating classmates and teachers alike. His classmates remember him having intense moodswings, going from laughter to a stony angry glare in seconds.
McDuff did not finish high school. He challenged a fellow classmate, Tommy Sammon, to a fight after class. McDuff had expected it would be an easy win, but… Sammon easily overpowered him and McDuff lost the fight. Nursing a bruised ego, McDuff never bullied any of his classmates again and left school a few months after that. McDuff went to work for his father after that. His father owned a successful concrete business, where McDuff did some of the manual labor. At the ripe old age of 18, in 1964, McDuff had already been arrested and convicted for 12 counts of burglary and attempted burglary. He had also confessed to his brother Lonnie that he had raped and murdered a girl, shortly before going to prison. Lonnie dealt with this confession like he dealt with anything else in life; ‘go to bed and forget it’. McDuff was sentenced to 4 years in prison for each of the crimes, but they were to be served concurrently. He was in jail less than 4 years and released early in December 1965.
McDuff had changed in prison. His believe that he had gotten away with murder and the fact that his time in prison had been relatively ‘easy’, strengthened his sense of invulnerability. McDuff also learned how to intimidate and convince weaker men to be his accomplices.
McDuff had met high school dropout Roy Dale Green (18) shortly after his release through another friend. They sometimes worked together pouring concrete for McDuff’s father. Roy had been in awe of all the tall tales told by McDuff. Roy had heard McDuff speak of raping and murdering women multiple times, as McDuff compared murdering women to killing chickens: ‘They both squawk’.
Saturday, August 6th. After finishing a job for McDuff’s father, Green and McDuff rode around in McDuff’s car, a Dodge Charger, given to McDuff by his mother. Drinking beer and driving around, McDuff told Green ‘he was looking for a girl’. And unfortunately, they found one…
Edna Sullivan, 16, was standing next to a car, a green Ford, in the parking lot of a ballpark, talking to her boyfriend Robert Brand, 17, and Brand’s cousin Mark Dunnan (15). McDuff and Green parked their car close to the teenagers. McDuff took a .38 caliber pistol from under the car seat and walked up to the teenagers. He ordered the boys to give him their valuables. He then ordered Edna, Robert and Mark into the trunk of their own car and slammed it shut, telling Green: ‘They got a good look at my face, I’ll have to kill them’. McDuff stepped into the drivers seat of the Ford and ordered Green to follow him in their car. McDuff drove by a highway to an abandoned field, where he ordered Edna out of the Ford and into the trunk of his own Dodge. McDuff, still thinking the teenagers could identify him as they had seen his face, shot Robert and Mark in the head multiple times, while they were kneeling in the trunk of the Ford. Green later stated they had been pleading with McDuff not to shoot them. McDuff then told Green to wipe all the fingerprints from the Ford and backed the car up against a fence, because the trunk wouldn’t close anymore.
McDuff and Green got into the Dodge, with Edna in the trunk. They drove further south, and stopped near another abandoned field. Green and McDuff took Edna from the booth and made her undress. They then both sexually assaulted her, Green later claiming that he was under duress from McDuff. McDuff then put Edna back into the trunk and again drove further south. In a remote gravel road, he stopped the car. He dragged Edna from the car and pushed her into the gravel road. When asked by McDuff for something to strangle Edna with, Green gave him his belt. McDuff ended up using a broomstick from his car to choke Edna to death. They left her body over a fence in some bushes, where they hoped she would not be found quickly. McDuff and Green got back into the car and drove home like nothing had happened. The Dodge was thoroughly cleaned and the broomstick, their bloody clothes and all that they had taken from Robert and Mark were buried.
The Ford and the bodies of Robert and Mark were found the following morning, early on the Sunday. When investigators realised Edna was supposed to be with the boys, a extensive search was started. Green heard multiple news reports on the radio and he was overcome with regret. Green confessed the crimes to family and friends and turned himself in to police. He immediately told police about the involvement of Kenneth Allen McDuff… Green also led police to the remains of Edna Sullivan and her body was found on the 8th of April.
Kenneth McDuff was arrested by Sheriff Brady Pamplin. McDuff tried to flee by car, leading to Pamplin chasing him and shooting his car tires. In his trial, McDuff denied any involvement in the murders and rape, suggesting that Green alone was guilty and trying to falsely implicate him. His mother, Addie McDuff, claimed that McDuff had been with a girl from church at the time of the murders and thus had a solid alibi. She also said that her son did not name her to protect her reputation, saying Kenneth was ‘too good for his own good.’ Green testified against McDuff. For his cooperation and confession, Green was only sentenced to 5 years in prison for his role in the murder of Mark. He was surprised at the sentence, stating to a reporter:‘I thought I would get life, not 5 years’. Later he received 25 years for the murder of Robert. Roy Dale Green was released in 1979.
McDuff was given the death penalty. In 1969 and in 1970 he came close to being actually executed, but was granted stays each time. But then… in 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that the ‘unlimited discretion given to juries in capital trials’ was unconstitutional, and so, all death sentences were commuted to life. At that time, a life sentence in Texas meant that a minimum of 10 years had to be served in prison before being eligible for parole.
Addie McDuff then hired Kenneth a new lawyer in 1977. This attorney, Gary Jackson, aimed to prove that Kenneth had been innocent all along and was framed by Roy Dale Green. Jackson wrote a 26-page letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles in 1979, which included a different scenario for the murders, of course one in which Kenneth was innocent and Green had committed the three murders himself. McDuff was not granted parole -this time- but at least one of the members of the parole board had thought the ‘new scenario’ plausible. At the next parole board meeting, in 1980, McDuff tried to bribe parole board member Glenn Heckmann saying: ‘If you can get me out of this pen, I guarantee that $10,000 will be left in the glove compartment of your car. I know you’re the governor’s man. Word is, I get your vote, I’m out of here. My family’s got the money.’ Ignoring McDuff’s request, Heckmann went straight to the district attorney and a charge of bribery was filed against McDuff. He was found guilty of this charge, but due to a legal mistake the jury got confused about their task and only sentenced McDuff to two years. McDuff had already served two years waiting for his trial, so this meant that McDuff had tried to bribe an official and essentially gotten away with it.
1989. Texas’ prisons are completely overcrowded, so in 1987 the prison system had decided that parole should be granted to 750 inmates a week. To get to that number meant that the 15 members of the parole board had to read more than a 1000 inmate files each week. So when McDuff applied for parole in 1989, 8 out of 10 parole application were approved and McDuff was a long time prisoner. So… Kenneth McDuff was paroled and a free man again. Later, one of the parole board members that decided to let Kenneth McDuff go free, stated that in hindsight; ‘If any of what we know is true, then obviously a mistake was made. It’s a human system. Errors will be made. Some of them will be very costly. I wish that I could take it back.’
The parole board did have another chage to get McDuff back behind bars, but did not take it. In 1990, McDuff had made a terroristic threat against a group of black teenagers. A misdemeanor, but made while McDuff was still on parole. The district attorney decided to drop the misdemeanor charge and let the parole board deal with McDuff. The DA did write a letter to the parole board, stating about McDuff that he was the ‘ most extraordinarily violent criminal ever to set foot in Falls County’ and advised to never let McDuff have parole again. At that time, in Texas, the parole board had delegated the task of revoking and reinstating paroles to their staff, so no formal decision was made about McDuff’s parole. One of the staff decided, without any hearing or investigation whatsoever, to let McDuff walk free… again. Larry Pamplin, the son of the Sheriff that had arrested McDuff years earlier, the then sherrif of Falls County, told the Texas Monthly:‘I don’t know if it’ll be next week or next month or next year, but one of these days, dead girls are gonna start turning up, and when that happens, the man you need to look for is Kenneth McDuff.’
Early 1991, McDuff enrolled in the Texas State Technical College in Waco and moved into a dormitory on campus. And then, several women started to go missing in and around Waco. The body of 29-year old Sarafia Parker was found in Temple. She was found – just 3 days after McDuff was released from prison – strangled in a field.
A woman, later identified as Brenda Thompson, was seen bound in a car attempting to kick out the windshield, when the car she was in was stopped in a police checkpoint. The policemen ran towards the car, but then the driver had accelerated and drove at the officers. They jumped out of the way and tried to chase the car, but could not find the car again. McDuff, who ofcourse was the driver of the car, had eluded them by turning off the car lights and driving down one-way streets the wrong way. He later tortured Brenda to death in a field, where her body would not be found until 1998.
Regenia Moore (21), a sexworker, vanished that same week. She had been taken from a well-known spot for drugs and sex and was last seen screaming and trying to get out of a very familiar sounding pick-up truck. Just before, several witnesses had seen Regenia arguing in front of a hotel with a man, who looked a lot like McDuff. Her body was found 7 years later, Regenia had been strangled.
In December of 1991, Collen Reed, a 28-year old accountant, had been washing her car in a car wash in Austin. She was abducted by McDuff and accomplice Alvas Hank Worley. McDuff and Worley had been driving the streets together, spotting several young women, before McDuff had seen Colleen at the car wash. McDuff and Worley raped Colleen in the backseat of the car. After that, McDuff strangled her and left her in a field. Her body would only be found when -years later- McDuff would lead investigators to her remains.
McDuff was a student by day, altough he wasn’t very liked by fellow students. He was agressive and had beat and threatened several people in his dorm. However, no one filed a complaint or reported the incidents to police. In March, 1992, Melissa Northrup, 22 years old and pregnant with her third child, was working at a Waco Quik-Pak market. McDuff had been working there also and seemed somewhat obsessed with her. McDuff kidnapped Melissa from the store. She was found weeks later, her body laying in a gravel pit in Dallas County. Melisaa had been bound and strangled. Her car was also found at the gravel pit.
A few weeks later, the nude remains of a woman were found in a shallow grave in an golf course. She was identified as Valencia Joshua (22), a sexworker who had been reported missing. The last time she was seen alive, she had been on the Texas State Techincal University’s campus, allegedly looking for McDuff’s dorm room.
Investigators on the cases of the murdered women soon suspected Kenneth McDuff. A coordinated investagation was difficult, as most murders were in different counties and so, involved multiple police teams. When a witness told investigators that McDuff was selling drugs and they had seen him with a firearm, which are both federal offences, a state attorney issued an arrest warrant for McDuff. But… McDuff was missing. His mother Addie was so worried, that she had filed a missing persons report. Investigators assured her that they also very much wanted to find her son, but I doubt they had the same motive.
May 1992. Gary Smithee was watching America’s Most Wanted on television. He was surprised when he saw the face of his new co-worker on the screen. Gary knew this man as Richard Fowler, but he turned out to be our fugitive, McDuff. Gary called the Kansas Police, where they had fingerprints of Fowler on file as he had been arrested for soliciting prostitutes. They compared the prints to those taken from McDuff, and – not surprisingly- they matched. McDuff was arrested on May 4th, 1992.
In June, McDuff was convicted and sentenced to the murder of Melissa Northrup. Gary Cartwright, a reporter for Texas Monthly, stated about the sentencing of McDuff: ‘This time, God willing, the system will do the right thing. If there has ever been a good argument for the death penalty, it’s Kenneth McDuff.‘ The jury agreed with him and chose to – again – sentence him to death. He is the only person in Texas history to be sentenced to death by three juries and to have been assigned two death row numbers.
McDuff also turned out to have a daughter. The woman he raped and left for dead – and later confessed to his brother Lonnie – had survived and given birth to a girl. This daughter had visited him in prison, where McDuff had tried to convince her to smuggle drugs and turn to sex work. Disgusted with McDuff, his daughter moved as far away as she could, not to be associated with him.
November 17th, 1998. Kenneth Allen McDuff was executed by legal injection in Huntsville. His last words were: ‘I’m ready to be released. Release me.’ He was pronounced dead 12 minutes later. No one claimed McDuff’s remains, so he was buried in a Huntsville cemetery. His grave does not name him, as it only contains a cross with the date of his execution and his death row number.
Investigators think that after his release for his first three murders, McDuff murdered at least 9 more women, only 6 of those are identified today. After McDuff’s second arrest for murder, Texas changed its parole laws making it more difficult for violent criminals to be paroled and also increasing the monitoring after parole has been granted, hopefully preventing a case like this from ever happening again. Gary Cartwright, the journalist, wrote a piece for Texas Monthly called ‘The End’ in 1998 about McDuff, stating as the last line: ‘By the time you read this, God willing, Kenneth McDuff will be rotting in hell.’