A predator in Texas; serial killer Kenneth Allen McDuff

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.

Kenneth Allen McDuff in 1990
Roy Dale Green

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.

Edna Sullivan, Robert Brand and Mark Dunnam

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.

Headlines in the paper after the murders

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.

Cross at McDuff’s grave

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.’

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_McDuff
  2. https://www.texasmonthly.com/true-crime/free-to-kill-2/
  3. https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=32284
  4. https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/serial-killers/the-broomstick-killer/
  5. https://victimsofhomicide.fandom.com/wiki/Valencia_Joshua
  6. https://unsolvedmysteries.fandom.com/wiki/Kenneth_McDuff
  7. https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-end/

The Unsolved Case of the Austin Yogurt Shop Murders

Friday, December 6th 1991. Shortly before midnight, a police officer patrolling sees a fire in a ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt’ shop in Austin, Texas. He calls it in and the fire department is sent out to extinguish the fire. But… after the fire is under control, fire fighters find the nude bodies of 4 girls inside the yogurt shop. The girls are identified as sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison (17 and 15 years old), Eliza Thomas (17) and Amy Ayers (13).

The ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt’ shop in Austin

All the girls had started this Friday morning at school. Amy and Sarah then went to the mall, driven by Jennifer, who was on her way to her night shift at the yogurt shop. Eliza was a colleague of Jennifer at the yogurt shop and was scheduled to share the night shift with her. Northcross Mall, where Amy and Sarah wanted to go, happened to be down the road of the yogurt shop, so the girls waited at the shop for Jennifer to be done working, to get a ride back home (around 11:00 p.m.).

Amy Ayers (13), Eliza Thomas (17), Jennifer Harbison (17) and Sarah Harbison (15)

After the fire had been extinguished and the following horrifying discovery of the remains of the girls by the fire fighters, an investigation by police quickly started. It was clear all girls had been murdered, as they had obvious gunshot wounds to their head. The remains of Sarah, Jennifer and Eliza were found together and were severely charred by the fire. They all had been tied up and gagged with their own clothes. Amy’s body was found in a different part of the shop. Her body had burn damage, but less severe than the other girls. She had also been shot in the head, not once but twice. Two different guns were used, a bullet of a .380 was found as well as the .22. At least one of the remains showed evidence of sexual assault.

Police diagram of the yogurt shop (from the austinchronicle.com)

Investigators believed that at least two men had shot the girls and had set the shop on fire to conceal the evidence. Accelerant was found at the crime scene. John Jones, the lead investigator, later said that in the beginning stage of the investigation, he and his team looked at all the customers in the shop that night to see if they witnessed anything. Multiple customers had noticed two men sitting in the back of the shop in a booth, not eating frozen yogurt, but just drinking something. All witnesses said they ‘looked out of place’. Every customer had left by 10:42 pm, except for the two men in the back. However, these men could not be identified by the police team. John Jones said this about the men to ’48 hours’: ‘They never have been identified. And we did everything. We even hypnotized some folks.’

Multiple witnesses had also seen a man sitting in a car outside of the yogurt shop at the night of the murders. A police sketch was made and… someone recognized it. A fellow investigator, from the Sex Crimes Unit, claimed they had a sketch just like it.

Left is a suspect in a sexual assault, on the right is the man sitting in a car outside the yogurt shop

The Sexual Crimes Unit investigator told them that three weeks before the murders a woman in Austin had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted. Three men were thought to be involved, with one of those suspects looking remarkably like the sketch of the man sitting in a car in front of the yogurt shop. So could this be one of the murderers? A later tip resulted in the arrest of two men in Mexico, one of them looking like both the sketches.

The two men arrested in Mexico, with the man on the right looking a lot like the sketches

When interrogated by the Mexican police, both men confessed to the yogurt shop murders. But then John Jones learned that the confession was wrong on some important details and did not match the crime scene. So Jones and his team went down to conduct their own interview and the men recanted their whole confession… claiming to be coerced by Mexican officials. This would not be the last confession John Jones and his team would face, over the years another 6 people confessed to the yogurt shop murders. All were ruled out as suspects.

The case of the yogurt shop murders went cold. Investigators had no further leads, until in 1999 four men were arrested in connection the the murder of Amy, Eliza, Jennifer and Sarah. Robert Springsteen, Maurice Pierce, Forrest Welborn and Michael Scott had been teenagers at the time of the murders in 1991. They all had been questioned in the days immediately after the crime, and were released due to lack of evidence. Maurice Pierce was arrested in possession of a gun at a mall near the yogurt shop in the weeks after the murders at the yogurt shop. This weapon was not connected to this case.

The four men arrested in 1999. Clockwise from top left: Maurice Pierce, Forrest Welborn, Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott (via AP photos)

In 1999, investigators decided to re-question all four, due to new information (it is unknown what this was). In a surprising twist, Springsteen and Scott confessed to the killings in the yogurt shop and also implicated Pierce and Welborn in the crime. Of course, all 4 men were then arrested for the murders. But… after a couple of days, Springsteen and Scott recanted their confession, claiming they had been coerced by investigators (yes, again!). Robert Springsteen later said – in an interview- when asked why he would falsely confess to something so horrible: ‘I was berated and berated and berated by the police officers. Until they obtained what it was they wanted to hear, they were not going to allow me to leave. And I basically— they broke me down’.

Charges were dropped against Pierce and Welborn after the grand jury failed to indict them, but Springsteen and Scott went on to stand trial for murdering Amy, Sarah, Jennifer and Eliza. There was no evidence linking Springsteen and Scott to the crimes, other than their -now recanted- confessions. The two men were convicted, resulting in the death penalty for Springsteen in 2001 and a life imprisonment for Scott in 2002, as he had been 15 at the time of the crime.

However, in 2009, both convictions were overturned on the Confrontation Clause. The Sixth Amendement (of the American Constitution) gives defendants the right to confront their accuser. The two men had been tried separately, but because neither of the men would testify against the other, the prosecution had used their ‘confessions’, reading parts out loud to the jury. This was against the 6th amendment, as it also meant that the defense could not cross-examine the other defendant.

Springsteen and Scott were now free men, released, but not exonerated. The prosecution was determined to do a re-trial, until… the DNA found at the scene did not match Springsteen or Scott (and also did not match Pierce or Welborn, for that matter). The District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg stated about the DNA evidence: ‘Currently, it is clear to me that our evidence in the death of these four young women includes DNA from one male whose identity is not yet known to us. The defense asserts that the testing reveals more than one unknown male, but the evidence presented at the hearing on Thursday, June 18 contradicts that notion.The reliable scientific evidence in the case presents one, and one only, unknown male donor. Given that, I could not in good conscience allow this case to go to trial before the identity of this male donor is determined, and the full truth is known. I remain confident that both Springsteen and Scott are responsible for the deaths at the yogurt shop, but it would not be prudent to risk a trial until we also know the nature of the involvement of this unknown male. My office and the Austin Police Department remain committed to these cases. Their further investigation will continue to be a priority. My commitment to the victims, their families, and this community is that we will not give up until all of the people responsible for these terrible and tragic murders are brought to justice.‘ Scott and Springsteen asked for compensation for their time spent in prison, but Texas’ courts later stated they were not entitled to compensation as they did not prove in a court of law that they were innocent of these crimes. Seven jurors of the 1999 trial later claimed that – had they known all the information at the trial – they would not have convicted both men.

Attorney Amber Farrelly worked on the defense team of both Scott and Springsteen. She was interviewed on ’48 hours’ about this case and said: ‘They (police) have accounted for and interviewed 52 people that were in the yogurt shop that day. Several of those customers mentioned the two men sitting in the yogurt shop just before it was due to close. We have no names to them. And when you look at — when you step back and you look and you think, ‘They’ve talked to 52 people and didn’t miss one person from 4:30 until 11:00 at night. And several people talk about a guy or two guys, and they describe them in the same manner? And we don’t know who those two guys are? And they’ve never called in? … That raises, in my opinion, the suspicion… that these are the gentlemen who did it.’ Farrelly says that one of the men was described as having light (‘dirty blond’) short hair, and in his late 20s/early 30s. He was about 168 cm tall (5’6″). The other man was said to be ‘bigger’ and both were wearing big coats, one black and one looking like a army jacket. They were seen driving a green car. John Jones, the former lead investigator, agrees with Farrelly that these two men are suspects in the case, saying in ’48 hours’: ‘Yeah, it’s kind of a question to me that to this day, they haven’t been identified. Is that evidence that they did it? No, but that’s evidence that we really need to talk to them’.

Years later, using a public database, a match was found for the DNA located at the crime scene. But… it turned out the the matching sample had been submitted by the FBI, anonymously. The FBI refused to name the person from whom the DNA sample was taken, saying it would violate privacy laws. Also the sample was partial, only having 16 markers (where in genetic genealogy testing they would usually use 67 or 111 makers at least). The FBI later did assist in further testing of the sample, which lead to identifying 25 markers instead of the original 16. However, some of the additional markers found did not match the FBI sample, ruling this person out as the contributor.

A known serial killer, Kenneth Allen McDuff, was also a suspect in this case. He was in the Texas area in 1991 and had a history of killing teenagers. After investigating, he was ruled out by police. Kenneth Allen McDuff was executed in November 1998. His known victims are Edna Sullivan (16), Robert Brand (17), Mark Dunnam (15), Sarafia Parker (29), Brenda Thompson (36), Regenia DeAnne Moore (21), Colleen Reed (28), Valencia Joshua (22) and Melissa Northrup (22). A more detailed version of all the crimes committed by Kenneth Allen McDuff will soon be published on the blog.

The murders of Amy Ayers, Eliza Thomas, and Sarah and Jennifer Harbison are still unsolved to this day.

Jennifer Harbison was the head of the drill team and a member of the track team. She had bought a blue Chey truck that summer, and was working to pay it off. Sarah, her younger sister, also loved playing sports and was a cheerleader. She was, with her older sister, a member of the Future Farmers of America. The parents of Jennifer and Sarah lost their whole family that day, with their mother Barbara saying to ’48 hours’: ‘My life was focused around them from here to eternity. Someone took eternity away from me.’ Amy Ayers loved animals and arts. She was also a member of the Future Farmers of America program and wanted to become a veterinarian one day. Bob Ayers, Amy’s father, said about her in an interview (also with ‘48 hours’): ‘I lost my daughter.  I lost my first dance.  … I won’t see her graduate. I won’t see her become a veterinarian. … She was a Daddy’s girl.’ Sonora Thomas, Eliza’s sister, was 13 years old when her sister was murdered. She remembers Eliza wanted to become a rancher and a veterinarian. Sonora also remembers the shock of hearing Eliza had died and fantasized about her coming back soon. Sonora said her parents did not talk about Eliza, stating :‘My family never talked about my sister after she died. It’s too painful.’ Eliza’s mother Maria died in 2015, with a lot of unanswered questions about the murder of her daughter. Sonora later said: ‘There is a kind of torture that continues by the fact that it’s unsolved and it’s ongoing.’

If you have any information about these murders, call 512-472-TIPS.

Sources:

  1. https://thecrimewire.com/true-crime/the-austin-yogurt-shop-murders#:~:text=In%20early%20December%201991%2C%20four,changed%20ever%20since%20that%20day.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Austin_yogurt_shop_killings
  3. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/yogurt-shop-murders-are-two-never-identified-customers-key-to-solving-austin-texas-case/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_McDuff
  5. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-yogurt-shop-murders-austin-texas-families-investigators-haunted-by-unsolved-case/
  6. https://www.conchovalleyhomepage.com/news/texas-cold-cases-the-austin-yogurt-shop-killings/
  7. https://www.sportskeeda.com/pop-culture/two-convicted-austin-yogurt-shop-murders-released
  8. https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2011-12-16/scene-of-the-crime/