There are many stories in the annals of true crime about men and women who should have remained behind bars, but were set free and ultimately committed heinous crimes. These types of offenses usually result in justifiable anger from victims’ families and from the public. One of the most egregious examples of this extreme recidivism is the case of Kenneth McDuff, a man who was to have been executed in Texas for a 1966 triple murder, but was instead released to kill again in 1989.
McDuff was born in 1946 in Rosebud, Texas. He was regarded as a bully in Rosebud and began tussling with the law at a young age. When he was 18 years old, McDuff was tried and convicted for a series of burglaries spread out over three different counties. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but was paroled in 1965 after serving barely a year of his sentence. While robbery may seem like a relatively minor offense, McDuff was also harboring a dark secret: He confessed to his older brother Lonnie that he had raped a woman, cut her throat, and left her for dead in a ditch.
McDuff’s violent tendencies reached a fever pitch after his release from prison. On August 6, 1966, the 20-year-old McDuff and his friend Roy Dale Green went cruising around town, looking to find a girl. The 18-year-old Green was mesmerized by McDuff’s tales of sexual conquests – and of killing women. McDuff had told Green, “killing a woman’s like killing a chicken…they both squawk.” Green wasn’t sure he believed all of McDuff’s outrageous stories, but he would find out that night exactly what his friend was capable of.
Around 10 p.m. the men ended up in Everman, Texas, and McDuff noticed a young, pretty girl hanging out near a baseball field with two other teens. The group, 16-year-old Edna Sullivan, her 17-year-old boyfriend Robert Brand, and Brand’s 15-year-old cousin Mark Dunman, was chatting by their parked car when McDuff pulled up nearby. He retrieved a .38 pistol from under his seat and approached the friends.
McDuff demanded their money at gunpoint and then made the three get into the trunk of their car. He then told Green, “They got a good look at my face, I’ll have to kill them.” McDuff drove the car with the youngsters in the trunk, while Green followed in McDuff’s vehicle. McDuff finally pulled over in an isolated area and opened the trunk. He ordered Edna Sullivan to get out, then closed the trunk and fired shots wantonly into it, killing Robert Brand and Mark Dunman. McDuff forced Sullivan into the trunk of his own car, and he and Green drove away into the night, the young girl now a prisoner.
McDuff pulled his car over on a deserted dirt road about 11 miles from the murder scene. Once stopped, he brutally raped Edna Sullivan and – allegedly – forced Green to do the same. When they had finished tormenting her, Kenneth McDuff viciously choked her to death with a piece of broomstick and dumped her body in some bushes on the side of the road.
The next day, Roy Dale Green heard the news of the triple murder on the radio and decided he had to clear his conscience. Green confessed to friends, then turned himself in to the police. He became the prosecution’s star witness in the case against Kenneth McDuff. The jury tried and convicted McDuff, and he was sentenced to death in Texas’ electric chair. Green served 5 years for his role in the murders.
Then, in 1972, the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, and Kenneth McDuff’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. McDuff served over 20 years in prison and, despite the brutality of the murders he committed in 1966, was released on parole in 1989. The justice system in Texas would come to regret this decision.
It’s believed that McDuff may have begun killing again as soon as three days after his release from prison. McDuff did return to prison briefly for a parole violation, but he was again released to stalk the streets and deliver death. McDuff began a killing spree lasting years, targeting prostitutes and other women, including a 22-year-old pregnant convenience store worker whom McDuff kidnapped and killed in 1992. McDuff committed his crimes across several Texas counties, so law enforcement was not aware they had a serial killer on their hands until an accomplice of McDuff’s talked to police in April 1992.
McDuff knew police were on his trail, so he moved to Kansas City and assumed a false name. On May 1, 1992, a co-worker of McDuff’s (he knew McDuff as “Richard Fowler”) saw him featured on TV’s America’s Most Wanted. The co-worker alerted the police, and McDuff was arrested three days later. Police returned McDuff to Texas, where he stood trial for the murder of Melissa Northrup, the pregnant young convenience store worker.
A judge sentenced Kenneth McDuff to death in 1993, and, on November 17, 1998, McDuff was executed by lethal injection at the age of 52. Although McDuff was only convicted for one murder (the second time), police suspect he may have killed as many as 9 women after his parole in 1989.
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