Man Charged in Idaho Slayings Is Suspect in Riverside County Killing
Eight years after 10-year-old Anthony Martinez was snatched from outside his Riverside County home while playing with his little brother, authorities Wednesday named a drifter accused of killing four people in Idaho as a suspect in the boy’s abduction and slaying.
A partial right thumbprint found near the Beaumont boy’s body, discovered in a shallow grave in a remote canyon near Indio 15 days after his abduction, matched a print taken from convicted sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III, said Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle.
Duncan was arrested in July, accused of bludgeoning to death three people in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and kidnapping and molesting Shasta Groene, 8, and her brother, Dylan, 9. The boy was later found slain.
The fingerprint evidence was examined after Duncan, while in custody, told FBI agents that he was connected to “a Martinez case” in California, Doyle said.
“We’re pretty confident he’s our guy,” Doyle said at an afternoon news conference in Riverside. “This is huge for us.”
Anthony’s abduction and slaying have weighed heavily on the small rural town of Beaumont, where billboards and fliers pleading for information -- and a picture of the boy’s smiling face -- remained for years.
The case returned to the national spotlight in May 2001 when it was profiled on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” and received sporadic attention in news reports throughout the West when similar child abduction cases surfaced.
“Throughout the years, we have followed 15,000 leads on this case,” Doyle said. “It’s been a frustrating case, one that has been seared into everyone’s memory.”
Anthony’s mother, Diana Medina, on Wednesday said she was still trying to make sense of the apparent break in the case.
“I don’t know; it’s surreal,” said Medina, 35, who now lives in Morgan Hill, Calif., southeast of San Jose, with her two children. “You always, always hope for this day. Yet some part of your rational mind tells you the chances are really slim.”
Anthony was playing with his brother and four friends in the fenced-in alleyway behind a friend’s home early in the evening of April 4, 1997, when a man approached them and offered them $1 to help find his lost cat, Beaumont police Lt. Mitch White said.
“He maneuvered the children into position to grab one,” White said. “He first went after Anthony’s [younger] brother, but that boy got away. He got Anthony.”
He abducted Anthony at knifepoint and fled in a large, four-door Chrysler. Fifteen days later, Anthony’s bound, naked body was discovered buried under rocks 70 miles away in remote Berdoo Canyon north of Indio. He had been sexually assaulted, Doyle said.
The case remained cold for years. Then, in early July, Duncan was captured at a Denny’s restaurant near Coeur d’Alene with Shasta, who was missing from the home where her mother, 13-year-old brother and her mother’s boyfriend were found killed with a claw hammer.
The girl’s 9-year-old brother was also missing, and his body was later found at a campsite in remote western Montana. Shasta told authorities that Duncan had repeatedly sexually molested them both.
Duncan, 42, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree kidnapping in the deaths of Shasta’s mother, Brenda, 13-year-old brother Slade, and Mark McKenzie, 37, her mother’s boyfriend. Federal officials said additional charges were pending. FBI agents contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in July to check for crimes similar to the Idaho abductions and slayings, said FBI spokesman Brent Robbins in Salt Lake City. After the center red-flagged Anthony’s slaying, FBI agents persuaded Duncan to discuss the Riverside County case “a little bit,” Doyle said.
“It was in a situation where they were asking him about his involvement in any other similar cases, and he said, ‘Yeah, this boy Martinez in Southern California, Riverside County,’ ” Doyle said. “It was not a full, blown-out confession, though. We need more. We’ll try to interview him again.”
Duncan told FBI agents the car used in Anthony’s abduction was “his girlfriend’s, and it was totaled in a 1999 accident,” Doyle said.
Detectives who had investigated Anthony’s death said it was always unclear to investigators what prompted the abductor to strike in Beaumont.
“I suspect he did his homework, but it may have been as totally random as just getting off the freeway,” White said.
“It shows these kinds of aberrations can occur to anyone, anywhere, any time -- predators strike from Brentwood to Mayberry RFD.”
FBI agents in Idaho are still working to construct a timeline of Duncan’s whereabouts over the last decade, to see if there may be more victims, said Donald Robinson, supervisory senior resident agent for the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office.
“The investigation’s really in its infancy here -- we need to find out where he’s been,” Robinson said.
Doyle said FBI officials told him Duncan was being investigated in connection with two child killings in Washington state.
Duncan has an extensive criminal history. At 16, he started serving a 14-year prison sentence in Washington state for raping a 14-year-old boy at gunpoint. He was released from prison in 1994. Investigators believe Duncan may have traveled to Southern California in 1997, because his father lived in Highland in San Bernardino County.
By the end of 1997, Duncan was back in custody in Washington state on a parole violation, Doyle said. Duncan remained in prison until July 2000, when he moved to Fargo, N.D., and enrolled at North Dakota State University.
In March 2005, Duncan was charged with molesting a 6-year-old boy at a school playground in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Duncan became a fugitive in early April 2005 after posting $15,000 bond.
Anthony’s mother said investigators contacted her Friday to inform her that Duncan was a suspect in her son’s killing.
Medina said she had worked hard to carve out a normal life for her and her children, Marcos, 15, and Monica, 12. Her daughter was too young to remember much of what happened the day Anthony was kidnapped, but Marcos has struggled, she said: He was playing with Anthony that day.
“I can’t be a victim my whole life, and neither can they,” she said. “I’m trying to raise my family the right way and do what’s right and work and do what everybody else does.”
In Beaumont, residents were relieved to hear that a suspect was in custody but said the memory of Anthony’s abduction and horror over his killing had never left them.
Longtime resident Kim Bledsoe, 49, said that the case made her more concerned for her own daughter’s safety and that she would also wonder if strangers she saw could be Anthony’s killer.
“Everyone I didn’t know could have been the one,” said Bledsoe, a hairstylist who had cut Anthony’s hair. “I was really more aware of things that I never noticed before.... When something like that happens, you really take your daily routine for granted.”
Times staff writers Susana Enriquez and Sam Howe Verhovek contributed to this report. Enriquez reported from Beaumont and Verhovek from Seattle.