People Magazine Investigates: Groene Family Massacre
Brenda Groene was a beautiful young woman who was raising three of her five children as a single mom. Her oldest two lived with their father. She was someone was loved by many and was said to light up any room she walked in.
Slade, Dylan and Shasta were the children who lived with her.
After her divorce, she rekindled a relationship with her friend Mark McKenzie. After four years, he moved in with her and the kids.
On May 16th, 2005, authorities received a call from their neighbor Bob, who walked into the horrific crime scene. When authorities arrived, they discovered three deceased bodies–Slade, Brenda and Bob. Dylan and Shasta were missing. As authorities went to look for them, they discover more firearms and blood around the house.
Searching for Answers
Brenda’s mom Darlene and sister Brandy recall hearing the news and falling apart once they found out what happened. They could not fathom why or who would commit such a heinous crime against their family.
A massive manhunt began for the killer, as well as the children. As authorities searched, investigators took in the crime scene to find clues as to who could have committed the murders and kidnapping.
Bob Luther, who had been at the house for a barbecue the night before, became the first suspect. He and Mark allegedly got into an altercation at the party over money. Brenda’s oldest son Jesse confirmed this to the police. He also had a criminal record. Further investigating puts him at the crime scene, thanks to his fingerprints being on file.
When authorities go to talk to him, they discover that he is out of town, having told his parole officer that he was going to visit his family. However, he was cooperative with authorities and explained that he left town for a funeral. He also said he was beside himself over the murders and that the altercation was more of a misunderstanding. He is cleared as a suspect and investigators are back at square one.
Brenda’s ex-husband Steven becomes another suspect. He, Jesse and Vance (his other son with Brenda) lived with Darlene at the time of the murders. Due to him not cooperating with authorities and polygraph results, he becomes the number one suspect. Despite this, he makes a plea on television to bring the kids home. However, his babbling confuses authorities and make them wonder if he is communicating with the abductor or someone else.
Further investigation showed Slade, Brenda and Mark died from blunt force trauma from a hammer and the blood in the house was said to be from Slade, giving hope that the other kids were still alive.
Darlene and Brandy say that there was some tension between Steve and Brenda, but they don’t think he would hurt them.
As tips pour in, the search continues. The faces of the children are shown constantly so people know what they look like in case they are spotted. Investigators worked 17 hours a day, seven days a week on the case. One day, the case takes a huge, unexpected turn, thanks to Amber Peace, who was a Denny’s waitress.
Amber was working that night and saw a man and child. She knew something felt off and said the man kept staring at the girl, who was filthy. After taking their order, she realized the girl was Shasta. She goes to her manager, who calls authorities. Amber keeps her cool and manages to keep them in the diner, despite them trying to leave. She recalls about thirty officers arriving and recognizing Shasta, bringing her to safety.
Shasta herself recalls her rescue, while authorities on the case remember finding out she was alive and springing into action. She also discusses being in the hospital and seeing her family again, as well as the horrific events she faced at the hands of the monster who killed her loved ones (including Dylan, who was abused and later killed after the kidnapping) and hurt her.
After Dylan was murdered, she recalls going into survivor mode, doing whatever it took to keep herself alive, including going along with what he wanted and listening to him talk. He even admitted he found her family by chance while driving by and seeing her and Dylan playing outside. She pretended to trust him by saying she wanted to show him her school and life as they drove to Washington State to meet his family. This very suggestion is what saved her life.
The Killer….and Other Victims
The killer/kidnapper was Joseph Duncan. He was a level three sex offender and fugitive who was on the run. He grew up in a strict, religious household who was in trouble with the law and began committing sex offenses as a teen. He was in and out of jail, often failing to register as a sex offender and checking in with a parole officer.
Investigators, Darlene, Brandy and several family members and friends recall Shasta’s return and the aftermath. Videos that Joseph took, as well as a blog, were discovered. This helped them get a search warrant to help find other victims, which connects him to several other sexual assault and child abuse cases.
One case involved a kid named Tony Martinez, his brother and their friends. John told them his cat was missing and offered them a dollar to help him look. The kids agreed to help, but then John threatened them with a knife and kidnapped Tony, eventually killing him. He also killed two girls SammieJo White and Carmen Cubias.
Verdict and Updates
In October 2006, the case goes to court. Joseph represents himself and pleads guilty. In 2008, he gets three death sentences related to Dylan’s death.
Shasta went through a rough patch in her life post-kidnapping. She is now married with children, who are her motivation to keep doing good.
John Duncan died of brain cancer in 2021.