1999: Zarmeena 2009: Danielle Simpson, “If I can’t be free – Kill me!!”

1998: Kenneth Allen McDuff, Texas nightmare

November 17th, 2010 Mary OGrady

(Thanks to Mary O’Grady for the guest post. -ed.)

Kenneth Allen McDuff grew from the small-time bully of tiny Rosebud, Texas, to a feared and reviled killer finally apprehended with the help of the America’s Most Wanted television series. By the time of his execution on November 17, 1998, he stood as a symbol of how the best-intentioned prison reforms could bring the most hideous results.*

In 1966, on parole for a string of burglaries, McDuff was first sentenced to death for the brutal murder of three teenagers he kidnapped and killed. The female member of the trio was sexually abused and raped for hours before McDuff used a broomstick to snap her neck “just like you’d kill a possum,” in the words of Falls County Sheriff Brady Pamplin, one of the first generation of Central Texas lawmen to deal with McDuff.

He remained on death row until 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman vs. Georgia struck down all death penalty statutes in the United States. McDuff’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which left the possibility of parole.

A rape and attempted murder for which McDuff was never prosecuted resulted in a daughter who at the age of 21 visited McDuff in prison. Her visits ceased after McDuff described his fantasy of taking her to Las Vegas and pimping her out to earn himself a fortune.

A prisoner’s fifteen-page handwritten lawsuit, Ruiz vs. Estelle, exposed conditions in Texas prisons which proved unconstitutionally inhumane, including the use of inmates as guards. (McDuff ascended to the position of boss over fellow convicts following his exit from death row into the general prison population; his perks included a “gal-boy” who traded the usual personal services for McDuff’s protection from white supremacist former gang associates whom he had offended.) Ruling in the Ruiz case, Federal Judge William Wayne Justice placed the Texas prison system under the control of a Special Master and ordered that traditional prison overcrowding must cease.

The Texas parole board was ordered to release 150 prisoners a day, to reduce the prison population to the 50,000 for which there was adequate capacity. Despite a 1982 conviction for attempted bribery of a parole board member, McDuff made parole in early October of 1989. Waco’s U.S. Marshall Parnell McNamara could only ask, “Have they gone crazy?”

Author Gary Lavergne also maintains McDuff information on his website, including this collection of photos and this list of victims.

Kenneth Allen McDuff was a rarity on Texas’s death row: He was a son of the middle class among the poorest of the poor. On parole, his family furnished him with motor vehicles as needed, and a credit card so that he would not have to carry cash in his chancy, drug-ridden haunts along the Interstate 35 corridor of Central Texas.

Even a new arrest in July 1990, after he chased and threatened some black teenagers and then spewed racist invective at his parole revocation hearing, did not suffice to return him to prison. Six women, three of them drug-addicted prostitutes, have been verified as murder victims of Kenneth McDuff between his parole date in 1989 and his arrest as a fugitive in Kansas City on May 4, 1992; there may well be others whose identities will never be known.

McDuff was tried for the abductions and murders of Melissa Northrup, a convenience store clerk, and Colleen Reed, an accountant. He was convicted and sentenced to death in both cases.

Parole requirements for violent Texas criminals were stiffened substantially as a direct result of McDuff’s career, by the regulations of the parole board and by the Texas Legislature. (The statutes are known as the McDuff Laws.) McDuff by all accounts became the most hated man in the Texas prison system; once returned to death row, he was held in administrative segregation for his own protection from his latest arrival in 1993 until his execution.

Progressive Democrat Ann Richards was Governor of Texas at the time of McDuff’s last trial. A recovering alcoholic, she created an unprecedented emphasis on drug and alcohol treatment for Texas prisoners, the overwhelming majority of whose crimes involved substance abuse of one kind or another. No one appreciated the irony more than she: a governor dedicated to rehabilitation of prisoners was forced to kick off the biggest prison building spree in Texas history, to comply with the federal court’s orders on prison overcrowding while trying to ensure that Texas would never again see the likes of Kenneth Allen McDuff.

It took six years for law enforcement officers to persuade McDuff that his continued refusal to reveal where he had hidden the bodies of several of his victims offered him no sort of advantage. Some remains were located by means of hand-drawn maps, but maps did not suffice in every case. A few days before his execution, an unusual excursion party set out from the Ellis I prison outside Huntsville: a caravan of unmarked cars with dark-tinted glass carried McDuff, locked to a back seat and disguised with a baseball cap, on a “clandestine high security move.” Never allowed out of the car, McDuff directed investigators to the shallow grave of Colleen Reed, whom he kidnapped from an Austin car wash on December 29, 1991. Shortly thereafter, McDuff’s nephew received a reduction in his sentence for drug dealing.

McDuff never expressed remorse for any of his crimes. A lifetime of cheap beer and needle drug abuse was catching up to his liver when he climbed on the Walls Unit gurney on November 17, 1998. His last words: “I am ready to be released. Release me.”

* See Gary Cartwright’s “Free to Kill” Texas Monthly, Aug. 1992, Vol. 20, Issue 8, p. 90.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Infamous,Kidnapping,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Rape,Serial Killers,Texas,USA

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13 thoughts on “1998: Kenneth Allen McDuff, Texas nightmare”

  1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    McDuff is the poster-boy for why a society has the
    right to take the law into their own hands should the government fail to act accordingly. Any person in their right mind understood McDuff would kill again. Such a vicious individual was not about to obey the rules of society, and releasing him for ANY REASON was a death sentence for those who came after. What could have occurred is the following: Mr. McDuff is released, and several good men from the community “visit” Mr. McDuff in the night, and take him to a place where he can join his previous victims. Would it be murder? No, not at all. it would be a preemptive strike against a known and active killer, and it would have saved the lives of those innocent women; women who had families and friends. Women who had a right to continue their lives without the likes of a loser like McDuff coming along to steal all their tomorrows.

    Had this occurred, JUSTICE would have prevailed, and some folks would still be alive today.

  2. Meaghan says:

    If they really want to ease prison overcrowding, release the nonviolent drug offenders. Recently I read about a girl who just got 25 years in prison — the mandatory minimum sentence — for selling Oxycodone when she was 17 years old. There is no justice in that.

  3. Bill C. says:

    I lived in Temple and Austin, TX from 1987-1998. The McDuff case was what caused me to change my opinion from anti-DP to pro. Reading about the horrific crimes he committed against those women, imagining the terror they must have felt in their final moments… it was chilling. And to think it all could have been avoided if TX had been allowed to carry out the original death sentence. Certainly, the possibility of executing an innocent is something that all effort should be made to avoid. The fact that it has probably happened before and will probably happen again is a compelling argument against the DP. But the McDuffs of the world are an even more compelling argument for it. Whereas always-improving forensic techniques are making it less and less likely that innocents will get convicted in the first place, society will always be in danger as long as McDuff and people like him are still breathing. Our prosecutors, judges and jurors may not be perfect, but neither are parole boards and prison systems. Parole boards forget, prisons become overcrowded, prisoners escape only to kill again, prisoners kill other prisoners. There are some crimes that are so heinous that not only is it society’s right to remove the perpetrators from its midst, it is its duty.

  4. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Well said, Bill.

  5. Lee C. says:

    I too agree with your post Bill, and I also have converted from being anti CP to pro CP.

    We are always concerned with the possibility that innocents may be mistakenly convicted of crimes and then executed. As others have pointed out, the chances of that happening diminish steadily with improvements in forensics and legal processes.

    However, we seem to never compare the numbers of innocent lives lost because of recidivist criminal activity. McDuff’s case alone accounts for 6 additional lives (at least) that would have been spared if he’d been executed when he was first on death row.

    The ideology of non-capital punishment is lofty, but costs lives.

    Also, when the costs are factored in Non CP adherents claim that it is less expensive to incarcerate someone than to execute them. I have never believed that to be honest. But even so, does the costing include the extra police and investigative time that is taken in investigating new offences and recapturing repeat offenders? I doubt that those costs are included in the calculations.

  6. Genary says:

    I just want to say this. That was messed up when he did that to them woman, But the system been fucking people from day one. On one can win when it comes to the law enforcement. The laws is for them and not the people. just think, they lock people up for no reason all the time. They let killers out and give the innocent years to think.

  7. ive been looking for the founder or creator? of the first forensic accountant in australia, would anyone know? Thanks

  8. Not all people who murder and go to prison, continue murdering and leading a life of crime. I and other friends and family, worked to get my husband, John, out on parole. John spent 17 years as a guest of the Texas prison system for murdering his abusive parents back in 1969, I came from a similar abusive background. My mother committed suicide by a gunshot to the head in Galveston, Texas in 1962 when I was 12. John and I both have Masters in the mental health field (John has a Masters in Psychology, while I have a Master’s in Psych Mental Health Nursing). John was just honored for his 25 years as a psych tech at a psychiatric hospital in Houston, Texas. I am a psychiatric nurse in Houston. John and I have been married (generally happy) for 31 and a half years, and we have a 21 and a half Air Force son. John and I are both writers. John specializes in prison reform, while I battle the horrors of domestic violence and child abuse. I also battle for the ending of the very negative stigma that mental illness brings with it.

  9. vigelandzoon says:

    good for killing murders better faster as can at least in 5 years they must be death they kill humans why not killing a murdere sure i like the death sentence

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