In the Shadow of the Tower (Part 2): A “Savage Individual”

On the night of August 6, 1966, five days after University of Texas Tower sniper Charles Whitman killed sixteen people in Austin and three days before Trimble Tech junior Melvin Stuart Pittman bought a .303-caliber rifle to kill three more (see Part 1), Kenneth Allen McDuff, accompanied by sidekick Roy Dale Green, drove north on Interstate 35 toward the bright lights of Fort Worth.

But McDuff was less interested in the bright lights of the city than in the dark lovers lanes of the suburbs.

McDuff and Green lived in Falls County in central Texas: McDuff in Rosebud, Green in Marlin.

Green, a high school dropout, was eighteen. He worked for McDuff’s father. McDuff, twenty, had dropped out of school in the ninth grade. In Rosebud he was known as a bully who picked on people who were smaller than he was.

And most people were. McDuff stood six feet three inches and weighed more than two hundred pounds. He had broad shoulders and large hands and a maniacal laugh that had little mirth to it.

McDuff tolerated Roy Dale Green because Green was weak willed and could be dominated.

Indeed, Roy Dale Green was in awe of—and intimidated by—his larger, older, worldlier friend, who had a prison record and bragged about his violent sexual exploits.

In 1964, when McDuff was seventeen and embarking on his career of sexual assault and other crimes, he had raped a woman, cut her throat, and left her for dead in a ditch. Like many such assaults, that one was not reported. (Twenty-one years later McDuff would find out just how undead his victim had been.)

Early on Green had asked McDuff if he had ever killed anyone.

“Yes,” Green later recalled McDuff saying. “I’ve got them buried in shallow graves.”

Green further quoted McDuff: “Killing a woman is like killing a chicken. They both squawk.”

A year after the rape, in 1965 McDuff went to prison for a string of burglaries. He was sentenced to fifty-two years but was back on the street in ten months.

That parole was the Texas criminal justice system’s first misstep in its treatment of Kenneth Allen McDuff.

And so it was that eight months later on a Saturday night McDuff and Roy Dale Green were driving north to Fort Worth.

Green had never been to Fort Worth before, but McDuff had worked in Fort Worth a few years earlier and still had some friends here. The duo drove around drinking beer and visiting McDuff’s friends.

Meanwhile in Everman, about 10 p.m. Edna Louise Sullivan, sixteen, and Robert Hugh Brand, seventeen, and his cousin Marcus Dunnam, sixteen, both of Alvarado, had just returned from the Southside Drive-In Theater in Fort Worth. They stopped at the home of a fourth teenager, Rhonda Chamberlain, and Edna told Rhonda that the trio was going to drive around in Brand’s 1955 Ford a while and that she would be back later to spend the night.

After 10 p.m. on that Saturday date night, Kenneth Allen McDuff  and Roy Dale Green began cruising secluded areas where parked couples might be found. McDuff told Green he needed to “find a woman.”

In the unlighted parking lot of a ballpark in Everman McDuff and Green saw a 1955 Ford. Beside it stood three teenagers—two boys and a girl. The girl was wearing cutoff shorts.

McDuff pulled into the parking lot and stopped about four hundred feet from the Ford. He took a .38-caliber pistol from under the car seat and walked over to the three teenagers. McDuff ordered the two boys to hand over their billfolds. Then he forced all three into the trunk of the Ford and slammed the lid.

“They got a good look at my face,” McDuff told Green. “I’ll have to kill them.”

McDuff drove the Ford, with the teenagers in the trunk, south along dark country roads. Green followed in McDuff’s Dodge.

McDuff turned into a field north of Burleson and stopped. He opened the trunk and ordered Edna Sullivan out.

He told Green to lock the girl in the trunk of the Dodge.

Green did as he was told.

Then Green watched as the two boys, on their knees, begged for their lives. Green watched as McDuff shot both boys in the face: Brand twice and Dunnam four times.

McDuff and Green drove away in McDuff’s Dodge, Edna Sullivan still locked in the trunk.

McDuff drove south again along dark country roads. He stopped, took Edna Sullivan from the trunk, walked her into a field and raped her.

Three times.

McDuff then ordered Green to rape the girl.

Again Green did as he was told.

McDuff then drove the car south again. Two miles west of Interstate 35 near the town of Egan in Johnson County he stopped. He ordered Edna Sullivan to sit down in the gravel road. He then took a three-foot-long broom handle from the car, forced the girl’s head to the gravel, and pressed the broom handle to her windpipe. When she struggled, McDuff told Green to “grab her legs.”

Again Green did as he was told.

When Edna Louise Sullivan had stopped breathing, McDuff and Green dumped her body over a fence into some bushes.

Then they drove south again—all the way back home.

There McDuff and Green washed McDuff’s car and buried the murder weapon, their bloody clothing, and the billfolds of the two boys.

The bodies of the two boys were found early Sunday, and a search for the missing girl was begun.

Later that day Roy Dale Green heard a radio news report about the two slain teenagers and, overcome with remorse, confessed the crimes to friends and turned himself in. He also implicated McDuff.

When Falls County Sheriff Brady Pamplin came to arrest McDuff, McDuff fled in his car. Pamplin gave chase and shot out McDuff’s tires.

As Tarrant County Sheriff Lon Evans escorted Green and McDuff (bottom photo) back to Fort Worth on April 7, McDuff commented on the Charles Whitman sniper murders of April 1.

“That guy must have been crazy,” McDuff said without an ounce of irony.

McDuff and Green were jailed in Tarrant County and charged with murder.

McDuff denied any knowledge of the crimes and refused to answer questions. On the other hand, Roy Dale Green had a lot on his mind.

“My God, I’ve got to tell somebody about it,” he sobbed. “I keep seeing it. I keep hearing those boys moan.”

Roy Dale Green guided the search for the girl’s body. Meanwhile, a seventeenth victim of Charles Whitman’s sniper rampage had died.

Searchers found the body of Edna Louise Sullivan on the night of April 8.

The map shows where the bodies of the three teenagers were found in Tarrant and Johnson counties.

Fast-forward to September 23. As McDuff and Green sat in the Tarrant County jail awaiting their trials, another young man accused of killing three people—Melvin Stuart Pittman (see Part 1)—checked into his cell.

Kenneth Allen McDuff was the first of the duo to go on trial, pleading not guilty to murdering Robert Brand. The state sought the death penalty. Testimony began November 9. Roy Dale Green, of course, was the state’s star witness against McDuff. Green was on the stand five hours on the first day of testimony.

Green, his voice sometimes barely audible, told the courtroom how McDuff had shot the two teenage boys and raped and killed Edna Sullivan. Green admitted that he, too, raped the Sullivan girl but said he had feared that McDuff would kill him, too, if he did not follow orders during the murders and rape.

When Kenneth McDuff took the witness stand he denied any knowledge of the killings and rape and suggested that Green alone had committed the crimes after borrowing McDuff’s car and that Green now was trying to frame him.

Present in the courtroom each day was McDuff’s mother Addie, known in Rosebud as “Pistol-Packing Mama McDuff” because she was apt to carry a gun when confronting people she felt had slighted her son Kenneth or his older brother Lonnie.

McDuff’s mother vouched for her son, telling reporters that he had an alibi: At the time of the murders Kenneth was with a young woman from his church—“I think she’s studying to be a missionary”—but Kenneth did not want to reveal her name. Mrs. McDuff said that if he was willing to risk death in the electric chair to spare the girl’s reputation, “I guess that’s his business.”

“He’s too good for his own good,” she said.

Kenneth Allen McDuff was found guilty of murder, sentenced to death, and sent to Huntsville penitentiary to await execution.

In June 1968 Roy Dale Green went on trial for the murder of Marcus Dunnam.

Green was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.

A year later Green was found guilty of the murder of Robert Brand and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.

Roy Dale Green was released from Huntsville in 1979 and returned to Marlin, a troubled conscience his constant companion.

In 1980 he was committed to Rusk State Hospital after threatening his mother.

That closes our book on the sidekick murderer who just took orders.

As for his partner in crime, the man who gave those orders, after Kenneth McDuff’s conviction for murder in 1966, McDuff, like Charles Whitman on the University of Texas Tower, would cast a long shadow.

Twice in 1969 and again in 1970 McDuff came within a few days of being executed and each time was granted a stay of execution.

Then, in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. McDuff’s sentence was reduced to life in prison.

But McDuff couldn’t leave well enough alone. When he was eligible for parole in 1981 he offered a $10,000 bribe to a member of the parole board. He was convicted of bribery.

Four years later Huntsville inmate 227123 was visited by a young woman: a daughter Kenneth McDuff did not know he had. Seems that the woman whom he had raped and left for dead in 1964 not only survived but also had borne his child. In 1985 the daughter, then twenty-one, had learned that her biological father was a convicted killer named “Kenneth McDuff.” It was a touching father-daughter meeting: McDuff tried to persuade her to smuggle drugs. He would later offer to take her to Las Vegas and be her pimp.

Fast-forward four years. By 1989 Texas prisons were overcrowded. To alleviate the problem the state began paroling 750 inmates a week, approving eight of every ten parole applications.

In a prison system with a capacity of sixty thousand inmates, more than thirty-six thousand were paroled in 1989.

Among them was Kenneth Allen McDuff.

When Falls County District Attorney Tom Sehon had heard that McDuff was up for parole, Sehon warned the parole board that McDuff was “the most extraordinarily violent criminal ever to set foot in Falls County” and advised the board against parole.

The parole board paid no heed. (McDuff was rumored to have paid a parole board member $25,000 to buy his freedom.)
The law enforcement community was shocked by McDuff’s parole.

When news of McDuff’s release reached his hometown of Rosebud, residents locked their doors, turned on their porch lights, and loaded their guns. Rumors spread: McDuff was going to kill one person for every year he had spent in prison; he was going to seek revenge against people who had humiliated him as a child.

When McDuff was released, Texas Monthly magazine wrote in 1992, John Killgore, editor of the Rosebud News, said, “This is a walking town, but these days you see very few people on the streets. McDuff’s return has scared the hell out of this town.”

According to Texas Monthly, after McDuff was paroled, Falls County Sheriff Larry Pamplin—son of Sheriff Brady Pamplin, who had arrested McDuff in 1966—told fellow officers: “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.”

Larry Pamplin was right.

Within three days of McDuff’s release, the naked body of prostitute Sarafia Parker, thirty-one, was found. She had been beaten, strangled, and dumped in a field near Temple. McDuff’s parole officer was stationed in Temple. McDuff was suspected of the crime but never charged.

In July 1990, nine months after he was released, McDuff’s murder spree was briefly interrupted. He was charged with making a death threat to several African-American youths in Rosebud and sent back to prison. Although the offense was a misdemeanor, it could have kept McDuff behind bars for the rest of his life because it was committed while McDuff was on parole.

But by December 1990 Kenneth McDuff was back on the street.

After McDuff’s three killings in 1966, his post-parole victims, like Sarafia Parker, were women, most of them tortured and strangled to death, mostly along the Interstate 35 corridor in Texas. (Remember that in 1966 McDuff had murdered Edna Louise Sullivan two miles from the interstate.)

Authorities said McDuff killed Brenda Thompson, Regenia DeAnne Moore, and Colleen Reed in 1991, Valencia Joshua and Melissa Northrup in 1992. Northrup was kidnapped from a Waco convenience store where she worked and strangled with a rope. She was pregnant with her third child. Her body was found in a Dallas County gravel pit, her hands tied behind her back.

McDuff was charged with the murders of Reed and Northrup.

Just days after Northrup’s funeral, on May 1, 1992 the TV program America’s Most Wanted featured Kenneth McDuff. Three days later police in Kansas City, Missouri received a call from a viewer who suspected that a womanizing garbage truck worker known as “Richard Fowler” was actually Kenneth McDuff.

A few hours later McDuff was surrounded by police and surrendered peacefully—in the city dump. He was taken to Waco to be arraigned on a weapons charge but was tried for the murders of Coleen Reed and Melissa Northrup.

By 1994 a jury in Seguin had convicted McDuff of the Reed murder, and a jury in Houston had convicted him of the Northrup murder. Each jury sentenced him to death. (After a lapse of ten years, in 1982 the state had resumed capital punishment.)
McDuff thus became the only killer in Texas history to be sentenced to death by three juries. According to Gary M. Lavergne in Bad Boy: The True Story of Kenneth Allen McDuff, the Most Notorious Serial Killer in Texas History, McDuff also is the only person in U.S. history to have been assigned two death row numbers: one for the Robert Brand murder in 1966 and one for the Melissa Northrup murder in 1992.

Falls County Sheriff Larry Pamplin said after the Northrup trial, “Kenneth McDuff is absolutely the most vicious and savage individual I know. He has absolutely no conscience, and I think he enjoys killing.”

Dallas psychologist Fred Labowitz told a reporter that McDuff “has no soul . . . This guy goes beyond the study of human behavior. In some people, we can find behavior antecedents in childhood. An absent father, a drunken mother, an abusive home. But it appears there was none of these. It seems his incredible lust for evil appeared spontaneously and full blown.”

On November. 17, 1998—thirty-two years after Fort Worth endured that long summer in the shadow of the Tower—Kenneth Allen McDuff was strapped into a gurney to be executed by lethal injection in Huntsville.

McDuff was asked if he had any last words.

He said, “I’m ready to be released. Release me.”

Twelve minutes later, after he was pronounced dead, Brenda Solomon, mother of Melissa Northrup, said, “I feel wonderful. I know where he was released to.”

After McDuff’s family did not claim his body, he was buried in Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery of Huntsville penitentiary. (Photo from Find A Grave.)

Law enforcement officials estimated that McDuff had killed—after he had been paroled for the three murders in 1966—from nine to fourteen women.

Ken Anderson in Crime in Texas: Your Complete Guide to the Criminal Justice System, said that McDuff, more than any other criminal, “has come to represent everything that was wrong with the Texas criminal justice system. He convinced everyone—citizens, politicians, the news media—just how broken the Texas system was.”

And according to Lavergne in Bad Boy, after McDuff’s second arrest for murder in 1992, Texas toughened its parole laws, making it more difficult for violent criminals to be paroled and subjecting them to increased monitoring upon parole. Those laws are known informally as the “McDuff Laws.”

Kenneth Allen McDuff’s youngest victim of 1966, Edna Louise Sullivan, would be seventy this year.

Posts About Crime Indexed by Decade

This entry was posted in Crime, Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *