Joseph Duncan stands accused of some of the most horrific crimes it’s possible to imagine. Known to be dysfunctional and dangerous from an early age, he still managed to convince many people over the years that he had changed/reformed/healed. Thanks to current technology and some outright hysteria, this case is beginning to look like a rutted parking lot, littered with the broken pieces of innocent lives and reputations.
Duncan isn’t the first monster to have walked among us (Dennis Rader comes to mind…). Yet the Duncan case is profoundly different. He’s the first (in my memory) to be so highly sophisticated with modern technology. More to the point – he used the internet heavily, leaving footprints everywhere. Furthermore, following his trail has shown his continued psychopathology (certainly since his release from Washington State in late 2000).
Now in the ‘real’ world (meaning where people walk around, use voices to talk, and can see who they’re talking to), a crime scene and evidence are secured immediately. Clues and leads are handled carefully, with only the most carefully considered facts distributed to the ever-hungry press. In the Duncan internet investigation, the detectives are the public, and the evidence is already distributed widely in a public medium. It’s like a bizarre treasure hunt, and the prize is pinning together the activities and history of this animal.
Everybody and their mother/ cat/ neighbor are out there in the virtual crime scene, sniffing for clues and theorizing madly. People are investigating, following electronic trails, positing hypotheses – just as any detective would handle things… except this speculation is public. It’s not happening behind the heavy screens of a high-profile murder case. Evidence is ‘disappearing’ as it’s found, by sensitive webmasters attempting to sanitize sites and distance themselves from any connection to Duncan.
And what about those broken lives, careers, and reputations whose associations and history are also all over the ‘net now? All in all, this is incredibly complicated. So far as I know, this is a new situation, but I can guarantee it is only the first of many. It won’t be unique.
On July 15, Steve R. Neuman, staff writer of the Spokane Review,published an article about the investigative blogs and bloggers, and I was struck by the overall dismissive tone. According to this article, detectives are not using the information from these online blog-sleuths, and some of the strongest accumulated evidence is being dismissed as circumstantial.
“On his blog, âThe Dark Sideâ? ( http://www.planethuff.com/darkside/), Steve Huff has posted photos of a man resembling Duncan posing seductively in makeup, a tight black dress and a womanâs bathing suit…”
“While the images are convincing, there is only circumstantial proof that they were taken by Duncan, or that the text accompanying them was written by him.”
Actually, there’s a great deal of supporting evidence for this, and much more. “Mickey Rat”, author of “The Cellar” ( http://jetd63.blogspot.com/ has been trying desperately to stay in front of all the clues, leads, and speculation. There’s a staggering amount of information on that site, and since I am responsible for some of those “leads”, I know for a fact that much of it is carefully documented and responsibly reported.
It’s true that not everything going online has been professionally researched or supported, and there’s a stunning amount of public speculation about people who may or may not have anything to do with Duncan’s criminal activities. We need to get a few guidelines in place, not only to protect the innocent, but also to be sure that in our zeal we don’t inadvertantly make it harder for prosecutors to convict this monster – no doubt the first of many. But law enforcement and the conventional press need to understand and incorporate this new arena. It’s real, and it’s here to stay.