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Originally published August 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 19, 2005 at 7:35 PM

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Oak Harbor police seek connection between Duncan and 1997 slaying of 7-year-old

Police in Oak Harbor are seeking a possible connection between convicted sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan, who has been charged with killing an Idaho family, and the 1997 slaying of a 7-year-old Oak Harbor girl.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Police in Oak Harbor are seeking a possible connection between convicted sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan, who has been charged with killing an Idaho family, and the 1997 slaying of a 7-year-old Oak Harbor girl.

Duncan has been linked to the murder of two sisters last seen in Seattle in 1996, one year before Deborah Palmer vanished on the two-block walk from her home to Oak Harbor Elementary School. Her body was found five days later on a beach seven miles north of town.

"We're looking at him but we can't connect him to the case," Oak Harbor Police Capt. Rick Wallace said today. "Pending some sort of timeline that puts him in Oak Harbor or other corroborating evidence, we're just looking at him. He's on our screen and is a person of interest to us, but we can't connect him to our case."

The Palmer killing is the only unsolved murder in Oak Harbor, Wallace said.

Duncan, formerly of Tacoma, has become a target of criminal investigations in four states since he was caught at a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho restaurant on July 2 with 8-year-old Shasta Groene.

Charged with the killings of Shasta's mother, brother and her mother's boyfriend, Duncan hinted at his involvement in the murders of sisters Sammiejo White, 11, and Carmen Cubias,9, who were last seen at an Aurora Avenue motel in July 1996. Their remains were found in Bothell in February 1998.

Wallace said he is hoping the FBI can come up with a definitive timeline for Duncan that could place him in or near Oak Harbor at the time of the Palmer disappearance and murder.

While he said the deaths that Duncan has been charged with, or suspected of, are similar to the Palmer murder, it's still very general. "A child, a death, but that's about it," he said.

If the FBI can place Duncan near Oak Harbor, the department will send an officer to Idaho to pursue a connection to the Palmer slaying.

After the bodies of White and Cubias were found, Oak Harbor police spoke to Seattle police to see if the cases could be connected. Wallace said there were general similarities, but not enough to presume the same person was involved in all three slayings. Wallace said police have had suspects in the Palmer case, but didn't have enough evidence for an arrest. The police even went to Oregon to look at Ward Weaver, implicated in the 2002 murders of two girls whose remains were found in his back yard.

"We need something to say we have a definite interest in this guy," Wallace said of Duncan. He said Oak Harbor police started looking at Duncan shortly after he was arrested in the Idaho case, but haven't been able to move beyond suspicions. "Hopefully the FBI will rule him in our area or out of our area, but they may not be able to do that," Wallace said. "But it's prudent keeping our options open."

Duncan was convicted of the rape and torture of a 14-year-old Tacoma boy in 1980, and he served 14 years in Washington prisons before being paroled in 1994.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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