The 8-Year-Old Manipulated Her Kidnapper, Then She Lured Him to Denny’s Restaurant

The Groene tragedy

Shasta — image from

It was in the afternoon.

The police received a sudden surge of different phone calls. The callers had spotted an eight-year-old missing girl walking around with a person he called dad.

Caller 1: I’ve got a little girl here with a tall gentleman, and she looks so much like Shasta. And we’re not sure. I just…I don’t know.

Caller 2: It’s just awfully weird to me, the girl looks exactly like the little girl that’s in the paper.

The Groenes Lived In Idaho

The Groene family lived in Wolf Lodge Bay, Kootenai County, Idaho, USA.

The family members were;

  • The mother, forty-year-old Brenda Groene
  • Brenda’s boyfriend, thirty-seven-year-old Mark McKenzie;
  • Brenda’s three children, Slade, Dylan, and Shasta Groene. The children were thirteen, nine, and eight, respectively.

Brenda had separated from her children’s father about six years prior. Afterward, she struggled to take care of her children. But the family was happy with the little they had.

The Groenes shared strong bonds.

For instance, Shasta was close with her brothers, especially Dylan. The two were inseparable. Shasta often affirmed and admired Dylan’s kindness. Dylan was friends with the kids who got picked on, although he was very popular.

Meanwhile, Slade was a very good big brother to his siblings. He was also very friendly and sweet with people.

A Groene Family’s Neighbor Visited

It was early in the morning on 16 May 2005. And the neighbor of the Groene family stopped by their house.

He wanted to pay the little Groene boy $10 for mowing his lawn. Instead, the neighbor saw blood all over the door and immediately called the police.

The police arrived at the scene. And they concluded that the Groene house was a murder scene. Mark, Brenda, and Slade laid dead inside.

The two youngest children, Shasta and Dylan, were nowhere to be found.

The Authorities Suspected the Children’s Biological Father

Shasta and her biological father, Steven Groene — image from

The police suspected the children’s biological father was behind everything. But they soon discovered he wasn’t at the house at the time of the murders.

So he was ruled out as a suspect. Then investigators placed missing posters of Shasta and Dylan all over the city. They also issued an Amber Alert.

They followed all the leads they got. But everything led to a dead end.

On 2 July 2005, the police received calls alerting them that the missing girl from the posters had been spotted in town.

They rushed to the scene and rescued the little girl. Then Shasta told the police everything that had happened.

There Was an Intruder in Their House

Brenda woke up all her children, telling them a stranger was in their house.

The Groene family gathered in the living room. The intruder stood there, gun in hand. He told everyone to lie face down then he tied their hands. The intruder attacked Mark, Brenda, and Slade with a hammer. Then the attacker turned to Shasta and Dylan.

Shasta and Dylan were lifted and taken to the backyard.

Slade stumbled out of the house, trying to escape. The attacker chased after Slade, and he attacked him. Slade collapsed.

The man put Shasta and Dylan in his car. Then he drove off to a secluded campsite in Lolo National Forest. Then he told the two children,

“See this hammer? This is the hammer with which I murdered your mother, your stepfather, and your brother.

They’re not alive, and you’ll never see them again.”

The Kidnapper Abused The Siblings

Shasta and Dylan — image from

The kidnapper abused Shasta and Dylan.

He abused Dylan while he made Shasta watch. The more Shasta cried, the more the abuse intensified. Meanwhile, he made them believe that he was going to release them.

He told them to write letters to their dad telling him they would return soon.

The man forced Shasta and Dylan to use drugs and alcohol. Then he would tell them stories of his past crimes.

Shasta soon discovered that the man felt some connection to her.

Shasta Manipulated Her Kidnapper

Shasta started manipulating the man into believing that she was his friend.

She asked him questions about his life and family. She made him believe she loved him and wanted to stay with him.

But things took another tragic turn.

The kidnapper had told the siblings that if they caught a squirrel, he’d let them go. Dylan managed to catch one.

Shasta and Dylan were excited as they hugged each other.

The siblings held each other’s hands as they told the kidnapper they had passed the challenge. Then Shasta heard a loud bang followed by another.

Her brother’s hand slipped from hers.

The attacker had shot him dead. Then he forced her to help him bury his body.

Shasta’s captor then moved her to a different campsite.

The Kidnapper Tried to Kill Shasta

One night, the kidnapper asked Shasta if she wanted to die by strangulation or be shot.

Shasta chose strangulation.

Amidst the strangulation, Shasta called the man by his nickname and asked him not to. That softened the kidnapper’s heart, and he stopped.

Shasta continued to build a relationship with her kidnapper. She told him that she didn’t want to go home. She wanted to be with him.

The kidnapper asked Shasta to be his daughter and call him dad. Shasta agreed.

Then Shasta asked him to take her where she grew up. She wanted to show him all the places that were important to her since he was now important to her.

On 2 July 2005, Shasta and her kidnapper drove to Shasta’s home area.

Shasta Hoped Someone Would Notice Her

Shasta prayed that someone would recognize her and help her. And people did.

A man recognized Shasta when she entered a store with her kidnapper. He immediately called the police. But Shasta’s kidnapper soon left the store with Shasta. The man took her to eat at Denny’s restaurant.

There was a guy standing outside with his friends. He nodded at Shasta, and she nodded back. The man walked up to the counter to tell one of the restaurant’s waitresses. The waitress soon called the police.

Other people in the restaurant noticed Shasta. They became alert so as not to let the man leave with Shasta. The police soon arrived at the restaurant and arrested the man.

The whole restaurant started cheering.

The Aftermath

It turned out that Slade had found the strength to return inside their house and die next to his mother.

The Groene family murderer/kidnapper was Joseph Edward Duncan III, a forty-two-year-old man.

Joseph confessed to his crimes. He pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Brenda, Mark, and Slade. He was sentenced to three life sentences.

Joseph also pleaded guilty to ten charges related to the kidnapping and sexual assault of Shasta and Dylan, along with Dylan’s murder.

He was sentenced to death. Joseph died on death row in 2021 from brain cancer.

Shasta initially found it hard to overcome her trauma. She turned to drugs and alcohol to try to escape. But she later found help and changed her life for the better.

Today, Shasta has her own family. And she hopes to use her experience to help other people.

Shasta stated,

“I know that I lived for a reason, and I know that I am here to help other people.

If there is someone in the world right now who is being abused and hears that I am giving up, what would that do for them?”

Sources:, Unseen

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