Havre Daily News
When Bill Turcotte of Havre heard in July that authorities had arrested a man for the murder of a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, couple and child and the abduction of two other children, he immediately thought of his son.
That's not unusual. Every child abduction and murder reminds him of Russell's killing three years ago. This time there was more to consider: the fact that the recently discovered suspect may have been in North Dakota at the time Russell Turcotte disappeared there.
Last week, Bill shared his theory of a connection between the two cases with Fox News, and this week met with the FBI in Havre. Next week he'll be interviewed on TV by Geraldo Rivera.
“We can either zero in on him and expand on his being a suspect or we can eliminate him,” Turcotte said Thursday of his hopes for the investigation.
Authorities are investigating whether Edward Joseph Duncan III, the suspect in the Idaho abduction and murders, was responsible for unsolved homicides in four other states: Washington, Montana, California and Minnesota. Web bloggers are looking elsewhere too, documenting Duncan's movements and pondering links with unsolved cases in North Dakota and elsewhere.
One such blogger, Steve Huff, saw a connection between Russell Turcotte's murder and Duncan and got in touch will Bill a few months ago. The two were heard together in a phone interview on Fox last Friday, and Turcotte will appear on “Geraldo At Large” via satellite on Tuesday while Rivera broadcasts live from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
There's little to go on in finding Russell's killer, but it's more of a lead than Bill has had in more than three years.
In 2000, Duncan moved to Fargo, N.D., to attend North Dakota State University. He had spent much of his youth in prison after being arrested at age 16 for raping a boy at gunpoint.
Bill believes Duncan could have been in the area when 19-year-old Russell, who called both Havre and Wolf Point home, was passing through.
In June of 2002, Turcotte left Montana with some friends to attend a Rainbow Gathering in Michigan. He decided to return to Montana after them, helping clean the festival grounds first, Bill said. Russell later traveled with some friends to Brainerd, Minn., and then hitchhiked to Fargo and Grand Forks, staying with a friend in Grand Forks and keeping in touch with his family by phone.
Russell called his mother on July 12 to ask her to wire him $100 so he could purchase a train ticket home. On July 13, the money had not been picked up. His family was immediately alarmed. On July 15, Russell's brother was on his way to North Dakota from Wolf Point to look for Russell, and his father quit his job to search on July 16.
FBI spokesman Brent Robbins said Thursday that the bureau is not specifying what other unsolved disappearances it is investigating for possible connections to Duncan, though he said the Turcotte case doesn't appear to be a match.
“It's my understanding that this boy's disappearance didn't really fit within the M.O. of Duncan,” Robbins said. “Not to say (Duncan) wasn't (involved). We have and are still covering any and all leads on a nationwide basis.”
To Bill, the connection is clear. Duncan's past record indicates he favored victims younger than Russell was, but Bill says his son, though 19 when he died, looked like a much younger teen. Turcotte recalls the last photo of his son, taken July 12 by the young woman Turcotte was staying with when he phoned his mother for cash.
“He'd been away from home. His cheeks were hollowed out, he looked vulnerable,” Bill said. “He looked real boyish.”
The three people killed in Coeur d'Alene in May - Brenda Groene, Mark McKenzie and Groene's 13-year-old son, Slade - were bludgeoned with a hammer. The body of abducted 9-year-old Dylan Groene was later found in a western Montana forest.
Bill wonders whether his son also was bludgeoned with a hammer. The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation never released the results of an autopsy to Russell's family, but a death certificate said the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, Bill said.
Russell's body was found in November 2002 after he had been missing for four months.
Bill said he was also told the North Dakota BCI had identified a possible weapon in Russell's murder, but would not say what it was.
All along, Bill was dissastisfied with the work of BCI and hoped the FBI would investigate. More than a year ago, he wrote letters to the FBI asking them to investigate, arguing that Russell, who was an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa Indians, was a ward of the federal government.
Bill said he never got a response. After contacting the FBI office in Salt Lake City last week on Huff's advice, he was finally able to share the information he knew about his son's disappearance and death.
Bill said an FBI agent in Salt Lake City told him to reach the FBI in Coeur d'Alene, which had Bill give a statement to the FBI in Havre on Wednesday to be forwarded to Coeur d'Alene and included in agents' investigation of Duncan.
Bill didn't take his theory to the media intentionally. On Oct. 25, which would have been Russell's 23rd birthday, Bill got a phone call from a Fargo, N.D., radio producer who had been involved in reporting Russell's disappearance and remembered the birthday. Bill told him that he wanted to know if there was a link to Duncan.
A North Dakota newspaper reported Bill's theory, adding the case of Russell Turcotte to those being linked to Duncan by the unofficial Web world.
Bill said an agent at the Coeur d'Alene FBI office said he did not know about Russell's murder until it appeared in the newspaper last week.
Even if Russell's death appears tied to Duncan, Bill knows there may never be a trial for it. What he wants is to learn as much as he can and to stop waking each day knowing his son's killer is free.
“It took 3 years to get off first base, and here we are almost to second. Hopefully we'll round it,” Bill said.