Free to Kill

Kenneth McDuff is one of the most sadistic, vicious murderers Texas has ever produced. Why did the state parole board put him back on the streets?

Twenty-one years after he should have died in the electric chair for the savage murder of three teenagers, Kenneth McDuff was back on the streets, as cocky and mean and dangerous as ever. In the small Central Texas community of Rosebud, where McDuff grew up, people pumped shells into shotguns and shoved heavy pieces of furniture in front of double- and triple-locked doors. “This is a walking town,” said John Killgore, the editor of the Rosebud News, “but these days you see very few people on the streets. McDuff’s return has scared the hell out of this town.” At Festival Days in the Falls County seat of Marlin, word spread like wildfire that McDuff had sworn to show up and kill one person for every day he spent in prison. Tommy Sammon, who had humiliated McDuff in a playground fight in the eighth grade, worried about his teenage children. A man who had once prevented McDuff from crushing the throat of a young woman with a broomstick—a dress rehearsal for what McDuff would do to a teenage girl in southern Tarrant County some months later—pushed the button on his telephone answering machine and was greeted with the sound of three gunshots. No question about it: Kenneth McDuff was back in town.

It was October 11, 1989. Falls County sheriff Larry Pamplin telephoned his longtime friend deputy U.S. marshal Parnell McNamara in Waco and told him, “You’re not going to believe what happened, Parnell. They’ve paroled Kenneth McDuff.” There was a brittle silence as McNamara processed this totally illogical piece of information, then McNamara laconically inquired, “Have they gone crazy?” There didn’t seem to be any other explanation. McDuff wasn’t just another killer who had fallen through a crack in the system; he was the most violent, sadistic, remorseless criminal either of these veteran law-men had ever come across. Their association with McDuff went back more than a quarter of a century, because their fathers, the late deputy U.S. marshal T. P. McNamara and the late Falls County sheriff Brady Pamplin, had seen McDuff’s savagery up close. Brady Pamplin was the lawman who had arrested McDuff in 1966 for the three murders—literally shooting McDuff’s car to pieces as he tried to escape. People had always wondered why Brady Pamplin didn’t kill McDuff when he had the chance; no telling how many lives that would have saved. Larry Pamplin and Parnell McNamara and his brother, Mike—who is also a deputy marshal in Waco—were teenagers at the time, about the same age

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