A murder case has many layers: the victim, the crime, and the investigation. To truly understand it, you need to dissect each piece of a tragic puzzle. Join Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Scott Weinberger every Wednesday for an insider’s perspective, as they reveal to you the Anatomy of Murder.
Wed, 03 Nov 2021 07:00
A gruesome murder of a 23-year-old young man leads detectives to uncover a serial offender...someone who was hiding in plain sight.
If you're looking for a new show unlike anything you've ever heard before, check out audio Chuck's latest series killed. Each episode of killed covers a story that you may have never read because it was killed before it got published. I'm Justine Harman, who some of you may know from my show OC swingers, and I'm here to bring these dead stories back to life binge killed right now to get the full story. It was so many pieces of the puzzle. He stole their car and robbed them and put them in the trunk of the car and shot them. There had been a fire in Gulf Shores and someone had died. There were some city workers that came across in the middle of a pile of trash. The decomposed body was in a tarp. The body had no head, no hands, and no feet. I'm Scott Weinberger's, investigative journalist and former deputy sheriff. Galazi former New York City homicide prosecutor and host of Investigation Discovery's true conviction, and this is anatomy of murder. Before we get into today's case, we want to share one thing with you about us, and that's what brought each of us to our professions. When I was about five, my next door neighbor was a member of the NYPD, and I remember him walking out of his house and he had this really incredibly looking uniform. He had a long jacket, had about 50 buttons on it, it seemed like, and it was always so impressive, but it really didn't come until years later, until I started really feeling like I was the type of person who would want to be there for someone. And their worst of times, becoming a journalist was just really an extension of that. Getting the facts, holding people accountable and taking that message far beyond the community that I was serving. And for me, it was never that one thing. What I can say is that I knew from my first semester of law school in my first week of criminal law class that that's exactly what I was going to do and that a prosecutor was exactly what I was going to be. But for Jennifer Wright, a prosecutor from Mobile County, Alabama, she knew from a young age that she would dedicate her life to getting justice for victims. I have been a prosecutor for 19 years. Kind of felt like it was a calling in just about seeing someone being held responsible and seeing how important that is and everyone's life in in a part of the healing process. And that mission of bringing people to justice really does ring true in today's case. This case began on Labor Day weekend in 2011 in Mobile, AL. And one thing you may not know about mobile AL, it is apparently where Mardi Gras started. And I know you may think of New Orleans, but in 1702, French settlers came into mobile and they partied and they really, in a sense began the tradition of Mardi Gras. Big Town on the water and beautiful area being on the Gulf Coast weather people are kayaking, tubing, canoeing or celebrating all types of ways. Mobile is a pretty fun place to be on Labor Day weekend. The weekend was going to be very different for 23 year old Joshua Duncan because after he went out with a friend for the weekend. He never came home. Joshua Duncan lived in a city just outside of Mobile, AL, called Eight Mile, and the city has a population of just under 13,000. Every roll area lots of mobile homes and while they had their fair share of crime not a whole lot of violent crime. It is certainly not what I would consider high crime area in anyway. Josh often went to church with his grandmother, who he was spending most of his time with he still liked to just ride. His bike and go fishing. I'm looking at a few pictures of Josh. They show him riding his bike and one other picture. He's got a fishing pole in his hand and in this picture, he does. Have a big smile on his face, posing with a pretty big catch and we will share these photos with you on our website, anatomymurder.com. Here's a couple more things about Joshua. He didn't live with his parents. His father had died when he was young and his grandmother had raised him from the time he was a small child. So while she was his grandmother, she raised him more like his mom. I would describe her is very loving nature, but funny and feisty, very nurturing and caring. And that's why she had taken Josh in and and loved him really as more of a son. His grandmother did become his whole world. They were very involved in their church and they were weekly goers. She would volunteer and help them do things at the church and Josh was involved with many of the younger people groups there at the church and would go bowling and do things with them at the church. But there's also things about Joshua Duncan that you won't be able to tell from the photos. Even though he was 23, he had a maturity level of someone much, much younger in age. He didn't live the ordinary 23 year old lifestyle he was had suffered some emotional and mental disabilities. He was on SSI benefits for those disabilities. Now, whether it's you or someone you know, we all know about mental health conditions. Some are mild, some are severe, some don't impact people's lives much at all. But for others, they do. He kind of hung out with a crowd of people that were a little bit younger than him. His grandmother had really kind of, I guess, sheltered him in that way of trying to protect him from the outside world. And again, because of who her grandson was, one, he was not only her grandson, but basically her child, who she had always raised. So all parents, whether you were 15 or 50, many watch out for their children no matter what the age. On top of which she was extra protective because who Joshua was and the various conditions he faced that did impact his life in certain ways. And so when he didn't come home after that Labor Day weekend, she was concerned. She had not heard from him or seen from him, and that was very unusual because of who he was. Josh's grandmother didn't miss a beat when it came to reaching out to police to file a missing persons report. Joshua's grandmother, Dorothy Hudson, called the Sheriff's Department on the Tuesday after Labor Day and reported him missing. And we all know that we've told the stories over and over again, that it takes the police a while very often to take action when it comes to a missing person, but not here. And whether it was the Police Department or something about Dorothy Hudson, Joshua's grandmother are just about something about Joshua himself, while of course there was the possibility that a 23 year old would just not come home. When it came to Joshua, everyone believed it was time to act fast and find out where he was. Just as police would treat a missing child and adult with this type of condition, those cases are treated with a higher priority, you know? But here is one thing you know about them yourselves. We've certainly even covered them on this podcast. I'm thinking back to a case we did early on of Carrie Farver that sometimes when people hear that someone has mental health conditions that may make certain members of law enforcement say, Oh well, that's the reason that has something to do with it. There's nothing sinister. They just took off because of that. So, you know, kudos to the police personnel. Fear that they didn't do that at all. They took it as seriously as anyone else and if anything they believed that made Joshua more vulnerable and they had to act even quicker, which is what they did. Often in these cases, the report is taken by a local police agency, but it is entered into a missing persons database, which is the FBI National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, and the listing is an endangered adult, extending the footprint of the search way beyond the community. In the beginning detectives were not sure exactly what was going on. Is it something that you know this? This is a 23 year old boy. Does he just wanna go live a little bit of life or freedom away from his grandmother? Was this just a kid that had walked off and was going to sew his own oats or have fun? Or was he a truly a missing person? So as officers began to develop a potential timeline of where Joshua was last seen, they also noticed something else about the house, and that was brought to their attention by Joshua's grandmother, Dorothy. The fact is that her trailer from her house was also missing. It'd be like a trailer that you pull behind, you know, a vehicle that you could load up firewood on or load up a small ATV or something of that nature. So, you know, just based on the amount of dark stories we do on missing person cases, your mind quickly goes to Josh was not just missing perhaps something a lot more sinister. Could the trailer been used to transport a body? When I hear the utility trailer right away, for whatever reason, my head goes to Dexter. You might know that show. And I don't mean to make light because there's obviously certain things about Dexter that are on the lighter side, but we also know the name of this podcast, anatomy of murder. So when I saw that that trailer was missing, is he? In the utility trailer, and he didn't come to a good end, is whoever did something to Joshua using the utility trailer. I don't know. Nothing good comes to mind, but it definitely seems that we're going to find out that it fits in in some sort of way. So as investigators begin to formulate a timeline of what Joshua was doing that weekend, they found out his plans were to hang out with one of his friends by the name of Dennis Hicks. The Thursday before Labor Day weekend, Joshua went stay with Dennis Hicks saying he was so excited. I was going to get him a real job and it was going to be painting and he was going to pay him so he could get his own phone and he could learn how to drive. And Hicks was very well known to the family. He was someone that was mentoring Josh at church. Dennis was a handyman at the church, so it made sense that perhaps Joshua could be an apprentice of sorts. And Dennis did have a job coming up in Mississippi that he could help work on. They were going to work on some car repair and a radiator that. Dennis had had, and Dennis was going to help teach him how to do some painting. Now, Joshua's grandmother, of course, knew that that is where Joshua had gone for the Labor Day weekend. So first and foremost, even before she called the police, Dorothy called Dennis. And he said, yeah, he was here, you know, but we had a fight and he left, and he left a couple of days ago. So now that the police were involved, of course, they go back to see the friend Dennis Hicks. On September the 9th, they took a statement from Dennis Hicks. He said Josh had been renting a room from him and they got into a fight and that he left. He also mentioned that the fight happened at the wee hours of the morning, 4:00 o'clock in the morning, and then Josh just walked off. And you know, to me, Anna Seger, this doesn't sound like somebody who's mentoring somebody. Basically knowing Josh's condition. It doesn't seem like someone who would allow someone to walk away if you're truly cared for that man. That is the thing that isn't adding up for me, because I certainly wouldn't want anyone walking off into the night at 4:00 or 5:00 o'clock in the morning, but certainly someone that had never lived that way before, never been able to act that way on their own before, had never wanted to do anything like that before. Something just doesn't sound right. It would have been an unusual thing for him to walk to where his grandmother's house was from there. While investigators were clearly trying to confirm Dennis's account, potentially with witnesses in the area, you know there are definitely eyeing Dennis in this potential disappearance. But the goal is to find Josh. So how do you try to find somebody? All of you could easily just make the list. You canvas the area, you speak to people in the neighborhood, you look for credit card activity. Is there any surveillance footage? We did have some surveillance footage and it actually. Came into play because the neighbors living next door to where Dennis Hicks was living at the time, which was his sister-in-law Regina Norris's house. The neighbors had security cameras just to kind of keep, you know, watch on things. And they weren't video cameras at that time, but it was they would take photographs and they were motion sensored cameras. So we were able to get those cameras. That was the winner in this case because when the police did all of that. It was the surveillance footage that started to give them at least some answers. And surprisingly that camera showed Josh and that photograph came up with critical information because it was timestamped at 6:12 in the evening. But more than the time, it was the day because that 612 in the evening, it wasn't Sunday. It showed him alive and well on Monday, and that was inconsistent. With what Dennis Hicks was saying about him walking off earlier in the weekend, that video surveillance also captured a very important image. Besides Josh being at Dennis's house, it also took a picture of a utility trailer. Now, it was very similar to the utility trailer that was missing from Josh's grandmother's home. A person of interest because he was the last one really on camera scene with Joshua Duncan. So clearly you've got this evidence that shows a timestamp, right? You're thinking, game over. Here's a statement that you were able to obliterate with actual evidence. Now, you might be thinking that Dennis is, of course, responsible in some way, right? He has to be. I mean, who else would be? There was no one else that had been with him that weekend. All the evidence is pointing in that direction. But this is more than just about who killed Joshua. It's about who. Dennis Hicks really is. Most of you probably know that I love a good mystery, and playing games on my phone is sometimes exactly what I need when I'm taking a break from work. Enter June's journey. It's a hidden object murder mystery game set in the heart of the 1920s. You search for hidden objects and collect clues across thousands of vivid scenes to help June as she investigates the mysterious death of her sister. With new chapters every week, there is always a new case waiting to be cracked. You can chat and play with or against other players by joining a detective club. Now celebrate the game's fifth anniversary with a two week birthday Bash, June's journey Golden Soiree. Exciting surprises await in June's journey every single day during the 5th anniversary celebration from September 19th to October 2nd, including special events, daily rewards and unique decoration items. Followed the official Junes journey Facebook page and become an. E-mail subscriber for even more perks, including a chance to win one of just 10 gold plated charm bracelets, joined the 5th anniversary party now through October 2nd. Download June's journey for free. Available on Android and iOS mobile devices as well as on PC through Facebook games. Dennis Hicks's statements were inconsistent with what the surveillance video showed, but there was more on that footage. So on this surveillance footage you saw on Monday, September the 5th, which was Labor Day, you saw Dennis Hicks and Josh working on a utility trailer, which is just like the one that Joshua's grandmothers have at Regina North's house. And you have on that same surveillance footage, a utility trailer that at least looks like the one missing from her property. So connecting those dots. Chances are that that trailer belongs to Joshua's grandmother. And if that's the case, where else is that going to lead us down this path? When questioned by investigators, Josh's grandmother told her that at one point Hicks tried to buy the trailer from her, but she chose not to sell it. This trailer that Hicks was eyeing was special to Dorothy because it belonged to her deceased husband. The investigators found that that trailer had indeed been sold to Hicks, but not by Dorothy, but by Joshua. And in fact, they actually found a woman, a friend of Hicks, who said that she had witnessed the transaction, an actual bill of sale for that utility trailer from Joshua to Dennis Hicks. Days go by and still no sign of Joshua. And the evidence is really pointing at Dennis, but there's still no body. And so Dorothy took it upon herself to find Joshua. She did put up posters in the area and was asking everybody in the area, you know, if they'd seen him. She was kind of going around trying to investigate, trying to find out where grandson was. And when it comes to why no leads were produced, maybe there was a reason for that. There was even some evidence of a witness saying that they saw Dennis Hicks taking Flyers down that Dorothy had put up in the area. Now I have to admit, this is the first time I've ever heard of anyone doing that. Why would he be taking Flyers down that of a missing person if he had no knowledge or no involvement in it? Why would someone do that? And you know, it's going to be total speculation on my part, but perhaps he wanted the posters taken down because it was just reigniting conversations in this small town that Joshua was still missing, and that within those conversations his name would naturally come up as a potential suspect. What about you, Anna Sega? While it doesn't make sense, it's certainly not going to make the inquiry, the search for Joshua go away in his mind anytime he sees it. That is the reminder that people are looking and if people don't see. That face of Joshua, maybe they won't look, and so maybe they won't get closer to whatever it is that Hicks has done. And while that is the obvious, we all know that sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. So you have to wonder, is it something like that that we all suspect and assume, or is it something very different that none of us could have guessed? They are pursuing different leads, looking at again, getting together, even cell phone towers, and trying to figure out where his phone might have been. And while police are doing everything they can to try and find Joshua, they're really getting nowhere. I had no real idea whether or not he was alive or dead, or where he might be at that time. Until a month later. On October 24th, city workers were cleaning out in a pretty remote area of eight mile, and the area happened to be an old police firing range. And they came across in the middle of a pile of trash, the decomposed body. Based on the conditions, the state of the body was mostly skeletal. They were in a very hot, humid environment here in mobile. We live on the coast and it was just remnants of what was left. So the area was set up immediately as a crime scene and the body was severely decomposed. But more importantly, it's what was missing that is so disturbing. The body had no head, no hands, and no feet. Identification would be extremely challenging, but they were well aware that a young man from eight mile had been missing for more than a month, and the challenge was to recover any DNA from the torso and try to match it up with what they had from Joshua. That was done through the Department of Forensic Sciences. They were able to identify the remains as belonging to Joshua Duncan. Any murder we talk about is tragedy. It's horrible. But now we're talking about someone that's been beheaded, their hands severed. You know, there is a brutality and a sadistic Ness about it that is going to put this murder case in a whole different league. Medical examiners stated that it was homicidal violence, there had been some type of sharp, blunt trauma, there had been numerous chop Marks and blunt force impacts on his bones, and that there had been evidence of sharp edged beveled tool chops to Joshua's bones. It's the type of crime that becomes hard to wrap your head around and by this point we know that Dennis Hicks is the main suspect. And since that's the case you have to start to look more at who Dennis exists because from what everyone knows about him, he is someone that is very involved in his church and is befriended and a friend to many. He would go and help people haul off trash and do things for elderly people at the church. People saw him as a very, you know, nice handyman kind of guy. He even worked with the youth group some and the young people, which is how he got to know Josh. So would this trusted churchgoer be able to do something as gruesome, as brutal as this for investigators, the conversation always began and ended with Dennis Hicks, and now they needed to know more about their prime suspect. The situation here was such an unusual one of how they met and how Dennis takes became a part of Joshua's life. They learned quickly that Hicks had two sides. He was a handyman for his church, willing to do anything for anybody but the other side. As Hex was much more dark, Dennis Hicks was a extremely troubled individual before coming to the state of Alabama. He had previously been convicted of two counts of murder out of Mississippi. He'd actually been serving two life sentences before now, potentially killing Joshua Hicks. In that case, there were two men, Richard Roberts and Marvin Leach. He stole their car and robbed them and put them in the trunk of the car and shot them. The obvious case of Jekyll and Hyde for me. I mean, here's somebody who was supposed to be well respected within his community. But here's someone who thinks nothing of taking a human life. I mean, to carjack these two men, put them in the trunk of their own car and shoot them and kill them and rob them? Is it surprising what he would be alleged to have done to Joshua? No, not for me. When I look at Dennis's past, I see it that yes, in the one hand, the mold fits. He is clearly willing to take a life brutally, mercilessly. On the other hand, the crimes are quite different. So he had served a good amount of time in Mississippi before meeting Joshua Duncan. And so you may say, well, if he was sentenced to life, well then how did he get out? And here's where our justice system has lots of delicious to me, lots of Gray and murky? Areas. Because even in the state of New York, which is the only place I ever prosecuted homicide or crimes at all, there's all these different correctional rules and we'd always have to be asking other prosecutors to try to figure out something. The sentencing? Well, wait a second, just because they're sentenced to this, how long are they really going to serve? Because there's all these other things that factor in good time. Years that go by that you are automatically entitled to parole, and that also varies state by state. Each state's different, but in the state system, when you get a life sentence that you will serve a portion of that sentence and then you will be given based upon your conduct and based upon certain factors determined by the board of Pardons and Paroles. In your state, you can be given status of being on parole even with a life sentence. And so, apparently in the state of Mississippi that life doesn't always mean life unless the judge says life without the possibility of parole. I think we do have to say here that parole and probation is a very important system within the criminal justice system in the US and the majority of everybody who goes through their prison sentence and is paroled or has probation, they do fine. They come out and they become important citizens. We're not using this as an example that parole or probation doesn't work. It's incredibly disheartening, I'm sure, for everyone involved in the case that someone with a life sentence and his prior record would be eligible for parole, but it's part of a system that in the majority of cases works. He knew how to kind of swindle people, but they didn't see that because he was good at sweet talking. They were very unaware of his history. So let's start by talking about the relationship between Joshua Duncan and Dennis Hicks. Well, we know there's a significant age difference. Joshua was in his early 20s and Dennis Hicks was in his early 50s. Joshua Duncan was at the very early stages of his own independence. He wanted to work, he wanted to learn, and he put great trust in his family and great trust in Dennis Hicks. But there's also something else that, at least to me, probably may well have factored in Joshua. Grew up without his father. He was raised by his grandmother. By all accounts, he did an amazing job, but he still was missing that male presence in his life. He kind of befriended him, but he he did it in a way of kind of been in a mentoring type way, you know, just like, hey, I can show you how to drive, I can teach you how to paint and get a job and you know those type of things. And so now to have that older person, that older man in particular, take an interest and start to show him the ropes, if you will, and really take him under his wing. I can certainly see what that must have been like and how great that must have felt to Joshua, and that may have led to the relationship that quickly developed between these two. If we step back for a moment and we look at his past, what does that say about Dennis Hicks? And what does that say about the crime against Joshua? Is he a manipulator? Is he a con man? What was his angle? Was this another robbery scheme by Dennis Hicks that he planned to kill him all along? And what was his reason all along? Was he setting him up? If he's The Who, it's still coming down to a real, real why? Trip is to go back and find out what happened in that time frame of Labor Day weekend. So now that investigators have a positive ID and they have a person of interest and it's not a missing persons case, it's a homicide. They have to prove. It's Dennis. To that, the site where the remains were recovered in that area was only about 4.7 miles from Dennis Hicks's residence and where he had been. They have this video surveillance that shows that Joshua Duncan was alive and well a full day after Dennis Hicks claimed that he had left. So now they have to focus in on what happened at the residence that those two is that the weekend? But Regina's house with the trailer and Josh and Dennis weren't the only ones there. There were witnesses, but here is the challenging part. They were children. Hi everyone, Ashley Flowers here and I have exciting news to share. My debut novel, all good people here, is officially out now our fans are blowing up our social talking about it. You do not want to be left out and the worst thing that could happen is for someone else to spoil it for you because there are some wild twists in this book if you love true crime content mysteries. And a grown up Nancy Drew style detective work. Then I have a good feeling you won't be able to put this book down. So what are you waiting for? Grab your copy of all good people here now, wherever books are sold. So police start to zero in on Regina Norris, who is Dennis Hicks's sister-in-law. She's at their house for the weekend, and they know that she too was there. So could she have witnessed something? Regina Norris also became someone that became a focus, so police interviewed her. And what did they learn? Nothing. She was very evasive and did not know anything about his whereabouts. Had seen him that weekend and she did not know anything about his involvement, anything that would have caused the death of Joshua Duncan. But Regina wasn't alone in the house. Regina Norris had some grandchildren, were very young at the time who were also present. Investigators found out pretty quickly. While she wasn't willing to provide any information, they were getting information that Regina's grandchildren were telling family members. And the counselor, something incredibly disturbing. Just a quick warning. The account given by the children is extremely brutal and gruesome, but we give it to you because it's important to understand the totality of this case. So there were three children that were present, and there were two of them. They were five and four, and they began to make alarming disclosures and talking about Uncle Dennis cutting off Josh's head and his hands and carrying him away. And they began to even display those things and showing on each other what they had observed. Oh boy. I just really can't imagine having to process that at that age. What are they seeing? Is it even real? I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist. I can't imagine how their brain would process that type of site or that information as they're seeing it happen. It's just so sad. Dennis Hicks was someone that they called Uncle Dennis. So for them to process that someone that they had known as a family member and someone that they loved and looked up to would do some harm to someone else in such a brutal, horrifying way. I think is is a lot for anyone to process, more or less someone that that that age of four and five years old. And these kids made these statements before Joshua Duncan's body was ever found. There is not much that really needs to be said about not only how horrific the crime was, but the fact that it was witnessed by a four and five year old, a murderer decapitation at the hands of someone that they called uncle. I think they were very disturbed by what they saw. They were very, I think, still in a coma state of shock. It's horrific enough for an adult to see something like this, but think about a child. We don't want to put kids in front of scary movies so it doesn't give them nightmares. So to think that they have seen the things that we as adults, it is the actual thing that nightmares are made from. I just think for me that it just all of a sudden made this crime, if possible, that much worse. So I'm sure many of you are asking how investigators and prosecutors go about talking to a child this young about an incident this horrific. I think it's an excellent question and answer. I think you're the perfect person to walk us through it. Now when you're talking about children as witnesses, the first thing you have to think about is protecting the kids. You know the expression, do it with kid gloves, while it really does fit here, because you have to get the information, but you have to do it in a way that you don't hurt the children anymore than whatever they have witnessed is already harmed them and will continue to harm them for some time to come. So there are counselors brought in, there are specialists that we use that are used to just dealing with children, get whatever information they have. And that is needed, but no way that is gentle enough to not cause them further damage. And then we have to make the decision if we will actually need them beyond that initial interview. We never want to use child witnesses unless we have to, but sometimes you have no choice. The two children were interviewed by special forensic interviewers. When you have these very young witnesses, you have to be extremely careful to go into whether they are accurate and reliable because again, their children who can have extremely active imaginations. Those two children were making statements about how he was hung by chain from a tree in the backyard and that that was where his head was cut and his hands from his body, and they were very specific about it. It's really hard to imagine a child would be able to make up such a story and have it completely fit the most compelling piece of physical evidence you have. In your case, it's a body, a victim, just the way that person was found. You know, these children described it, and it's hard to imagine that it would be anything else but fact for me. But here's the thing. You know, as prosecutors, we rarely ever go forward on cases that you just have a child witness, because it is very. Easy to not so much poke holes in what they're saying, but to come back and say, are we really going to ask you to convict someone just on what a, you know, a four year old or a 5 year old says. So one of the things they did was go back to the medical findings and when they did that it clicked and connected another dot because it fit, unfortunately with exactly with what these two children said. We had sent the bones off to Doctor Sims, who's a national expert in anthropology and bone trauma. And you know, he had said we have the chop marks, tool marks on the bones and blunt trauma to the bones. And the left arm of Josh had six chopped Marks and the right had five. The kids, again, we had these diagrams that they had drawn out showing those kind of that chopping of hands, feet and head. Investigators believe they know the exact location, the exact tree that was used in this crime, but they wanted to determine whether forensics could help confirm that. So the decision was made to bring in a cadaver dog to see if they can locate that tree forensically, to be able to use science to help provide them with actual evidence of the location. Detectives then get dogs that are trained in scent detection. They can smell certain odors at parts per trillion in kind of you wouldn't might notice in your coffee had a teaspoon of sugar added to it. A dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar and an equivalent of 2 Olympic sized pools. They have just that increased level of smell. So they brought in four sets of cadaver dogs and individually ran them over the property. But here's the real clincher for me. Because while the children had been. Very specific in showing the investigators exactly where they saw this horrendous, gruesome crime. The investigators never passed that on to the agents handling the cadaver dogs. And why? Because they needed to make sure that whatever those dogs came back with wasn't influenced in any way. So they hit the one tree that the two children had pointed out. They hit that one tree and began pawing up and down and jumping on the tree. Well, that was the exact verification and corroboration that investigators needed to start to really put this case in play. It seemed like an extremely strong case, but what could a possible motive be? Was it potentially to get this trailer, which is worth maybe $1500? Does that seem like a stretch to commit murder? But as it turns out, there's actually another reason, and it involves another death. So if we know The Who we now we are looking really at that. Why the motive, you know, is it going to be about this utility trailer? And we know that people have killed for a lot less than a trailer worth $1500. Sometimes it's over as much as a bad luck. But is it all going to be about that item that Dennis Hicks apparently wanted? Well, it was something else that Dennis Hicks had been doing at the same time and that also has to do with money, but in this case it's a bit of a con. Joshua's mental health condition. He was getting Social Security checks and as it turns out, those checks were going to his grandmother's home and Dennis knew that on Friday, September the 2nd, which is only a few days prior to the murder, Dennis Hicks had tried to get the SSI benefits of Joshua Duncan changed over to himself. Swindling those checks from Josh and his grandmother and putting it in his own pocket, the grandmother, Dorothy Hudson, had read, then received a call and the request had been sent in to be changed to Dennis Hicks's residence. You know, Scott, even just hearing it, you know, it's the type of thing that you stop for a minute and you say, well, it couldn't possibly be that because it would be so obvious and so clear cut. Why would someone who's actually signing their name on the check do that with the plans to kill? Right, because it's going to lead right back to them. So while it might seem the most obvious way to get caught, I think you and I both know that people sometimes do do things that are just as hate to use the word, but obvious as that. I believe that Dennis talked him into going somewhere with him or filling out. Forms to turn in to get the SSI benefit changed over to him so that he could then get his checks after he did something to him. I believe to him Joshua was a target from the beginning. He saw his vulnerability and he took advantage of it. And for me it is putting himself in a position where he could take advantage and one that opportunity potentially went away when he was found out, so to speak, he acted out just like he did in the double homicide in Mississippi. Door #3 is that that same weekend that Josh went missing? There's actually been a fire nearby, and there were deaths as a result of that fire. They had ruled it. It wasn't a homicide, but there was a lot of concerns that innocence was involved in that. We know he was over there with Joshua the day before and we believe that the motive was that Joshua knew about that, that Dennis Hicks had caused another person's death and was going to tell her. And if Dennis Hicks was involved, was he now killing him as a potential witness to that crime? Or is it maybe Scott, some combination of all three? Any one of those options for Dennis Hicks may have been his primary goal, but fortunately for prosecutors, we never have to prove the why. And while we want to understand it, and jurors do too, what we do have to do is prove the what and who. Investigators believe they had a rock solid case to go in. Dennis Hicks was arrested and was charged with murder. Two separate inmates that also came forward in stating that Dennis Hicks had made statements to them once he was in jail saying he killed a guy over a utility trailer and put his body in some bushes. With all the evidence that they have on Dennis Hicks, is it a winnable case? You know, there's lots of different pieces. I'd be more than happy to walk into this courtroom any day with what they had. But there's definitely challenges. There's a lot of circumstantial pieces that need to connect to one another, and a lot of it relies on witnesses that at the time of what they witnessed were four and five years old. And I really look at that as the greatest challenge. I have to imagine that there were conferences that the Prosecutor's Office and the family. But is there a way for us to Save the Children from having to walk in that courtroom and basically sit across from someone that they saw do the most horrific act, someone that they called Uncle? That's exactly the type of thing where you might offer a plea, or there might be at least the thought that maybe something should be done to avoid putting these kids on the stand. But in this case, remember, Dennis Hicks's past isn't going to come into that courtroom about the two homicides that he had already been convicted for. And now, with the belief that he had committed now this third homicide, he has got to be stopped. So in this case, I really see that the prosecutor unfortunately really had no choice but to, again, with as much gentleness and carefulness as possible, have these children recount what they saw. These children start making that disclosure. I knew where we're gonna have to put them on the witness stand, and I knew it was not gonna be a good Rd for them. The case goes to trial in 2016. It went to trial as a capital murder case, and the state sought the death penalty in this case. And now, again, there are times that kids are able to testify via, like a closed circuit television. So you meet the requirements of putting the defendant in the same room, but the children are really somewhere else, but they're subjected to cross examination. All that, however, in this case, and in many times, the children will ultimately come into that courtroom and testify about what they saw in the same room as the person that they saw take that life in the most brutal of ways. And as it turns out, the children did take the stand. There were some things that they weren't as clear on as they were in the beginning and a little bit more hesitant, I think as they've gotten older. Plus I think also being in that courtroom in the same room with him, this isn't something they're done via zoom or via video. They have to be in the same room with Dennis Hicks, and I think some of that caused a lot of anxiety for them. The trial lasted 3 weeks. The jury took only six hours to render their verdict, and their verdict was guilty on all counts. In that moment when the verdict comes in when I turn my head back and seeing the look on Dorothy Hudson's face, that is why you do the job. In that moment, they get a little bit of peace and all of the horrible tragedy that they've been through and that you were just a very small part in making that happen. Dorothy's grandson is never coming back. Nothing can heal what happened to that young man, but she got that sense of closure and that public accountability of the person who took her grandson away, and that's really what it's all about. I think that most tragic thing is obviously the first and foremost it's going to be the loss of Joshua Duncan, who was very sweet soul and very kind and very trusting individual. There are other victims, in this case, not just the Duncan family, but certainly the two children that witnessed this as well. When it comes to this case, I keep thinking about 2 words, vulnerability and strength. It was Joshua Duncan's vulnerability that for whatever reason, led him into the clutches of picks and those children, their vulnerability, their innocence, that was shattered by what Dennis Hicks made them witness, but then their strength for going into that courtroom and recounted what they saw. Because it was right. And then I want to come back to that photograph we talked about in the beginning of this podcast of Joshua Duncan in his happy place, with his fish on his line and that smile on his face. TuneIn next week for another new episode of Anatomy of Murder. Murder is an audio Chuck original produced and created by Weinberger Media and for SETI Media. Ashley Flowers and submit David are executive producers. So what do you think, Chuck, do you approve?