May 12, 1997
Daniel Hopsicker’s Interview of Jean Duffey
Excerpt: The (Secret) Heartbeat of America
Today Jean Duffey is a high school algebra teacher in a suburb of Houston Texas, a handsome woman with short-cropped brown hair, a woman who looks just like the soccer moms we heard so much about before the recent election. But six years ago she was the prosecuting attorney of a federally funded Drug Task Force in Saline County Arkansas, whose undercover agents began to come to her with revelations about the murders of the two boys.
And no soccer mom encounters I’d ever had prepared me for what she told us right at the beginning of our interview.
“The FBI has eyewitnesses to the slayings,” she tells us in that matter-of-fact tone affected by those who, for professional reasons, are forced to cultivate as much detachment as they can. “One witness at the scene even passed a polygraph. But still, to this date, nothing has been done. It’s been this way from day one, with seven separate investigations, each one stopped.”
The initial hue and cry by local citizens and the media, Duffey explains, was directed at the unbelievable verdict of the State Medical Examiner, who ruled the boys’ deaths accidental. This forced the second examination we’d heard about from Linda Ives. Remember? The one showing that one boy had been stabbed in the back, while the other’s face had been smashed in, bearing the imprint of a rifle butt?
Hearing this stomach-wrenching information related to us on camera for a second time in two days, I had a curious reaction. I felt slightly giddy. There was a disconnect between the events being related, and my reaction. I was tempted to ask: “What could Dr. Malak have been thinking about, that day those boys’ lifeless bodies crossed his examining room table? Lunch?”
Later I was to feel that my feelings were not as inappropriate as they appeared at first blush. How can one react in the face of what feels like sheer malignant evil? As I listened further, the threads of–dare I say it?–conspiracy–began to weave tighter, and I began thinking of Dr. Malak not as of someone merely incompetent, but as of someone both incompetent and sinister, sort of a backwoods Joseph Mengele.
“Fahmy Malak was bulletproof in Arkansas; he was completely protected,” states Duffey. “And that was true, even in the face of incredible adverse publicity from the media after the second examination showed how clearly ridiculous his ruling of accidental death was. We are way beyond the bounds of incompetence here; we are into criminal intent.”
So, I asked, was Dr. Malek an accessory to murder? Ever the prosecutor, Duffy considered her words carefully. “Accessory to murder,” she said slowly, “is different from conspiracy to cover up, which is what I believe Dr. Malak was involved in.”
But we are getting slightly ahead of ourselves. I ask how Ms. Duffey’s Drug Task Force came to be involved in the Train Deaths murder investigation.
“I had hired seven undercover investigators,” she explains. “Their job was to make drug buys, and work their way up the ladder to drug suppliers. That’s who we were after. But the connections began to lead almost immediately to public officials, who were either protecting the drug trade or actively involved in the drug trade themselves.”
“And the person whose name came up most often was also the person who had been the special prosecutor in the initial grand jury investigation into the Train Deaths, a nearly year-long proceeding that did nothing but establish that the cause of death was not accidental, but was indeed homicide.”
“His name is Dan Harmon. It became apparent almost immediately that Dan Harmon was a key player in the drug trafficking activity taking place in Saline county.”
Duffey pauses, remembering. “About three months after we were up and running, one of my undercover investigators asked if he could open the Trains Deaths case, which was, at that point, two-and-a-half years old, and perhaps Arkansas’ most famous unsolved mystery. It had been featured twice on the TV program, and people who were possible witnesses were turning up dead.”
“I asked him why he thought that we should get involved. ‘Two reasons,’ he told me. ‘First, because its drug related. And second, because we can solve it.’
“Why, I asked him, did he think we could solve a crime that other investigations had been unable to? Because, he said, the other investigations were cover-ups. No real investigation had yet been conducted thoroughly and forthrightly.”
Duffey’s Drug Task Force investigators proceeded to develop startling evidence that had previously been ignored. First, on the drug-related aspect of the crimes.
“One of the first things my investigator did was to interview people living in the vicinity of where Kevin and Don were murdered. He discovered that drug drops had been rumored in that area over the six months before the boys murders, that citizens had filed reports of low-flying aircraft buzzing over in the middle of the night with their lights turned off.
“When a citizen made one of these complaints, an officer would go out and take a report, and then do nothing. No investigation was done. These reports were sitting in the sheriff’s office when Kevin and Don were murdered. But the connection between the planes and the deaths was not made.”
Duffey allows herself a wry smile “I found it very hard to believe that my undercover officer could see the obvious, while no one else could.”
Duffey continues speaking in her prosecutorial monotone, telling how a confessed drug dealer had testified that she had, as part of her participation in an “officially” sanctioned drug ring, picked up cocaine that had been ‘dropped’ on the train tracks in the same vicinity.
Apparently, cocaine was raining from the darkened night skies over Arkansas.
“The system kept me from prosecuting,” she continues. “Our Drug Task Force was actually doomed from the beginning. On the very day I was appointed to head the drug task force, Gary Arnold, my boss, walked into my office, stared at me hard, and instructed me not to use the Drug Task Force to investigate any public officials.”
There was a massive cover-up, Duffey states in an even tone. “My drug task force was shut down cold. Because we were getting too close. We were not allowed to get there.”
What happened next? “I got smeared,” says Duffey. “There was a massive smear campaign against me, led by Dan Harmon, who fed misleading and untrue information to the local papers.”
So Jean Duffey’s career began to follow a familiar trajectory, one often seen in those who refuse to look the other way. Doug Thompson, a local reporter on the main Little Rock paper, the Arkansas Democrat, led a campaign against her, while being fed information by the man who would later became the focal point of suspicions.
And, at that point, Duffey says, she realized she could do no more, and took the case to the US Attorney.
And the smear campaign? The one that ran courageous and crusading prosecuting attorney Jean Duffey right out of state? What about it?
Duffey almost smiles. “Today I realize, after working with the FBI for eighteen months beginning in March of 1995, what the basis was for Dan Harmon’s viciousness. I now know that Dan Harmon was on the tracks with the boys the night that they were murdered.”