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Did James Duckett murder 11-year-old Teresa McAbee: Killer In Question investigates the case

Mugshot of James Duckett
James Duckett remains on death row for the murder of 11-year-old Teresa McAbee. Pic credit: Florida Dept. of Corrections

Killer in Question is looking at another controversial case, this time, the murder of schoolgirl Teresa McAbee, who authorities say was raped and murdered by police officer James Duckett in Mascotte, Florida.

However, there have been doubts placed on whether or not the investigators put away the right man.

On the morning of May 12, 1987, the body of 11-year-old Teresa McAbee was found floating face down in a lake not far from Mascote. She had been raped and choked before being drowned in the water.

The evening before, at about 10 pm, 11-year-old Teresa McAbee went into a convenience store to purchase a pencil. When she left, she began speaking to a 16-year-old boy outside.

Police Officer James Duckett was the only policeman on duty in Mascote that night, and he happened to be in the convenience store at the same time as Teresa. He asked the store clerk the age of the girl before approaching the two children outside.

A short time later, the boy left with his uncle and saw Teresa getting into the passenger seat of Duckett’s patrol car.

An hour later, Teresa’s mother went to the convenience store to look for her daughter. She then went to the police station in Mascote, but on finding it deserted, she instead went to the nearby Groveland police station to report Teresa missing.

When Duckett finally contacted the Groveland police, he told them he would make a flyer using Teresa’s photo, which he then failed to do. Duckett was also found to have made no radio calls between that night between 9:50 p.m. and 12:10 a.m. The store clerk reported seeing Duckett driving past a few times.

Investigators believe James Duckett wasn’t looking for Teresa McAbee

The investigators became suspicious of Duckett’s actions that night. They subsequently noticed tire tracks at the lake where Teresa was found that appeared to match the tires used by the Mascotte police.

Furthermore, an FBI team located a hair that had been in Teresa’s underwear that they said was a probable match for Duckett. Finally, Duckett’s and McAbee’s fingerprints were found on the car’s hood, indicating that she was sitting backward on the car’s hood.

The investigators deemed they had enough to arrest and charge Duckett with murder, and he was put on trial the following year. At the trial, three teenagers testified that Duckett had made sexual advances on them in the six months before the murder.

In June 1988, Duckett was found guilty of sexual battery and murder and was sentenced to death.

However, doubt has been raised over the validity of the conviction. Duckett has long claimed he was innocent. He says he did speak to the girl but that he had not driven away with her. He says his tire marks are at the lake because he searched for Teresa in that location after she was reported missing.

And then last year, the FBI admitted that one of their agents, Michael Malone, had lied about hair analysis in thousands of cases, possibly including Duckett’s. However, as of writing, Duckett remains on death row.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more murders highlighted on ID.

More than a decade after the brutal murder of two hunters, Doug Estes and Jim Bennett, a cold case unit arrested Jeff Titus and put him in jail for the murders. However, the officers who originally investigated the case say he’s innocent.

Lisa Underwood was seven months pregnant when she began arguing with her boyfriend, Stephen Barbee, at her home in Forth Worth, Texas. Barbee responded by killing her and her 7-year-old son Jayden and buried them in a shallow grave.

Killer In Question airs at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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