Episode 044: Anesha “Duffy” Murnane

June 13, 2022

In October of 2019, Duffy Murnane left her apartment for a short walk. But somewhere between Point A and Point B, she disappeared. What happened to Duffy?

Episode Media
Anesha “Duffy” Murnane
Anesha “Duffy” Murnane
Duffy’s route on October 17, 2019. (Google Maps)
The red arrow marks the area where the search dogs lost her scent.
Surveillance image of Duffy leaving her apartment on October 17. (Homer News)
Kirby Calderwood (Homer Police Department)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a missing persons case that rocked a small town, a case that recently made its way back into the headlines. This episode includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

Anesha Katherine Murnane was born and raised in a log cabin in Homer, Alaska, a small fishing town on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Growing up, Anesha went by the nickname “Duffy” – a name she carried into adulthood.

Duffy was known for her shy, quiet demeanor and her kindness towards others. She especially loved children, eventually earning her master’s degree in Montessori education. Her friend Tela said, “Duffy loved kids and toddlers in only the way parents and saints can do.”

Throughout her 20s and 30s, Duffy was able to combine her love of children with her desire to see the world. She made many trips to Honduras, where she worked as a teacher for a non-profit organization. Pictures on her Facebook account show her globe-trotting through South America and Australia and having fun with friends throughout the Pacific Northwest. Duffy’s friend group was small but close.

Duffy was also incredibly close with her mother, Sara; the pair never went more than a day or two without talking on the phone. Sara told Dateline reporters, “I was her best friend. And she was mine. We talked all the time.”

In 2018, Duffy moved back to Homer to settle for a while after living abroad. She moved into the MainTree Supportive Housing Facility, an apartment community where she could live independently while also receiving support for her bipolar disorder. The facility had a full-time staff who regularly checked on the residents, making sure they took their medication and providing daily meals in the building’s common area.

Soon, Duffy was thriving. She had found stability with her medication, and she had started applying for jobs. She hoped to be able to move out of the supportive housing soon, and had begun looking for apartments in Homer. She even had several trips lined up, including a visit to see her mother and stepfather at their vacation home in Mexico. Duffy and her mom talked excitedly about the trip; Duffy had just gotten her plane tickets and was making sure her travel documents were up to date. Sara was glad to see her daughter so happy and doing so well on her own.

October 17, 2019, started out like any other day. Duffy had a doctor’s appointment at the SVT Health & Wellness clinic at 1:00 that afternoon, so a little after 12, she set out on foot. Duffy didn’t own a car, so she walked everywhere she needed to go in the small town. The walk from her apartment on Main Street to the clinic on East End Road was only a mile, and would have taken her about 20 minutes.

The weather that day was typical for Homer in the fall – overcast skies with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Security cameras at the apartment complex spotted Duffy leaving at 12:13pm, dressed in jeans and a blue hooded jacket, her pink plaid bag slung over her shoulder. She had plenty of time to make the short walk to the clinic, but somewhere between Point A and Point B, Duffy disappeared.

Unfortunately, it was two full days before anyone noticed – or if they did, they didn’t say anything. Duffy didn’t show up for her appointment at the clinic, and she didn’t make it back to her apartment. At the housing facility, staff members should have been checking on her regularly, but Duffy missed five medication checks, two nightly check-ins, and multiple group meals before a staff member finally reported her missing to the Homer Police Department on October 19th.

Once they did make a report, the Homer Police and the Alaska State Troopers issued a Silver Alert for Anesha “Duffy” Murnane. Similar to an Amber Alert for children, a Silver Alert is used when a missing adult is considered to be in a vulnerable state. Because of Duffy’s mental health issues, police were able to act quickly and get the word out to the public about her disappearance. But because it had been over 48 hours since she vanished, the investigation was already at a disadvantage.

It was clear from the beginning that Duffy hadn’t just walked away from her life. She had left her apartment with only the clothes on her back and the usual, everyday items in her bag. None of her banking accounts or credit cards had been used, and her passport had been left behind. She was in a very stable place and had multiple things in her life to look forward to. Everything pointed to Duffy’s disappearance being either an accident or an abduction.

Search and rescue teams arrived from Anchorage almost immediately. Tracking dogs picked up Duffy’s scent at her apartment on Main Street and retraced her path along Lee Drive, Svedlund Street, and Pioneer Avenue. Less than half a mile away from the clinic, in front of the Homer’s Jeans clothing store, the dogs lost her scent. According to Homer Police Lieutenant Ryan Browning, the search dog handlers indicated that it was a “car pick up”, meaning that it was highly likely that Duffy had gotten into a vehicle in front of the store.

You can see a map of Duffy’s route on the podcast website. She was so close to her destination, it doesn’t seem to make sense that she would suddenly accept a ride from someone. And her family was insistent that Duffy would only get in a car with someone she knew, and her circle of friends was very small. So how was it that she was suddenly nowhere to be found?

Duffy’s disappearance rattled the town of Homer. Her mom Sara told reporters, “I don’t understand how someone just took her in the middle of the day without somebody seeing something. It’s a small town where everyone knows everyone. It’s a safe town. But not anymore.”

Investigators continued to search extensively over the next few months. Ground searches were done in the area surrounding her apartment complex, and police helicopters flew over the peninsula and the Kachemak Bay. They used drones to take high-resolution photos of the area, but there was no sign of Duffy.

Investigators also went door-to-door in the community, asking for anyone with information to come forward. They interviewed every resident and staff member at the MainTree Supportive Housing Facility. They also requested security videos from local businesses, but none of them captured Duffy on her route.

Other than the evidence from the search dogs, the only clue investigators had was a cellphone ping from October 17th. According to reports, Duffy’s phone pinged off a tower near mile marker 170 on Sterling Highway, just a few miles outside of downtown Homer. Police searched the area, but they didn’t find Duffy or her phone.

In April of 2020, the Homer Police Department hired a special investigator to help with the case. Detective Matt Haney had worked for the Homer PD for years before moving on to other assignments, and he had extensive experience with missing persons cases. Detective Haney went through all of the evidence investigators had collected over the past six months, reinterviewing community members and following up on hundreds of tips. He called in a team of cadaver dogs, who searched the entire town of Homer, but they didn’t hit on anything definitive.

Detective Haney told reporters that he felt it was important for him to personally interview every person who had any contact with Duffy prior to her disappearance. He emphasized the importance of exploring every lead, no matter how trivial. “Someone will call up and say, ‘You know, I’ve been meaning to say something and I never made the call.’… You follow up on it and it leads to a conclusion… I’ve recommended this my entire law enforcement career: Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not.”

But even though police had several persons of interest, they never had enough probable cause to make an arrest. The case didn’t go cold – the Homer Police Department was still actively investigating every lead – but for the next two years, there was no real forward movement.

Duffy’s family and friends held multiple vigils over the years. Carrying candles and homemade signs and wearing Duffy’s favorite color blue, they walked the route Duffy had last taken and gathered in the park to share their favorite memories. Cassondra Windwalker, a community member who attended the vigils, told local reporters, “I think it’s important that all of our daughters know that we would never stop looking for them. And I think it’s equally important that the monsters know that we won’t stop looking for them either. Our daughters should be safe here.”

In 2021, the family filed a petition to have Duffy declared legally dead so that they could close her estate. Under Alaska law, a presumptive death petition requires a jury to look at the facts of a case and then decide if the missing person can be presumed dead. The jury can also declare how and when the person died. In July of 2021, a jury declared that Anesha “Duffy” Murnane had died on October 17, 2019, a victim of homicide.

For Duffy’s family, the verdict was bittersweet. Her mother told reporters, “It validated me. I know she was murdered. There was never any question in my mind about that. There is no other explanation.” She also expressed that the verdict was, “just another step toward closure.”

Then, in April of 2022, there was a break in the case. An anonymous caller contacted the Homer Police Department with a tip: a man named Kirby Calderwood had killed Duffy. The caller gave details that led investigators to believe that they were telling the truth. Plus, Kirby Calderwood was not a stranger to law enforcement – he had been on their radar for a while.

When investigators began looking into Calderwood, they discovered a long history of disturbing, violent behavior towards women. While he was serving in the United States Army, Calderwood had been reported multiple times for sexual assault, and at least one of those incidents had led to a formal investigation, but there is no evidence that he was ever convicted, especially since it appears that he passed state background checks for jobs he obtained after leaving the Army.

In 2017, Calderwood began working for South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services in Homer, providing care for vulnerable adults at several of their facilities, including MainTree Supportive Housing. Duffy moved into the facility in 2018, where she would have come into regular contact with Calderwood. According to the company, Calderwood left that job in August of 2019, just two months before Duffy disappeared.

It’s unclear whether investigators spoke with Calderwood during their interviews with staff members in October 2019, but according to Homer Police, they had been seriously investigating him since May of 2021. Detectives spoke with multiple women who had experiences with Calderwood, and none of them were good. Calderwood was violent and abusive, and had a fascination with bondage and torture. One woman told police that Calderwood had fantasized about killing someone and was actively looking for victims.

So when the anonymous tipster called in April of 2022, investigators were ready to move forward. The caller was later identified in court documents as Calderwood’s wife, and she described a horrific crime that lined up with what police had long suspected.

According to the police affidavit, Calderwood had called off work on October 17, 2019, and was driving around Homer “looking for a victim”. He happened to come across Duffy on her walk, and convinced her to get in his car. Duffy probably felt safe with this choice – she knew Calderwood from his time at MainTree, and she may have felt like she had to say yes. We don’t know exactly what the exchange was, but Duffy got in the car with Calderwood.

Once inside, Calderwood told Duffy that he needed to stop somewhere to grab his phone charger. Instead, he drove to his girlfriend’s parents’ house, where he had been secretly transforming the crawlspace into a torture chamber. There, he sexually assaulted Duffy before killing her and disfiguring her body. Afterwards, he wrapped her body in trash bags and put it into a plastic tote that he placed in a dumpster. According to the affidavit, the dumpster was near the home of an elderly woman that he provided care for; he chose that location so he could watch the dumpster until the trash was hauled away.

On May 9, 2022, Kirby Calderwood was arrested in Utah and charged with kidnapping, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and tampering with evidence. When officers searched his vehicle and residence, they discovered multiple firearms as well as a machete and large knives that appeared to be covered in dried blood. They also found missing persons flyers with Duffy’s picture and a wristwatch that matched the one she was wearing at the time of her disappearance.

As of this recording, Duffy’s body has not been found. Kirby Calderwood is currently awaiting trial.

Duffy’s family and friends are hopeful that justice will be served. While they wait, they continue to share their memories of Duffy and have worked hard to raise awareness not just of her case, but of the hundreds of cases of missing and murdered women and children in Alaska.

Duffy’s family commissioned a local Homer artist to create a memorial bench in Duffy’s name. Located in front of the Homer Public Library and surrounded by blue Forget-Me-Nots, the Loved & Lost Bench is a beautiful tribute to Duffy’s gentle spirit and kindness to others.

In a statement, the family said, “Because her body has not been found, we don’t have a grave and we want to create a memorial. Since she went missing, we have learned just how many women and children are taken every year, especially among the Native populations, and indeed around the world. We are certainly not alone in our plight and our grief, and so we decided to create this memorial for not just our daughter, but for all the others who are suffering as well. We want the bench to serve as a memorial and to raise awareness of this tragedy. This bench will be dedicated to all the lost ones, to all the taken ones, and to all those who loved them, left behind with so many questions.”