The decade-long search for JonBenet Ramsey’s killer came to a startling end in Thailand on Wednesday.
Thai authorities swooped down on a 41-year-old teacher in his downtown Bangkok apartment after Boulder County and U.S. officials linked him to the brutal murder of the 6-year-old beauty queen on Christmas night, 1996.
John Mark Karr’s arrest comes less than two months after the death by cancer of JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey, who never fully escaped an “umbrella of suspicion.” If the arrest holds up, it could end an anguishing mystery that has left law-enforcement careers in ruins and many lives forever marked.
Sources close to the investigation said Karr had confessed to parts of the crime unknown to the public.
Thai police initially said Karr denied any involvement in the murder that captivated the nation’s attention and set off a worldwide media frenzy. But early Thursday, a Thai police general said Karr has admitted to killing JonBenet, and a U.S. Homeland Security official said Karr has been charged in the state of Colorado with murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of a child.
The arrest was confirmed by the office of Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy.
Karr drew attention to himself with a four-year exchange of e-mail with University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey.
The ongoing exchange was initiated by Karr after he watched a documentary that Tracey _ long a vocal proponent of the Ramseys’ innocence _ produced on JonBenet’s death.
Tracey passed on information he developed to former Boulder D.A.’s investigator Lou Smit and El Paso County private investigator Ollie Gray, who in turn pressed Lacy to pursue Karr.
In a statement, JonBenet’s father, John Ramsey, said, “Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case and had she lived to see this day would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today’s development almost 10 years after our daughter’s murder.”
A source close to the Ramsey family said Lacy’s office had been zeroing in on Karr for at least several months.
On Feb. 1, during Patsy Ramsey’s last trip to Colorado, Patsy and John Ramsey met in Boulder with Lacy at her office to discuss the status of the case.
Lacy also raised some eyebrows by attending Patsy Ramsey’s memorial service June 29 in Roswell, Ga. She said the trip was personal, with no public funds involved.
Also in the church that morning was Smit, the widely respected El Paso County homicide investigator who had worked the case for Lacy’s predecessor before quitting in September 1998 in protest of that fact that JonBenet’s parents were the central focus of several other investigators.
Karr’s brother, Nate Karr, told Fox News his brother moved to Alabama to live with his grandparents when he was about 12 and lived there until moving to California in approximately 2001 with his wife and three sons.
To the best of his knowledge, Nate Karr said, his brother has never lived in or been to Boulder. He also said John Karr didn’t know the Ramsey family.
Nate Karr suspects his brother raised suspicion among law enforcement because he was researching a book about men who commit sex crimes against young girls, including JonBenet.
“I think that he just got in too far and too deep without explanation, and the FBI or whatever picked up on it,” Nate Karr said.
JonBenet’s brutal murder quickly drew feverish attention. Books and TV movies followed, along with endless video clips on television of JonBenet strutting and dancing as a pageant queen.
The public fascination focused on the fact that she was the child of a well-to-do family in an upscale town and also on numerous evidentiary details that struck investigators, and the public alike, as bizarre.
For example, there was the 2 1/2-page ransom note found by Patsy Ramsey on a spiral staircase before dawn the morning of Dec. 26, dubbed by some detectives the War and Peace of ransom notes.
Not only was it considered unusually long, but it purported to have been authored by a “group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction,” and asked just $118,000 for JonBenet’s return.
That amount almost exactly matched the bonus John Ramsey had received that year from his company, Access Graphics. That and other details seemed to signal someone with close knowledge of the Ramsey family.
John Ramsey found his daughter’s body _ her mouth duct-taped, her throat garroted _ in a basement room after Detective Linda Arndt suggested he and family friend Fleet White search the house for anything that might be missing or out of place.
Police put the Ramseys under close scrutiny in the case, although JonBenet’s parents steadfastly maintained an intruder must have killed their youngest child, stating their case at greatest length in their 2000 book about their ordeal titled The Death of Innocence.
Wednesday’s sudden break in the case appeared to vindicate the Ramseys, turning attention to just the type of suspect about whom they’d often theorized.
An Immigration Customs Enforcement investigator said ICE had worked with Lacy’s office and the Royal Thai police in identifying and arresting Karr.
The ICE investigator said Karr was employed in Bangkok and had lived there for an undetermined time.
Although sources identified Karr as a teacher, there was no confirmation he had ever taught or sought a teaching job in Colorado.
He never applied for a teaching license, certification or authorization here. A file was opened in his name, however, which may have been triggered by the submission of either test scores or fingerprints, signaling his intention to apply for a license. But Karr never did so.
Tuesday, the Boulder DA’s Office called school district offices, asking that Karr’s name be checked to see if he had ever worked for them _ but did not say why the request was being made.
The district reported back that there was no record of Karr working for them.
School district officials checked personnel records back to 1980, payroll records back to 1990 and accounts payable back to 1980. That would have found any payment to a teacher, a substitute teacher, a contract worker _ someone working for a program or agency in a public schools _ or any other district employee.
It also is unclear if he ever applied to work for the district. Until about five months ago, applications were kept in paper form and would not have been retained from 10 years ago.
About four years after JonBenet’s murder, Dec. 8, 2000, Karr was hired as a substitute teacher in Petaluma City elementary schools in Northern California, but he was terminated April 2, 2001. There is no record of why he was terminated, according to the district spokesman, or whether his record in Petaluma led to the revocation two years later of his license.
The license revocation appeared to stem from a five-count child pornography charge brought against him in California in 2001. Karr’s name also appeared on an agenda for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing for revocation under the state’s “immoral or unprofessional conduct” provision.
Former Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant _ one of four metro-area prosecutors who consulted with former Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter on the case _ said Wednesday that because members of the Ramsey family had once been scrutinized as suspects in the case, that would pose a hurdle for Lacy in any potential prosecution of Karr.
A prosecutor in the case, Grant said, would have to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Ramseys didn’t do it and that the outside guy did it. Any defense attorney is going to put the Ramseys on trial.”
Prior to Wednesday’s dramatic announcement, perhaps the most pivotal point in the case came in December 2002 when Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner surrendered control of the case to Lacy’s office.
His agency, which keyed on JonBenet’s parents as suspects, had long butted heads with several working the case for Lacy and her predecessor, now-retired Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter.
Lacy, at that time, issued a letter stating that, “The Boulder Police Department has done an exhaustive and thorough investigation of the Ramseys as potential suspects” in JonBenet’s death, and that while they would not be exempt from further consideration, her probe would give more attention to alternative suspects in the case.
That was followed by a ruling March 31, 2003, by U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes. In a libel case brought against the Ramseys stemming from their book, Carnes found evidence that an intruder killed JonBenet more persuasive than evidence that her mother might have done so.
Days later, Lacy released her own statement, endorsing the judge’s decision.
Michael Kane, who directed a 13-month grand jury probe into the child beauty queen’s death that disbanded in October 1999 without issuing any indictment, said, “I certainly welcome any news that the person who murdered this little girl has been taken into custody.” Kane is now the executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
Former Assistant Boulder District Attorney Bill Wise, now retired, said, “I’m very, very glad and hope it’s not some kook that is seeking publicity _ but it doesn’t sound like it, from the reports that I’m hearing _ information not known to the public is contained in his confession.”
Former Boulder County Sheriff George Epp said, “I’m amazed and very, very pleased that there’s a good chance that justice may be done, that the family may be able to get some closure.”
He added a note of caution, saying, “An arrest is not a conviction.”
(Contact Charlie Brennan and Todd Hartman of the Rocky Mountain News at http://www.rockymountainnews.com.)