Ramsey Case: The Mystery of John Mark Karr

John Mark Karr seemed oddly eager to implicate himself. Led on a perp walk in Bangkok after his arrest this week for the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, the 41-year-old American dressed primly in a neat blue polo shirt, buttoned all the way up in the Thai heat, was quiet and earnest. "I loved JonBenet very much," he said. Then, he came very close to confessing to her killing. "I was with JonBenet when she died," Karr blurted to reporters. Although he insisted "her death was an accident," he didn't distance himself from culpability. Asked if he were innocent, his answer was a quiet but firm "no."

But if Karr was indiscreet about himself, the American prosecutor on the case seemed overly anxious to say nothing. Speaking at an equally mobbed press conference Thursday in Boulder, Colo., District Attorney Mary Lacy did little more than confirm what everyone already knew: that Karr had been arrested in Bangkok for first-degree murder. Then she warned against rushing to convict the suspect. Quoting the murdered girl's father, she said: "We should all heed the poignant advice John Ramsey gave yesterday. Do not jump to judgment. Do not speculate. Let the justice system take its course."

As immigration officials waited to extradite Karr back to the United States, investigators and reporters scrambled to learn just who the awkward, reserved man was and how he ended up admitting involvement in the death of the child beauty queen. Some facts quickly became clear. Karr was a troubled loner who had had a hard time holding teaching jobs—including expatriate positions in recent years in Asia, Europe and Central America. He'd twice married teenaged girls and was arrested in 2001 for possession of child pornography. Friends and family agreed that he had a deep interest in the Ramsey case and a similar crime—a fascination so deep he once told police he was researching a book on another child-murder case.

But none of that necessarily makes him a killer. If JonBenet was killed by Karr, who lived in Alabama at the time, how did he get to know the Colorado child and come to be at the Ramsey home on Dec. 26, 1996? "There is much more work that remains to be done now that the suspect is in custody," Lacy admitted.

The arrest capped a rapid three-month investigation of Karr that apparently began in May. At that time, University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey, who produced several documentaries about the case, passed anonymous e-mails to police that had aroused his suspicion. Tracey told reporters Thursday that he'd had a four-year e-mail exchange with the man who proved to be Karr, but refused to comment on the nature of those messages. "Obviously, I went to the district attorney for a reason, but let him have his day in court, and let JonBenet have her day in court, and let's see how it plays out," Tracey said.