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The Nation

Ramsey Suspect Abruptly Cleared

John Mark Karr still faces child pornography counts in California, but link to killing dissolves.

August 29, 2006|Stephanie Simon and Ralph Vartabedian | Times Staff Writers

Early in their correspondence, Karr told Tracey that he knew JonBenet's killers. Later, he confessed, both by e-mail and in several long phone conversations that were monitored by law enforcement. He knew a great many details about the case, describing JonBenet's gold bracelet, the hair bands on her ponytails and a red ink mark on her left hand. All that information, however, was contained in an autopsy report made public in 1997.

Frustrated that everything he said about the case had previously been reported, Karr at one point said that JonBenet had a runny nose the night she died -- and asked if that tidbit had been in the papers.

"It was an intimate love affair for me," Karr wrote, explaining his anger with the incessant coverage of the killing. "I don't want to share her with the media. I hate them and how they sell my darling little girl like a commodity."

In a rambling, self-important tone, Karr also spoke more generally about his sexual attractions to other young girls -- his "young Loves," he called them. He spoke of putting one "lovely little girl" in his care to bed one night, of calming her through an illness and making sure the night light in her room was adjusted just so. "I am a man who cherishes little girls and protects them with all that is in him," he wrote in an e-mail received Jan. 12, 2003.

Prosecutors apparently learned of the correspondence early on, but deemed the e-mails "not of substantial interest" because they seemed to be from someone obsessed with the case, not from a possible suspect, according to documents released Monday.

In April, however, Tracey's anonymous correspondent began to write in more detail about JonBenet, claiming that he accidentally killed her while trying to make her black out to enhance his sexual satisfaction. He also said he kissed her all over -- and tasted the blood she spilled during his sexual assault.

Prosecutors hoped to confirm that claim by matching DNA from the suspect's saliva to the droplets of blood found on JonBenet's underwear.

But they still didn't know the identity of Tracey's correspondent.

On Aug. 3, investigators met with Tracey and arranged for him to mail "Daxis" a photograph of JonBenet. Thai authorities kept the Mail Boxes Etc. in Bangkok under surveillance and saw Karr riding his mountain bike to pick up the package. They tracked him to his apartment and later inspected his passport under the ruse of a "spot check" of foreigners.

The following week, the district attorney sent investigator Mark Spray to resume the surveillance. He rented a room in Karr's building and tried to listen in on telephone calls between Karr and Tracey, though with limited success. Once, two strangers, apparently Thai citizens, chased him away with an admonition: "Don't come down here." At other times, he simply couldn't hear clearly through the walls of the apartment.

Thai investigators made several attempts to obtain Karr's DNA surreptitiously, by collecting items he had touched. But Boulder's DNA expert, Greggory LaBerge, told them they would need a clean swab of DNA from Karr's mouth to make a solid comparison with the DNA found mingled with JonBenet's blood at the crime scene.

"There was no way to obtain [this] swab without alerting to Mr. Karr to the fact that he was being investigated, creating an unacceptable risk that he would flee unless detained," Lacy wrote. A Boulder County judge approved the arrest warrant based on a 98-page affidavit outlining the e-mail correspondence.

Shortly after he was detained, Karr told reporters in Thailand that he had been with JonBenet when she died. "It's very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, that her death was unintentional," he said in a soft, measured voice.

Even after that televised confession, however, Lacy took pains to remind the public that the investigation was still very much open. "Do not jump to conclusion," she warned. JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, also cautioned against a rush to judgment.

Within days, the case began to unravel. Karr's ex-wife and other family members insisted that he was with them in the South during the Christmas holidays in 1996. JonBenet's body was found the day after Christmas.

Others who knew him said he was obsessed with the Ramsey case and with the 1993 kidnapping and killing of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in Petaluma, Calif. Karr spoke with "apparent fascination" of the Klaas murder case, said Sonoma County Sheriff's Lt. Dave Edmonds.

His conversations about Klaas with a Petaluma resident were suspicious enough that authorities briefly considered Karr a potential suspect in the 1997 slaying of another local girl, 12-year-old Georgia Moses. He was cleared, and authorities do not plan to reopen that line of investigation. Karr's release as a suspect in the Ramsey slaying came just an hour before his first scheduled court appearance in Boulder County.

Court spokeswoman Karen Salaz strode out of the Boulder County Justice Center flanked by police officers and holding a fat stack of statements for the reporters camped out in the parking lot.

Brusquely, she said: "There's no case."


Times staff writer Lee Romney in San Francisco and researcher Lynn Marshall in Seattle contributed to this report.

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