The JonBenet Suspect: A Loner's Life in Thailand

  • Share
  • Read Later
John Mark Karr, 41, lived on the ninth floor of a rundown apartment building in a Bangkok district full of similarly rundown buildings and guest houses. For Karr, it was an inexpensive place to reside; apartments in his building rent for as little as $160 a month. Other residents describe him as a dour loner who didn't let anyone into his peripatetic life, traveling in and out of Thailand. An Internet café clerk in Karr's building said he was a regular customer who kept a close eye on users in neighboring booths, as if he was afraid they were spying on him. "He never wanted to chat," said Nii, the clerk. "Actually I was afraid of talking to him. He always seemed to be a bad mood. He rushed in, then rushed out."

Karr has now let the world into some of his secrets. On Wednesday evening, the wan, sandy-haired one-time grade school teacher arrived at Bangkok's Suan Phlu immigration pen, to spend the night in a solitary cell. The day before, a judge in Boulder, Colorado, had issued an arrest warrant for Karr in the nearly decade-old murder of JonBenet Ramsey, the six-year-old child beauty pageant contestant. Soon after, a small group of plainclothes Thai and U.S. officers arrived at his shabby apartment, where Karr had stayed since arriving from Malaysia in June, on the latest of several trips in recent years to the Thai capital. Later Karr sat silently as U.S. and Thai authorities discussed his case in a press center. The press conference broke up with a photo op of the suspect, who wore a sky-blue polo shirt and beige slacks without a belt.

The press corps had begun to fade away when Karr, in a surprise, sent word that he wanted to speak directly to the media, and he was hustled back into the room. I found myself crouched directly in front of him as he sat at the table. His jaw was locked and his eyes darted as the questions began firing. Did he kill JonBenet Ramsey? Karr spoke slowly, his voice low and stuttering. "I was with JonBenet when she died... Her death was an accident." Other questions elicited silence, or pained glances. A "no comment" on his relationship to the Ramsey family. After a few minutes, he glanced upwards at his captors, and they quickly led him away.

At the joint U.S.-Thai press conference Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, head of immigration police, said Karr had admitted killing Ramsey, but had told his interrogators it was "unintentional." "He said he loved the girl," Suwat said. Ann Hurst, a Bangkok attaché of the Department of Homeland Security, said Karr was cooperating with U.S. investigators and had waived his right to a lawyer.

Thai officials say Karr could be on a plane back to Boulder as early as the weekend, to face charges of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of Ramsey. Karr has put up no legal barriers to the extradition, so getting him back to the U.S. will presumably be simply a matter of arranging for the marshals to escort him back to Colorado.