A former FBI profiler who worked on the JonBenet murder discusses the case against John Karr.
By Jennifer Barrett
It's been nearly a decade since 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found beaten and strangled in Boulder, Colo., in December 1996 in a case that captivated the nation. Photographs of the young beauty pageant contestant dominated the news as speculation centered on who might have killed her and left her body in the basement of her family's home.
JonBenet's parents, Patsy and John, always said an intruder murdered their daughter. As time passed, though, and no suspects emerged, public speculation grew over whether the couple was involved in the death. Patsy died of cancer this summer and the case faded from the public spotlight. That changed this week with the arrest in Thailand of John Mark Karr, a divorced father of three and former schoolteacher. Karr has told authorities that he was with JonBenet when she died and that her death was an accident.
John Douglas, a former FBI profiler who investigated the case, was someone who felt the Ramseys probably weren't involved. Newsweek's Jennifer Barrett spoke with Douglas, who has worked on more than 5,000 cases and written several books, about the Karr arrest. Excerpts:
Newsweek: You've said that you never suspected the Ramseys of this crime. Do you feel vindicated now?
John Douglas: A lot of people told me I was wrong. Now I'm getting all these congratulations.
Why were you so certain that her parents weren't involved?
Parents kill, but they don't kill this way. I use a formula when I approach a case: why, how, who. I asked why JonBenet? Why target her or this family? How was the child killed? I looked at the forensic evidence –the method and manner of death. And I came up with an analysis.
What did the method of death tell you about the perpetrator?
After the killer did all the things he did, he struck her in the head. He went beyond what was necessary. There was also evidence of a stun gun, a mark by the side of her mouth and two contact points on her lower back … Also in the [ransom] note itself, there are words that came right out of movie scripts-”Speed” and “Seven” and ["Ransom"], which was playing that week in Boulder. We figured he would have to be young, not in his 40s or up. Also, no one would have had the presence of mind to do that type of murder and then, off the top of their head, write that extortion note with bits and phrases of movies. The note was written on their [the Ramseys'] paper, so he would have had to be in the house for a period of time while the parents were down the street at the Christmas party.
What kind of person did you imagine the perpetrator to be? What characteristics were you looking for?
It was going to be a white male with a pedophilia-type background. Someone obsessed with children. He had to be fairly agile to move in and out of the house, taking JonBenet out of her bedroom and carrying her down to the basement. Married or unmarried, generally asocial — not the life of the party and not very verbal, [someone who] will generally express himself through written communication. I also wanted to look at precipitating events, to see if something happened on or about that date when this person who is responsible acted out with such violence. There had to be rejection, or some kind of stress in his life, to trigger this. The anger could be displaced anger based on other things happening in his life. He had a plan that included abduction and then things went awry, which happens a lot.
Does the suspect John Mark Karr fit the profile for this crime?
Early on, you suggested that JonBenet's killer was someone who knew the Ramseys through his work. But Mr. Karr's brother, told TV reporters that to his knowledge Mr. Karr had never lived in or visited Boulder, and he seemed to have no connection with the Ramseys.
That would be a surprise if he went into that place cold. That's very, very unusual. But JonBenet was in a pageant a couple weeks before she was killed. And John Ramsey had been in the newspaper [because of] the success of his company. This crime seemed almost a retaliation of some type, or displaced anger-to do this to a young child … I know the investigators are trying to put the dots together now.
Assuming he is found guilty, is there a possibility that Karr didn't act alone?
It's rare that someone would work with someone else in this kind of situation. And there's nothing here to indicate that there were two people involved.
The police said that the perpetrator had sexually assaulted JonBenet, fractured her skull, put duct tape over her mouth and strangled her with a nylon cord tightened by a wooden handle. Karr says the “her death was unintentional and that it was an accident.” How is that possible?
This was no accident. This was overkill. There was evidence of a stun gun, duct tape.
Yet Karr's ex-wife told a California TV station that she and John Karr were together in Alabama on Christmas Day 1996, the day that JonBenet Ramsey was murdered. Is it possible he might be lying about killing her?
There are all these wacky people who will come forward in a case. It's up to the investigators to do an interview and see what this person knows about the case and to see if there is anything specific to link him. A confession is great, but in many cases the killer will take something from her-jewelry or something.
Why confess now, 10 years later? Why not plead innocent?
That's the $64,000 question. Some will confess because it's a relief. Others will confess if they are presented with evidence and are looking to save their behinds. He may want to cooperate in the hopes that he will not go back to Colorado and be executed. Or they may start thinking they'll go to jail as a child molester, so they may try to feign mental illness, hoping they'll be institutionalized and not imprisoned.
From what you know, do you think there's a strong case against Karr?
I wouldn't think that the investigators would have gone through all of this, doing this big production, unless they really had something. It sounds like they've been watching him for awhile. I do know that there was DNA evidence taken at the scene [of the murder]. [Police] believed it was saliva mixed with blood. And it wasn't the family's DNA. I would assume they would compare it to the suspect now.