BOULDER — A former schoolteacher was arrested Wednesday in Thailand in the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey — a surprise breakthrough in a lurid, decade-old murder mystery that had cast a cloud of suspicion over her parents.
Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood identified the suspect as John Mark Karr, 41. Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the name, and one law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Boulder police had tracked him down online.
Wood said the arrest vindicated JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer June 24.
“John and Patsy lived their lives knowing they were innocent, trying to raise a son despite the furor around them,” Wood said. “The story of this family is a story of courage and story of an American injustice and tragedy that ultimately people will have to look back on and hopefully learn from.”
The attorney said the Ramseys learned about the suspect at least a month before Patsy Ramsey’s death. “It’s been a very long 10 years, and I’m just sorry Patsy isn’t here for me to hug her neck,” Wood said.
Karr was a teacher who once lived in Conyers, Ga., according to Wood. The attorney said the Ramseys gave police information about Karr before he was identified as a suspect.
Wood would not say how the Ramseys knew Karr. But JonBenet was born in Atlanta in 1990, and the Ramseys lived in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody for several years before moving to Colorado in 1991.
Thai police said that when Karr was arrested, he denied any involvement in JonBenet’s slaying. But a source close to the investigation in the U.S. said Karr confessed to certain elements of the crime.
Also, a law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that Karr had been communicating periodically with somebody in Boulder who had been following the case and cooperating with law enforcement officials. A spokesman for the University of Colorado, Barrie Hartman, confirmed that journalism professor Michael Tracey communicated with Karr over several months and contacted police.
The CU spokesman said he didn’t know what prompted Tracey to become suspicious of Karr. Tracey produced a documentary in 2004 called “Who Killed JonBenet?”
District Attorney Mary Lacy said the arrest followed several months of work, but she said no details would be released until today.
Workers at the Boulder County Justice Center geared up for droves of visiting journalists Wednesday afternoon.
Reporters chatted with deputies at the entrance and wandered the building’s empty halls. A secretary at the District Attorney’s Office handed journalists a one-page statement from Lacy and turned them away.
U.S. authorities said Karr was initially taken into custody in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges. But Thai police Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul said he was unaware of any criminal charges the suspect faced in Thailand.
Karr was arrested at his apartment in downtown Bangkok at the request of U.S. officials, and was being held until they arrived, Thai police said. Suwat said he expected U.S. officials to take Karr back to America in the next few days.
A John M. Karr taught in California until he was stripped of his teaching credentials following a 2001 arrest on child pornography charges, authorities said.
Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse confirmed the pornography charges and an outstanding arrest warrant against Karr, though she cautioned she didn’t know if he was the same person held in the Ramsey case. State records also show Karr lost his teaching credential in 2002.
A Petaluma woman who said she was Karr’s ex-wife told KGO-TV in San Francisco that they got divorced after his arrest.
Laura Karr said her ex-husband spent a lot of time reading up on the cases of Ramsey and Polly Klaas, who was abducted from her Petaluma home and slain in 1993. She said she does not believe her former husband was involved in JonBenet’s killing and said she was with him in Alabama at the time of the Christmas 1996 homicide.
Karr’s brother, Nate Karr, said his brother’s alleged involvement was a misunderstanding.