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 case some feared would never be solved.
Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the suspect as John Mark Karr, a 42-year-old American, and one law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Boulder police had tracked him down online.
The Ramsey family’s attorney in Atlanta pronounced the arrest vindication for JonBenet’s parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, who had long been under suspicion in the slaying.
“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 a least a month before Patsy Ramsey’s death on June 24 after a battle with ovarian cancer. “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 in their daughter’s slaying.
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.
Wood said Karr confessed to elements of the crime. 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.
District Attorney Mary Lacy said the arrest followed several months of work, but she she said no further details would be released until Thursday.
Authorities said Karr was being held in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges. CBS reported he will be brought back to the United States this weekend.
JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of the family’s home in Boulder on Dec. 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her daughter.
The image of blonde-haired little JonBenet in a cowgirl costume and other beauty pageant outfits has haunted TV talk shows ever since, helping feed myriad theories about her killer, and the case became one of the most sensational unsolved murder cases in the nation.
Investigators said at one point that JonBenet’s parents were under an “umbrella of suspicion” in the slaying. And some news accounts cast suspicion on JonBenet’s older brother. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.
In the months after the slaying, Patsy Ramsey went before the cameras, vigorously defending herself and her husband, chastising the media and blasting local law enforcement as incompetent.
Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved.
In a statement Wednesday, John Ramsey said: “Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case and had she lived to see this day, would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today’s development almost 10 years after our daughter’s murder.”
The Ramseys moved back to Atlanta after their daughter’s slaying.
Wood lashed out at the frenzy that long surrounded the case, and he accused the media of “the most obscene false accusations.” “I think the public’s mind was so poisoned against this family that no one was able for too many years to look at the evidence,” he said.
Patsy Ramsey’s sister, Pam Paugh, of Roswell, Ga., said the family was celebrating the news of the arrest. “We are elated. We are elated. If this is, in fact, the killer, then we have a very heinous killer off the streets to never harm another child,” Paugh said.
Lib Waters of Marietta, Ga., visited the gravesites of Patsy and JonBenet Ramsey in the Atlanta suburb immediately after hearing news reports about the arrest.
Waters, who described herself as a longtime friend of the Ramsey family, taped a piece of notebook paper to JonBenet Ramsey’s headstone that read: “Dearest Patsy, Justice has come for you and Jon. Rest in peace.”
In 2003, a federal judge in Atlanta concluded that the evidence she reviewed suggested an intruder killed JonBenet. That opinion came with the judge’s decision to dismiss a libel and slander lawsuit against the Ramseys by a freelance journalist, whom the Ramseys had named as a suspect in their daughter’s murder. The Boulder district attorney at the time said she agreed with the judge’s declaration.
“Today is additional vindication of the family,” Wood said.
Wood said he and the Ramseys “have been totally amazed and impressed with the professionalism of law enforcement” under Lacy’s direction. Lacy became district attorney in 2001.
Author Lawrence Schiller, who wrote the 1999 book, “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town” about the case, said Wednesday he understood the man had been on a list of sexual offenders who were suspects for a long time.
“There are a lot of facts about her actual death that the public does not know.” Schiller said. “If he did confess to some facts of the murder, to reveal those facts of the case, that would finish the puzzle.”
Among the facts he said were not generally known was the murder weapon and what the killer did with it.
Bob Grant, a former Adams County district attorney who worked on the case, said there was never enough evidence to convince him that any potential suspect could be successfully prosecuted.
“I wasn’t convinced it was an inside job, nor was I convinced it was an outside job,” he said. “All the outside suspects were cleared after exhaustive investigation, and there were a whole lot of outside suspects.”
Associated Press Writers Suzanne Gamboa and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press