Confessions are supposed to clinch a case. And then there are confessions like the one that John Mark Karr made last week in connection with the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Ten years ago, the 6-year-old beauty queen's terrible death and weirdly captivating life--the hair, the costumes, the come-hither poses--became the stuff of national obsession at the very moment the O.J. Simpson story was going stale. It even promised, like the Simpson case, to be a family affair, because from the first, suspicion fell on John and Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet's parents. But the killer was never identified, the trails all went cold, and the story faded. This June, Patsy died of ovarian cancer.
Then suddenly there was Karr, saying he was the one. Or sort of saying it. At the press conference in Bangkok at which Thai officials announced his arrest, he described his role in the crime with an odd circumlocution. "I was with JonBenet when she died," he said. Detached, tentative, composed sometimes to the point of affectless, he added that the killing was "an accident"--a strange way to describe the death of a girl who suffered a massive blow to the head and was strangled with a cord. When he hesitated before answering certain questions, you wondered whether it was to consult his memories or his fantasies.
Immediately, questions about his credibility started to mount. Thai authorities say he told them he had drugged JonBenet. If he had, why did her autopsy find no evidence of drugs? Karr also reportedly told police that on the day of the murder, he picked up JonBenet from school. Not possible: she was killed during Christmas vacation. Strangest of all, Karr's ex-wife Lara says that during the Christmas season of 1996, the time of JonBenet's death, Karr was with her in Alabama.
All the same, police and prosecutors in Boulder, Colo., where JonBenet died, must have had significant evidence to persuade a Colorado judge to issue the warrant for Karr's arrest. "There is a fairly lengthy sealed warrant," says L. Lin Wood, the Ramsey-family attorney. "[Boulder County district attorney] Mary Lacy believes she's got the guy." Investigators say privately that Karr knows things about JonBenet's death that only the killer could know. And then there was the tantalizing detail reported last week by the Rocky Mountain News that investigators in Lacy's office were in contact with a high school classmate of Karr's. What they want is a yearbook signed by Karr with an inscription that includes the phrase "Though, deep in the future, maybe I shall be the conqueror." Could those last four words explain one of the enduring mysteries of the JonBenet ransom note, which ends with the baffling initials S.B.T.C.?