Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist, has been following the latest developments in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and offers an analysis of suspect John Mark Karr and the statements he has made since his Aug. 16 arrest in Thailand.
What do we know already about John Karr's confession?
That it isn't quite a confession. That his account does not match critical facts. That when it does, he speaks of a case for which much information is available and leaves room for imagination to fill in little details. That Karr speaks to being with JonBenet but perhaps only in spirit. As a person who has studied confessions of killers and sex offenders, my experience reflects that when child killers confess, they do so with shame and humility. That Karr participated in a press conference with no sign of discomfort was extremely unusual.
What do we know about John Karr?
History is already emerging of a childhood marked by significant emotional trauma, separations from his mother and the disintegration of his home at an early stage. Many individuals who have unnatural and even traumatic separations in their earliest years develop exceptionally fragile senses of selves. Karr is notable for identity conflicts over his sexuality (a pedophile who did not act on his fantasies to the degree he wanted), family (completely estranged from sons and nuclear family for years), residence (moved from the U.S. to places like Honduras, France and Thailand), and career (identified himself as a teacher but worked as a caretaker for children as well), and gender (actively pursuing transgender treatment). Many such individuals have an exceptionally active fantasy life and weave reality and fantasy together, especially in more despairing or stressful times. It is not surprising to see such individuals see powers of the paranormal in themselves.
What do we know about his sexuality?
We know he is attracted to very, very young girls. We know he has repressed that attraction, has taught the young and has talked of caring for young girls, feeling romance and intense warmth for them in a manner he phrases in nonsexual terms, talked of kissing them in every way imaginable that cannot be construed as erotic, fantasized about them, and has developed obsessive interest in two icons of child victimization — Polly Klass and JonBenet Ramsey. We know little of his acting on his sexual fantasies. We know of no violence from a man who attaches himself to a crime of blunt head trauma and asphyxiation through a garrote.
Is that enough to make John Karr a killer?
A child home invasion homicide and/or a homicide from an obsessional attachment would reflect some previous contact, attempted contact, or attempts to groom the victim. Is there evidence that Karr, from the Southeast, cased the Ramsey home, arranged access, and prepared for whatever he had in store for JonBenet Ramsey? Or will evidence show that there was no awareness beforehand and no contact? Why does a teacher who has easier access to children carry out a home invasion to gain access to his prey? How does a teacher with no history of burglary gain a comfort level for moving in and out of a home with such ease? That police described him as cooperative was most peculiar, especially because he exhibited no guilt — he was calling JonBenet's death an accident, minimizing the killer's responsibility.
It is harder to be sure about John Karr than another person who might be speaking of his experiences and actions because of how he mixes the paranormal with the everyday. When he speaks of communicating with Polly Klass, we wonder whether he also refers to the spiritual plane when he speaks of JonBenet. When he speaks of reaching out so avidly to Polly Klass' killer, he seeks clues about the uniqueness of their bond. In presenting himself as with JonBenet Ramsey when she died, John Karr has replicated, for the moment, a sense of being uniquely close to someone who is more than a person to him, but something of an icon. His level of adulation and affection for JonBenet contrasts with the level of violence of the crime.
Dr. Welner is chairman and founder of the Forensic Panel (www.forensicpanel.com), a forensic consulting group that provides peer-reviewed expert testimony in court cases. He is also developing an evidence-based test to assist criminal sentencing called the Depravity Scale, http://depravityscale.org, which invites Americans to participate in surveys that are used to form a legal standard of what represents the worst of crimes.