Karr Crash: True Obsession, False Confession

In less than two weeks, John Mark Karr went from total obscurity to the darkest kind of fame.

With a vaguely worded confession at a news conference in Thailand, he became the first person ever arrested in the unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey and the closest authorities had come to putting a face to the little girl's killer.

As the case unraveled Monday, with it came the secrets of the investigation: hours of conversations and stacks of e-mail messages between Karr and University of Colorado professor Michael Tracey.

ABC News read hundreds of e-mail messages to find the passages that had led investigators to arrest Karr, believing he might be the killer.

In those files, summarized below, were graphic descriptions from Karr's account of how JonBenet had died on Christmas night in 1996 — tall tales that were undone by his family members who said he was in Atlanta for Christmas that year and a lack of physical evidence placing him at the crime scene.

There were those who questioned whether Karr was guilty of the crimes he so graphically had described.

The small city of Boulder was rife with skepticism.

Even John Ramsey, JonBenet's father and the man with the most to gain from solving the case, reminded the public that Karr was "innocent until proven guilty."

It turned out that the skeptics were right.

There was no proof of Karr's guilt other than his own heartfelt confessions.

And his words, decided Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy, were not enough to charge him with the death of JonBenet.

Karr on Tape and in Writing

At the heart of the investigation were Karr's conversations with Tracey.

It was a correspondence that lasted four years but that came to the attention of Boulder authorities only when Karr described details of JonBenet's death not known to the general public.

Those details, although untrue, would have explained some of the greatest mysteries surrounding the 6-year-old's death.

Karr described using a large flashlight to hit JonBenet over the head, causing a fracture to her skull that would turn up in an autopsy report.

"It tarnished my princess … the trauma to her head haunts me — so horrible," Karr said in an April e-mail to Tracey.

Karr said that her death by asphyxiation had been an accident, that he unintentionally had suffocated her while the two were engaged in sexual activity.

"Slow pressure was applied to her neck until oxygen was gradually deprived," Karr said in an April e-mail, describing what he depicted as an intentional sexual tactic.

"If done correctly she would be in a dream state … In many, the asphyxia heightens sexual pleasure."

"I don't see myself as a killer," Karr wrote in May. "Her and I were engaged in a romantic and very sexual interaction. It went bad and it was my fault."

Karr said he "used tight leather driving gloves while in the house" and mentioned walking through the house without shoes on, thus explaining the lack of fingerprints and partially explaining the lack of footprints at the crime scene.

As to the location on a spiral staircase where John and Patsy found a cryptic ransom note signed "S.B.T.C.," Karr said he meant to leave it in JonBenet's room but was spooked when he heard noises coming from upstairs.

"I would never make [it] to her bedroom to deliver the note. Instead, I dropped it where I stood and quickly yet quietly made my escape."

In their correspondence, Karr also described what he said were his psychic powers.

"Yes I am a psychic, and yes I speak to the dead," Karr said in an e-mail, echoing a 2001 tape obtained by ABC News in which a voice apparently belonging to Karr talks about communicating with JonBenet from beyond the grave.

What was clear and real in Karr's conversations was his obsession with JonBenet.

He said to Tracey, "You probably can't relate to being in love with a six year old girl."

"I love JonBenet … til this day I love her and I've loved her very much and I … played an unreal role in her life and her death."

"It was an intimate love affair for me," Karr wrote in May. "It was my secret and JonBenet's secret."

Tall Tales, but No Evidence

If Karr's graphic story of sex and murder were true, his DNA would have been left behind.

There was no way to know whether Karr's confession was true until he was in custody and tested for a DNA match with evidence from the crime scene.

On the morning of Aug. 16, authorities in Bangkok arrested Karr.

Later, he was flown amid international media frenzy and speculation in a business class seat to the United States.

Karr's DNA went to a Colorado lab last week to be tested against the unidentified DNA of a white male found on the underwear JonBenet was wearing when she died.

It took one day for the results to come back: There was no match.

Lacy, the district attorney, arrested Karr knowing full well there was a chance he was not JonBenet's killer.

She felt she had little choice — Karr had confessed to the crime and was one day into a teaching job that put him in contact with small children at a school in Bangkok.

"There are circumstances that may exist in any case, which mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete," Lacy said a day after Karr's arrest in Thailand. "The primary reason is public safety."

A Fantasy Come True?

Criminal law experts and forensic psychiatrists point out to ABC News that in a twisted way, arresting Karr for the death of JonBenet had made his fantasy come true.

It gave him a chance to live out his obsession with the child beauty queen — he could feel closer to her, if only by becoming a target in the search for her killer.

Ironically, Karr's first trip to Boulder — once hometown to the little girl he was so obsessed with — may have been on the private plane that flew him to Colorado as a suspect in her death.

Karr still faces five counts of child pornography possession in Sonoma County, Calif., and he could be moved there as soon as Wednesday.

If Karr is convicted of all five counts, he could get as much as five years in prison and $12,500 in fines.

At one point in his conversations with the professor, Karr references a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, "The Telltale Heart," in which a murderer is haunted by the imagined sound of his victim's heartbeat.

The sound eventually drives him mad, and he confesses.

Comparing his own experience to the "Telltale Heart," Karr said, "After that long, you just get to the point where you just want to confess … it's like that story."

Like Poe's story, Karr's confession turned out to be pure fiction.

With reporting from ABC News' Mary Kate Burke, Sylvie Rottman and Teri Whitcraft.