John Mark Karr: The Accidental Suspect

ByJESUS AYALA and LARA SETRAKIAN, ABC News Law & Justice Unit

Aug. 20, 2006 — -- It may have been a chain of coincidence that ultimately led to the arrest of John Mark Karr. This weekend the Colorado newspaper man who apparently put that chain in motion explained how it all happened.

In the summer of 2002, Michael Sandrock, a 48-year-old newspaper columnist and runner, claims he casually met John Karr outside a bookshop in Paris. They struck up the type of conversation that American travelers in Europe typically do, introducing themselves in generalities.

Sandrock, a sportswriter en route to cover a race it Switzerland, introduced himself as a journalist with the Daily Camera, a local newspaper in Boulder. Karr introduced himself as "John" -- no last name -- and said he was a writer from Amsterdam. During the next few days, the two would discuss in detail the mysterious death of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

It wasn't long before Sandrock realized that Karr was fascinated by the Ramsey case.

"That's all he really wanted to talk about," Sandrock told reporters Saturday. "I didn't think it was real strange at that time, because so many people asked about the Ramsey case at that time."

Their initial conversations, according to Sandrock, were fairly normal.

"He would ask for my opinion about who did it," he said.

But what would appear to just be creepy conversations would eventually become something more -- a lead and later, a first arrest in a 10-year-old murder case.

One of the elements that stood out for Sandrock was how well Karr seemed to know Boulder well, accurately describing the location of the Ramsey's house, the street where the Daily Camera is headquartered and what the building looks like.

It was as if Karr had been to Boulder before -- a fact that if true, would be critical to the case.

There is no trace of Karr ever living in Colorado. Moreover, even though Karr confessed to killing JonBenet, his ex-wife has stated publicly that he was with her in Alabama during the days around the murder.

During their conversations, according to Sandrock, Karr asked Sandrock if he had seen a set of documentaries on the Ramsey case produced by Michael Tracey, a professor at the University of Colorado. Karr perked up when he learned that Sandrock had recently dined with Tracey at Boulder's Hungry Cove Restaurant.

Karr later sent Sandrock an e-mail asking if he would introduce him to Tracey, who because of his documentaries became known as a recognized expert in the JonBenet Ramsey case. He cleared it with Tracey -- warning him that Karr was somewhat obsessive in following Ramsey case -- and put the two in touch. That was the last time he talked to Karr.

"When I was talking to him, I always got the feeling that there was something else that he was ready to talk to me about," Sandrock said.

Sandrock recalls that Karr always smiled eerily when he mentioned the intruder theory, as if he had something more to say and just needed to talk with someone.

"I had the feeling that he was ready to unload," Sandrock said.

In the end, it was Michael Tracey that did the unloading, turning over information and the contents of his e-mail inbox to authorities. That download allegedly gave federal and state agents a reason to arrest Karr.

Karr happened to be visiting Paris in the summer of 2002. He happened to meet a newspaper columnist from Boulder who happened to be passing through France -- a columnist who happened to have dinner with Tracey just before leaving Colorado. It all adds up to a series of chance encounters that gave the JonBenet Ramsey case its first arrest.

It may be months or even years before a jury decides the Karr is a killer or just a wannabe armed with a false confession. Either way, it may turn out that what the 10-year-old cold case needed to move forward was simply the helping hand of fate.

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