John Mark Karr, the suspect in the killing of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, arrived late Sunday after a 15-hour flight from Thailand on which he sipped champagne, dined on fried king prawns and roast duck, and exchanged what he described as “small talk” with law enforcement escorts.
Agents wearing U.S. Customs shirts met him as he left the jet before other passengers. They then disappeared from the view of reporters on the flight.
His day of wining and dining over, Karr was expected to spend the night in a single cell in the high-security Twin Towers jail, where he will await an extradition hearing on a request to move him to Boulder, Colo.
“He is going to be housed here in the men’s jail, kept in isolation in a 6-by-9 room with a bed, a toilet no windows and no phones,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore told reporters awaiting Karr’s arrival at the jail. “He’ll get regular food. He’ll get jail chow, he won’t get king crab, I’ll tell you that.”
No luxury in jail
Sheriff’s Capt. John Franklin said Karr would fill out medical history forms, shower, pose for a mug shot and be dressed in “jail blues and tennis shoes.”
Booking usually takes up to four hours, Franklin said, but would be rushed in Karr’s case to protect him and deputies from inmates who often target suspected child molesters.
“This is not the boys’ club,” Franklin said. “They don’t like that. So for his safety and the safety of the deputies, he’ll be moved to his cell as quickly as possible.”
Jail guards would check on Karr every 15 minutes, said sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Lendman. He was expected to be charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault in connection with the young beauty queen’s 1996 killing.
Karr voluntarily returned to the U.S. and was not handcuffed in his business class seat.
A hearing was expected to take place in Los Angeles within a few days, and if Karr agrees to waive extradition, he will then be taken to Boulder County, said Carolyn French, spokeswoman for the Boulder County district attorney’s office.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’ office had not received word of an imminent hearing, spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.
“We’ve been presented with nothing,” Gibbons said. “If that is going to happen, no one has notified our office.”
Just before Karr boarded the flight, another bombshell emerged: Reports that he sought treatment at a Thai sex-change clinic.
Champagne, king prawns
Karr, dressed neatly in a red, short-sleeve, button-down shirt and black tie, was not handcuffed while being whisked through Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok. At a Thai Airways International departure gate, he talked amiably with fellow passengers.
The 41-year-old teacher sat in a window seat next to Mark Spray, an investigator with the Boulder County District Attorney’s office. A U.S. Embassy official and an agent with “Homeland Security” on his T-shirt were also part of the escort party.
Before takeoff, Karr took a glass of champagne from a flight attendant and clinked glasses with Spray, who sipped orange juice.
Dinner on board, served on a starched white tablecloth with silverware, was one many passengers would envy. Karr started with a pate, then had a green salad with walnut dressing. The main course was fried king prawn with steamed rice and broccoli, followed by a slice of Valrhona chocolate cake for dessert. Karr drank a beer, crushing the can with his hands when it was empty, then moved on to a glass of French chardonnay with his main course.
He later dined on roast duck with soy sauce and yellow noodles, and for his third meal quickly ate a piece of pizza served with chocolates and a bottle of Evian.
“It seems odd to me. If there is an arrest warrant issued, he ought to be under arrest,” said former Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant, who was involved in the Ramsey investigation. “It is very strange. Whoever is in control of him ought to make sure he isn’t doing things like drinking champagne.”
A gum-shoe tactic?
Other experts called the royal treatment a brilliant strategy intended to get the suspect relaxed enough to talk more.
“There is always a reason when the unusual happens,” said Denver attorney Larry Pozner, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Though Karr appeared relaxed for most of the flight, chatting with Spray, his expression grew more serious when the plane was just over an hour from its scheduled landing. His eyes darted around to see who was watching him.
Asked by an AP reporter about his conversation with Spray, he said it was “small talk.” Still, Spray took notes on some of Karr’s remarks.
He stopped chatting when television news crews on the flight turned their cameras on. Then he stopped smiling, clutched the armrests of his seat and stared at his lap.
Karr did not speak to reporters, but at one point summoned the AP reporter over to his seat. He mentioned an interview she had given, recalling that someone asked her what he was like.
“You said I looked you straight in the eye when I talked to you and I want to tell you I appreciate that, I thought it was nice,” Karr told the AP reporter.
Karr appeared to order the drinks himself, and instigated conversations with investigators.
Also during the flight, Karr flipped through the movie channels and watched “The Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise. He also dozed on and off, and two guards accompanied him on several trips to the bathroom, each time leaving the door slightly ajar.
Karr had the Dan Brown book “Digital Fortress” but did not spend much time reading it. At one point he changed out of the red shirt and tie, replacing them with a blue polo, but then changed back into the shirt and tie before the landing.
Sex-change doctor claims Karr a client
Just hours before Karr’s departure, a doctor at a seedy but popular clinic in downtown Bangkok specializing in sex-change surgery said Karr had come in for treatment.
“He was one of my patients,” Dr. Thep Vechavisit of the Pratunam Polyclinic said. He refused to provide further details.
Another employee at the clinic, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, said Karr had talked with the doctor about a sex-change operation. This could not be confirmed by other sources.
Bangkok, where Karr lived on and off for two years, is regarded as a major global center for sex change operations. The Pratunam clinic advertises sex-change surgery for $1,625 — a bargain compared to U.S. prices, where male-to-female reassignment surgery can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Thep has received considerable publicity for his male-to-female operations and the clinic is one of the sponsors of an annual beauty pageant for transsexuals in the seaside resort of Pattaya.
E-mails shine light on psyche
Karr appears to have been shadowed by gender issues since his early years, according to excerpts of e-mails published in the Rocky Mountain News that Karr wrote to University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey.
Karr said his father was a “strong influence but rarely around,” and responded to Tracey’s question about whether his “fascination with little girls — which clearly has a strong erotic component — is a way of going back.”
“Maybe I am not going back but have simply stayed consistent,” Karr responded. “My peer group has not changed since I was a little boy, and girls were the people I was with always. Referring to them as a peer group is somewhat incorrect, but might also be the very definition of what they continue to be in my life.”
Karr, once detained on charges of possessing child pornography, in recent years apparently traveled to Europe, Central America and Asia to search for teaching jobs. He taught in at least two Thai schools.
U.S. officials, the only ones to have actually interrogated Karr, have been silent about what he told them, citing his right to privacy and legal procedures. Secondhand accounts by Thai officials have been vague and contradictory.
Karr told reporters Thursday that he was alone with JonBenet when she died in the basement of her home on Dec. 26, 1996, but that her death was an accident.
However, there is little public evidence linking him to the crime, prompting some experts to speculate that he is either lying or delusional..