JonBenet suspect arrives in US to face charges

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John Mark Karr, the school teacher who emerged last week as a suspect in the 10-year-old JonBenet Ramsey murder case, was confined to a high-security prison cell in Los Angeles yesterday and served with a murder warrant after his return to American soil on board a flight from Thailand late on Sunday night.

His arrival in the US came as speculation continued about the reliability of the confession offered after his arrest in Bangkok last Wednesday, in which he said he was with JonBenet when she was murdered in her parents' Colorado home in December 1996, calling her death an "accident".

Authorities in Boulder, Colorado, remained hopeful that several years after the trail went cold on a case that had gripped the public imagination in the United States, they may finally have the person responsible for the death of a blonde six-year-old girl who had been entered by her wealthy parents into children's beauty pageants.

After disembarking from the business class cabin of a Thai Airways flight, Mr Karr, 41, was met by Los Angeles police and taken by helicopter to jail where he was placed in an isolation wing with no concessions to comfort - a quick downgrade from the luxury of his flight.

"He is going to be housed here in the men's jail, kept in isolation in a 6-foot by 9-foot room with a bed, a toilet, no windows and no phones," Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, said. "He'll get regular food. He'll get jail chow, he won't get king crab, I'll tell you that."

The quick-fire unfolding of events over recent days has included revelations that Mr Karr had undertaken the first stages of an eventual sex-change procedure in Bangkok.

Yesterday, a dermatologist at the Siam Swan Cosmetic Clinic said he had his sideburns and facial hair beneath the chin removed. "He wanted to prepare himself to do a sex-change operation," Dr Settharkarn Attakonpan said.

With Mr Karr due to go before an extradition hearing in Los Angeles in the next few days, the pace may now slow down. If he waives extradition, he may be transferred directly to Boulder to face possible trial. If he does not, however, the extradition case could drag on for weeks.

Said by other passengers on the flight to have been relaxed throughout - even to the extent of enjoying duck and champagne - Mr Karr has been travelling around Europe and Asia for years, taking short-term teaching positions.

He was arrested by Thai police on suspicion of first degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.

However, with no evidence having yet been made public directly linking him to the murder of JonBenet, doubt still lingers over the reliability of Mr Karr's original confession.

Some of his claims do not appear to match some of the circumstances of the case. He said, for instance, that he had picked JonBenet up from school before her death, but the six-year-old was not at school at the time because she was off on holiday for Christmas.

One possible link between him and the murder was reported yesterday by NBC News, which said that it had acquired a high school yearbook signed by Mr Karr in which he had written to a friend, "I Shall be The Conquerer [sic]".

This has raised interest because the ransom note left in the basement where the little girl was killed ended with the initials "S.B.T.C". Detectives have never been able to discern what they meant.

However, in another puzzling discrepancy, the former wife of Mr Karr told a San Francisco television station that she was all but certain that her former husband had spent all of the 1996 Christmas holiday with her and his family, suggesting he could not have been in Colorado to commit the murder.