A globe-hopping US schoolteacher today admitted to the killing of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, climaxing a decade-long hunt that had mesmerised the American public and left a cloud of suspicion over her family.
The suspect, John Mark Karr, 41, was arrested yesterday in Bangkok by US and Thai officials halfway around the world from Boulder, Colorado, where the lifeless body of JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in her parent's basement on December 26, 1996.
An investigation that seemed to go nowhere, lurid details and striking videos of the girl coquettishly performing in child pageants propelled the case into one of the highest-profile mysteries in the US, where it raised questions about putting children on display in beauty contests.
Some feared the case would never be solved, and as investigators failed to produce suspects, some suspicion fell on the girl's parents, John Ramsey and his wife, Patsy, who died of cancer in June.
"I was with JonBenet when she died," Karr told reporters in Bangkok, visibly nervous and stuttering as he spoke. But he said her death was "an accident."
"No," he answered when asked if he was innocent.
Karr, dressed in a turquoise polo shirt and khaki trousers, spoke briefly to reporters after a news conference by Thai and American authorities. He declined to say what his connection was to the Ramsey family or how long he had known JonBenet.
Thai police official Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul said Karr admitted to the killing after he was arrested at a Bangkok guest house, but that he said it was a kidnapping attempt gone awry and that he had not intended to kill her.
An official with the US Department of Homeland Security, Ann Hurst, who joined Suwat at a news conference, said Karr would be taken to the United States within this week.
He faced first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, sexual assault on a child, and other charges in the US state of Colorado, she said.
Karr had been in Thailand five times over the past two years, arriving most recently in Bangkok on June 6 from Penang, Malaysia, Suwat said. He was looking for a teaching job in Thailand, Suwat said.
Suwat told reporters that Karr insisted his crime was not first-degree murder.
"He said it was second-degree murder. He said it was unintentional," Suwat said. He said Karr told Thai interrogators that he picked JonBenet up at her school and brought her to the basement.
"He said he loved this child, that he was in love her. He said she was very pretty, a pageant queen. She was the school star, she was very cute and sweet," Suwat said.
The Thai officer quoted the suspect as saying he tried to kidnap JonBenet for a 118,000 dollar (£62,000) ransom but that his plan went awry and he strangled her to death.
Hurst said Karr, who had travelled extensively across the world, may also be connected to a prior case in Santa Rosa County, California. She did not provide further details.
Asked how long he had been a suspect, she said: "A long time. I can't say specifically."
Hurst, with the department's US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Bangkok, said that Karr had left the United States several years ago and had not returned.
Karr apparently claimed to have a succession of teaching assignments in online CVs purportedly posted to seek work abroad giving English lessons.
The resumes of John Karr are posted on at least two websites, based in South Korea and Los Angeles, with the picture of a man who strongly resembles the man who appeared before reporters today in Bangkok.
The CVs suggested that Karr travelled the globe teaching as a private tutor and at schools in Europe, Asia and Latin America over the past several years, though none of the positions that he claimed to hold could be immediately verified.
One CV claims Karr was employed "in some of the most prestigious schools in the United States, working with children from high-profile families" between 1996 - the year JonBenet Ramsey was killed - and 2001.
The CV on the Los Angeles-based website says Karr was in Asia, Central America and Europe from 2001 to 2005, working as a private teacher in Germany and the Netherlands for three families with young children from 2002-3.
While in Germany working for a family with girls, ages five and eight, and a 10-year-old boy, the posting says Karr helped with homework and played outside with the children.
"I made sure the children had their evening bath, then put them to bed and read to them before they went to sleep," the CV says.
In addition to teaching, the CV says Karr can play several unspecified musical instruments, that he writes poetry and also has acting ability.
Suwat said US authorities informed Thai police on August 11 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Karr on charges of premeditated murder. The warrant was sent to Thai police yesterday, the day he was picked up in Bangkok.
"Through investigation we were able to determine where his residence was and the Thais arrested him at his residence," Hurst said. "He did not resist. He did express surprise," she said, describing his reaction when confronted by both Thai and US officials.
ICE had assisted the Boulder County District Attorney's Office and the Royal Thai Police in the investigation.
When asked how he could travel abroad for so many years, and whether he was independently wealthy, Hurst responded: "We're asking the same questions."
Police said Karr had been living in a dormitory-style hotel called The Blooms in a Bangkok neighbourhood of massage parlours and travel agents that cater to expatriate residents and sex tourists.
The nine-storey hotel offers rooms for as short as three hours from £4 and monthly stays starting from £92.
The district attorney in Boulder, Colorado - Mary Lacy - said the arrest followed several months of work.
The Ramsey family's attorney in Atlanta said the man was a schoolteacher who once lived near the family in Conyers, Georgia, before they moved to Colorado.
The Ramseys learned that police were investigating Karr at least a month before Patsy Ramsey's death in June, the family said.
In a statement, John Ramsey said that his wife "would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development almost 10 years after our daughter's murder."
Investigators said at one point that JonBenet's parents were under an "umbrella of suspicion" in the killing, and some news accounts cast suspicion on JonBenet's older brother, Burke. But the Ramseys always insisted an intruder killed their daughter.
Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved.
Later, as he was escorted to his lodgings by US and Thai authorities to pick up his belongings, he said: "I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet. It's very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much - that her death was unintentional. That it was an accident."
Asked what had happened in the basement, he said: "It would take several hours to describe that. It's a very involved series of events that would involve a lot of time. It's very painful for me to talk about it."Reuse content