When Photos, Memories Are A Little Hazy

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 26, 2006

So you've maybe got a famous murderer in the family. Or you were married to one. He's extradited, he's very much in the news, and he's just as creepy as you remember him. You'd like to smack him upside the haid. You'd also like to prove to the world what a complete, dweeb-faced liar he is.

To do that, however, the world needs for you to please go into your spare closets and basements and look for old Christmas photos of him, specifically from Dec. 26, 1996, to prove he wasn't in Boulder, Colo., with the dying JonBenet Ramsey, as John Mark Karr claims he was. The 41-year-old confessionalist will appear in court Monday in Boulder, and he still has yet to have his odd I-am-responsible-for-her-death story completely blown apart by that most efficient means of truth-telling: the family fact-check.

Karr's second wife, Lara Knutson, is convinced that there was a never a Christmas in the '90s where she wasn't with him, and about this her lawyer is quite emphatic. Implied in this is how stuck she was with him, too. She is still reportedly rooting through old paperwork and/or pictures, looking for miserable, but helpful, proof.

Imagine how that feels -- the world drums its fingers while you try to locate old stuff that demonstrates that one Christmas really can be different from all the others.

Christmas 1996. Not 1993, not 1994, not 1997.

One thing about life is you can always count on your family to call you on your BS. If they won't, then the people you went to high school with will gladly chime in. (One of Karr's former classmates has already produced the yearbook he signed, with its eerie similarities to the ransom note the Ramseys said was left in their house on the day they found JonBenet dead.)

But where are those old Christmas videos anyway? Did we send them to Bob Saget? Did you ever convert them to DVD? Did we throw them out? We might have. Remember the garage sale? Remember when you forgot to pay rent on the storage unit and, yeah, well, let's not chat about that. Okay, what about some Visa receipts for plane tickets, that kind of thing? Show us something to disprove his claim to have done things to that poor little girl.

Go ahead. We'll wait.

Rock stars and fanciful memoirists are often exempt from the truth that your family is only too happy to publicly correct. Everyone else must pass muster with the people who know them best.

Karr's father and half brother are also on the case, letting the world know through their attorney and on "Good Morning America" that Karr never went to Boulder, never had a dime to spare for things like last-minute plane tickets, and just isn't the kind of fellow who could get it together enough to pull off a sophisticated, no-traces crime, and was either with one part of the family in Georgia, or with another part in Alabama on that holiday. "It's not as easy as you might think to remember 10 years ago," Nate Karr, the half brother, said on TV, according to the Associated Press. But he wanted to his brother to know: "We love you and we support you 100 percent. . . . Help's on the way."

This branch of the family also signed over the rights to a possible movie deal this week, which their attorney said is to help pay for college costs for Karr's three children. They also dug through pictures and came up with one of Karr's kids visiting with the family at Christmastime 1996, in Atlanta, which they say means Karr also had to be there.

Alas, he is not in the picture, they said. And anyhow, what about the picture proves that it was in 1996? (Are there Spice Girls in it?) So the family keeps searching, at cross-purposes: If you find evidence he was with you that Dec. 26, then you've also just soured your movie deal.

Pictures lie in all sorts of ways, and so they do not always aid those many families who specialize in a never-ending debate about what happened when. In some families, everyone is literally a lawyer, and so a get-together can collapse under the heated discussion of whether an event occurred in 1983 or 1982.

In many other families, everyone just acts like a lawyer. Evidence is submitted (photos, birth dates, graduation years, weddings, deeply held resentments over ill-received Christmas gifts, memories of a Top 40 song from a certain summer), and even then the jury can remain deadlocked. Mom, with all her authority, cannot solve these debates, and often she instigates them with her own fuzzy inaccuracy. Dad, who should be a Solomon, pretends not to listen.

Perhaps Karr did not grow up in one of these families. He lived among people for whom 1996 was just another damn year. There have been a lot of Christmases without him. Indeed, the family has said they wrote him off for dead -- without actually locating him, or filing some of the paperwork that could literally write a man off. In this way, they leave a lot to be desired as completionists, archivists, or the kind of folks who'd simply keep the photo albums organized. They are destined to disappoint the prosecutor and defense attorney who dwells within each cable-news viewer.

The Karrs obviously need some more scrapbookers in their lives. What JonBenet Ramsey had in terms of home videos and photographs, the Karrs do not seem to possess. In the course of writing feature stories or filming documentaries, a journalist will surely come to rely on the scrapbooker-aunt type, who excuses herself to a guest room mid-interview and will always emerge with the right evidence, the right picture, the right scrap of dress material or recital program, the right yearbook. Defense lawyers also adore this particular relative.

So you may have a murderer in the family.

Well, you'll show him. You'll show CNN, too. You'll go through every one of these shoeboxes, and then everyone will see how right you are.

An alibi: It can be such a nice thing to have, in most families.


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