HAMILTON, Ala. – The man who claimed he killed JonBenet Ramsey was known in his Alabama hometown for his flashy red sports car, but he was also dogged by questions about his marriages to teenage girls and behavior in elementary classrooms where he worked as a substitute teacher.
John Karr, who lived in northwest Alabama from his preteen years until after the brutal slaying in Colorado, stood out in this rural town both for his gull-winged red DeLorean and his intelligence.
"You couldn't help but like John. He always had something going," said Marion County School Superintendent Bravell Jackson, who both taught Karr and later had to fire him as a substitute teacher amid parent complaints.
• Timeline: The JonBenet Ramsey Murder Investigation
Karr received a substitute teaching certificate in Alabama in 1996. Mitch Edwards, spokesman for the State Department of Education, said the certificate was requested by the Marion County Board of Education.
Jackson said the school system was contacted Wednesday by the DA's office in Boulder, Colo., which was seeking employment records. He said the town was shook up over Karr's arrest. "It' a situation that happens once in a lifetime in a small place like this," he said.
Annulment after marriage to 13-year-old
Few people seemed to know Karr well in Alabama, yet his marriage to young brides generated plenty of talk.
Court records show a 14-year-old girl sought an annulment of their "ceremonial marriage" in 1985, claiming she feared for her life when she agreed to wed him in 1984, when she was just 13 and he was 19.
Karr admitted she was a minor, documents show, but he disputed she was 13. A judge granted the annulment, and they didn't have any children.
Karr later married Lara Karr, who was 16 when their twin daughters died the day they were born on Sept. 1, 1989. The girls, Angel and Innocence Karr, are buried in the cemetery of a rural church in a family plot.
Twins die after home birth
Former Sheriff A.C. Tice and others recalled the death of the newborns partly because of the circumstances: They were born at home rather than in a hospital.
"It seems he delivered his children at home," said Probate Judge Annette Bozeman. She said Karr was in her office frequently working on car titles.
"He had a used car business. We saw him quite often. He was a very polite fellow, but he was a little unusual," she said.
Originally from Atlanta, Karr came to live with his grandparents in Hamilton around age 12. Records indicate he remained in town through the fall of 2000, when Lara Karr transferred her voter registration to California.
Lara Karr told KGO-TV in California that she and her former husband were in Alabama when JonBenet was killed. She said she does not believe he was involved in her death.
Former neighbor Billy Compton recalled John and Lara Karr as a nice, young couple who sometimes visited his home. He had a hard time believing Karr's confession in the death of the Colorado girl.
"I'd say he didn't do it myself. He just wasn't that kind of guy," said Compton.
Karr was enrolled in the elementary education program at the University of North Alabama from the spring semester 1998 until the spring of 2000, said UNA spokesman Bill Jarnigan. He said Karr was majoring in early childhood education in nursery through third grade.
Jarnigan said Karr dropped out in spring 2000 while taking the elementary education student internship at Kilby School in Florence, where students get experience teaching in a fifth-grade classroom. Karr left UNA without graduating and the school did not recommend him "for licensure or certification" as a teacher, Jarnigan said.
Issues over relationship with girls in class
Karr left the program abruptly when issues were raised about his classroom performance, said Sandra Ford, a retired fifth-grade teacher at Kilby who supervised Karr's internship.
"We had some issues with him and I notified him that a meeting was being scheduled with him, the department head and others to discuss those issues," Ford told the TimesDaily newspaper in Florence.
Ford said the issues she questioned included Karr's relationship with girls in the class.
"I had some concerns about him early on because of the way he wanted to relate to my female students," Ford said. "During break time, he often sat on the carpet in the classroom with the girls while they were eating snacks. It gave me a bad feeling."
Greg Risner, a professor of education at UNA, told the TimesDaily he taught Karr in two classes - reading for third grade through sixth grade and first-year teaching.
"I'm just numb, and it's frightening knowing that he was here at UNA after that terrible murder occurred," Risner said. "I've never been associated with anything like this in my professional career. There's no way of knowing what might be happening in a person's life."
Risner told The Associated Press his superiors had asked that all questions about Karr be referred to Jarnigan's office.
The retired football coach at Hamilton High School, L.C. Fowler, said he remembered Karr making occasional trips to see his father in Atlanta, but didn't recall him being close to anyone. "He was just a loner. He may have had a friend or two," Fowler said.
At Bevill State Community College in Hamilton, records show Karr was a student from the fall of 1996 to the winter of 1998. School officials wouldn't comment on what classes he took.