Published May 24, 2010
He's baaaaack . . . And he's stranger than ever.
When the world first saw John Mark Karr in 2006, he was being led to a plane in handcuffs in Thailand after confessing — falsely, it turned out — to the 1996 murder of 6-year-old beauty princess JonBenet Ramsey.
When the world last saw him, in 2008, he was also being led away in handcuffs — after being arrested in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend at his parents' house in Atlanta.
Two years later, Karr is back — the subject of an unofficial nationwide manhunt being conducted on Twitter, Facebook and other places on the Web that is as strange and intense as the man — or woman — himself.
Police in Seattle and San Francisco are also looking for him — or, perhaps, her, because Karr claims he has had a sex change operation in the past two years and now goes by the name of Alexis Valoran Reich, or, occasionally, "Delia Alexis Reich."
Or perhaps that's just a ruse, Karr posing as a woman to avoid being recognized. A Facebook page, recently removed, showed him as a woman in his profile picture, and he has reportedly been taking hormones in preparation for a sex-change operation.
The accusation this time is that Karr, 46, a reputed pedophile who married a 13-year-old and later a 16-year-old in the 1980s, has been trying to create a cult of JonBenet Ramsey lookalikes he is calling "the Immaculates" — blond girls as young as 4 years old with small feet — and has been threatening harm to one of the girls, whom he used to recruit others and who escaped from his influence.
The news of the cult and the fresh accusations come from 19-year-old Samantha Spiegel, who says she met Karr when she was 9 and he was a teacher's aide at the elite Convent of the Sacred Heart Catholic School in San Francisco, where he briefly taught her fourth-grade class.
Spiegel says they reconnected two years ago after she saw Karr on television at a court hearing and contacted him. That began an intense relationship over the Web that involved thousands of e-mails, which she says convinced her she was special to him and was destined to recruit his "Immaculates."
When Karr proposed to her and she accepted, Spiegel's parents intervened and sent her to a rehabilitation facility for 18 months to break her connection with him. But for two years, she says, Karr "demanded" that she try to recruit young girls into his cult. She says that when she emerged from treatment, Karr — now Reich — found her and, failing to reconnect, began a campaign of threats.
"He said if I got in the way of him and his little girls, he would have me hunted down and killed," Spiegel said at a hearing in San Francisco last month at which she got a restraining order against him.
She said she was certain that he was living as a woman in order to get close to little girls. She also produced e-mails for the court in which Karr said: "I want to hurt you."
She responded, "You do?"
"If you deceive me," he replied, "I will kill you. I know where you live."
In one of his last messages, on April 10, Karr wrote: "If you cost me my little girls I will hunt you down and kill you."
San Francisco police have asked Seattle law enforcement for help in finding Karr.
But if Karr is caught, the charge against him will be only for cyberstalking because he has had little personal contact with his alleged victims,according to Robin Sax, a former sex crimes prosecutor and pro bono attorney for Spiegel.
The search for Karr has painted a disturbing picture that chillingly mirrors that of cult killer Charles Manson. Sax says the investigation so far has revealed that "Reich" has as many as 30 "minions" — or followers — who provide him with food, money and computers so that he can travel, survive, communicate with them and remain a phantom. She says those "minions" are also his recruiters for "the Immaculates."
"He often lives in homeless shelters and uses Craigslist to find rooms for a few days at a time and eats in soup kitchens," Sax said. "He usually wears a turtleneck to hide his Adam's apple. He is open about his transgender status.
"And he is a talented genius on the computer," she said, explaining that he uses it to control his followers and to play a game of cat-and-mouse with his pursuers.
"He checks my website 80 times a day," she said.
Private Internet investigators say Karr/"Reich" runs a website that promises to be the only place on the Web that tells the truth about him. Written in the third person and called Lei Sussurra — Latin for "I murmur" — it claims that Karr was "reported by family to have left the United States in September 2008. It has since been reported that he has returned to the U.S. under various names. Latest reports place him out of the U.S., but his whereabouts and the life he leads are purely speculative."
Searchers say the claims are designed to confuse their hunt for Karr. "A recent picture taken for a driver's license in Washington shows he has totally changed his appearance," Sax said. "He has highlighted hair and is trying to look younger." She said Karr was last seen living in a shelter for battered women in Seattle.
Karr/"Reich" failed to respond to e-mail messages from FoxNews.com seeking comment at multiple Web addresses he is known to use.
Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the San Francisco District Attorney's office, said that Karr's case was under investigation and she couldn't comment further. But, she said, investigators hope that the next time they see Karr, he'll be back in handcuffs.