Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mysterious Disappearance of Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Closing In

The evidence was enough to obtain warrants to search the homes of Waters in Texas and Karr in Michigan. They found a bow saw at Waters' home, which detectives theorized had been used to dismember the bodies of the O'Hair family.

Map drawn for investigators by Gary Karr
Map drawn for investigators by Gary Karr

But it was at Karr's home that they would have greater success. He decided to confess, detailing the crimes in an eight-page signed document. Karr admitted to renting the cars and hotel rooms, then helping to bury the O'Hair family. He blamed the killings on Waters, saying he didn't have anything to do with them directly.

A case seemed ironclad against Karr, and a federal grand jury indicted him in December 1999 on five charges: kidnapping, robbery and extortion, traveling interstate to commit violent acts resulting in death, conspiracy to gain financially from a violent act, and transportation of stolen property across state lines. Opening statements began on May 15, 2000. Waters had not yet been charged, but he had been jailed for violating his probation for the atheist office embezzlement by possessing ammunition.

Tom Mills
Tom Mills

Karr's defense attorney, suggested that the O'Hair family fled the country because no bodies had turned up. "It may be the simplest explanation that she did what she said she was going to do for a year — she fled to escape the Internal Revenue Service," Mills said.

But the prosecution's star witness testified about the bloody shoes, shovel and buzz saw, gold coins and the involvement of Waters, Karr and Fry. She said all three men were staying at the apartment she shared with Waters until they inexplicably left for about a month that coincided with the O'Hair family's disappearance.

Prosecutors also found the men who stole the coins and gave them immunity for testifying. Karr was convicted on all counts except for the kidnapping charge. The conviction carried a mandatory life sentence.

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