False Confessions 101

Why John Mark Karr pretended he killed JonBenet.

Prosecutors will not charge John Mark Karr with JonBenet Ramsey’s murder, after tests failed to match Karr’s DNA to that of the hair and saliva found at the murder scene back in 1996. Karr was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, earlier this month, and he publicly confessed to having been with JonBenet at her death, which he claimed was accidental. Why do people confess to crimes they didn’t commit?

When the story first broke, Daniel Engber explained that people sometimes make false confessions to gain attention—or because they are obsessed with a case. He wrote, “Someone might make a voluntary false confession if he wanted to be famous. Several hundred people claimed to have abducted the Lindbergh baby, for example, and more than 30 confessed to the Hollywood ’Black Dahlia’ murder in the 1940s. … If Karr did lie to the police, it may be because he became so immersed in the high-profile case that he started to think he’d committed the crime. Reports say Karr had been working for several years on a book about JonBenet’s murder, and child murders in general.”