A White Sedan: Key Clue In The Idaho Murders

The white sedan passed the gray three-story rental house on a cul-de-sac in Moscow, Idaho. Then again and once more.

It was unusual behavior in the hillside residential neighborhood in the quiet hours before dawn. And according to a police affidavit released Thursday, surveillance video showing the vehicle that night in November was key to unraveling the gruesome mystery of who killed four University of Idaho students inside the house.

With few leads as a panicked community demanded answers, investigators reviewed neighborhood security video — including footage of the car speeding away after the killings — to get an idea of ​​the killer’s possible movements, according to the affidavit. .

In the end, the document added, police were able to reduce what was at first vaguely known as a white sedan to a 2015 Hyundai Elantra registered to Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old doctoral student in criminology at Washington State University ( WSU), just across the border in Pullman, Washington. Additional investigation showed a match between Kohberger and DNA at the crime scene, he explained.

Kohberger had an initial hearing in an Idaho court Thursday following his extradition from Pennsylvania, where he was arrested last week. His attorney has not immediately responded to a request for comment, though Jason LaBar, the public defender who represented him in Pennsylvania, has said he is eager to be exonerated and should not be tried “in the court of opinion.” public”.

“Tracking movements in public is an important technique when no suspect has been identified,” said Mary D. Fan, a professor of criminal law at the University of Washington. “You can see motions in public even if you don’t have probable cause to get a warrant. We live in an age of ubiquitous cameras. This is an outstanding account of what joining audiovisual data can do.”

The first time the car passes the house was recorded at 3:29 a.m. on November 13, less than an hour before Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin were stabbed to death in their rooms, Moscow Police Officer Brett Payne wrote in the affidavit.

The vehicle passed two more times and was recorded a fourth time at 4:04 a.m., Payne wrote. It was not seen on the footage again until it sped away 16 minutes later.

“This is a residential neighborhood with a very limited number of vehicles moving through the area during the early morning hours,” Payne wrote. “Upon reviewing the video, only a few cars enter and exit this area during this period of time.”

An FBI forensic examiner determined the car was likely a 2011 to 2013 Hyundai Elantra, though he later said it could be a model year up to 2016, according to the affidavit.

Surveillance footage from the WSU campus offered more promising information: A similar vehicle left town just before 3:00 a.m. on the day of the murders and reappeared on cameras in Pullman just before 5:30 a.m. in the morning, it was indicated in the affidavit.

On November 25, the Moscow Police Department asked regional police to search for a white Elantra. Three nights later, a WSU police officer made an inquiry about any white Elantras on campus.

One result showed one with a Pennsylvania license plate and registered to Kohberger. Within half an hour, another campus official located the vehicle parked at Kohberger’s apartment complex. He showed that he had a Washington state registration tag. Five days after the murders, Kohberger changed registration from his home state of Pennsylvania to Washington, according to the affidavit.

Investigators now had a name to go on, and a subsequent investigation turned up more clues. Kohberger’s driver’s license listed him as 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and 185 pounds (84 kilograms), and his license photograph showed that he had bushy eyebrows—all details consistent with a description of the attacker given by a surviving roommate, according to the affidavit.

Further investigation revealed that Kohberger had been pulled over by a Latah County, Idaho, police officer in August while driving the Elantra. Kohberger gave the officer a cell phone number.

Already having that number, Payne obtained search warrants for the phone’s historical data. Location data showed the phone was near his Pullman home until about 2:42 on the morning of the murders. Five minutes later, the phone began using cellular resources located southeast of the home, consistent with Kohberger’s southbound trip, according to the affidavit.

No other location data from the cell phone was available until 4:48 a.m., suggesting that Kohberger may have turned it off during the attack in an effort to avoid detection, according to the affidavit. At this point, the phone began to take a roundabout route back to Pullman: it traveled south to Genesee, Idaho, then west to Uniontown, Washington, and north to Pullman, just before 5:30 p.m. the morning—about the same time the white sedan appeared on the city’s surveillance cameras.

So far the reason for the attack is unknown.

Kohberger opened the mobile phone account on June 23, according to the affidavit, and location data showed that he had traveled to the neighborhood where the victims were killed at least a dozen times before the attacks. All of those visits occurred late at night or early in the morning, the affidavit revealed, and it was on one of those trips that police stopped him on Aug. 21.

The cell phone data also included another chilling detail, according to the affidavit: The phone returned to the victims’ neighborhood hours after the attack, around 9:00 a.m. But although one of the surviving housemates had seen a strange man inside and heard crying after 4:00 a.m., the murders were not reported to police until later that day, and there was no police response at the scene. of the crime at 9:00 in the morning.

Although police had realized that Kohberger, with his 2015 Elantra, was a person of interest for November 29, he issued a press release on December 7 asking for the public’s help in finding a white 2011-13 Elantra. . He suggested that said vehicle had been near the home early on November 13 and that any of the occupants “may have critical information to share about this case.”

It was not clear why police issued that request, but law enforcement agencies sometimes use public statements of this kind to mislead suspects and prevent them from knowing they are under suspicion. Tips poured in, and investigators soon announced they were reviewing a pool of around 20,000 potential vehicles.

Kohberger apparently stayed at WSU until mid-December, when he drove to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, accompanied by his father, in the Elantra. While driving through Indiana, Kohberger was stopped twice on the same day for failing to keep his distance.

On December 27, Pennsylvania police recovered trash from the Kohberger family home and sent DNA evidence to Idaho, according to the affidavit. The evidence matched DNA found on a knife sheath button recovered at the crime scene, he said.

Kohberger is charged with four counts of first degree murder and burglary. A status hearing in the case is scheduled for January 12.


Associated Press writer Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.

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