John Carter case: Unsealed docs reveal insights, but no cause of Katelyn Markham’s death

Prosecutor says case is circumstantial, but there is compelling evidence.

Unsealed search warrants in the John Carter case outline the county prosecutor’s office investigation into the 2011 death of Katelyn Markham: It points to circumstantial evidence for the murder charge against the man who was her finance’, using computer data, cell phones and witness statements, but it does not give a cause death or proof she was killed.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said the case is circumstantial, as are many, but that doesn’t mean the evidence, coupled with corroborating experts and witnesses, isn’t compelling.

“Even a body is not necessary to have a conviction for murder,” Gmoser said. “Defendants are still proven guilty without a body. That’s not an impossible situation.”

But it is rare, Gmoser said.

In 2021, Middletown mother Brittnay Gosney was convicted of killing her 6-year-old son, James Hutchinson, then throwing his body in the Ohio River. The boy’s body was never found, but Gosney confessed and pleaded guilty to the murder before receiving a 21-years-to-life sentence in prison.

Horrific home security cameras videos showed proof of the boy’s body being carried to and fromGosney’s house she shared with James Hamilton, who was also convicted in connection with the abuse of her children and disposing of Hutchinson’s body.

In the Carter case, the victim’s body was found in April 2013 — nearly two years after Markham vanished from her Fairfield townhouse. The condition of the remains made collecting evidence challenging.

In 2013, a group of forensic anthropologists examined the remains found dumped in Indiana and concluded the body was taken there while already decomposed. And there was trauma to Markham’s left wrist, described as “sharp force trauma” caused by a bladed weapon. The three wounds could have been made during dismemberment, the report said.

Markham’s death was ruled a homicide by a Franklin County, Ind. coroner, but the condition of the body meant a cause of death could not be determined.

In other words, science cannot determine how or if the free-spirited woman, days away from her 22nd birthday, was slain.

And there has been no confession from John Carter. The 34-year-old father was living in Hamilton and working as a glass blower when he was arrested March 22. He is currently free on $1 million bond. He has pleaded not guilty.

Gmoser told the Journal-News the investigation has continued since the affidavit for the search warrants were prepared. He said he cannot talk about further evidence in the pending case.

Carter’s defense team did not respond to requests for comment, and declined comment after recent court appearances.

According to the court documents unsealed Tuesday, witness statements from friends and observers of the couple in the days leading up to Markham’s disappearance say she was trying to break away from her engagement.

Markham said she felt “trapped” in the relationship, according to court documents.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The 24-page document with uncharged suspects’ names redacted shows the investigation by prosecutor’s investigators that began in January 2020 ,building on prior work by police on the cold case and gathering new evidence, especially statements from people interviewed in Colorado and Florida.

A friend and college classmate of Markham was interviewed by prosecutor’s investigator Paul Newton on Jan. 12, 2023 and said in August 2011, after reporting Markham missing from her Fairfield townhouse, he “repeatedly referred to Katelyn in the past tense.”

And on Aug. 16, 2011, after reporting her missing, Carter drove to Markham’s townhouse and removed mail and packages despite being urged to leave it because there was a police investigation happening, according to the court documents.

The friend told Newton that in the three to six months prior to her disappearance, Markham confided to her “(she) was unhappy being engaged to John Carter and felt trapped in the relationship.”

Markham was unhappy with Carter’s lifestyle, including what she said was heavy use of drugs and pornography, and she was “uncomfortable with the sexual activity Carter asked her to engage in,” the friend told Newton, according to court documents.

More from the unsealed documents

Others interviewed in the days before Markham went missing observed the couple acted liked like they were “breaking up” or in an argument.

Investigators pointed to inconsistent statements made by Carter over the years concerning the last time he saw Markham alive in her townhouse and what he did in the hours after. And even his version of Markham’s demeanor changed.

In interviews by Fairfield Police in 2011, Carter said on Aug. 13, 2011 he drove to Markham’s Dorshire Drive residence about 7 or 7:30 p.m. after the 21-year-old art student got off work at a David’s Bridal store.

He was at the residence until about 11 or 11:30 p.m. when he left for a party in Hamilton. Markham was preparing for bed, he said in that 2011 interview.

Carter said he returned home to his residence at that time, which is his mother’s house, between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2011 and watched television and remained there until 4:30 p.m. when he drove to work at a local pizza restaurant.

He subsequently went to Markham’s townhouse to “check on her,” and did not find her. Her dog was there along with her purse and wallet. Her cell phone was never found. Carter told police he called family and friends to see if they had seen Markham, then later called 911.

During interviews in 2011, Fairfield detectives observed scratches on the left side of Carter’s neck. He indicated it was from an electric razor, but in later interviews, he said he didn’t know where he got the scratches, according to the court document.

Cell phone data from Carter’s Cricket Android and Markham’s Blackberry show both show inactivity for hours on Aug. 14, 2011. Markham’s phone “went dark” at 12:06.13 a.m. and Carter’s went inactive at 12:04.02 a.m. for 15 hours, according to court documents.

Carter told police he deleted text messages exchanged with Markham “by accident” from 7:30 and 11:36 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2011 and a “good morning” message he said Markham sent him at 4 a.m. Aug. 14, 2011 was never found to exist, according to phone record data.

Investigators were seeking to search Carter’s mother’s residence where he lived in 2011 for the cell phone and black plastic sheeting her body was found wrapped in, as well as any of Markham’s belongings.

The most recent search

A search warrant was executed on Feb. 17, 2023. A folder containing Katelyn’s papers, roll of landscaping material in the shed, Markham’s artwork and property and writings and journals from Carter were found, according to the manifest attached to the search warrant.

At Carter’s hearing arraignment, Gmoser described the writings from Carter seized in the search show “struggle of the demon within.”

One passage read in court that Carter allegedly wrote said, “deep down I love her. You want to kill her, but I love her. She must die. I can’t kill her. Yes you can. No. Yes. How do you talk me into all these things. I am just that good.”

A download of Carter’s computer taken from his mother’s residence indicates that in the early morning hours of Aug. 14, 2011, his computer played the television show “White Collar Season 2″ episodes 12, 13 and 14 beginning at approximately 1:39 a.m. At approximately 4 a.m., his computer visited several pornography sites, according to the court document.

Later, at about 3 p.m., Carter’s computer visited a website containing “plot summaries” of the show “White Collar Season 2.”

Carter took polygraph tests in 2011 by the FBI and 2014 by Indiana State police that determined “he gave deceptive responses when he denied knowledge of or involvement in the disappearance and death of Markham,” according to the court document.

On Jan. 28, 2021, Carter voluntarily went to the prosecutor’s office for a polygraph test given by an Indiana State Police investigator.

“Like in the earlier two polygraphs, this polygraph examination showed that John Carter gave deceptive responses when he denied knowledge of or involvement in Katelyn Markham’s disappearance and death,” Newton wrote in the court document. “He specifically showed deceptive responses when asked whether he disposed of Katelyn’s body on Big Cedar Road.”

Markham’s remains were found on that road in Indiana in April 7, 2013.

At the time of Markham’s disappearance, Carter’s father owned a residence io Kokomo Hill Road in the town of Laurel, Ind. Carter admitted to police he and Markham previously visited the property and partied with close friend Jon Palmerton, according to court documents.

Newton said “the most direct route from John Carter’s residence in 2011 on West Scioto Drive to his father’s Kokomo Hill farm is on Indiana Route 252, which crosses over Big Cedar Road, the road where Katelyn Markham’s body was found.”

Palmerton is charged with perjury in connection with this investigation.

Attorney Kenneth Crehan, who is representing Palmerton, declined comment but told the Journal-News Wednesday that we he has received no discovery in the case from the prosecution. Palmerton has also pleaded not guilty to the charge of lying during an official proceeding.

Read part of the unsealed search warrant:

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

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