John Carter plea ends years of agony for Katelyn Markham family, investigators

Investigator asked prosecutor to reopen 2011 case ‘frozen in time’ after disappearance and death of art student.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Dave Markham sat with his daughter, Ally, front and center Friday morning in a Butler County courtroom, awash with grief and a bit of anger as John Carter — the man who was once his older daughter Katelyn’s finance’ — admitted to his part in her death.

It took 13 years from her disappearance until a guilty plea, with two of those years not knowing if his 21-year-old art student was dead or alive after vanishing from her Fairfield townhouse in August 2011.

Her remains were found dumped in Indiana in April 2013, not far from a farm owned by the Carter family.

No arrest came, despite many years of investigation by police, private detectives and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. That ended on March 2023, when Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser announced the indictment of Carter for murder after an 18-month investigation by his office.

Gmoser said after Friday’s pleading: “(This) brings absolute undeniable finality to the question of who is responsible and accountable for the disappearance and death of Katelyn Markham.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Gmoser said the investigation into Markham’s death was “frozen in time” until his cold case investigator, Paul Newton, noting the crimes of tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse had expired because of the statute of limitations.

Carter, who was scheduled to go to trial in about a week, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony. He faces a maximum of three years in prison, but he could get community control. He remains free on the $1 million bond he posted after arraignment in April 2023.

The charge is a third-degree felony because the underlying crime is a misdemeanor assault, according to prosecutors.

‘Hardly feels like justice’

Dave Markham met with prosecutors Thursday, and he said he understands the plea deal.

“I have so much to say ... not sure where to start. Hardly feels like justice for Katelyn. His plea brings a max (of) three years. Not happy, but I understand and support Butler County prosecutors,” Markham told the Journal-News.

Dave Markham left without comment after the hearing, but the family noted a gathering for Katelyn was planned for Saturday in Fairfield.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County Sgt. Rob Whitlock and Detective Joe Nerlinger attended the hearing, but no Fairfield officers were there. Police Chief Steve Maynard told the Journal-News all the investigators directly involved “had conflicts and could not attend.”

Maynard said, “We are pleased that the case has concluded and that Mr. Carter has accepted responsibility for his actions. This case, which has haunted our community for many years, has finally been brought to a resolution, hopefully providing closure to the family and loved ones of Katelyn.”

Whitlock was emotional when he watched the plea and in his comments after.

‘It was always John’

“There was never a doubt to either one of us who was responsible for her disappearance and her death. It is a good day; it is a great day,” Whitlock said.

He and Nerlinger said they eliminated 20 persons of interest in their four-month investigation.

In December 2015, Dave Markham called a press conference and begged the sheriff’s office to investigate his daughter’s case. The plea came more than four years after she disappeared and two years after her remains were found in Indiana with no arrest by Fairfield detectives.

“It was always John,” Whitlock said.

He said Carter did not pass multiple polygraphs during years of investigation.

It would be another seven years before the largely circumstantial case without a “smoking gun,” as Gmoser said, would result in an arrest after the prosecutor’s office probe.

Speaking after sentencing

Carter said “guilty” Friday to Judge Dan Haughey, who set sentencing for July 18.



Prosecutors said Friday that on Aug. 13, 2011, or Aug. 14, 2011, Carter did cause the death of Katelyn Markham by commission of misdemeanor assault. His attorney, Lawrence Hawkins III, said he stipulated to that statement of facts in the crime.

Katelyn Markham was days away from her 22nd birthday when she disappeared.

Carter was hustled out of the courthouse quickly after the hearing, flanked by two of his attorneys. A third defense attorney, Chris Pagan, was not in attendance.

Hawkins said the defense had no comment at this time, but, “I think after sentencing I am sure John and his mom will have things they want to say — once we get past sentencing.”

Circumstantial evidence

Gmoser told the Journal-News the case was largely circumstantial, but pointed to Carter. That included previously available evidence, new evidence gathered by the prosecutor’s investigator and Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress, plus residences searched by officials, including the Fairfield home of Carter’s mother.

“The case presented the most extensive and challenging collection of circumstantial evidence never before seen in this office to reach the guilty plea,” Gmoser said.

A large piece of the case was the anthropology report that deduced Katelyn Markham — who was days from her 22nd birthday — suffered trauma and said her remains were not originally in the Indiana location where they were found.

The report was not new to law enforcement, but it was new to the prosecutor’s investigator. It’s dated June 8, 2013, and authored by Dr. Stephen Nawrocki of the University of Indianapolis Archeology and Forensics Laboratory. It’s likely why, even without a cause of death, Franklin County, Ind., Coroner Wanda Lee in 2013 ruled Katelyn Markham’s death a homicide.

Nawrocki, along with forensic scientists Jessica Campbell and Madison Earll, first examined the remains on April 19, 2013, days after they were found on Big Cedar Road in Cedar Grove, Ind.

The skull was found inside a knotted plastic grocery bag, according to the report. There was very little soft tissue, decomposition fluid or staining inside the bag, “indicating that the head had not decomposed in the bag, but that it was placed inside after the head had already undergone significant decomposition,” Nawrocki reported.

The state of decomposition indicated “broadly” that Katelyn Markham died one to two years prior to recovery, according to the report.

Three small incised wounds or cut marks caused by “sharp force trauma” were found on Markham’s left wrist, the report states. One wound is described as a v-shaped incision that shaved off a layer of the bone. The report says it was caused by a weapon.

“The instrument that caused these incised wounds cannot be determined from the available evidence, but it is clear that the weapon had at least one sharp, knife-like edge,” Nawrocki said in the report.

Plea agreement

The two sides appeared headed for trial this month, with Carter’s defense team filing a notice of alibi last month after prosecutors issued 80 plus subpoenas for witnesses and each side stipulated to authenticity of documents.

Prosecutors turned over hundreds of documents, reports, pictures, maps, cellphone and computer data, search manifests, witness statements and work product in the case from police and a private detective.

However, Gmoser on Friday said the plea agreement was offered by the defense and accepted by his office “to reach the guilty plea today and end the dissembling of the defendant and his alibi that have gone on for way too long.”

About the Author