Remains of Katelyn Markham decomposed before being dumped, anthropologist says

John Carter charged with murder in Fairfield cold case.

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser revealed details about the Katelyn Markham homicide case during an arraignment Monday for John Carter, the man who was her fiancé at the time of her death who has been arraigned for murder.

Gmoser pointed to the anthropology report that deduced the 22-year-old suffered trauma and that said her remains were not originally in the Indiana location where they were found.

But the report is not new. 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 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. Markham had been missing from her Fairfield townhome for nearly two years.

The skull was found inside a knotted plastic grocery bag, according to the report obtained by the Journal-News. 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.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The state of decomposition indicates “broadly” that 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.

There was no other trauma found to the remains, but a fourth wrist wound is noted that could have been caused by an animal.

Nawrocki said the wrist wounds “may be dismemberment marks rather than defensive wounds. The specific characteristics of the weapon cannot be determined other than it was bladed.”

The report concluded evidence points to the remains being taken to Indiana while already decomposed or at least in a partially-disarticulated state.

“The lack of carnivore gnawing is unusual for human remains exposed on the ground surface in a rural area, which may suggest that the body was indoors or in a protected spot for the early to middle stages of decomposition,” Nawrocki said. “It is possible that some of the missing bones may still be at that original spot, having been missed when the remains were scooped up for transport.”

This report was available to Fairfield Police in 2013. They made no arrest in the case. It was not in the possession of the prosecutor’s office until they opened an investigation about 18 months ago.

A recent search of the residence where Carter was living in 2011 turned up a folder of writings by Carter, Gmoser said. The writings were not dated, but Carter’s name was on the binder and “John A. Carter” are on two of the passages.

Gmoser read portions of the writings in court that are dark and talked about death.

One 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.”

Gmoser read another passage that he said was written on a door in the residence “I slit your wrists with the key to your heart.”

He said the writings show the “struggle of the demon within” Carter.

The door was taken as evidence the prosecutor said. He would not comment on if the residence had been searched by investigators in the past.

Carter’s attorney Chris Pagan said the 34-year-old father now lives in Hamilton with his fiancée and is the father of a toddler with another child due in September. He has worked as a glass blower since 2014.

Pagan said in court documents, “the defendant suffers from PTSD and depression ...”

In a third passage read by Gmoser, Carter allegedly writes, “I know I will bury the body in the backyard, no I’ll bury it under the trailer and wait until the grass grows over it and leave before anyone reports it missing. Yes, that’s a great idea.”

Gmoser then told the judge the evidence is that Katelyn Markham’s remains were found years after she disappeared “in a bag 30 miles from her residence.”

“This body was meant to disappear and never to be found,” Gmoser said. He again referred to the anthropologist’s report stating, “the place where the body was ultimately found was probably not the place where the body was first deposited.”

Judge Dan Haughey noted Carter has strong family ties to the community, his employment and the seriousness of the charge during the arraignment before setting bond at $1 million cash, property or surety.

Pagan entered a not guilty plea to the charge of murder on Carter’s behalf. He is scheduled to be back in court next week for a pretrial hearing.

It took 12 years of investigation by multiple police agencies before the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Carter, 34, on March 22 in Markham’s death. Her remains were found in Indiana in 2013.

Dave Markham said after learning his late daughter’s fiancé was behind bars and charged with her murder, he always suspected Carter had something to do with his daughter’s death.

“I chose my words very carefully in the past,” Dave Markham told the Journal-News.

He believes his daughter may have been trying to get away from her relationship with Carter in 2011, and that’s when everything went wrong.

Carter is charged with two counts of murder under two sections of the law. The prosecution is not alleging Carter is responsible for two deaths.

According to the grand jury indictment from March 13 that was unsealed Thursday, one count is for the alleged purposeful killing, and the other is allegedly killing a person while committing a felony.

Carter’s arrest came nearly a month after Jonathan Palmerton was indicted for perjury. He is a friend of Carter’s and a member of a tight circle of friends that included Markham.

Markham was a 22-year-old art student when she vanished in August 2011. Her skeletal remains were found April 7, 2013, in a remote wooded area in Indiana about 30 miles from her home. Her death was ruled a homicide, but the cause of death has not been determined, and remained unsolved until Wednesday.

Palmerton, 35, of Fairfield, has a pre-trial hearing April 20. He is free on $50,000 bond set by Butler County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer McElfresh.

On Feb. 17, search warrants were executed at Carter’s former Fairfield residence where his mother lives and other residences of relatives of friends, according to Gmoser. Investigators from his office and the Fairfield Police Department also dug up yards looking for evidence, which was taken from the yards and homes.

Evidence was taken from the yards and homes. But Carter was not arrested at that time. Palmerton was arrested Feb. 17 when he showed up for work at a Fairfield restaurant.

What happened to Katelyn Markham and how she died has remained a mystery, despite a $100,000 reward and the efforts of multiple police agencies, private detectives, television shows and a movie.

Markham’s disappearance in August 2011 was treated as a missing person case by Fairfield police when she vanished from her Dorshire Drive residence. She did not show up for work at David’s Bridal near Tri-County Mall.

Carter, called 911 to report her missing. In the call Carter said, “I know you’re not supposed to report a missing person before 24 hours, but my fiancée is missing, and I can’t find her anywhere.”

Markham left her car, keys, dog, and all personal belongings with the exception of her cellphone, at her townhouse. Her cellphone was turned off at about 12:45 a.m. Aug. 14, 2011. The GPS device on her phone also was turned off.

Police and volunteers searched for months and then years for the missing woman.

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