DNA on a knife sheath found next to one of four Idaho students killed in November was matched to the PhD student charged in the stabbings, and a surviving housemate saw a masked man leaving the home at about 4 a.m., with no one calling police until noon, according to court records unsealed Thursday.
The new details offer a glimpse into how investigators say they tied Bryan Kohberger, 28, to the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students.
Witness account, phone records, DNA evidence
Authorities relied on a witness account, a car spotted near the scene of the crime, cellphone records that allegedly show Kohberger near the victims’ home at least 12 times between June and the day of the killings, and DNA on a button snap of the knife sheath that matched a sample taken from trash at his family’s home, according to the court records.
The revelations come after weeks with few updates from authorities about the investigation, inspiring internet sleuthing and far-fetched theories. The new details also highlight how much police were able to keep from leaking to the public before they were ready to make an arrest. Kohberger has been charged with four counts of murder, as well as burglary.
The killings shocked the college town of Moscow, Idaho, and prompted a seven-week search for a suspect that drew thousands of tips and involved Idaho State Police and the FBI. Kohberger’s arrest Friday at his parents’ home in northeast Pennsylvania, more than 2,000 miles from the killings, marked a major break in the case.
Kohberger appeared in court in Idaho for the first time Thursday after he agreed to be transferred from Pennsylvania. He did not enter a plea and is being held without bail in the Latah County jail. His public defender in Pennsylvania, Jason LaBar, previously said Kohberger expects to be exonerated.
During the hearing, Kohberger’s attorney, Kootenai County public defender Anne Taylor, said she had not yet reviewed much of the case information. She said Kohberger “has a good family that stands behind him,” the Idaho Statesman reported.
Kohberger could face the death penalty. He spoke during the hearing only to say “yes” when the judge asked if he understood the charges against him, the Statesman reported. About 65 people attended the hearing, including family members of the victims, according to the newspaper.
“It’s obviously an emotional time for the family, seeing the defendant for the first time,” Shanon Gray, a lawyer for the family of Kaylee Goncalves, one of the victims, told reporters after Thursday’s hearing. “This is the beginning of the criminal justice system, and the family will be here for the long haul.”
Officials previously had said little about the person they believed was responsible for the stabbings of 20-year-olds Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle and 21-year-olds Goncalves and Madison Mogen at their off-campus home. Police have not revealed a potential motive, and they are banned from commenting publicly under a gag order that a judge issued Tuesday.
The probable cause affidavit released Thursday did not provide details about how the suspect might have known the victims. The weapon has also not been recovered, police said.
On the night of the killings, Mogen and Goncalves had been out in Moscow together, while Chapin and Kernodle - a couple - were at Chapin’s fraternity house before all four returned to the women’s home. Two surviving roommates, who have not been publicly identified, found one of the victims the next day. They called friends to come over, and the group called 911 at 11:58 a.m.
Now, police say one of the roommates, identified in the affidavit by the initials D.M., went to sleep but was waked at about 4 a.m. by the sound of what she thought was Goncalves playing with her dog. She then thought she heard Goncalves say something like, “There’s someone here.”
D.M. looked outside her room and didn’t see anyone, the affidavit said.
Then, she thought she heard Kernodle crying and looked back out. She told investigators she thought she heard a man say something to the effect of: “It’s okay, I’m going to help you.”
Though police previously reported the victims had been stabbed in their sleep, the affidavit indicates that at least one of them may have been awake just before the killings. Kernodle, who had just received a DoorDash delivery, was probably scrolling on TikTok, her phone history showed.
At about 4:17 a.m., a security camera at a home next door, near where Kernodle’s room was, captured what sounded like voices or a whimper and then a loud thud, according to the affidavit. A dog was also heard barking.
When D.M. looked outside her room again after hearing crying, the affidavit said, a man wearing black clothes and a mask walked past her as she stood frozen. She didn’t recognize him, she told investigators.
On a bed next to Mogen’s body, police said they found the tan, leather knife sheath stamped with a Ka-Bar Knives logo and the U.S. Marine Corps insignia.
An Idaho state lab discovered DNA on the left snap of the sheath, and investigators said they matched it with male DNA found on trash from the Kohberger family home in Pennsylvania. Authorities had recovered the trash Dec. 27, three days before Kohberger was arrested.
Surveillance footage from the Moscow neighbourhood showed a white Hyundai Elantra circling the victims’ house multiple times in the hour before the killings, investigators said. The car passed by the home three times after 3:29 a.m., leaving each time.
It came back a fourth time at 4:04 a.m., when the driver appeared to attempt to park or turn around on the street. The car was next seen on neighborhood surveillance footage at 4:20 a.m., speeding away.
Twelve days after the stabbings, investigators asked police to look out for a car matching the description of one seen near the scene.
Investigators had initially believed the car that cameras captured leaving the scene was a 2011-2013 Hyundai Elantra, a description they shared with the public. But the affidavit reveals investigators later realized it could be a car from 2011 to 2016. After Kohberger’s arrest, Moscow police said they had seized a 2015 white Hyundai Elantra.
A police officer at Washington State University, where Kohberger was working toward a doctorate in criminology, spotted his car four days later and ran the license plate through the department’s tracking system.
Police noticed that Kohberger’s driver’s license information and photo matched D.M.’s description of the person she had seen, a 5-foot-10 or taller man who was athletically built with bushy eyebrows, the affidavit said.
Kohberger had changed the registration of his car from Pennsylvania to Washington state five days after the killings, according to the affidavit and records released by the Washington Department of Licensing. His license plate had been set to expire Nov. 30.
Upon examining Kohberger’s driving records, police discovered that he had been pulled over in August and gave a deputy his phone number.
A search warrant issued for Kohberger’s phone revealed that the device was near the victims’ home at least 12 times between June and the Nov. 13 killings, typically in the late evening and early morning, the affidavit said.
Kohberger’s phone didn’t connect with cellphone towers there around the time of the killings, which police attributed to the suspect concealing his location. His phone was reporting to the network until 2:47 a.m. that day and then did not ping again until 4:48 a.m. on a state highway south of Moscow, as if it were turned off or put in airplane mode, the affidavit stated.
The phone appeared to be near the crime scene again at 9 a.m., after the stabbings.
The affidavit also reveals that Kohberger applied in the fall for an internship at the police department in Pullman, Wash., where Washington State University is. He had recently moved to Washington after completing a graduate degree at DeSales University, a private Catholic institution in Pennsylvania, in June.
In an essay for his internship application, the affidavit said, Kohberger wrote that he was interested in helping rural law enforcement agencies collect and review data.
Investigators said they also found a Reddit post from his account about a survey seeking to “understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision-making when committing a crime.”
In early December, Kohberger and his father began to drive from Washington State University to the family’s home in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania.
'Following too closely'
On Dec. 15, a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy stopped Kohberger on Interstate 70 in Indiana for “following too closely” and released him with a verbal warning, the sheriff’s office said.
Body-camera video from that stop shows Kohberger and his father telling the deputy that they were traveling from Washington State University to Pennsylvania.
They also mentioned an incident from earlier that day in which police in Pullman, Washington, fatally shot a man who was allegedly threatening to kill his roommates.
About 10 minutes after the first stop, an Indiana State Police trooper pulled over Kohberger for the same reason and also let him go with a warning, state police said.
“At the time of this stop, there was no information available on a suspect for the crime in Idaho, to include identifying information or any specific information related to the license plate state or number of the white Hyundai Elantra which was being reported in the media to have been seen in or around where the crime occurred,” the sheriff’s office and Indiana State Police said in separate statements.