Idaho Murders: What We Know (2023)


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A man who was studying for a Ph.D. at a nearby university is accused in the stabbing deaths of four undergraduates at the University of Idaho.

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Idaho Murders: What We Know (1)

By Mike Baker and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Though a suspect has been arrested and charged in the brutal stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students in the middle of the night last fall, a series of mysteries remain about why the victims were targeted and what evidence prosecutors have against the suspect.

Bryan Kohberger, 28, who was a Ph.D. student in criminology at a nearby university at the time, has been in jail since December, when he was arrested in the Nov. 13 killings that sent fear through the normally peaceful college town of Moscow, Idaho.

Mr. Kohberger did not enter a plea at a hearing on May 22, but he has said through his lawyers that he expects to be exonerated. His trial is scheduled to begin in October.

An affidavit filed by investigators included many details about how the police had come to suspect Mr. Kohberger, but the authorities have not detailed any motive for the attacks.

The judge overseeing the case has imposed a gag order that has prevented the police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and lawyers for the victims’ families from discussing the case.

The police have said the killings took place sometime around 4 a.m., after the victims — Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20 — had spent a typical Saturday night out near campus. They returned to the house in the early hours of Sunday.

In court documents, the police said that a combination of evidence had led them to arrest Mr. Kohberger at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, after the case had remained unsolved for more than six weeks. Chief among that evidence is a leather knife sheath that was left on a bed in one of the two bedrooms where the murders took place. A Moscow police corporal said in an affidavit that DNA was found on the sheath, and that tests of DNA taken from Mr. Kohbergers’ parents’ home indicated that the sample from the knife sheath could be his.

A police affidavit said investigators also relied on records from cellphone towers, and on surveillance video of a car seen in the area of the house that night.

One key item that did not appear in the documents was a weapon. Investigators have been searching for a long knife that they believe was used in the attack.

Here’s what else is known so far.


Idaho Murders: What We Know (2)


A white car and an intruder wearing black.

The victims returned home by about 2 a.m., the authorities said. More than an hour later, a white car appeared in surveillance video in the neighborhood. The victims’ house was on a dead-end street, but the white car — identified by investigators as a Hyundai Elantra — could be seen passing by the house several times, including at 4:04 a.m., when the car returned and did a three-point turn in the road near the house.

One of the victims, Ms. Kernodle, appears to have been awake at the time, having just received a DoorDash order. Her phone also indicated that she had been using the TikTok app, investigators said.

One of the surviving housemates reported being awake around that time as well; she told the police that she had heard sounds upstairs that she thought were from Ms. Goncalves playing with her dog. She told investigators she also heard what sounded like crying coming from Ms. Kernodle’s room, down the hall from her own on the second floor, along with a male voice saying something to the effect of, “It’s OK, I’m going to help you.”



At 4:17 a.m., according to investigators, a security camera in the area captured distorted audio of what sounded like a whimper and a loud thud. A dog was heard barking.

The surviving housemate said that she looked out her bedroom door to check on the noises, and was stunned to see a man in black clothing and a mask walk past her, toward a sliding-glass door at the back of the house. The housemate told the police she went back into her room and locked the door; what she did next was unclear. No one called the police for more than seven hours.

At about 4:20 a.m., the white Elantra could be seen in video footage driving away from the neighborhood, investigators said.

Later that day, the four victims were found stabbed to death in two bedrooms.


A car, phone records, and a search through trash.

Investigators who arrived at the crime scene found the knife sheath with a U.S. Marine Corps logo lying on the bed next to Ms. Mogen, who was found dead in the same bedroom as her longtime friend, Ms. Goncalves.

Later, as they began searching for the car seen in the video footage, the police at nearby Washington State University found a white Elantra registered there, identifying the owner as Mr. Kohberger. Investigators said his physical features matched the description of the attacker that was offered by one of the surviving housemates.

Shortly before Christmas, investigators obtained phone records showing that on the night of the killings, Mr. Kohberger’s phone had stopped connecting to the cellular network at 2:47 a.m., when he was in Pullman, where the Washington State campus is.

Investigators suggested that the phone might have been shut off to obscure Mr. Kohberger’s location. When the phone reconnected at 4:48 a.m., it was south of Moscow and followed a route back to Pullman.

Mr. Kohberger’s phone was in Moscow, in the area near the crime scene, later that morning, investigators said. The phone’s history also reflected that it had been in the area of the house 12 times in the months before the murders, according to the affidavit.


Idaho Murders: What We Know (3)

By the end of December, Mr. Kohberger had returned to his parents’ house in Pennsylvania. He had driven with his father on a cross-country road trip, during which they were pulled over twice for tailgating. Each time, they were let go with a warning. At that point, Mr. Kohberger had a new Washington State license plate on his car, something he had obtained five days after the killings, records show.

The police tested DNA from trash found at the family’s Pennsylvania home, and arrested Bryan Kohberger Dec. 30 in a predawn raid. He was later extradited to Idaho.


Kohberger was a criminal justice student.

As a teenager, Mr. Kohberger wrote online about his struggles with dissociation, suicidal thoughts, a lack of emotion and minimal remorse. In 2018, he described to a friend a nearly lifelong struggle with depression, but said he was doing well and had stopped using the heroin that he had turned to when he felt suicidal.

Later, he developed an interest in criminals, telling one friend that he saw himself one day working with high-profile offenders. He enrolled at DeSales University, a Catholic institution in Center Valley, Pa., where he studied in part under Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychologist whose books include “The Mind of a Murderer” and “How to Catch a Killer.” He received a bachelor’s degree from DeSales in 2020 and completed a master’s degree in June 2022.

Last year, in a post on Reddit, a user who identified himself as Bryan Kohberger asked people who had spent time in prison to take a survey about their crimes. The survey listed Mr. Kohberger as a student investigator working with two professors at DeSales, and it asked respondents to describe their “thoughts, emotions and actions from the beginning to end of the crime commission process.”

In recent months, Mr. Kohberger had been studying at Washington State, about a 10-minute drive from the University of Idaho.

In the days before the killings, one classmate recalled, Mr. Kohberger had been highly engaged in a discussion about forensics, DNA and other evidence that prosecutors use to win convictions. In the days after the killings, records show, he was still grading papers in his job as a teaching assistant.


Jason LaBar, a public defender in Pennsylvania who initially represented Mr. Kohberger when he was arrested there, said Mr. Kohberger’s parents and sisters want justice for the victims, but are also standing behind Mr. Kohberger, who continues to communicate with them by phone from jail in Idaho.

“They believe in his innocence until proven otherwise,” Mr. LaBar said.



Here’s what we know about the victims.

Madison Mogen, who went by Maddie, was a senior from Coeur d’Alene who was majoring in marketing. Her grandmother, Kim Cheeley, said Ms. Mogen had always been a gentle and caring person who kept many long-term friendships and close ties with an extended family.

Ms. Mogen’s boyfriend, Jake Schriger, said she had been excited for graduation next year and had talked about wanting to explore other parts of the world. Ms. Mogen always spread positivity and brought acts of kindness to others, Mr. Schriger said, adding that he hoped people would remember her for the love she had given to others.

Ms. Mogen’s father, Ben Mogen, said he did not believe that anyone who had a personal relationship with Ms. Mogen or her friends would be involved in killing them.

“If you knew them, then you loved them,” he said.

Kaylee Goncalves, who was from Rathdrum, Idaho, had been set to graduate early in December and had planned to move to Austin, Texas, with one of her close friends in June. The friend, Jordyn Quesnell, said Ms. Goncalves had secured a position with a marketing firm and was excited to explore more of the country.

“We wanted that adventure,” Ms. Quesnell said. “I would be like, ‘Let’s go do this,’ and she’d be like, ‘Down!’”

Alivea Goncalves, Ms. Goncalves’s older sister, said Kaylee and Ms. Mogen had served as bridesmaids for her wedding.

Ethan Chapin, from Conway, Wash., was one of a set of triplets and had spent much of Nov. 12, the day before the killings, with both of his siblings, who are also University of Idaho students, their mother, Stacy Chapin, said. In the evening, they all attended a dance held by his sister’s sorority, she said.

“My kids are very thankful that it was time well spent with him,” Ms. Chapin said. “He was literally the life of the party. He made everybody laugh. He was just the kindest person.”

Mr. Chapin played basketball in high school and was known by friends and family members for always having a big smile, ever since he was a baby. Ms. Chapin described her son as “just the brightest light.”

Xana Kernodle grew up in Idaho but had spent time in Arizona in recent years, according to an interview that her father, Jeffrey Kernodle, gave to an Arizona TV station.

Mr. Kernodle told the station that his daughter was strong-willed and had enjoyed having an independent life in college.

He said his daughter had apparently tried to fight her attacker, an account backed up by the coroner. Mr. Kernodle expressed shock that his daughter could have been killed while at home with friends.

“She was with her friends all the time,” Mr. Kernodle said.

Serge F. Kovaleski and Anushka Patil contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy, Sheelagh McNeill and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

Mike Baker is the Seattle bureau chief, reporting primarily from the Northwest and Alaska. @ByMikeBaker

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports on national news. He is from upstate New York and previously reported in Baltimore, Albany, and Isla Vista, Calif. @nickatnews

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