NORWALK, Conn. — A convicted sex offender living in Maine has been charged in the death of an 11-year-old Connecticut girl who was raped and strangled on her way home from school more than 32 years ago.
Marc J. Karun, 53, of Stetson, is charged with murder with special circumstances and first-degree kidnapping in the strangulation death of Kathleen Marie Flynn, police officials in Norwalk, Connecticut, said Thursday. Karun was arrested outside his home Wednesday by Maine state troopers.
"The arrest occurred while Lt. Art Weisgerber and Sgt. Alex Tolnay were in Bangor, Maine, to execute an arrest warrant for Marc Karun for the sexual assault and murder of Kathleen Flynn on Sept. 23, 1986," according to a news release from the Norwalk Police Department.
The Flynn family released a statement through the Norwalk Police Department in which they thanked cold case detectives for bringing Kathleen’s alleged killer to justice.
"This continues to be a very difficult time for us and we do not wish to make any further comments," the statement read. "We ask the media to please respect our privacy."
Norwalk cold case investigators said Kathleen was walking home on a path that went through woods on the campus of her school, Ponus Ridge Middle School, when she was abducted. Her parents reported her missing that evening when she failed to make it the half mile home.
Karun's arrest affidavit, which was obtained by WCSH in Portland, stated that police and firefighters who searched throughout the night found the girl's duffel bag around 2 a.m. the next day. Her sneakers and socks were found nearby.
Kathleen’s body was found in the woods, 158 feet off the path, around 90 minutes later. Police officials said an autopsy determined she had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Kathleen, who turned 11 the month she died, was in middle school for just a few weeks before she was killed, a
, she was slain a few hundred feet from the athletic fields where the school’s soccer and field hockey teams were practicing.
Karun, who in 1986 lived a few miles from the school and the Flynn home, found himself at the top of investigators' list of suspects early in the investigation. Then 21 years old, he already had convictions for violent sexual assaults, the Courant reported.
In one of those cases, he was arrested on kidnapping and sexual assault charges in January 1986 after he attacked a student at Norwalk Community College, the newspaper reported. According to his arrest affidavit in the Flynn homicide, the first-degree charges were reduced to a single charge of fourth-degree sexual assault less than a month before the middle schooler's slaying.
Karun was sentenced to a six-month executed sentence, WCSH reported.
There were similarities, including the use of ligatures to bind his alleged victims, between the Flynn case and the sexual assault cases Karun was implicated in both before and after Kathleen’s slaying, the arrest document said.
The affidavit stated that Karun changed his story multiple times about where he was on the day Kathleen was slain. He initially told investigators Oct. 9, 1986, that he went to the girl’s middle school around 3 p.m. – 20 minutes after students were dismissed and Kathleen ultimately vanished -- “to see some teachers,” the document said.
He alternately said he went to the school to speak with the school librarian and that he walked the path from which Kathleen disappeared, WCSH reported. School librarians later told investigators they did not recall seeing a man fitting Karun's description.
A hall monitor who was in the library at the time also did not remember seeing Karun that day.
School staffers who were shown a photo of Karun the day after his first police interview recalled him as a former student with "many serious problems," the affidavit said.
Karun later told detectives he thought he was elsewhere, looking for work, the day Kathleen was taken. He denied involvement in the case and a detective described his demeanor as “cooperative, but very nervous and apprehensive,” the news station said.
Over the next 16 years, Karun racked up charges in several additional violent sexual assaults, landing him on the sex offender registry for life. According to the Courant, he was convicted of first-degree sexual assault in New Canaan and Derby.
The Derby assault, which took place in April 1988, involved a 16-year-old girl, WCSH reported. The following month, Karun assaulted a woman living in his former apartment, which he apparently was able to enter without forced entry.
He was identified as a suspect in that case in 2018 through DNA evidence, the news station said.
Karun was arrested in two additional cases in May and June 1988, according to court records. Inside his apartment, police found pornographic photos, along with a letter describing a sexual assault.
Flynn cold case investigators, who in 2016 began looking again at the DNA evidence taken from Kathleen’s body, obtained Karun’s DNA in October 2017, when Maine state troopers collected buccal swabs from him, the affidavit said.
One of the main reasons for obtaining the sample, according to the affidavit, was for comparison to DNA evidence found underneath Kathleen’s fingernails, as well as foreign hair found on her body.
"The forensic evidence tested in this investigation has included Marc Karun through the use of mitochondrial DNA for the male Caucasian pubic hair fragment recovered from the lower abdominal area of Kathleen Flynn in a sexual assault murder," the document stated, according to WCSH. "Identified Marc Karun in the form of a CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) hit in the Connecticut offender database from a profile developed from the left middle fingernail scraping of Flynn with the knowledge from autopsy reports and photographs that Kathleen Flynn struggled with her assailant in an effort to free herself of the ligature around her neck."
More recent testing of scrapings from Kathleen's left thumbnail was inconclusive regarding Karun, but investigators were able to eliminate two other "persons of interest" in the case, the affidavit said.
Kathleen was the second child, and only daughter, of James and Esther Flynn, who owned a fish-and-chips restaurant in nearby Rowayton. A profile of the cold case published by the Courant in 2000 described her as a chatty but sometimes shy girl who collected Strawberry Shortcake dolls and rode a lavender bicycle she received for her final birthday.
She had a dog named Lady who awaited her return from school every afternoon. Kathleen cheerily greeted her father, who died last year at the age of 76, each morning: "Hello, my daddy."
Jim Flynn Sr., accompanied by a brother-in-law and the family's priest, had the grim task of identifying his daughter's body after her death, the Courant said.
The Rev. Victor Martin, the associate pastor at the family's church, told the Times in 1986 that Kathleen was an excellent student in both school and her religion classes at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Norwalk.
"Such a beautiful little girl. Always a smile," Martin told the newspaper.
She was often seen alongside her older brother, Jim Flynn Jr., helping at the family’s restaurant. The family was close-knit, Martin said.
“They were very happy,” the priest said.
The Flynns spoke in 2000 of the daily reminders they had of their daughter, and of how she died. According to the Courant, the couple kept their daughter's First Communion dress, drawings and other crafts she had made, including a Christmas ornament she made for her father a couple of years before she died.
They gave her bike to one of her close friends.
Esther Flynn, a high school math teacher, also spoke at that time of their knowledge that police had a suspect who was the “primary focus” of the investigation. That suspect has since been publicly identified as Karun.
In 2000, investigators told the Courant they were considering trying to link Karun, who was then in prison, to the crime through mitochondrial DNA testing of hair found at the crime scene.
Mitochondrial DNA testing can link DNA evidence to a family tree, but not to any one individual.
Then-Norwalk police Chief Harry Rilling told the newspaper it would be a gamble to attempt mitochondrial DNA testing -- and use up a portion of the evidence -- when better, more exact testing could be around the corner.
"With other information we have and things that we investigated in the past, it might be enough to get an arrest and a conviction. However, a year from now, two years from now, what might be available to us that might be able to identify a person to the exclusion of everybody else in the entire world?" Rilling, who is now Norwalk's mayor, said in 2000. "We have to roll the dice at some point."
It was not clear if investigators did mitochondrial testing at that time.
Esther Flynn told the Courant back then that she and her family held out hope for an arrest in her daughter's killing, even after so many years.
"I think that would help with a little bit of wondering, the who," she said. "The why, I don't think we'll ever know. I don't think we'll every know the answer to, 'Why did this happen?'
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