“This is done by subjects in an effort to avoid alerting law-enforcement that a cellular device associated with them is within a particular area where a crime is committed,” Moscow Police Department Corporal Brett Payne wrote in an affidavit.
As they tried to find the killer, police used video clips and social media posts to track the victims’ movements the previous evening. One clip that received widespread attention was of Goncalves and Mogen visiting a food truck, their presence captured on a live video feed usually used by patrons to see how long the lines are.
Police said the footage gave them a time and a place, allowing them to track the victims and
establish more of a timeline.
By 2 a.m. the morning of the attack, all six people inside the home were in their rooms, investigators determined, but they also knew Kernodle was waiting for a DoorDash food delivery, which arrived around 4 a.m., court documents say.
Investigators say they believe the killings happened in the next 25 minutes. And although one of the surviving roommates reported seeing a tall masked man with bushy eyebrows inside the home — but apparently didn’t tell anyone, call 911 or check on her roommates — police had little to go on.
That changed as they used security camera footage to track vehicles entering the otherwise quiet residential area.
Footage from one camera shows a white sedan repeatedly driving past the home, arriving in the area the last time at 4:04 a.m. and then leaving “at a high rate of speed” at 4:20 a.m., according to the court documents. Because officers couldn’t see a front plate, an FBI agent who specializes in vehicle identifications examined the video and concluded it was likely a 2011-2016 Hyundai Elantra sedan.
Investigators then worked backward and found what they believed to be the same car as it left nearby Pullman, Washington — home to Washington State University — at 2:44 a.m. and headed to Moscow, and then back again to the WSU campus area at 5:25 a.m., the affidavit outlines. It’s unclear exactly when police viewed that camera footage.
And although the public didn’t yet have the description of the suspect provided by one of the surviving roommates, police said they
could see Kohberger fit the profile: Tall, thin and with bushy eyebrows.
MORE: How did investigators use DNA profiling to identify the suspect in the Idaho student killings?
When police reviewed Kohberger’s cell phone location history, they saw he’d been near the victims’ home at least 12 times in the proceeding months — and once again a few hours after the killings, according to the arrest documents.
All the police work to that point was
circumstantial evidence. Nothing yet tied Kohberger to the house itself. The cellphone location data analyzed by Moscow police did not provide specific locations, only general areas.
there was the DNA.
Left behind at the house after the Nov. 13 attack was a sheath for a large fixed-blade knife, and on that sheath, enough DNA material to develop a profile. It’s unclear how long it took Idaho authorities to develop that profile, but it was useless without someone to compare it to.
“All of that other evidence, even the eyewitness evidence, down to the cell phone, down to the car, really is just corroborating the DNA,” said Ritter, the former prosecutor. “All along, the very large elephant in the room would be the DNA on the knife sheath.”
Unresolved questions, unclear motive
Days after the attack, Kohberger switched the license plates on his car.
For months, he’d been driving around with a Pennsylvania plate on the back, but not on the front. On Nov. 18, he registered the car in Washington state and got new plates. A few weeks later, he drove back home to Pennsylvania with his father.
A license-plate reader caught the car as it entered Colorado. Body-camera footage released by Indiana State Police this week shows a trooper stopping Kohberger and his father — with Washington plates on the Hyundai — on Dec. 15. Authorities in Indiana said they weren’t looking specifically for Kohberger at the time. He was
released without being ticketed.
MORE: TikTok tried to solve the Idaho murders. Instead, it fueled an online witch hunt.
As Kohberger spent time with family back home in Pennsylvania, authorities were close by. On Dec. 27, just days after tracing his cellphone records and linking his vehicle to the crime scene, investigators snatched trash from outside his parents’ home in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania.
They produced a DNA profile the next day, finding that a man who lives there was 99.9% certain to be the father of the person who left the DNA on the knife sheath.
Authorities got the DNA report Dec. 28.
Kohberger was arrested the next day.
AN ARREST: Suspect in killings of Idaho college students arrested in Pennsylvania; authorities mum on motive
BACKGROUND: University of Idaho students slayings ‘took our innocence,’ authorities say
“This is still a skeleton of the evidence they have. But just in reading this, this looks like a tremendously strong case because they did that police work,” said Ritter, the former prosecutor. “On their own, these things might be suspicious. But when you start putting them all together, they start to build into probable cause and what you’d need to secure an arrest warrant.”
Despite the assortment of evidence, there are
still holes and questions in the case. Authorities have yet to publicly establish any motive or say whether Kohberger even knew the victims. Police also have not disclosed why the students’ fellow roommates did not call authorities and why they weren’t alerted until nearly 8 hours after the killings.
Eytan, the Colorado defense attorney, cautioned against a rush to judgment in the case. She said police usually put their best evidence into an arrest affidavit, and the court documents released by authorities have a lot of holes. She said there are many reasons why someone’s DNA could be present on an item in a stranger’s house — and there’s no evidence to say whether Kohberger had been to the house before.
“What’s seen in an affidavit is usually the best evidence and what’s noticeable here is what’s missing,” Eytan said. “There’s a lot of conclusions reached that aren’t backed up.”
Eytan recently represented a man accused of killing his wife, and said in that case, investigators’ reliance on cellphone data later proved inaccurate. Prosecutors have dropped charges against the man, largely because his wife’s body remains missing.
“It’s important to keep an open mind and it doesn’t appear law enforcement has done that,” she said. “They honed in on this white car and worked back from there.”