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NORWALK, Conn. — For more than 32 years, the Flynn family had more questions than answers when it came to the homicide of their beloved 11-year-old daughter, Kathleen.
Since that morning in September 1986 when Kathleen was found slain in the woods near Ponus Ridge Middle School, the people overseeing the homicide investigation have changed many times over — as have some of the suspects — but their end goal never wavered. Investigators wanted to find the person responsible for the death of an innocent sixth grader and provide her family with some sense of closure.
On Tuesday, current and former police officers alike gathered at the Norwalk Police Department for a press conference to announce that they believe they have done just that.
Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, former police chief and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, and Crime Scene Unit Commander Art Weisgerber addressed the arrest of 53-year-old Marc Karun for the first time since he was captured by police in Stetson, Maine, on June 12.
“After working on this case for all these years, bringing it to closure is nice, but I still think it’s bittersweet because nothing will bring back Kathleen Flynn,” said Weisgerber, the lead investigator of Norwalk’s two-man cold case unit.
Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik thanked the many investigators who have presided over the case since September 1986. Those efforts paled in comparison, he said, to the suffering endured by the Flynn family over that time.
“Our hearts go out to the Flynn family. We can only imagine what they had to and continue to endure for all these many years. We are extremely happy that we are able to bring some sense of closure to them,” Kulhawik said.
Kulhawik had been a patrol officer of three years at the time of the homicide. As a young officer, he said, seeing how seasoned detectives reacted to the investigation hit home just how unusual the crime had been.
“I just remember it was a very shocking time for the department. This case was something really different than anything we’d ever faced before,” Kulhawik said.
While the Flynn family grieved their unfathomable loss, Rilling said, the grisly crime had a ripple effect around the community as a whole.
“This crime shocked the core of this city,” Rilling said. “It changed the way people lived. People no longer allowed their children to walk to school. People were afraid when they didn’t hear from their children for an hour or so. It was a very, very difficult time.”
Rilling, a lieutenant in the department’s Training Division at the time, said one of the first things he did upon becoming police chief in 1995 was prioritize the Flynn case.
“We had weekly meetings and updates on this particular homicide, and we discussed other cold cases,” Rilling said. “Certainly, this case here should give other people whose family members have been victims hope, knowing that we never give up, that a homicide case is never closed.”
Weisgerber assumed control of the Flynn homicide in 2002. Since then, he said, he’s combed through a thick binder containing information on the case more than 50 times in his spare time.
Through the years, the case saw leads come and go but it was not until the emergence of DNA technology that the department finally began to see results. While some of the DNA tests came back inconclusive, Weisgerber said the results helped to weed out many suspects.
Other tests, he said, helped to pinpoint Karun as their suspect. One such test in 2011 matched Karun’s DNA to that of some found in a fingernail scraping from Kathleen’s body. Despite the match more than eight years ago, the results needed to be tested and verified before any action was taken.
“We waited until validation was complete and then we actually had additional testing done by the Connecticut State Forensics Lab to see if we could get any better evidence,” Weisgerber said.
Weisgerber also confirmed that there is further evidence, which has not yet been made public, that is still under evaluation.
Karun’s arrest last week marked the fourth cold case homicide closed by the Norwalk Police Department in the past two years.
“This shows that although cases may be cold, they are never closed. Our investigators will continue to work diligently to see that justice is served,” Kulhawik said.
Karun, who grew up in Norwalk and lived less than 2 miles from the school at the time, had been suspected by police as early as two weeks after the middle-schooler’s body was found, police said.
In January 1986 — eight months before Kathleen was killed — Karun was charged with raping a woman at knifepoint in the woods behind what is now Norwalk Community College. He was arrested on charges of first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping, but the kidnapping charge was dropped and the sexual assault charge was reduced when the victim did not testify. As a result, Karun served only a few months in prison.
Between 1986 and 1988, Karun was implicated in at least two other rapes, an abduction and an attempted kidnapping, according to an arrest warrant. During one of these incidents, Karun told a rape victim — a complete stranger — that “he would either have to marry her or kill her if she became pregnant,” the warrant said.
Karun was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison for his two-year crime spree and was later entered into the sex offender’s registry for life.
Karun is being held at Bridgeport Correctional Center on $5 million bond on charges of murder with special circumstances and first-degree kidnapping. The murder with special circumstances charge is an offense defined as a murder that occurred during the course of a kidnapping, sexual assault or other felony or involves the death of a child under the age of 16.
The penalty in Connecticut, if convicted, is a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
This article originally appeared in The Hour of Norwalk, Connecticut. It appears here through a collaboration between the BDN and Hearst Connecticut Media.