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Officials probe cold case



Published: Thu, October 19, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



A lab is testing hair and bone fragments.

SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

SALT LAKE CITY -- An investigator trying to find a missing woman is hoping blood and hairs recovered 19 years ago will tell him what happened to her -- or at least whether he's looking in the right place.

The genetic material taken from Rhonda Fae Karren's home at the time of her disappearance has never been compared with her former husband's, said Bob Vanderbusse, the chief deputy at the Uintah County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff's office is having the materials tested now to determine whether they belong to Karren, her husband or to someone else.

Vanderbusse said the blood consists of a few droplets; the hairs were found on Karren's bed sheets.

The "person of interest" in the case remains Karren's then-husband, Mark A. Karren, Vanderbusse said. The sheriff's office served Mark Karren with a warrant Oct. 5 to collect samples of his blood, saliva and hair.

A day earlier, a crew collected what Vanderbusse said appeared to be human hair and bone fragments from a well on Colorado property the Karrens were leasing in 1987. A laboratory is testing the items.

Mark Karren has always denied having anything to do with his former wife's disappearance. The couple was living apart and divorcing when Rhonda Karren vanished. (Three years later, a judge dissolved the marriage at Mark Karren's request.)

What was discovered

Drew Christiansen, the Uintah County sheriff in 1987, said in an interview that when investigators went to question Mark Karren, they found he had sprayed water in the interior and exterior of his truck.

"He's been willing to come in and talk" but has refused to comply with certain testing, Vanderbusse said.

Rhonda Karren was last seen Sept. 28, 1987, when she drove a co-worker home. She did not arrive for work at a Kmart the next morning. Her mother, Audrey Slaugh, has said she went to her daughter's home and found items broken or knocked out of place. Rhonda Karren's keys, purse and cigarettes were in the house.

Her car was in the driveway. There were drag marks in the yard, police and family have said, where her shoes and jacket also were found.

Vanderbusse came to the sheriff's office in 1994 and reopened the case the following year. In an interview, Vanderbusse said the investigation has been hampered by police mistakes, such as failing to recognize signs of a struggle. The sheriff's office "didn't get worried" about the disappearance until four days later, he said.

Christiansen, now a patrol officer with Vernal police, acknowledged missteps by the office.




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