After 17 years this father continues to seek justice for his murdered daughter
Marissa Karp’s short and troubled life ended when she was shot in the chest, stuffed in a large green garbage bag and dumped in a canal off Alligator Alley near Mile Marker 52.
The spirited girl who dreamed of becoming a teacher and “knew more than anyone else” never made it to her 18th birthday.
For her heartbroken father, Gary Karp, Marissa’s 17 years on earth seemed to slip by in a flash. But the 17 years since he buried his baby girl in a Broward County cemetery have crawled.
Her killer has never been arrested.
This past week marked another anniversary, and as always haunting mental images gnawed at him like a cancer. It never goes away. Karp is certain he knows who killed her, and he addressed that man, directly and by name, on Facebook, also calling out the witnesses he believes could solve the case, officially, and give him some peace.
“There isn’t a day, a minute, an hour that goes by that I don’t think about her,” Karp, 66, said in his Fort Lauderdale home as he looked at a picture of his little girl on his tablet. “I wonder what her last minutes of her life were like. Did she know what was happening? Could I have done anything better or different? It never leaves you.”
The petite girl’s battered body was found Aug. 19, 2002, in the L-28 canal just north of the Broward line in Collier County by an air boater. It took nearly a month for investigators to identify Marissa, who had a pierced tongue and wore a silver toe ring, through her fingerprints. She’d been shot in the chest.
Marissa, who had behavioral problems and a history of running away, had spent the latter part of her life in and out of the custody of the Department of Children & Families after her father turned to the state for help. She was last seen April 17 by the agency, the day she bolted from a DCF building in northern Broward.
“You do play the blame game,” Karp said. “You blame everybody. Then you start blaming yourself. What if I did it this way? How could I have done it better? Why didn’t the system help me?”
The troubled teen’s death put a spotlight on the perennially troubled state agency’s inability to track runaway teenagers. She was one of 393 missing children at the time. Law enforcement officers took DCF to task for not properly tracking runaways in state care and not finding suitable housing.
“The system is fundamentally, systemically broken,” Karp said. “Yes, I could have done a better job. But, yes, the system could have helped. The system failed and so did I. I take my responsibility. It’s time the system started taking their responsibility.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Marissa was born Dec. 6, 1985, in Plantation. She was Karp’s second child, first daughter.
He remembers her as an “adorable” baby, who loved to giggle and was just “a lot of fun.” Her baby pictures include one of a smiling toddler wearing a tiara.
But as she got older, behavioral problems manifested themselves. Karp said he often got calls from teachers suggesting alternative programs or that he take her to some doctor to figure out what was going on.
When Marissa was 11, the problems compounded. Marissa’s mother died that year from an asthma attack.
Marissa struggled to cope with the changes. Marissa’s file included psychologists’ reports that concluded Marissa was depressed about her mother’s death and required intense grief counseling, anger management and help in improving her social skills.
She decided she wanted to live with her grandmother — Karp’s mother — in Lauderhill. His daughter soon became abusive toward his mother, Sue, Karp said. At the time DCF records showed that Marissa, who was just under five feet and about 100 pounds, harmed her grandmother five times.
Marissa was arrested. Karp thought it was possibly a blessing.
“I thought I was finally going to get some help,” he said. “I felt she was salvageable. I couldn’t fix her, but maybe the system could.”
She was placed in a Broward youth shelter, The Leaf, and seemingly did well. When she was released she was sent to the Brown School, a facility for troubled youths. She ran away in January 2002, and wasn’t seen again until April when she was placed in the DCF building on West Sample Road. On the evening of April 19, she left and wasn’t seen again, reports show.
“I could have done it different,” he said. “I should have done it different and as a result my kid is dead. I am big enough to admit it.”
THE WRONG CROWD
For a while, Marissa shared a small space in Hallandale Beach in Sue’s Efficiency Apartments at 104 SE Ninth Ct. with a boyfriend. It was a transient life, though, with Marissa crashing here and there with people she met on the street. Karp said it was in his daughter’s character to disappear for long stretches and then call him periodically to say “I am OK,” and “I love you.” But, for whatever reason, she didn’t feel like she could come home.
“Understand I never stopped loving her,” he said. “I just couldn’t control her. For that matter I don’t think anyone else could.”
At first it was a jurisdictional nightmare. Marissa’s body was found in Collier County, but investigators believed she was killed in Broward. Investigators at the time believed whoever dumped her body was heading west because she was found on the north side of Interstate 75. No murder weapon was found.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office eventually took over the case.
Detectives questioned her older brother, who was 21 at the time, and other friends to piece together the last few weeks of her life.
That led them to Unit Five in the Hallandale Beach apartment complex, which, because of the difficulties identifying Marissa, wasn’t searched until a month after her death.
To say Marissa had fallen in with the wrong crowd would be an understatement. The night before her corpse was discovered in the Everglades, Marissa — or “Shorty” as she was known to friends — cooked dinner for the boyfriend, Almanto Coakley, and another man, Randy Gilbert. These men were tied to a Bahamian drug ring. The ring included a third man, Eloyn Ingraham, with whom Marissa apparently argued that night. He would become an important player later.
A warrant revealed that a neighbor heard a “muffled gunshot,” on Aug. 18, 2002, and that the landlord later found what appeared to be a bullet hole in the refrigerator after the occupants vacated the apartment.
Law officers were suspicious of everyone in that apartment. Coakley’s DNA didn’t match DNA collected as evidence. They also checked Gilbert’s DNA, wondering if it would match evidence found under Marissa’s fingernails. They couldn’t put together a case, however.
Coakley would eventually be deported to the Bahamas, but not before becoming a suspect in another murder case, this one a double homicide in Sunrise. It was two months after Marissa’s death, on Oct. 10, 2002, that Calvin Russell, 20, and Jason Mathew, 26, were fatally shot at the Boardwalk at Inverrary apartments. A third man was wounded. Police developed information suggesting Gilbert and Coakley had been hired by a drug dealer to get money or drugs that the victims owed. But detectives were never able to build a case sufficient to convict in that case either.
Then, four years later, another milepost event occurred. In November 2006, Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Tephford, 34, was killed during a routine traffic stop at the Versailles Gardens condos in Tamarac. A passenger in the car made a phone call during the stop and two friends showed up, firing weapons. Another deputy was shot but would survive. The passenger was Eloyn Ingraham, 28 — the same man who had argued with Marissa on the night before her death.
And so, a tangled web became even more tangled as various people linked to Marissa’s last hours were tied to so many violent crimes it was hard to keep them straight. And still, no one was charged with Marissa’s death. For Karp, it was frustration piled on top of frustration.
Achieving justice for Deputy Tephford’s widow and three children was itself a slow process. Very slow. It took 12 years, in fact, but finally, in 2018, Ingraham and the two gunmen were convicted in the ambush murder. Their lives were spared on the recommendation of a jury.
Meanwhile, Coakley, who maybe could have connected Ingraham to Marissa’s murder, was himself dead, the victim of a murder in the Bahamas.
Investigators now say it is unclear to what degree Coakley was connected to Marissa’s killing, but if he didn’t do it, he probably knew who did.
But Coakley’s voice has been silenced, and that leaves Ingraham, now serving out his life sentence in Lake Correctional Institution. He’s not a free man, but the time he is serving and will serve in the future is not for the death of Marissa Karp, and that eats at Gary Karp. Karp believes there were a lot of “missed opportunities” by detectives.
Ingraham is the man whom Karp excoriated on Facebook this week on the anniversary of his daughter’s death.
This week, BSO confirmed that detectives were still working the case and said the most recent information was in December 2018 from an inmate, but “the tip was investigated and found to be inconsistent with the facts of the case.”
While there isn’t a BSO cold case squad, each detective is assigned a cold case, the agency said.
BSO confirmed that Marissa was ”associated with known narcotic traffickers who are suspected and wanted for murders unrelated to the victim’s murder,” but said there “is no known connection to those murders and the murder of the victim.”
“The prime suspect in the case is deceased and charges for the co-conspirators have been presented to the State Attorney’s Office and declined due to insufficient evidence,” BSO said.
Shortly after Marissa’s death, Gary Karp vowed to find out who killed his daughter.
For years he put up billboards, held news conferences and even did some of his own detective work. He went to the Bahamas, became a member of the board of directors for Broward Crime Stoppers and served in a voluntary capacity for Sheriff Al Lamberti.
Lamberti told the Miami Herald Friday that Karp came to him shortly after he took office in 2007 to share his story.
“As a father, I felt a connection with him,” he said. “No father should have to go through what he was going through. We needed to get justice for him.”
Lamberti said during his years at the helm, “there was a lot of work done on the case.”
“We had a lot of pieces, we just weren’t able to put them together,” he said.
He said he respected Karp’s perseverance and determination to get answers.
“It’s his mission, his passion to get justice for his daughter and I admire him for that,” he said.
In August 2012, Karp appeared on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”
He said since Lamberti was defeated by former Sheriff Scott Israel in 2012, there hasn’t been much movement on the case.
“Exponentially these crimes grow every day,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the business. So you try and grab the low-lying fruit, but every day something else is happening. So you get back-shelved. You get pushed to the back of the line.”
Over the years, his mission has a taken a physical and emotional toll.
“I suffer from guilt,” he said. “Emotionally you are never ever 100 percent. There are nights that I lay in bed and think this is just a bad dream, a nightmare and I wake up and I go ‘it’s still here.’ ”
He struggles knowing what he was cheated out of: Attending her graduation; Giving her away at her wedding; Seeing her become a mother. He wonders if she would look back and say: “I was a difficult kid.”
His health is problematic. He’s had a quadruple bypass heart surgery and a stroke and is diabetic. Walking is a chore. It’s been years since he could bring himself back to Mile Marker 52.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I’m emotionally tired but I am physically challenged and those limitations — the combination — it’s not easy.”
And while it’s getting harder and harder, he keeps pushing for answers because when it’s his time he wants to be able to tell his daughter he never gave up.
“I know that at some point we will meet again. I want to be able to say we got it,” he said, holding back tears.
The next thing he wants to tell her: “I’m sorry.”
BSO is asking anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. A reward for information is currently $3,000, because the previous reward of an additional $10,000 expired in September 2018. BSO said it was working to have the reward increased or renewed.