A teacher who worked at Billabong High School in Male’ from Feburary until June 2009, Alexis Valoran Reich, has been revealed as the transsexual alter-ego of John Mark Karr, a man who falsely confessed to murdering JonBenét Ramsey in the United States and has been investigated for possession of child pornography.
The JonBenét case remains one of the most high-profile unsolved murder cases in the US. The six year old was discovered dead in the basement of her parent’s house in Boulder Colorado in 1996, apparently strangled with a garrote made from a length of cord and the broken handle of a paintbrush.
The case initially focused on Ramsey’s parents as the murder suspects, attracting extensive media coverage, which often remarked on her participation in child beauty pageants.
Karr, who was on the run in Thailand after being charged in the US for possession of child pornography, confessed to the killing in 2006 and was extradited to the US to await trial. He was eventually acquitted because his DNA did not match that discovered on Ramsay’s body. The five charges of possession of child pornography were also dropped after investigators reportedly lost the computer they seized from him in 2001, containing the images.
Boulder police reopened the case February 2009, although the case remains unsolved despite the unmatched DNA evidence.
Karr disappeared from the public stage and reportedly began working as a teacher in countries across Europe and Asia. He arrived in the Maldives on January 20 last year as a woman, ‘Alexis Valoran Reich’, and was employed at Billabong school as a preschool and grade one English teacher.
Karr/Reich left the school in June after “personal differences” with then-Principal Kevin Dillow, explained Billabong board member Ahmed Adhly Rasheed.
“Reich was employed through a reputable English teacher recruitment agency, which provided us a [clean] Seattle City police report in his name,” Rasheed said.
“We did several checks – the immigration check when [the staff member] enters the country, the check when the work permit issued, and we checked the referral letters from places where he had worked before. We also do our own checks, and were in the process of doing that when Alexis left. He arrived on January 20 and left four and a half months later.”
The connection between Karr and Reich only became public knowledge in March-May 2010, following news reports in the US on his sex change that led to an update of Karr’s entry on Wikipedia.
The photo of Reich in Billabong’s personnel file is unmistakably a feminine likeness of Karr, and his passport details – birthdate December 11, 1964, issued December 2008 in his hometown of Georgia – match Karr’s details exactly.
“We had the police in the school this morning asking where this person was,” Rasheed said, emphasising that Reich had left the school over a year ago, destination unknown.
During her time at the Billabong there were no allegations made against him or any evidence of impropriety, Rasheed said. Reich was by all accounts an excellent teacher – “he was in fact the most popular teacher at the school.”
“He left because of a conflict with the principal Kevin. I don’t mean to defend this guy, but he was actually very popular among the parents. When he left and parents found out it was to do with a conflict with management, some parents approached us and expressed disappointment that he was leaving, and desire that he [remain at the school].”
A Billabong teacher who worked alongside Reich concurred: “Sure he was a bit strange, but he was really good with all the kids. They all liked him – there was no seediness,” the teacher said. “I think he pulled a runner because he wasn’t enjoying the work. He used to complain, but just about normal work things. There were no issues.”
Rasheed said the school received no allegations about Reich while he was working at the school.
“Nothing of any concern happened while he was here – there were no allegations,” Rasheed said. “Our concern is the talk around town that this is somebody who is still working at the school.”
Reich’s passport identified her as male – it had been issued the month before he arrived, Rasheed explained.
“He spoke with a deep voice. I don’t know the extent of his sex change operation,” Rasheed said. “He was known as a man to co-workers, teachers and students while he was in the Maldives.”
Billabong’s unwitting employment of an infamous transsexual teacher acquitted of murdering a six year old beauty queen – a saga somewhat at odds with the conservative nature of modern Maldivian society – together with the allegations of child abuse facing the (former) Principal of the Maldives’ other private school, Lale Youth International – has raised questions among parents and the Education Ministry as to the efficacy of the country’s vetting procedures.
In a letter to Minivan News, concerned parent Muzaffar Naeem said that while he “was relieved that Mr Alexis Reich no longer works at the school”, he questioned the Education Ministry’s guidelines on the employment teachers, and whether the rules were as stringent for privately-owned schools as they were for government institutions.
Deputy Education Minister Shifa Mohamed said the same proceedures were required to be in place at private schools as those in government-owned schools.
“The Ministry expects all schools to follow the same proceedures and obtain police clearance before employing teachers,” she said. “It is also the responsibility of each school to take the initiative and check that teachers are of good quality.”
Rasheed reiterated that the identity of Alexis Reich was only revealed a month ago: “we followed our proceedures but of course in this case there was no connection between the two individuals.”
Current Principal of Billabong David Key, who took over from Dillow in November, observed that Reich’s Seattle City police record would have been clear if his history of charges was kept in another US county.
“It’s similar if you ask the London Metropolitan police for a police record check – they won’t check the rest of the country,” said Key.
“This school is putting in proceedures that are stock standard in every international school in the world – get records, references, call referees first, all these kind of things. Police records should not only come from the country where they were born, but should come country the person was last living in. This is very important – you can have a teacher who has worked for five years in Thailand but hands in a UK police report. They been in Thailand last five years, how do we not know anything [happened]?”
Most important, Key said, was the need for schools to interview teachers “face to face, person to person.”
“I think we need to actually meet people, because that gives you a better idea of nature of a person than Skype or a phone call. The teachers I would like to employ [at Billabong] are people I know would fit into this society and have an agreement with the way of life here – rather than necessarily having the best educational qualifications. Those are important, but it’s more important that the teachers we get fit into the Islamic culture here and the nature of the Maldives.”
Correction: Reich’s passport, issued December 2008, identified him as male, not female as previously stated.