This story was first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in April 2003. Jouhari's daughter Pilar was shot and killed in San Antonio in 2015. A former Army medic, Pilar's life changed forever when she was forced to leave Pennsylvania with her mom.
In 2003, I reported about a missing 16-year old, Karen Mitchell, who vanished without a trace from Eureka, California. Years later, some new leads as Robert Durst's trial finally resumes.
In March of 2015, amid the hoopla following the last episode of HBO's The Jinx, then-FBI director James Comey announced that he was ordering every FBI bureau in the U.S. to review its cold cases and check against the known locations of one Robert Durst amid suggestions that he may very well be a serial killer.
"I know that we are doing a number of things in different field offices to run down leads," said Comey. "That is one of the powers of the FBI. We're everywhere in the United States."
Well, maybe not everywhere.
The truth is that with Durst locked up in Los Angeles awaiting the resumption of his trial this month for the murder of his friend Susan Berman, the press lost interest as did the FBI, which did very little, if anything, to follow up on Comey's grand statement, which followed claims I had long made regarding Durst and the possibility he was a serial killer.
Of course, if you do the math you can say he already qualifies, having killed Morris Black (which he admitted) as well as Berman and his first wife Kathie Durst (both of which he's denied). But there are more. That, I'm certain of. (After all, the man knew how to expertly dismember a human body).
But the one case that's always bugged me is the one involving Karen Mitchell, a 16-year old girl who simply vanished from Eureka, Calif., in November 1997. I reported on Mitchell in 2003 after visiting that beautiful wasteland known as Humbolt County. Known as the pot capital of the world, it made sense that Durst would live there given his lifelong love of marijuana. But its remoteness was also a lure. It's about five-hours north of San Francisco, and his home in nearby Trinidad was on the coast where the ocean views were simply stunning.
I was in Eureka back then and talked about Durst and Mitchell with the police chief, who told me about a witness who, months after Mitchell disappeared, had come in to tell a strange story. It was about spotting a girl that looked like Mitchell getting into a light blue, late model car with an older man. The witness provided a composite that was the spitting image of Robert Durst (right down to the wide-rim glasses). It was so exact the police believed that witness, Randy Gomes, had known Durst. They didn’t know how or why, but they were pretty sure he knew him.
But they never thought to ask Gomes, who quickly took off for Idaho, where he remained for years. When he eventually returned to Humbolt County, it wasn't the FBI that tracked him down for questioning. It was NBC's Dateline program. Gomes, I'm told, became an emotional mess when approached in 2015 by the Dateline producer, who thought he was hiding a terrible secret. Gomes made it through the interview (see above) certain of his identification of the man in the car. And it’s clear to me that the reason he was able to give the stark composite so long ago was because he did know Durst. He simply had to.
So combine that with some of the other circumstantial evidence - such as Durst spotted dressed in drag inside a shoe store that Mitchell's aunt had owned; that Mitchell worked at a local soup kitchen (a place favored by Durst); and that a worried Durst, believing he was going to be charged after I reported the Mitchell connection in 2003, was told by his defense team to put it aside and focus on the upcoming Morris Black trial - and that’s a lot to chew on.
Now, a young documentary producer from the Eureka-area, Joshua Griffin Diaz, has been poking around on Mitchell, and he’s adding to the list of interesting circumstantial evidence. Most notably, an interview with a “tech guy” who helped Durst with his computers places a young woman who looked “exactly” like Mitchell inside of Durst’s Trinidad home working for him as a domestic. That one rang all kinds of bells and whistles for me because Mitchell’s aunt, during her Dateline interview, said her niece often visited Trinidad. "Jen used to go to Trinidad on the bus," said Annie Casper. "I mean, they could have met. It's definitely a possibility."
That leads me back to Randy Gomes, who just a few months after his Dateline interview was arrested in Humbolt County for felony possession of a firearm as well as cultivating and selling marijuana. According to the police, Gomes ran a large pot farm and marijuana, you recall, was Durst’s favorite pastime.
So if there’s a Gomes connection to be had, you can start looking there, and then go catch up with that tech guy.
Can someone tell that to the FBI?
Randy Gomes following his 2015 arrest.
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