The Idaho student slayings baffled America and at first appeared to be the perfect crime — with cops seemingly chasing their tails and families of the four victims voicing their frustration.
But since the arrest of Bryan Kohberger — a Ph.D. student in criminal justice — for allegedly stabbing the four college students to death, evidence has shown police were led to suspect him through a series of rookie errors.
“[Kohberger] is not the great mastermind he may have thought he was,” Pete Yachmetz, a former FBI agent who spent 30 years as an investigator before starting his own security firm, told The Post.
The suspect, 28, was arrested at his parents’ Pennsylvania home on Dec. 30 and charged last week with the murders of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, at an off-campus residence at 1122 King Road in Moscow, Idaho on Nov. 13 last year.
Kohberger is in jail and has yet to be arraigned, but has previously indicated through a lawyer he intends to plead not guilty to the crimes.
Here Yahmetz walks us through the most incriminating evidence including DNA, cell phone records and his own vehicle, which cops say all link Kohberger to the crime scene.
According to an arrest affidavit released Jan. 9, Kohberger’s many mistakes began months before the killings, when he failed to turn his cellphone off while allegedly stalking the victims’ King Road home.
As a result, data from Kohberger’s mobile records suggest that he visited the area “on at least 12 occasions prior to November 13, 2022.”
“All of these occasions, except for one, occurred in the late evening and early morning hours of their respective days,” the affidavit explains.
“He was obviously surveilling [the victims],” Yachmetz said of the eerie visits, adding that the digital footprint makes the murders look “pretty premeditated.”
The number of times Kohberger supposedly cased the would-be crime scene is also helpful information for profilers studying the case.
“He would be termed by profilers as a very organized offender who scripted and planned every aspect of the murders,” Yachmetz told The Post.
“[He was] most likely thinking [the crime] through, visualizing the best entry method, and fastest method of escape.”
Despite his meticulous planning, Kohberger’s arrest records claim he left an essential piece of evidence — the unidentified murder weapon’s “tan leather knife sheath” — at the scene, where police discovered it near the body of Madison Mogen.
“He made an amateur mistake,” said Yachmetz, who hypothesized that Kohberger left the item behind because he “had to use to knife sooner than he thought he would need to” or because he was alarmed by the victims’ screams.
“Kohberger may have panicked and may have been in a state of arousal of some type during the murder,” Yachmetz posited.
“As a result, his attention to detail might have decreased, causing him to make mistakes.”
The Idaho State Lab identified male DNA on the sheath’s button clasp, which was later linked to Kohberger after investigators retrieved genetic material from the trash outside his family’s home.
Yachmetz believes police are also aware of additional DNA evidence.
“The way that these kids were killed, there is going to be DNA in other locations,” he explained.
“Around the bodies, on the bodies, down the hallway, on the carpeting … [the police] are going to be looking at all of that.”
While initial reports indicated that the stabbings occurred around 3 a.m., authorities now say that Goncalves, Mogen, Kernodle, and Chapin were killed between 4 and 4:30 a.m.. Two other housemates, Dylan Mortensen and Bethany Funke, were left unharmed, and police noted in the affidavit that Mortensen saw an unknown male leaving the house around 4:17.
Cell data indicates that Kohberger turned his phone off during the murders’ time frame, but records show that his phone pinged in Pullman, where he lived, studying at Washington State University, around 2:47 a.m., then went silent until about 4:48 a.m., just 18 minutes after police believe the murders took place.
Kohberger’s phone placed him on the highway just south of Moscow just before 5 a.m., heading west back to Pullman. He was pinged going north toward his apartment around 5:30.
Despite Kohberger’s attempt to evade detection, Yachmetz sees the cellphone records as “a categorical, clear-cut record” of his journey to and from the murder scene. He told The Post that FBI analysts are likely still scouring his cellphone data for patterns.
“Agents are going to scrutinize his cellphone records and evaluate how many times previous to the time of the murders he turned off his cellphone,” he said.
“Was [Kohberger] always turning off his cellphone? Or was this one of only one or two other times that he turned off his cellphone?”
In a particularly chilling move, cellphone records also show that Kohberger left his phone on when he left his Pullman apartment again around 9 a.m. on Nov. 13, and traveled back to Moscow.
Shortly thereafter, between 9:12 and 9:21, his device pinged in the area of the King Road house. His pit stop in the neighborhood came hours before the surviving housemates called 911 and the public was alerted to the grisly crime.
Authorities now believe Kohberger may have returned to the scene of the crime to admire his gruesome handiwork.
“He probably realized ‘I don’t have my sheath,’” Yachmetz explained, referencing the knife sheath left behind at the scene.
“A lot of these individuals also want to go back to a crime scene and see what the reactions is to what they did hours before,” he continued.
“They want to see the police, see the first responders, to gratify themselves with what they did.”
Here’s the latest coverage on the brutal killings of four college friends:
After the murders were reported shortly before noon, one of the earliest clues in the investigation was surveillance footage of a white Hyundai Elantra circling the King Road neighborhood beginning around 3:29 a.m.
The arrest affidavit details how the car made a fourth round through the area around 4:04, before leaving the neighborhood at “a high rate of speed” around 4:20, suggesting that the killer may have risked parking at the scene of the crime.
Because both Moscow and Pullman are highly monitored college towns, authorities in Idaho were quickly able to match the vehicle to a similar model captured by WSU cameras heading toward Moscow about an hour before the killings. The same Elantra was then seen returning the Pullman area around 5:25 a.m.
The Moscow Police Department asked other authorities to be on the lookout for the car on Nov. 25; within days, a pair of sharp-eyed WSU officers flagged the model registered to Kohberger, thus placing the Pennsylvania native at the center of the fledgling investigation.
“Once they identified the car, it was a domino effect,” Yahmetz argued, noting that Kohberger’s driver’s license description matched that of the male suspect seen by surviving housemate Dylan Mortensen.
In fact, Yahmetz finds the vehicle evidence is so damning that the judge would have issued the arrest warrant for Kohberger even without the DNA match from the sheath.
“With what they had from the … circumstantial evidence, in my opinion, the judge would have still issued an arrest warrant,” he said.
Even after the Elantra emerged as a focal point in the investigation, Kohberger failed to ditch the vehicle. Instead, he used the car to drive across the country with his father, Michael Kohberger Jr, in December.
During the journey, the pair was pulled over twice within a short period of time, which Yahmetz believes were both “pretext car stops” meant to get a closer look at the suspect.
“You can’t just stop because you want to check the car. You have to do it in conjunction with another violation,” he explained. Kohberger was given verbal warnings for speeding and tailgating.
Although the FBI denied ordering the stops, Yahmetz agreed with the hypothesis that police were eyeing Kohberger for possible injuries sustained in the stabbing frenzy, particularly on his hands.
“I believe the number of times these kids were stabbed, there had to be some self-defense mechanism after they were stabbed the first time,” he reasoned.
“There had to be some scratching [of Kohberger] or some movement going on.”
‘Really creepy’ Facebook trail
In the days after Kohberger’s arrest, retired FBI agent Jennifer Coffindaffer tweeted that she believed the suspect had commented under an alias in a Facebook group dedicated to discussing the crime.
Coffindaffer posted a screenshot of one particular post, shared by user Pappa Rodger, that read, “Of the evidence released, the murder weapon has been consistent as a large fixed blade knife. This leads me to believe they found the sheath.”
In light of the news that authorities did find a knife sheath at the King Road house, Coffindaffer said the post “just seem to hit home” in a mysterious way.
When other users argued Kohberger would not risk such a public digital trail, Coffindaffer referenced his aforementioned mistakes, including using his own vehicle when traveling to and from the scene.
An administrator for the group backed up Coffindaffer’s claim, remembering that Pappa Rodger was argumentative and “said some really creepy stuff” that caused them to be removed from the group the night before Kohberger’s arrest.
“No one has heard from Pappa Rodger [sp] since the arrest,” the mod noted.
Although Yachmetz did not comment on the Facebook theory directly, the idea that Kohberger would risk detection by commenting on the killings on social media dovetailed neatly with his evaluation that the suspect wanted to “gratify” himself over the heinous acts.
When he spoke to The Post about the Moscow investigation last month, Yachmetz said the local police force was “in over its head” and needed to hand the case over to federal authorities. Now, reflecting on Kohberger’s arrest, he commended the investigators on “a fantastic job.”
“I answered based on what I saw in the media at the time,” he said of his past comments.
“It was a well-written affidavit, and I think, in totality, everyone involved has done a great job.”
Yachmetz also reiterated his confidence that the most significant evidence in the case would be revealed as the story continues to unfold.
“There is going to be a lot more evidence revealed,” he surmised.
“It’s not over by any means.”