DNA, Phone Records Led Idaho Police to Suspect in Student Murders

Jan. 5, 2023
A 19-page probable cause affidavit sheds new light on what led Moscow police to suspect and eventually arrest Bryan Kohberger in the killing of four University of Idaho students.

MOSCOW, ID— A court document that explains the Moscow Police Department’s step-by-step investigation into the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students was released Thursday morning, shortly before the suspect in the killings appeared in an Idaho court for the first time.

The 19-page probable cause affidavit sheds new light on what led police to suspect and eventually arrest Bryan C. Kohberger in the killing of seniors Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum; junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington.

Moscow Police Cpl. Brett Payne wrote in the affidavit that through the use of DNA evidence, cellphone records and vehicle records police were able to zero in on the 28-year-old graduate student at Washington State University. Kohberger was arrested last Friday at his family’s home in eastern Pennsylvania.

Both Kernodle and Chapin were found on the second floor of the King Road house, and Mogen and Goncalves were found together in Mogen’s room on the third floor, the affidavit said. Police previously had not indicated where the victims were, other than to say the top two floors.


Payne said investigators found a “tan leather knife sheath” at the scene that was processed, and investigators were able to find DNA on it. Since Kohberger’s arrest, national media outlets have reported — through anonymous law enforcement sources — that DNA evidence was used to identify Kohbeger and that investigators used molecular forensic genetic genealogy, or the use of genealogy databases to compare DNA.

More than a month after the homicides, Pennsylvania authorities obtained DNA evidence that they allege is a close relative of Kohberger’s, and were able to link it to the DNA obtained from the knife sheath. The sheath also had a Ka-Bar and United States Marine Corps insignia stamped on it — which a Moscow Building Supply manager told the Idaho Statesman in November that police were looking for.

The affidavit also lays out the key role that cellphone and vehicle records played in leading police to Kohberger.

Moscow authorities, including Police Chief James Fry and Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson, have remained mostly tight-lipped about the details of the investigation and said they did so for a reason. Fry said at a Dec. 30 press conference announcing Kohberger’s arrest that he “100% stands behind” the way the investigation was handled.

“We want to have a situation that when this goes to trial, there’s no doubt that we’ve done everything right,” he said.

There is a gag order in place by 2nd District Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall halting law enforcement, investigators and attorneys from talking to the public and the media about the case, but that won’t affect the disclosure of court documents such as the probable cause affidavit.

Roommate outlines what she saw, heard at King Road home

The two surviving roommates — Dylan Mortensen and Bethany Funke — told authorities during interviews that everyone was back at the off-campus home by about 2 a.m. Pacific time and asleep by 4 a.m. Mogen and Goncalves had been out at the Corner Club, a local bar, and then grabbed mac and cheese at Grub Truck, while Kernodle and Chapin were at the Sigma Chi Fraternity.

Kernodle was the only individual who was awake past 4 a.m. because records show she ordered food from DoorDash, police said.

At around 4 a.m., Mortensen said during her interview with law enforcement, she woke up to the sound of what she thought was Goncalves playing with her dog upstairs. Mortensen then either heard Goncalves or Kernodle say something like “there’s someone here,” according to the affidavit.

Mortensen looked outside her room twice, and the second time heard someone crying, and then a male voice say something akin to, “It’s OK, I’m going to help you,” police said in the affidavit. At 4:17 a.m. Pacific time, a security camera at the home picked up the sound of either voices or a whimper, and then a “loud thud.”

Mortensen told police that she opened her door again and saw a man in black, wearing a mask over his face, “walking toward her.” She said she did not recognize the man but described him as at least 5 feet, 10 inches tall, not very muscular, and with bushy eyebrows, the affidavit stated.

Mortensen said she was in a “frozen shock phase” as the man walked past her and out the sliding glass door on the second floor of the home. She said she locked herself in her room after seeing the man.

Cellphone, vehicle records tied to Kohberger

Nearly two weeks after the killings, law enforcement started looking for white Hyundai Elantras and notified the public of their interest in the vehicles. A Washington State University police officer on Nov. 29 searched for white Elantras registered at the school, which turned up a record of a 2015 Hyundai Elantra registered to Kohberger, with a Pennsylvania license plate, the affidavit said.

The same day, another WSU officer located Kohberger’s vehicle in the parking lot of his student apartment — but now with a Washington license plate. Police said Kohberger registered the vehicle in Washington on Nov. 18, five days after the killings.

According to the affidavit, a review of Kohberger’s Washington driver’s license showed the 6-foot, 185-pound man had bushy eyebrows and generally fit the roommate’s description of the man she saw in the King Road home.

Officials said they also had Kohberger’s cellphone number from a traffic stop that took place on Aug. 21, when a Latah County sheriff’s deputy pulled him over. Police issued search warrants for cellphone records in the area of the King Road home between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Nov. 13 as part of their initial investigation, but Kohberger’s cellphone did not utilize any cell towers in the area during that time.

Still, police submitted a search warrant for Kohberger’s cellphone data on the days preceding and after the killings. Officials said in the affidavit that it’s not unusual for people to leave a cellphone behind, turn it off or put it in airplane mode to avoid being associated with a location in the commission of a crime.

According to the court document, police said the missing cellular data was “consistent with Kohberger attempting to conceal his location during the quadruple homicide that occurred at the King Road residence.”

The cellphone data showed Kohberger at his Pullman apartment in the early hours of Nov. 13 before leaving his residence shortly before 3 a.m. and heading south out of Pullman. The cellphone stopped transmitting signals at around 2:47 a.m. and did not resume until 4:48 a.m., police said. At that point, it utilized towers near the small town of Blaine, south of Moscow. Blaine is a roughly 15-minute drive from King Road in Moscow.

Officials said the phone then used cell towers heading west into Pullman.

Phone records showed Kohberger again left his residence at around 9 a.m. on Nov. 13 and headed back to Moscow. Police said his phone used “cellular resources that would provide coverage to the King Road Residence” between 9:12 a.m. and 9:21 a.m. before returning to the area of Kohberger’s residence at around 9:32 a.m.

Police said photo and video evidence of the white Hyundai Elantra is consistent with the locations where Kohberger’s cellphone used tower resources.

On Dec. 23, police were granted Kohberger’s historical cellphone records dating back to June 23, according to the affidavit. Officials said they requested the records to try to determine whether Kohberger had any prior contact with the victims.

The affidavit said Kohberger’s cellphone used towers serving the King Road home at least a dozen times prior to the Nov. 13 killings.

“All of these occasions, except for one, occurred in the late evening and early morning hours of their respective days,” according to the document.

Police said the cell tower servicing the King Road home provided service to Kohberger’s phone for approximately an hour on Aug. 21 — up to just minutes before the Latah County sheriff’s deputy stopped him and issued him a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.

Officials continued to keep tabs on Kohberger’s vehicle as he and his father drove across the country in December to his family home in Pennsylvania. They said his license plate was captured on camera in Colorado on Dec. 13 and cited a traffic stop of the vehicle — in which body-camera footage shows Kohberger with his father — on Dec. 15 in Indiana. The next day, surveillance video showed the Elantra in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, police said.

On Dec. 27, Pennsylvania law enforcement “recovered the trash from the Kohberger family residence,” the affidavit said. The Idaho State Lab tested evidence from the trash and found DNA from the trash and the knife sheath found at the scene “identified a male as not being excluded as the biological father of Suspect Profile.”

According to police, “at least 99.9998% of the male population would be expected to be excluded from the possibility of being the suspect’s biological father.”


©2023 Idaho Statesman.

Visit at idahostatesman.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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