Untangling the Investigation Into the Shocking Murders of 4 Idaho College Students

Four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in the early morning hours of Nov. 13. Seven weeks and countless rumors later, police have a suspect in custody.

By Natalie Finn Jan 01, 2023 11:00 PMTags
Watch: Suspect Charged With Murder in Idaho College Killings

When police showed up at the house in Moscow, Idaho, in response to a call about a roommate who wouldn't wake up, what they found was a scene straight out of a horror movie.

Two college students had been stabbed to death in bed on the second floor and two more had met the same fate one flight up.

The deceased were soon identified as Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Xana's boyfriend Ethan Chapin, 20. The three young women lived there and Ethan had been spending the night.

Autopsies concluded all four deaths were homicides caused by multiple stab wounds. Authorities didn't specify who, but some of the victims were said to have defensive wounds.

Two other roommates, Bethany Funke and Dylan Mortensen, were uninjured. They were home on the first floor, according to police, but appeared to have slept through or otherwise did not hear the attacks. 

Celebrity Deaths: 2022's Fallen Stars

The slayings devastated the victims' families and friends, chilled the surrounding community and, unsurprisingly, became the obsession of Internet detectives everywhere. By the end of November, according to NBC News, TikTok posts tagged #idahomurders had more than 94.2 million views. Thousands more have been speculating, dissecting and armchair-sleuthing on Facebook and Reddit.

Ted S Warren/AP/Shutterstock

The Latah County Sheriff's Office, Idaho State Police and the FBI joined the investigation being led by the Moscow Police Department. Gov. Brad Little directed $1 million in state emergency funds toward the investigation.

"This is a small town, a college town, and I feel they knew this person," Kaylee's mom, Kristi Goncalves, told local NBC affiliate KHQ on Nov. 19. "We absolutely don't know that, but I feel that in my heart. I don't know why."

Kristi also issued a pointed plea to whoever killed her daughter and her friends: "Turn yourself in. Stop all this. Let us mourn our children. We can't with this person out there. Just end it. The guilt has to be overwhelming. Stop hiding."

"We're going to get our justice," Kaylee's father, Steven Goncalves, said at a Nov. 30 campus vigil for the victims. "We're going to figure this stuff out. This community deserves that."

TV's Most Killer True Crime Transformations

But as weeks went by, a combination of fear and frustration set in as the wait for a break in the case continued, with most of the news in the interim related to who authorities had ruled out as suspects or other leads that had proved fruitless.

"There were so many questions that I figured would be answered," Madison's father, Ben Mogen, told Spokane's Spokesman-Review just before Christmas, "and we're still waiting."

Still, Ben shared that investigators had been in touch with him or other members of his family every day, and he had faith that answers were coming.

"From the very beginning, I've known that people don't get away with these things these days," he said. "There's too many things that you can get caught up on, like DNA and videos everywhere. This isn't something that people get away with, that goes unsolved."

On Dec. 29, police said that they'd received 19,650 tips from phone calls, emails and digital media submissions, and had conducted more than 300 interviews. They reminded the public to rely on official updates from their office for the facts, and reiterated that any information was welcome.

The next day, a suspect was in custody.

Who is the suspect in the Idaho college student slayings?

Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, was arrested early Friday morning in northeastern Pennsylvania in connection with the killings of Kaylee, Madison, Xana and Ethan, Pennsylvania State Police confirmed in a statement.

The suspect was remanded to the Monroe County Correctional Facility to await extradition to Idaho, where, according to Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson, he's facing four counts of first-degree murder and a felony burglary charge.

"Since November, investigators have been laser-focused on pursuing every lead in our pursuit of justice," Moscow Police Chief James Fry said in a news release. "This complex case took extensive work to develop a clear picture of what occurred and I'm thankful to the dedication shown by members of the Moscow Police Department, Idaho State Police detectives and Crime Lab
technicians and scientists, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the resources and personnel to conduct this massive investigation. It was persistent determination and extensive hours spent unraveling this case that led to an arrest."

Monroe County Correctional Facil/UPI/Shutterstock

The suspect was apprehended at a home in Albrightsville, Pa., on a fugitive from justice warrant issued in Moscow, according to police.

Earlier this month, Kohberger completed his first semester as a PhD student in the criminal justice department at Washington State University in Pullman, Wa., the school said Friday.

In a statement, WSU confirmed that university police assisted Idaho law enforcement in executing search warrants at Kohberger's campus residence and office in Pullman, which is roughly 10 miles away from Moscow, and would continue to work closely with local, state and federal officials as the investigation continues.

Kohberger's attorney, Monroe County public defender Jason LaBar, said in a statement to NBC News Saturday that his client "should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise—not tried in the court of public opinion," adding, "Mr. Kohberger is eager to be exonerated of these charges and looks forward to resolving these matters as promptly as possible."

Delphi Double Murder Case: Arrest Made for 2017 Deaths of Abigail Williams and Liberty German

LaBar said Kohberger planned to waive his extradition hearing to speed up his return to Idaho.

"He's willing to waive because he's looking forward to being exonerated. Those were his words," LaBar also told the Washington Post yesterday shortly after speaking to Kohberger. "Whether that means he's innocent or not, it's implicit in saying he wants to be exonerated that he's innocent. He didn't use the word 'innocent.'"

In a statement expressing sympathy for the victims' families, Kohberger's family said, "There are no words that can adequately express the sadness we feel, and we pray each day for them. We will continue to let the legal process unfold and as a family we will love and support our son and brother.

"We have fully cooperated with law enforcement agencies in an attempt to seek the truth and promote his presumption of innocence rather than judge unknown facts and make erroneous assumptions. We respect privacy in this matter as our family and the families suffering loss can move forward through the legal process."

Man Charged With Murder in Connection to Takeoff's Death

"We will long feel the loss of these young people in the Moscow-Pullman community and hope the announcement today will be a step toward healing," said Elizabeth Chilton, chancellor of the WSU Pullman campus and WSU provost.

Kohberger attended undergraduate and graduate school at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., receiving his master's degree in criminal justice in June.

"As a Catholic, Salesian community, we are devastated by this senseless tragedy," a DeSales spokesperson told The Daily Beast in response to the news. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families during this difficult time."


Who were Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle?

Kaylee was supposed to graduate early in December and already had a job at a marketing firm lined up, her friend Jordyn Quesnell told the New York Times, sharing that they had planned to move to Austin, Texas, together this coming June. "We wanted that adventure," she said.

Madison and Kaylee had been friends since sixth grade, the latter's sister telling NBC affiliate KHQ that both girls were bridesmaids in her wedding. "They did everything together...first boyfriends, graduated high school together, started college together," Alivea Goncalves told the outlet. "They lived together. They got a house together, cars together, and unfortunately, how their story goes, they died together."

Kaylee shared throwback pics of her and Madison a few weeks before the murders, writing, "I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to be the main character in all my childhood stories."


"She was smart and funny," Madison's dad Ben told the Spokseman-Review about his daughter. "A real go-getter." And, he continued, "Everyone loved Maddie. If she was in the room, she would just shine."

Madison and Xana both worked at the Mad Greek restaurant downtown and were Pi Beta Phi sorority sisters, while Kaylee was a member of Alpha Phi.


Xana "was so lighthearted, and always lifted up a room," her sister Jazzmin Kernodle told the Associated Press by text. "She made me such a proud big sister, and I wish I could have had more time with her. She had so much life left to live."

Ethan, a freshman, and Xana, a junior, had reportedly been dating since the spring. She wished him a happy birthday on Instagram Oct. 29, captioning a photo of them together, "life is so much better with you in it, love you!"

Speaking during the Nov. 30 ceremony on campus, Ethan's mom, Stacy Chapin, said, "We are eternally grateful that we spent so much time with him." To the assembled crowd, she added, "Time is precious, and it's something you can't get back."

2022's True Crime Dramas, Ranked

On Nov. 12, Kaylee posted a series of pics with her roommates and Ethan, all taken outside their house, writing, "one lucky girl to be surrounded by these ppl everyday."

In a letter read during a Dec. 2 church vigil, her first time speaking out since the killings, roommate Dylan wrote, "My life was greatly impacted to have known these four beautiful people, my people who changed my life in so many ways and made me so happy."

Bethany shared in a letter also read at the service that Madison used to say "'everything happens for a reason.' But," she added, "I'm having a really hard time trying to understand the reason for this."

Biggest Unsolved Murder Mysteries

What were the four Idaho murder victims doing on the last night of their lives?

According to Moscow Police, Kaylee and Madison were at Corner Club, a downtown bar, from 10 p.m. till about 1:30 a.m. on the night of Nov. 12, a Saturday. Video from a Twitch feed viewed by police showed them stopping for food at the Grub Truck, which was parked down the street from the bar. Afterward they were driven home to 1122 King Road by someone described by police as a "private party," arriving at 1:56 a.m.

Investigators said Ethan was with Xana at the Sigma Chi fraternity house, where he was a member, before they both returned to the King Road residence just south of campus, at approximately 1:45 a.m.

Angela Palermo/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Per detectives, Bethany and Dylan also went out that night, separately, but were back at the house by 1 a.m.

At 11:58 a.m. on Nov. 13, a 9-1-1 call was made from one of the surviving roommates' cell phones to report that someone on the second floor was unconscious. Officers arrived and discovered four dead bodies.

Meanwhile, Kristi Goncalves' text to daughter Kaylee that Sunday morning had gone unanswered.

"We talked a lot," Kristi later told KHQ. "I know she had a fun time Friday night... [Kaylee] called me around 2:30 Saturday afternoon." Looking at the time stamp of her last text to Kaylee, she concluded, "that's when the police were swarming [her house]."

The Bombshell Moments From Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies

What were police saying about the Idaho student murders in the earliest days of the investigation?

Police said in a Nov. 15 press release that the deaths of Kaylee, Madison, Xana and Ethan appeared to be the result of an "isolated, targeted attack" committed with "an edged weapon such as a knife," and there was "no imminent threat to the community at large." 

But as the investigation got underway, there was no such thing as a safe assumption.

"We know you have questions, and so do we," Moscow Police Chief Fry told reporters during a Nov. 16 news conference. He confirmed they did not yet have a suspect and "that individual is still out there. We cannot say there is no threat to the community."

A Guide to the Dismissed Murder Charges Against Adnan Syed: Digging Into Serial's Latest Chapter

Idaho State Police Col. Kedrick Willis said they were "looking at everyone. Every tip we get, every we lead we get—there is no one we're not going to talk to. There is no one we're not going to interview." Fry noted there were 25 investigators working the case.

Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt called the killings "gruesome," telling KHQ, "I've never seen anything like this in the 16 years I've been in this position." In fact, Moscow hadn't recorded a murder in more than seven years before this happened.

Following the postmortems, police said there was no evidence of sexual assault on any of the victims, and Mabbutt said she didn't suspect substance abuse was involved.

Did Idaho murder victim Kaylee Goncalves have a stalker?

Authorities were investigating the possibility that someone was stalking Kaylee, based on comments she apparently made to friends and family.


Moscow Police said they zeroed in on an incident at a local business in mid-October in which a man seemed to keep his eye on Kaylee and then followed her outside as she left and headed to her car but did not make contact with her. 

After talking to that guy and a buddy he was with, police determined it was "an isolated incident and not an ongoing pattern of stalking," nor was there any connection to the murders. They were out trying to meet women, police said.

Investigators were continuing to pursue any leads pertaining to the possibility that someone was harassing Kaylee.

Angela Palermo/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

How did police combat misinformation about the Idaho college killings?

From day one, authorities were under pressure to provide real-time updates, let alone solve the case.

The day after the bodies were found, Moscow Mayor Art Bettge told reporters that "most any scenario" was possible, including a burglary "gone wrong" or a "crime of passion." That being said, he noted, "patience is needed to allow an investigation to proceed in meticulous fashion."

Why the Grisly Murder of Laci Peterson Is Still So Haunting

On Nov. 15, Moscow Police said they had shared "every piece" of information they could without compromising their ongoing investigation. But that inevitably didn't do much to assuage the victims' families.

"There is a lack of information from the University of Idaho and the local police, which only fuels false rumors and innuendo in the press and social media," Ethan's father, Jim Chapin, said in a statement to NBC News. "The silence further compounds our family's agony after our son's murder. For Ethan and his three dear friends slain in Moscow, Idaho, and all of our families, I urge officials to speak the truth, share what they know, find the assailant, and protect the greater community."

Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP

Kaylee's sister Alivea told KHQ, "Anything can be isolated until it's not. And until we have someone in custody, there's no way with any amount of confidence to say this is isolated."

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson told the Associated Press Nov. 15, "Obviously, there's no way police can say that there's no risk, but what they're seeing indicates that there's not a risk that this person will randomly attack people." 

As for a potential suspect or suspects, he said, "I don't think they're going to foreclose the possibility that it could be one or more people, but right now they don't know who is responsible."

In the section of their case updates headed "Rumor Control," police kept track of various crimes and incidents that were the subject of speculation, trying to debunk as much misinformation as they could.

The True Crimes That Inspired American Horror Story

For instance, a Sept. 12 confrontation on the University of Idaho campus between a cyclist who displayed a knife and a group of people walking on a bike path was not related, police said. (The cyclist turned himself in and police referred misdemeanor charges to the Moscow City Attorney's Office.)

Moreover, the list continued, a red Mustang since processed by police was not part of the investigation (five vehicles parked outside the house were towed to a long-term storage location Nov. 29 so, investigators said, they could continue processing evidence undisturbed) and a rumor circulating online that the victims were bound and gagged was incorrect. 

Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP

Among the people who police determined early on were not involved in the killings: the victims' surviving roommates, a sixth person whose name was on the Kings Road house lease but had moved out before the school year began, people seen on video interacting with Kaylee and Madison at the Grub Truck, the person who drove them home and a young man the pair called several times in the early morning hours of Nov. 13. 

The recipient of the unanswered calls was Kaylee's ex-boyfriend Jack DuCoeur, according to Alivea Goncalves, who told the New York Times earlier this month that she and her family "stand behind Jack 100 percent and know he absolutely had nothing to do with this at all." DuCouer—who, Alivea said, was sleeping when the girls rang him—has not commented.

In a statement released Dec. 5, Moscow Police reiterated that unfounded accusations and other irresponsible online chatter were not helping their investigation.

Inside the 13-Year Search for Brittanee Drexel: A Family's Nightmare, Grim Twists and a Suspect Charged

"There have been statements and speculation about this case, victim injuries, cause of death, evidence collection and processing, and investigative techniques," police said. "With the active criminal investigation, law enforcement has not released additional facts to the family or the public. We recognize the frustration this causes and that speculation proliferates in the absence of facts."

"However," the statement continued, "we firmly believe speculation and unvetted information is a disservice to the victims, their families, and our community. The Moscow Police Department is committed to providing information whenever possible but not at the expense of compromising the investigation and prosecution."

At the same time, they encouraged anyone with information to come forward.

"We believe someone has information that will add context to the picture investigators are creating of what occurred that evening," police noted. "Our focus is the investigation, not the activities. Your information, whether you believe it is significant or not, might be one of the puzzle pieces that help solve these murders."

Police also warned that making threats or otherwise harassing any potentially involved parties in this case—in person or online—could result in criminal charges.

What Happened to Madeleine McCann: Her Parents' Hope Persists Through the Years, Police Name a Suspect

On Dec. 21, Rebecca Scofield, the chair of the history department at the University of Idaho, sued TikToker Ashley Guillard for defamation over a series of videos the Texas-based tarot card reader made in which she theorized that Scofield was romantically involved with one of the victims and involved in the killings.

"Professor Scofield did not participate in the murders, and she had never met any of the victims, let alone entered a romantic relationship with them," read the Dec. 21 suit accusing Guillard of making false statements. Moreover, the complaint continued, Scofield was out of town with her husband when the murders were committed.

Scofield's attorney Wendy Olson told E! News in a statement that they twice sent Guillard cease and desist letters to no avail, rendering the lawsuit "necessary" to protect the professor's safety and reputation.

Sins Of Our Mother: The Biggest Bombshells From Netflix's Lori Vallow Docuseries

Guillard, who posts on the TikTok channel "Ashley Solves Mysteries," called the suit an attempt to silence her, telling E! News, "The lawsuit has provided me with an opportunity to 'be even louder.' Justice for Ethan, Kaylee & Madison and Xana. In that specific order."

Moscow Police said Dec. 27 that Scofield had been cleared as a suspect and they would not be commenting on the ongoing civil matter.

What happened with the white Hyundai police were looking for during the Idaho murder investigation?

On Dec. 8, Moscow Police said they got so many tips when they requested information about a 2011-2013 white Hyundai Elantra with an unknown license plate that was parked in "the immediate area" of the victims' house in the early morning hours of Nov. 13, all related calls had been redirected to the FBI. In a subsequent video update, police said they had a list of 22,000 registered Elantras to sift through.

Police in Eugene, Ore., informed Moscow authorities on Dec. 20 that a white 2013 Elantra with front-end damage and no license plate had turned up in their city, but police said later that day that investigators had spoken to the owner and determined that neither she nor the car had anything to do with their homicide case.

The search for the car that was parked near the Kings Road house was ongoing, police said Dec. 29.

Where does the investigation into the Idaho college student murders stand now?

"The Moscow Police Department thanks our community for their continued support, understanding of the limited information we can share, and patience during this difficult time," Moscow PD said in a news release Thursday, having posted information—whether new or reiterated—on their website almost daily since the murders.

Then came the news Friday, six weeks after the killings, of Kohberger's arrest.

Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP

"It's been a nightmare," Xana's mother, Cara Northington, told NBC News. "This whole thing has been a nightmare, literally. But I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders."

She had never heard of the suspect, she said, continuing, "A lot of the grief was not knowing who this was, knowing that whoever was responsible for that is still out there. So yeah, this definitely takes a lot of the grief that we were experiencing off our shoulders."

Shanon Gray, a lawyer representing Kaylee's family, told NBC News, "The family is relieved that the authorities have someone in custody and now the journey through the criminal justice system begins."

Thompson, the Latah County prosecutor, told reporters at a press conference Friday afternoon that, per the dictates of state law, the probable cause affidavit detailing the case against Kohberger would remain sealed until he was physically in Idaho and served with the criminal complaint. An extradition hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Law enforcement sources told NBC News Friday that a Hyundai Elantra was removed from the scene of the arrest. Moscow Police Chief Fry confirmed during the press conference that they had found "an Elantra" but didn't say whether it was the Elantra they previously announced they were looking for.

Inside the Most Haunting Cases Covered in Unsolved Mysteries Season 3

"These murders have shaken our community, and no arrest will ever bring back these young students," Fry said. "However, we do believe justice will be found through the criminal process."

On Thursday, police had said that the King Road house remained an active crime scene but the clean-up process to remove potential biohazards or other harmful substances used to collect evidence had begun. Fry said following Kohberger's arrest that the remediation was on hold per a request from the court. 

Acknowledging the outcry from critics who had accused police of not being forthcoming enough with their findings, Fry told reporters he "100 percent" stood by how the investigation was handled, explaining that they kept "information pertinent to this case very, very tight" to ensure "when this goes to trial that we've done everything right." 

He would not comment on any possible motive for the slayings or whether the suspect and victims knew each other, noting that their investigation was still ongoing and he expected those details would come out at a later date.

Fry said they continued to seek information—"anything and everything"—pertaining to the case, so tips were still welcome.

"This investigation is far from over," Thompson said. "This is not an ending, but rather a new beginning." The public's help was still needed, he said, to "understand fully everything there is to know not only about the individual, but what happened and why."

(Originally published Dec. 6, 2022, at 5 a.m. PT)

For more true crime updates on your need-to-know cases, head to Oxygen.com.