CChristmas is looming, but there’s an eerie and decidedly non-festive mood in the snowy college town of Moscow, Idaho. Locksmiths’ vans have replaced the stroller carolers. Some request pepper spray or a gun as a Christmas gift. Businesses close early. Some walk alone, especially at night.
More than a month after four local university students were found inexplicably stabbed to death in the same home, the case remains unsolved and the killer, or murderers, are at large. Police have not named any suspects, found no murder weapon, and given no motive.
Moscow’s streets are uncomfortably empty, as are the classrooms of its largest employer, the University of Idaho. Many of the university’s 11,000 students left the city soon after the killings; Others who left for Thanksgiving have apparently refused to return.
Moscow, a city of 25,000 near Idaho’s border with Washington state, is not addicted to crime. Residents don’t lock their doors. By November, there had not been a single murder in seven years.
Now this area looks like a cantonment. 31-Officers, FBI investigators and state troopers deployed to augment the Moscow Police Department are searching for clues. Police say they’ve taken thousands of photographs and conducted more than 150 interviews, but so far have expanded, not narrowed, the case.
Although describing the attack as “targeted”, the Moscow police chief, James Fry, Jr., was forced to acknowledge the possibility of a greater threat. “We cannot say there is no threat to the community,” he told reporters.
Residents who live alone usually stay at friends’ homes. They lock the bedroom door as well as the exterior doors.
A manager at Tri-State Outfitters, a local store, declined to tell the Guardian whether gun sales had increased after the killings. Sporting goods and hardware stores in the area, however, confirm that police detectives visited to ask if they sold Ka-bar-style military knives.
Police have been flooded with more than 5,000 tips, many of which are unfounded. The other tip – about the skinned corpse of a pet dog – was true but, police say, not related to the murders.
Moscow Police Captain Roger Lanier recently said that an internet sleuth has fueled the wild rumours. The families of the victims have since experienced harassment and received death threats. The Reddit forum Moscow Murders already has over 78,000 members.
“It’s strange and sad to be exposed to this tragedy in our small town,” Bailey Kidd, a 2019 graduate of the University of Idaho, told the Idaho Statesman. “You can tell everyone on the sidelines.”
If Moscow feels strangely quiet, then no place feels quieter or sadder than a pale, vinyl-sided house on King Road, not far from Greek Row’s frat and sorority houses. As of Sunday, November 13, five people lived in the rented house and was known to host parties.
That Sunday, police responding to a report that someone was unresponsive found the bodies of Ethan Chapin, 20, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Zana Kernodle, 20, and Madison “Maddie” Mogen, 21.
Goncalves, Cernodal and Mogen lived at the house; Chapin was dating Kernodle. All four attended the University of Idaho.
At some point during the night, a person or people murdered the four students, possibly while they were sleeping, with a large knife or sharp instrument. There were no signs of forced entry. Two other housewives, whom the police do not consider to be suspects, went to sleep after doing everything.
County Coroner Cathy Mabbut has said there is no evidence of murder-suicide or sexual assault. She also said that some of the victims had defensive wounds indicating that they woke up and tried to fight back.
Built against a hill, King Road House had an eccentric three-storey design; The two surviving housewives slept on the first floor.
“I don’t know who could have done this or why they could have done this to Kaylee,” Jordan Quesnel, a friend of Kaylee Goncalves, told the New York Times. She and Goncalves were planning to move to Austin, Texas, next year, and were excited to see the world beyond their native Idaho.
Goncalves, of Rathdrum, Idaho, had been friends with Mogen since the sixth grade. Mogen, a marketing student from Coeur d’Alene, was helping a local restaurant create a social media plan. She and Kernodle were waitresses there.
Kernodle, who was born in Idaho but raised in Arizona, was independent-minded, her family has said. She was “positive, funny and loved by everyone she met”, her sister, Jazmin Kurnodl, told The New York Times. “She made me such a proud big sister, and I wish I could have had more time with her.”
Chapin was a high school basketball player from Washington State. He was a triplet and had spent part of the Saturday before his death with his siblings, who are also students at the university. “My kids are so grateful that this was time well spent with them,” their mother, Stacey Chapin, told the Times. “He made everyone laugh. He was the kindest person.
The victims were linked. The day before his death, on Instagram, Goncalves posted a photo of them all together. Their friends and families have no idea why Saturday night ended in such tragedy.
“I don’t want people to make assumptions about our kids,” Stacey Chapin told the Idaho Statesman. “It wasn’t drugs and it certainly wasn’t a passion between these kids. Somebody broke into the house.
Saturday started off spontaneously with a University of Idaho football game—always a big event in the college town. Chapin and Kernodle later go to a frat party, while Goncalves and Mogen go to a bar. All four returned home by two o’clock in the night.
Once home, Goncalves and Mogen made several phone calls to Goncalves’ ex-boyfriend, who lived nearby, but he did not pick up.
DuCoeur has not been named as a person of interest, and Goncalves’ family has said that she often called friends late at night. His older sister, Alivia Goncalves, has said that she and her family “stand behind Jack 100% and know he had nothing to do with this.”
On Sunday, 14 November, a resident of the house apparently called friends, concerned that another housemate was unresponsive. He called the police around noon.
When the police arrived, they saw that people were crying around the house. There was “a lot of blood” inside, the coroner said — so much so that a photo of the home obtained by Fox News reportedly showed traces of blood running down an exterior wall.
News about the flow of the investigation has been sporadic.
Police are investigating information that some friends of Goncalves heard him talking about a poacher, but so far they have not been able to confirm this. Police are also investigating information that someone threatened students with a knife on campus in September.
Last week, police said they were looking for information about a white Hyundai Elantra that was near the victims’ home at the time of their deaths. Police said the occupants of the car may have “vital information”. They are still processing DNA information from the crime scene.
It can take weeks, or even months, to analyze it. “Sent my daughter to college to get an education,” Goncalves’ father, Steve Goncalves, said recently. “She came back in a box.”