In Depth

Bahamas killing clouds decade-old Broward case

A key figure in the brutal murder of Broward County teenager Marissa Karp, whose body was shoved into a garbage bag and dumped into an Everglades canal more than a decade ago, has been shot to death in the Bahamas.

The killing of Randolph Almanto Coakley, also a fugitive in a separate 2002 double murder in Sunrise linked to the Bahamian narcotics trade, will make it even tougher to finally close the books on the murder of a troubled 17-year-old runaway whose death led to an overhaul of the state’s child welfare agency.

A number of law enforcement agencies, including the Sunrise police department, had been trying for years to bring Coakley, Karp’s former boyfriend, and another suspect into custody for questioning but had been unable to locate them in the Bahamas where they fled years ago, said Sunrise police spokesman Sgt. Rodney Hailey.

“I am not going to say the death is unfortunate because of the lifestyle he led and what he is accused of doing,’’ Hailey said on Saturday. But, he added, “It’s a setback for the case.”

Marissa’s father Gary Karp expressed disappointment. Over the years, Karp has held annual news conferences and handed out fliers to keep her memory, and case, alive. He joined Broward Crime Stoppers, traveled to the Bahamas and appeared on an episode of America’s Most Wanted last August devoted to rekindling public, police and media interest on the 10-year anniversary of the discovery of his daughter’s remains.

aka “Prodigal’

Karp could not be reached for comment on Saturday but he posted a link to a Nassau Guardian story about Coakley’s killing on his Facebook page.

“Can’t catch a break,’’ wrote Karp, who now lives in Wellington in western Palm Beach County. “The never-ending story. It’s not over Marissa we will get justice for you!! I promise! Love always Dad.”

In a Friday release the Royal Bahamas Police Force said the 38-year-old Coakley, who the Guardian reported was known by the street name “Prodigal,’’ had been killed Thursday afternoon while sitting outside a Nassau home with two other men. A man in a blue hooded jacket approached from a nearby dirt road, police said, sprayed bullets at Coakley and then fled in a waiting gold Honda Accord.

Coakley was the second of several men linked to the Karp killing and a subsequent drug-related double murder in Sunrise that have been gunned down since returning to the Bahamas. Another suspect, Ryan Woods, died in a drive-by shooting in 2006. Police believe that if Coakley, officially considered a “person of interest’’ in Karp’s murder, didn’t kill the young woman himself, he probably knew who did.

An airboat operator discovered Karp’s remains on Aug. 19, 2002, in a large green plastic garbage bag on a bridge embankment along the L-28 Canal off Alligator Alley, just north of the Broward County line. The petite teen, nicknamed “Shorty” by friends, had been beaten and shot in the chest.

Karp was killed about four months after moving into a tiny Hallandale Beach efficiency with Coakley, a suspected drug dealer who went by the name Shawn Smith while living in South Florida.

Troubled life

It was a tragic ending for a troubled young woman, whose life fell into a downward spiral after the death of her mother in 1996. Karp, who attended middle school and Piper High School in Sunrise, struggled after her father remarried. Family relations eventually became so strained that he placed her in the custody of Florida’s Department of Children & Families.

She was in and out of foster care for years. In the months before her death, she ran away from a Pompano Beach center for troubled youths, which landed her among 393 children then labeled by the agency as “missing.” Though the state couldn’t locate her, Collier County investigators found she had stayed in contact with her family through phone calls once she had moved in with Coakley and others who shared the apartment. But she was so far off the official radar screen, it took a month for investigators to even figure out who she was.

After the killing, detectives had focused on Coakley and a close circle of acquaintances. But investigators could not find enough evidence or any DNA linking him to Karp’s killing, according to Miami Herald stories about a 2006 search warrant filed after a witness came forward. The unidentified witness claimed to have overheard Coakley and another man talking about her death. A neighbor, police records showed, also had heard a “muffled gunshot” from the apartment the night before her body was discovered and the landlord found what appeared to be a bullet hole in the refrigerator.

But by 2006, Coakley had returned to the Bahamas

Sunrise police also considered Coakley a prime suspect in two other murders. Friends of two men murdered at the Boardwalk of Inverrary apartments in October 2002 claimed that Coakley, Woods and another man were hired as enforcers for a drug dealer in the Bahamas who had been ripped off. The two men were found shot to death and a third was left paralyzed.

Hailey, the Sunrise police spokesman, said despite the death of a “key player” law enforcement agencies still hope to nail Karp’s killers someday. In addition to Sunrise, the Broward and Collier counties sheriff’s offices, Hallandale Beach police and other agencies still want to solve the case, he said. There is still a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrest of her killer or killers, he said.

“It doesn’t close the case,’’ Hailey said “We’ll still keep it open.’’