Marissa Karp Murder: A Decade of Investigation Pays Off

A weak breeze was pushing in from the south, rippling the broad boulevard of water as it caught the midmorning sun. The canal, wide as a football field, ran north to south, slashing an engineered course through the unruly tangle of low-lying bush in Big Cypress National Preserve.

Scott Harris, a 34-year-old maintenance worker, was coasting along the east bank in an airboat, killing weeds with a hose full of poison. Decked out in a protective suit, rubber boots, glasses, and earmuffs, he was deep in the sawgrass, about a mile north of Alligator Alley and 45 minutes by car west of Fort Lauderdale. The deafening whir of the propellers overwhelmed all sound.

He looked ahead, eyeing where the wind was carrying the chemicals. Then he saw it: a floating black trash bag.

After a decade, Gary Karp is still pushing for resolution in the murder of his daughter.
Monica McGivern
After a decade, Gary Karp is still pushing for resolution in the murder of his daughter.
After spending time in shelters for troubled youth, Marissa Karp ran from the state in April 2002.
Courtesy of Gary Karp
After spending time in shelters for troubled youth, Marissa Karp ran from the state in April 2002.

There's always junk in the canals, he thought. Maybe it's a bag of clothes.

Harris cut the engines and poled over to the bag using a 12-foot cypress stick he kept on hand for pushing off the bank. When the trash bag was in range, he tore through the black plastic with the stick's end. Inside was another layer of garbage bag. Harris ripped it open, uncovering a third. Something is wrong, he thought, laying aside the pole and hopping to the bow to rip the final layer with his hands.

Inside he saw a back pants pocket made of dark corduroy. It was a bag of clothes, he assumed. But as Harris looked closer, a flash of skin caught his eye. He was looking at a corpse curled in the fetal position.

Frantic, he pushed off. The airboat drifted a couple hundred yards. He dialed on his cell phone. No reception. He dialed again. A 911 operator answered. What seemed like hours passed. Finally, police arrived.

"I could have easily overlooked the bag, but I'm a Christian man. I believe God wanted the bag to be found," says Harris, who still has nightmares. "Now, if I see a bag that I can't see through, I don't touch it. I don't want to find more human remains."

The body was later identified as 17-year-old Marissa Karp. She had been shot through the left breast, and her face was rouged with bruises. She'd been dead only 12 hours when Harris (whose name has been changed because he fears gang retribution) opened the trash bag.

More than a month later, after police identified the body, Gary Karp received the news about his daughter. Over the next decade, he would make a superhuman effort to track down her killer, waging every battle possible to keep the case from going cold.

He would amass wheelbarrows' worth of documents and badger cops in two countries until they finally followed up on thousands of hours of his detective work. Marissa, he showed beyond a reasonable doubt, fell victim to a Bahamian drug crew that had left a string of bodies across South Florida.

His dogged work provides insight not only into the power of a father's love for his daughter but also into cartels not from Colombia or Mexico, but from a seemingly lazy collection of islands just 120 miles east of South Florida. Big rip-offs, brutal beatings, and murder of innocents were all part of their modus operandi.

Now 59 years old and disabled by a massive stroke, Gary regrets much from the years his daughter was alive. But in a halting voice, he expresses pride that Marissa's murderer might soon face arrest. "I wanted to be able to say I may have failed when my daughter was alive, but I was able to get justice for her after she was gone."


Despite his almost 40 years in South Florida, a New York glaze still covers Gary's words and bearing. He's quick with his opinion, has a wise-guy wit, and once he lights on something he wants, he doesn't give in. He exhibits surprising intensity for a guy who stands only five-foot-two and looks out on the world with soft drooping features and an awkward smile. "People love to hate me and hate to love me," he says when describing himself. "The last thing you want to do is tell me what I can't do."

Gary was born in 1953 in Queens to a Jewish family. His father worked as a mechanic for American Airlines, and his mom was an accountant for the Federal Aviation Administration. When he was about 6 years old, the family uprooted for North Woodmere on Long Island, where Gary grew up on a steady diet of '50s American truisms — cops were your friends, the courts knew right from wrong, the government was there to help. "Truth, justice, the American way, Superman, and all the rest," he says.

As a teen, he worked as a clerk at Waldbaum's, a local supermarket chain. One day Gary's eye hooked on a girl with curly black hair and brown eyes parking her car in the fire lane. He followed her through the aisles and learned her name was Susan. They dated, and when Gary moved with his parents to Florida in 1972, she followed.

He spent a few semesters at the University of Miami before leaving college for good and then trained as an EMT, eventually working five years in Dade County. The job put him up close to everything from bloody car wrecks to decapitations to shootings. He also delivered 14 babies.

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10 comments
problum
problum

I felt empathy for Gary Karp until I read this: "I never really believed in the death penalty. Now, you know the saying, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?' No, two eyes." So Gary never could imagine what a victim's family felt until he became a victim's family member?  I lose all respect for people like this, who are anti-death penalty until a member of their family is murdered and then become pro-death penalty.

MrEFQ
MrEFQ

@problum This says so much about you. You never had empathy for this man. You are pathetic.

erikdenning
erikdenning

@problum Yes, it's ridiculous for someone's views to change after experiencing something so traumatic firsthand. Life experience should never affect our world views.

problum
problum

@MrEFQ @problum Wrong - I had empathy for Karp just like I do for every victim of a crime - I just do not have respect for any person whose viewpoints on crime are only those which have happened to himself personally.  Karp is very narrow-minded, only thinking of himself when it came to the Death Penalty.  At least Karp is finally Pro-Death Penalty - but it took the death of his daughter to change his mind and make him Pro-Death Penalty.

problum
problum

@erikdenning @problum It's very narrow-minded, short-sighted and SELFISH to hold viewpoints that change only when they affect YOU PERSONALLY!  Where was his empathy for other fathers whose daughters had been killed?  He didn't have any empathy for them, just himself.  wah wah wah

problum
problum

@mcytmaccracker You are anti-death penalty because a member of your family is either in prison, on parole or on probation.  Admit it, you know it's true.  Probably STD-infected too.

mcytmaccracker
mcytmaccracker

@problum @MrEFQ I'm anti death penalty, and will dedicate all my efforts henceforth to wrongfully convict a member of your family, just to see if your views change. Because they will. Because you're an idiot.

MrEFQ
MrEFQ

@problum @MrEFQ It is pretty funny that you think you have a valid point.

Anyways, I still don't believe that you ever had empathy for him.

problum
problum

@erikdenning @problum I never stated "all of his views on life only changed when they affected him personally".  That's awfully presumptuous of you. I only stated what was in the article, how he changed from being against the death penalty to wanting to doubly-kill a convicted murderer ("two eyes for an eye") once his daughter was killed.  I have always supported the death penalty and always will without having anyone in my family killed because I have compassion for the victims, including Mr. Karp.  I just don't have respect for him.  And speaking of belligerence - You responded to me to start this flame war.

erikdenning
erikdenning

@problum@erikdenning

 @problum@erikdenning Where did you learn that ALL of his views on life only changed when they affected him personally? This is one specific, and very extreme example. If one of your views changed because of a horrific, life-altering experience, I wouldn't generalize that ALL of your beliefs had the same kind of roots, just as I wouldn't presume from a single posting on the internet that you are a self-righteous and belligerent person.  

"Where was his empathy for other fathers whose daughters had been killed?  He didn't have any empathy for them, just himself." 

Do you know this guy? Do you have transcripts confirming this or something? From where do you have such insight into his heart and mind. And don't say ESP. That would be cheating. 

You seem awfully eager to dislike this guy and you are filling in a lot of blanks with your own presumptions to do it.


 
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