Longform

Marissa Karp Murder: A Decade of Investigation Pays Off

Page 3 of 6

Then, in January 2002, Marissa ran from state custody for the first time. After she was returned by police, she ran again in April. She was 17 years old.

"The system let her down," Gary says, before his voice sinks low. "And so did her father."


Because they're an easy boat ride from South Florida, the Bahamas were prime real estate for large-scale drug-smuggling operations throughout the latter half of the 20th Century.

When Colombian drug cartels rose to prominence in the '70s, the islands were a preferred launch pad. Medellín honcho Carlos Lehder famously ran his smuggling operation out of airstrips on Norman's Cay, an island south of Nassau. By the '80s, the U.S. antidrug forces began pinching off the flow from the Caribbean, particularly the Bahamas. To stay ahead of the heat, the Colombians opted for new traffic patterns through Central America and Mexico.

But when the United States began eyeing the Mexican traffic around 2000, smugglers quickly regrouped. "Given the high levels of corruption in Bahamian authorities and a limited capacity to enforce, and the U.S.'s increasing focus on Central America and Mexico, the Bahamas were ripe for use once again," says Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami professor who studies the drug trade.

Among the Colombians dusting off the old routes was Elías Cobos-Muñoz. Around 1999, the dealer from Colombia's north coast began outsourcing product to the States by teaming with traffickers in Caribbean countries such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

The Bahamian pipeline was fronted by two bosses — Melvin "Mel" Maycock Sr. and Pedro "Grand Daddy" Smith. By air and water, the pair landed drugs in South Florida, circumventing traditional drop-offs in Miami-Dade for sites in Broward and Palm Beach.

At any one time, the network was moving as much as three tons of cocaine — between 10 to 12 percent of what America was putting up its nose at the time, plus a half-ton of marijuana. During half a decade, the operation grossed around $275 million.

Among the Bahamians speedboating drugs to South Florida at the time were Almanto Coakley and Eloyn Devon Ingraham, two men who would become critical in the case of Marissa Karp. Ingraham, age 24, was a fierce-eyed repeat offender who had served time for theft, burglary, assault, and marijuana possession. Coakley was a 28-year-old bantam-weight Bahamian topping out at five-foot-nine with a small swashbuckler mustache, a wide nose, a lion inked on one arm, and "Latoya" printed on the other.

Coakley and Ingraham managed a group of about a half-dozen Bahamians and two native Americans who ran the drugs over the water from the beaches of Bimini to South Florida. Of every ten kilos they moved, nine would be sold to distributors in college towns such as Gainesville and Tallahassee.

They'd move the remaining kilo — worth about $100,000 at the time — from a cramped rear apartment located in a quiet tangle of streets west of U.S. 1 in Hallandale Beach. The building was called Sue's Efficiencies. It was a run-down shotgun chopped into five units, each no larger than a glorified closet space. In the summer of 2002, Coakley was paying the rent for the apartment.

"They weren't the main guys," says Broward Sheriff's Det. John Curcio, "but they were high enough in the food chain where they were delivering the cocaine to the distributors all over the place."

How Marissa Karp fell in with drug dealers is anybody's guess. The two worlds could have overlapped when she was moving from shelter to shelter after leaving her grandmother's home. Marissa might have surfed open couches and crash pads until landing in Hallandale Beach. But by late summer 2002, the 17-year-old girl everyone called "Shorty" was living with Coakley. Multiple witnesses would later tell police the suburban-bred girl and Bahamian drug dealer were a couple.

After Marissa's body was found, those same witnesses would begin to fill in the picture about her last hours. Police documents and affidavits show that on the evening of August 18, Coakley and one of his alleged henchmen, Thaddeus Sondej, were having dinner at a house in Hollywood when Ingraham called. There was an emergency at the Hallandale Beach apartment.

Although no one has been charged with Marissa's murder, police files describe an account of that evening from various witnesses and pieces of evidence.

As the clock swung through the early-morning hours of August 19, Coakley and Sondej arrived at the apartment. Soon they were joined by Sondej's brother, who drove a truck. Pinging cell-phone towers would later track Coakley, Sondej, and the brother north on I-95, then west on I-595, and finally to I-75, where they journeyed deep into the Everglades.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson