SAN ANTONIO (AP) - A man charged in the disappearance of atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her children says they weren't kidnapped but rather arranged to vanish because they wanted to flee the Internal Revenue Service, the San Antonio Express-News said today.

The man, an ex-convict, has given contradictory statements on whether the three were eventually killed by the people he said they picked to help with their disappearance.

Gary Karr, in statements given to IRS and FBI agents and a Dallas County sheriff's detective last year, said Ms. O'Hair persuaded her former office manager to help her leave the country to avoid mounting tax problems, the Express-News said.

Karr, who with ex-office manager David R. Waters is suspected in the 1995 disappearance of Ms. O'Hair and her two children, contradicts federal authorities' assertion that the three were kidnapped at gunpoint and then murdered for a half-million dollars' worth of gold coins, the newspaper reported.

``The O'Hairs were not kidnapped or abducted. They freely and voluntarily moved with Waters,'' Karr said in one statement.

Waters, a convicted murderer, has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $50,000 from atheist accounts belonging to O'Hair's organization, theUnited Secularists of America, and was placed on 10 years' probation. Although he is suspected of masterminding the plot, he has not been formally charged in the O'Hairs' disappearance. He has pleaded guilty to firearms charges and is serving an eight-year term.

Karr said he accepted an offer of $7,000 from Waters, an old prison buddy from Illinois, to ``help guard and run errands'' for the O'Hairs while they prepared to leave the country.

Karr was indicted last month on federal charges of kidnapping and robbing the trio.

Ms. O'Hair, 77, son Jon Garth Murray and adopted daughter Robin Murray O'Hair have never been located. Last April, more than three dozen FBI agents searched a 5,000-acre ranch for several days but found nothing.

In one statement given to authorities, Karr said: ``In October 1995, over the telephone, David told me that the O'Hairs were no longer alive. He told me that he killed them.''

But Karr now says through his attorney that he was misquoted in that statement, the newspaper reported. He says he told authorities that Waters only implied he had killed the O'Hairs, not admitted it.

A spokesman for Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Carruth, who is overseeing the O'Hair case, did not return a telephone call for comment today.

Karr is being held without bail in Michigan and is awaiting trial on firearms violations.

Ms. O'Hair is best known for a case that led to a 1963 Supreme Court decision that, along with a decision the previous year, struck down organized prayer in public schools as unconstitutional.

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