A gentleman haranguing on the perfection of our law, and that it was equally open to the poor and the rich, was answered by another, “So is the London Tavern.”
Thomas Paine’s Jests…(1794)
Craig Lewis and Joe Mullins, both employed by the supermarket tabloid, The Globe, decided to capitalize on the voyeuristic appeal of the JonBenet autopsy photographs. Craig Lewis was still covering the O.J. Simpson case for the National Enquirer when the Ramsey case broke. Hehad managed to buy the diary of Nicole Brown Simpson. No one ever got the crime scene or autopsy photographs of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, though everyone in TV land drooled to see them. They were ghastly, comparable to Jack the Ripper’s product, fury and blood everywhere, but the tabloids, try as they would, couldn’t find anyone who would sell copies. The LAPD made sure reporters could not trace the coroner’s film. Boulder, a small city with little experience at solving murders, had no concept of a tabloid’s “gangbang” approach to news. The autopsy photographs went from Dr John Meyer’s lab to a local commercial developer as they always had. The need for security did not occur to the coroner’s office, or to the police.
The autopsy film had been taken to PhotoCraft Laboratories, a local developer. Private investigator and former police officer, Brett Sawyer, knew how the system worked and where to find the film. He also knew Larry Smith, a technician at the film lab. Tabloid reporters had begun to peel the cover off the JonBenet Ramsey case as easily as the lid off a Styrofoam cup holding bait worms. Information came cheap. Major media had turned their Cyclopean maws from old news, the slaughter of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, to the new story of kiddy-porn and torture in Boulder.
Sawyer had worked for several years as a Boulder Sheriff’s Deputy. He thought he could do better than to spend his life as a career cop. He had a wife, a child, and, after he resigned from the sheriff’s office, a successful private investigations business in Boulder. In sixteen years of investigations, Sawyer had built up a reliable stable of New England insurance companies as clients, and made twice what he had as a cop. He handled disability fraud investigations so successfully that his cases rarely went to litigation. To him, as with so many other private eyes in nearby Denver, the Ramsey case came as a windfall. With journalists from throughout the world scrambling for a scoop on the American beauty princess’ death, the investigations business was booming.
Sawyer was married and his six-year-aid son attended the same elementary school as Burke and JonBenet Ramsey. Burke was his son’s reading coach. The private investigator had majored in molecular biology and cultural anthropology at the University of Colorado before beginning his career in law enforcement and then private investigations. He had enjoyed law enforcement and loved private investigations prior to his meeting with Joe Mullins of The Globe. With the sincerity of a serial killer courting his next victim, Mullins promised Sawyer that the autopsy photographs were not for publication. Preying on the former cop’s desire to bring justice to JonBenet, the tabloid reporter explained that his newspaper had hired world famous criminologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, as a consultant “to help solve the murder.” Mullins retained Sawyer for $500 to locate the autopsy photographs, and offered him a $5000 bonus if he obtained them. He did. According to Sawyer, when he first looked at the photographs, “I saw immediately that this was a sex crime and not a kidnapping.”
When the coroner, Dr. John E Meyer saw the autopsy photographs he had taken of JonBenet’s corpse in The Globe, he called the cops. He had not released the photographs to anyone, nor had he given permission for their release. He was livid at the invasion of his professional work and the Ramseys’ privacy. So were the police, Hunter’s office, and, especially, the Ramsey defense and public relations teams.
Larry Smith, the lab technician who sold the autopsy photographs to Sawyer, obtained them as the Ramseys’ public relations specialists were using the animus against the tabloids to shape John and Patsy’s images as victims. Smith thought he was helping Sawyer solve the murder. He saw the incriminating weirdness and brutality at the crime scene in the prints. He thought, as did the reporters on the case, that the public, inflamed by the nature of the photographs, would press for a more rigorous investigation than that which appeared to be going on.
The locals in Boulder were daily informed of the media’s hounding of friends, neighbors and associates of John and Patsy. Hal Haddon vilified the police for lax security. Based upon public sentimentality about middle class parent-child bonding, the photographs represented the Judeo-Christian ethic that the parents could not have committed the crime. The Boulder police put muscle and extra manpower on leaked information, to assuage earlier police blunders. The Ramseys could not be anything but delighted at the public fury against the tabloids.<
The leak of the autopsy photographs further put into question the integrity of an already battered Boulder Police Department. The legion of lawyers could accuse the police of bad faith for having let the leak occur, adding fodder to a “rush to judgment” accusation. The defense lawyers also had a new hook to bait, and could influence public sympathy from the publication of these grotesque pictures. They added a claim that the Ramseys’ right to privacy had been violated. The innocent parents had to view the savage torture and killing of their daughter through the insensitive tabloids. Money, tabloid money, was exacerbating the crime against the Ramseys, according to whom? Nevertheless, money, therefore, had infected Boulder. Some grocery and convenience stores removed that week’s Globe from their racks. In no way did this symbolic act protect Boulder, or its self-image, from knowledge of the little girl’s last moments. The Ramseys turned the momentum against Alex Hunter, too, as public support for filing charges became diluted by outrage. The media also proved that free enterprise works more efficiently than a police bureaucracy in gathering investigative information.
Patsy Ramsey, never one to shun publicity, let tears melt her mascara in public over the sensational use of the autopsy photographs. She publicly identified herself with Princess Diana, as another tragic victim of paparazzi excess. She called in for airtime, on national “tabloid” TV to make this point as reported in her book, The Death of Innocence:
Suddenly I was talking on live television, launching first into an attack on Larry King Live for having The Globe editor on the air thereby giving him credibility, along with his trash tabloid! I wanted to know how a legitimate program could let this money-grubbing, immoral editor who represented all that was evil so presumptuously say that he would never publish Princess Diana’s pictures as she lay dead in the car when he had already published the stolen autopsy photos of my daughter, JonBenet.
Trusting that the autopsy photographs would never be published, but that they would help solve the murder, Sawyer selected seven out of 113 photographs that he believed would offer the greatest forensic value. When The Globe published the photographs days later, all hell broke loose. It didn’t take a first class “mindhunter” like the Ramseys’ John Douglas to figure out that someone at PhotoCraft must have delivered the photographs to Joe Mullins. The Boulder Police swooped down on Lawrence Smith, the PhotoCraft employee who had processed the film, rather than Sawyer. Smith denied it. The police pressured him to confess and administered a polygraph examination. Smith didn’t crack when the machine confirmed to police his role in copying and selling the photographs. The police could not force Smith to confess and, he refused to snitch on Sawyer.
On the day The Globe hit the newsstands, Sawyer had gone skiing. When he returned home, he found his voice mail full with calls from Joe Mullins, The Globe reporter. Mullins claimed he had no idea those bad boy editors of his would use autopsy photographs the way they had: to publish them to sell newspapers, for filthy lucre, of all things! Sawyer realized he’d been had by Mullins and called his lawyer, Peter Shields.
Sawyer and Smith had known each other for nine years, and Smith knew Sawyer solved fraud cases. He didn’t know those pictures would be sold by the investigator he trusted to a reporter from The Globe. He didn’t know his part in trying to solve the murder would appear on the front page at every grocery store in the world. He knew only what he needed to know: Brett Sawyer, a private investigator he trusted, needed the photographs in the JonBenet Ramsey investigation. The case looked stalled at Hunter’s office. Smith took the $200 Sawyer offered him. He never dreamed he had committed the felony he would be charged with: Theft of more than $400. The film, the processing, even the $200 Brett Sawyer paid him, didn’t amount to $400. Did the police value the “theft” by what those photographs were really worth? Did Larry Smith sell them to Sawyer out of a moral responsibility to JonBenet?
The Ramseys and the traditional press took the position that the autopsy photographs had been “stolen.” Copies had been purchased, but the negatives remained at PhotoCraft. Did the cops have a proprietary right to copies of the photographs? Did the coroner? Would the rights of authorities to the photographs outweigh the American First Amendment right of the press to obtain them and to publish them?
Boulder prosecutor Peter Hofstrom met Sawyer and his lawyer, Peter Sheilds. The prosecutor was cordial and apologetic. This whole Ramsey case troubled him. Yes, the media had blown the issue out of proportion, but now the coroner, Dr. Meyer, and Hunter had to make an “example” out of this case. The lawyers for the Ramseys said they were angry and wanted a lid put on all of these press leaks. Besides, the case had become a huge embarrassment to the police. Hofstrom knew The Globe had been the real force behind the acquisition of the autopsy photographs, but the editor had put just enough distance between himself and any criminal act to escape prosecution. The press has not only a right, as a matter of free speech, to look for information and ask questions, but a responsibility to do so. Neither Mullins, nor any other reporter, had made a direct attempt to purchase the photographs from PhotoCraft, Smith or a police officer. Mullins didn’t know whom to ask for the photographs, outside of the coroner. Brett Sawyer did.
By mid-January, 1997, the cops and the prosecutors had already come to distrust each other, to debase each other among themselves and complain to journalists about each other. The defense strategy to exploit political power and knowledge of Hunter’s character worked as the problems at the top rolled downhill onto the police. Within the government, the Boulder police and Hunter’s office, no one could agree on where, when, why or how this murder investigation should continue. They did agree that anyone who horned in on their botched and politically compromised investigation would pay for it.
Larry Smith, when he failed the lie detector test, had his chance to come clean. Stonewalling may pay off for big shots like John and Patsy, but this photo lab technician faced two felonies: “Theft of more than $400” and “Tampering with physical evidence;” and, two misdemeanors: “Obstructing government operations” and “False reporting to authorities.” PhotoCraft fired him. He’d worked for them for over nine years. Smith says he flushed the $200 cash down the toilet when he was caught. He said Sawyer, whom he had known for nine years, betrayed him. “People make mistakes, and mine was a great big mistake, and it ruined my life.”
Smith’s mistake turned Sawyer’s life into a living hell. He was terminated by all his clients within 24 hours after the news broke of his involvement with The Globe. That was just the beginning. Within the same 24 hours, the native from Boulder became the flavor of the day for talk shows, networks and wire services. The BBC wanted Sawyer for interviews, but lawyers didn’t want their companies’ names sharing in his notoriety. He had to hide at his mother’s home for three days while satellite trucks staked out his own home.
The videotapes of JonBenet sexually sashaying in a skimpy cowgirl outfit raised the blood pressure of every pedophile in the world. This was “normal stuff” according to John Ramsey. The autopsy photographs were titillating and horrifying in a different way; normal stuff, maybe, to a coroner in Los Angeles or Paris, used to seeing the bizarrely mutilated remains of countless victims. The public interest in seeing the autopsy photographs and the public fascination with the display of the live child’s body in the pageant videos are related. The child was a sex object, a spectacle, dead or alive.
With the autopsy photographs, the press, the internet sleuths and the rest of America had something they could get their teeth into: a broken paintbrush, a garrote, ligatures loosely tied at the little girl’s wrists. The forbidden autopsy photographs offered a transposed pageantry, a staged kidnapping and a dead child hidden in a basement. Like her own corpse removed from the wine cellar, the story of JonBenet’s death moved to the headlines and then into weeks to months to years without a resolution.
Brett Sawyer had to sell his home in Boulder. He moved to a nearby community where his mortgage payments would be lower. He gave up the dinners out. He began working for $8 to $10 per hour jobs, trying to revitalize his private investigations business. He and his wife cashed in their retirement savings. He answered death threats over the phone and found notes dropped on his table in local coffee shops with salutations such as “Dear Scumbag.”
Sawyer had grown up and been a cop in Boulder. He didn’t feel his son was safe there anymore. He had uncovered, in his capacity as an investigator, smoking gun evidence that there never had been a kidnap attempt, but a sex crime. He’d been paid to find evidence, like every other cop, investigator or prosecutor, but his money came with a curse. It came from the tabloids.
Rich And Famous
Larry Schiller, the rich and famous author of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, entered the JonBenet media meat market fresh from work on O.J. Simpson’s trial. During his months in Boulder, he bought and sold information to and from the tabloids. He quoted Craig Lewis’ description about being a tabloid reporter on a hot story in a small town:
You’re part of a “gang bang.” Five or six reporters from your newspaper drop into town with fifteen grand in each of their pockets. You own the fucking place in twelve hours…
The day JonBenet’s pageant video aired on TV, the tabs dumped eighteen reporters into Boulder. Then they hired freelancers and all the private investigators they could find who hadn’t been grabbed by Time or Newsweek.”
Schiller liked Lewis. He wrote the tabloid reporter into his book and gave him a part in the TV movie based on his book.
Mentioning Schiller to Sawyer draws a, “God damn him!” under Sawyer’s breath. He had given the writer a long interview. What the private investigator thought would be a careful review of the facts of his involvement, became a cartoon-like fiction. The private investigator appears greedy for taking home $5000 one day, and selfish for saying, “Well, I guess this looks like I lose my concealed weapons permit.”
“That wasn’t what happened at all,” Sawyer recalls. The difference between Schiller’s published account and Sawyer’s recollection of trying to solve the crime is startling and telling. Sawyer’s good character and skill as a fraud investigator reveals his motive for discovering evidence of JonBenet’s treatment at the hands of her murderer(s). Schiller wrote mostly about Sawyer’s police contacts and his purchase of autopsy photographs. He didn’t mention Sawyer’s observation that the autopsy photographs documented a sex crime, not a kidnapping. His failure to report that career investigator’s observation tells only a part of the story that helped establish the Ramsey fiction: the tabloid press, and those in their employ, framed the innocent parents of America’s most beautiful child corpse.
What motive did the tabloids, or any of their sources, have for framing the Ramseys? A “small foreign faction” isn’t the kind of story tabloid editors salivate over. “Six-Year-Old Glamour Girl Tortured and Murdered” sells newspapers. The boring statistical truth that most children murdered in their homes are killed by their caretakers was all the wicked tabloids could capitalize on, and capitalize they did. JonBenet sold newspapers. She still sells newspapers. The readers want what facts the tabloids could buy about this peculiarly fascinating murder. The hum-drum press, the parents and their lawyers, wanted to withhold those pictures of murder because they put the parents in a bad and suspicious light. The Ramseys asked the public to help them find the killer. How could anyone help if denied knowledge of the manner and staging of the crime?
Sawyer is hard to track down and harder to strike up a conversation with about the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. Whatever he saw in those 113 autopsy photographs, he will never talk about in court. He was neutralized as a witness with the smear of “tabloid” and ignored as an expert in fraud. Now, he finally found work as a manager in the computer industry. Sawyer and Smith thought they were helping to solve a mystery, and were introduced instead to the cruelties of a criminal justice system bent on preserving the status quo and the gulf between the rich and the poor.
The Cold Shoulder
Linda Hoffman-Pugh cleaned house for Patsy. When police investigators first contacted her at her home at 7:00 p. m. on December 26, 1996 to tell her that JonBenet had been murdered, she screamed and began to shake uncontrollably. She hadn’t yet realized that John and Patsy had fingered her for the murder, but understood quickly enough that she was a suspect when the police questioned her for three hours and took handwriting samples.
Hoffman-Pugh and her husband, Merv, were veterans of the working class. Merv worked in construction, weather permitting, and drank too much beer. He struggled to read the ransom note when freelance reporter Frank Coffman showed it to him. He had to ask Coffman for the pronunciations and meanings of some words in the note. Linda, heavy set and bent from years of manual labor, had to ask what the word “hence” meant.
On December 23, 1996, two days before the murder, Patsy had loaned Linda $2000 that she desperately needed to catch up on her rent. She adored Patsy. It was not only southern friendly, but Boulder “hip” to befriend one’s servants. But Patsy’s servants knew too many household secrets to be trusted, nor was she of the appropriate social class to be welcomed into the inner circle of grieving. Despite her ostentatious warmth and accommodating southern charm in dealing with servants, Patsy regarded them as dispensable, especially when the police asked her to name possible suspects. While John and Patsy could afford to hire the silk stocking law firm of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman, detectives, a world famous profiler and a crisis management specialist in public relations, Linda could barely afford food and shelter. She made a wonderful, defenseless “suspect.”
JonBenet’s bedwetting was a problem in the Ramsey household. Patsy knew that Linda knew it, and in order to deny her daughter’s least attractive behavior, she sought to demean the credibility of the insider, first by fingering her for the murder, then by trying to snub her out of existence. Early on in the police investigation Linda revealed the problem of JonBenet’s bedwetting and the increasing frequency with which she was soiling her linens with feces. Patsy asserts in The Death of Innocence that the bedwetting did not bother her:
Does anybody actually think I would kill my child because she wet the bed? I have lived through Stage IV cancer, and in the grand scheme of things, bedwetting is not important.
What may be more disconcerting than Linda’s testimony about the bedwetting would be her testimony about fecal soiling. This has been noted by child psychologists to be a common response to sexually abused children who want to make themselves undesirable.
The press found Linda a willing source of information from inside the Ramsey home. Reporters interviewed her for any tip that might identify the murderer, explain the kinky exploitation of JonBenet or affirm the innocence of John and Patsy. If that bit pointed instead to the guilt of the already suspected parents, all the juicier. The public expected an arrest, and an arrest of John and Patsy would have surprised few early on.
According to Linda, Patsy was a wonderful mother. She admitted that she didn’t know John as well as Patsy. She thought he was relatively cold and a distant figure in the household. Except for the bedwetting, Linda noticed nothing unusual about the behavior of JonBenet. She could be sassy, and naturally was a little spoiled, but for the most part she was a bright, beautiful and affectionate child.
Despite Linda’s positive public statements about the Ramseys as parents, she was no longer a “friend.” Once she had spoken to the police and the press, she became simply a servant who could no longer be trusted. With the Ramseys abandoning the home on 15th Street in Boulder, they had no more need for a maid. Linda wondered why the woman she worshipped as her friend and employer had not called her for comfort. Patsy hadn’t even mailed her a note. A year later, in December 1997, on the Geraldo Rivera show, a producer asked the former Ramsey housekeeper if she knew that both Patsy and Patsy’s mother, Nedra, had fingered her for the murder. It had taken a year of Patsy’s cold shoulder and a stark realization on nationwide television for Linda to realize how she’d been abandoned by her former “friend.”
A year after the murder, Linda still suffering the awful crush of embarrassment of being accused as a suspect on nationwide television, began to rethink her loyalty to Patsy. No better prepared, but certainly more sophisticated, she opened her eyes and looked to her own financial needs. She tried to cash in on her insider’s knowledge of the Ramsey household. Now, she would talk about the times she had seen JonBenet fuss at being the little beauty princess, or how the little girl would address the housekeeper harshly and disrespectfully. Linda had waited to talk until she had been “dismissed.” The Ramseys denied her statements about the dynamics of the household and claimed their former housekeeper was bribed by tabloid money to lie and disparage their perfect and perfectly normal home.
Eventually, Linda did get a little of the media’s money. She accepted thousands of dollars from American Journal, the National Enquirer, The Globe, Geraldo Rivera, and anyone else with a checkbook. “Does it pay?” became her first question to reporters. She paid the rent quite a few times, but the story aged. Patsy gave her nothing “new” for the story, and Linda’s value decreased. Her opinions grew more and more meaningless to the press as the public relations machine of John and Patsy ground her up. The Death of Innocence, would finger the housekeeper as one of a crowd of likely killer(s). Finally subpoenaed to testify to the grand jury, Linda fell neatly into the snare of the Ramsey defense. She was silenced, for a while.
The story of Linda Hoffman-Pugh would have ended at the grand jury threshold if not for the intervention of victim rights attorney Darnay Hoffman. In November, 1997, the lawyer filed a civil action to force Hunter’s office to file charges against John and Patsy under an old and little used Colorado statute. Hoffman had represented Bernard Goetz, New York City’s “Subway Vigilante.” The Ramseys dismissed Hoffman as a publicity hound.
Hoffman pursued the release of information on the murder. Later, his representation of Hoffman-Pugh, based upon her First Amendment right to talk publicly about her grand jury testimony, wound its way through the U.S. District Court. With a ruling on July 5, 2001, by Judge Wiley Daniel, Linda received the court’s permission to speak. Her testimony focused on Patsy, as had the grand jury investigation. She believes that Patsy was complicit in JonBenet’s death. The law protected her from the kind of lawsuit filed by the Ramseys’ junkyard civil lawyer, L. Lin Wood, against Steve Thomas for stating his beliefs in his book, because Linda had made her statements under oath in court. With no book royalties or personal wealth, there’s no profit in a law suit.
Now, the former housekeeper should be free to talk, free to write her book and free to capitalize on her victory in the U.S. District Court. Not only is she at liberty to exercise her right to Freedom of Speech, but so are the other witnesses formerly subpoenaed into grand jury silence. Of course, the question arises, to what point? The Ramseys were freed.
Linda may have been able to pay a few more months of rent, but, for others who would suggest parental involvement, lawyers are still out there, waiting to punish any Ramsey accusers into silence with a lawsuit. Follow the money to see how justice works in America. John and Patsy have a right to defend their character by filing an action in the civil courts. And, if an accuser doesn’t have the money, the patience, the strength to fight, and fight, and fight, the lawsuit is settled. L. Lin Wood claimed another victory for “truth” and the terms of the settlement are sealed. Steve Thomas says he never paid the Ramseys any settlement. Good for him. His publisher, St. Martin’s Press, did and remained silent. Sealed grand jury records, sealed civil settlements and a wall of silence have become a familiar tactic in finding “justice” for JonBenet.
Rules Of Silence
Hal Haddon’s ingenious strategy of silencing dissent through grand jury proceedings has worked before in his handling of the Rocky Flats plutonium poisoning scandal in the late 1980’s. Haddon defended Rockwell, International. Rules 6.2 and 6.3 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedures forbid witnesses at grand jury proceedings from discussing their testimony. Whatever Hoffman-Pugh may have wanted to tell the public about the grand jury questions or her answers was silenced under a very real threat of imprisonment for contempt of court. Freedom of Speech under the First Amendment dissolves under the acid of state-enforced silence. Linda could not sell the testimony she gave to the grand jury before Darnay Hoffman enforced her right to freedom of speech.
Grand juries work in secrecy. There are no pesky reporters, no filter of defense attorneys to sidetrack prosecutors from the “truth” they wish to present. In Colorado, grand juries had been relegated to the politically charged cases that district attorneys want to distance themselves from. Hunter set the bar for an indictment of either or both parents at the standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The legally mandated standard is probable cause. Michael Kane, the special prosecutor in the grand jury proceeding, selected his witnesses based upon the information he had to present, and the information Hunter wanted to remain a grand jury secret. Although Linda gained her freedom to talk about her testimony, the grand jurors themselves, were mandated to maintain their silence. With the luxury of time and the ability of money to buy the right kind of press, the intruder theory and justice in Boulder, Grand Juror Michelle Czopek spoke in 2006 to author Larry Schiller on Court TV. Of course, by then, Mary Keenan Lacy had replaced both Hunter and reason at the District Attorney’s Office, and runaway grand jurors were not threatened or prosecuted, provided they followed the intruder theory Lacy supports.
Selling The Intruder Theory
Former cop Lou Smit no longer worked as an investigator for Hunter’s office at the time of his testimony to the grand jury. He demanded, by filing a civil action, that he be permitted to testify to the grand jury despite his resignation from the case. By further court action, he filed pleadings for release of his notes to make public his testimony for future release. Hoffman-Pugh had to sue to talk. Detective Steve Thomas, a police officer with more time and research invested in the case than Smit, was not subpoenaed to testify. Smit offers his testimony on nationwide TV and in national magazines from time to time. Thomas was sued to the point of financial nosebleeds for writing a book critical of the Ramseys.
To approach the Boulder County Grand Jurors to interview them, one would invite criminal prosecution for the one who asked the questions, and, anyone who answered them. One must wonder if the testimony of all the witnesses called by the grand jury were published, would it be clear that there should have been an indictment? Or, would the evidence presented explain why the grand jurors did not choose to issue a report? Jurors, once sworn to silence, have not revealed more of their thoughts.
Long before Hoffman-Pugh had battled through the federal court system to be allowed to air her beliefs in public, one person, backed by the financial clout of John and Patsy, began to “sell” his intruder theory, and continues to sell the same story. Lou Smit, who came out of his retirement to assist John and Patsy, reminded interviewers that he received no financial rewards from John and Patsy. Then, ignoring the “Parents Did It” theory, Mary Keenan Lacy’s District Attorney’s Office re-hired Smit.
Smit may be a sophisticated investigator, but the legal challenges he submitted demanding to have his grand jury testimony released to him, and the deal he cut in his lawsuit against Hunter for use of his presentation to the grand jury, came from someone with a head for law, not investigations. Smit’s intruder theory provides an alternative to a more horrible truth.
In March, 2001, Smit signed up for five days on Good Morning America, to air his intruder theory with Katie Couric. In the course of his interview, he published on national television the autopsy photographs of JonBenet. These were the same photographs, and many far more grisly, that John and Patsy had screamed bloody murder about when The Globe ran them in January, 1997. Smit didn’t choose the seven photographs of “forensic” value Sawyer had selected “to help solve the crime” as he thought, but the “good” ones: like the garrote dug into the neck of the murdered little girl. The Globe had passed on that photograph, finding it too graphic, even by tabloid standards.
Had The Globe printed the grisly details in January, 1997, showing the ligature imbedded in JonBenet’s throat, the tabloid coverage of John and Patsy may have traveled a different path. The brutality and overkill of the staged crime scene point away from “normal.” The CNN interview with a weeping, finger pointing Patsy versus the killer’s masterpiece of a bashed in skull and a garrote applied to the corpse of a child travels a different emotional circuit. An outraged public may have found Patsy’s paintbrush, attached to the garrote, the silly ransom note, and, finally, the autopsy photographs too incriminating to fail a public demand that John and Patsy explain it in court.
Money and power have worked hand in glove to pummel the American criminal justice system. Despite Smit’s protestations to the contrary, the power of the Ramseys’ money overwhelmed Hunter, while it persuaded and buffaloed Lacy. Smit resigned from the investigation proper, and kept information that belonged to the grand jury. He gained access to the autopsy photographs only through his employment by Hunter, and the evidence belonged to the grand jury. Once the public was saturated with Smit’s fantastic intruder theory and enough money passed hands to grease the palms of lawyers, the press and politicians from Boulder to Washington, the involvement of John and Patsy in the crime became an anathema. Fully bought and paid for experts, journalistic idealists and talking heads now ask, “Do we owe the Ramseys an apology?”
A Rich Man’s Diet
Hunter’s office repeatedly had to go to the county commissioners for budget increases to fund the Ramsey investigation. Eventually he would ask for increases in excess of $700,000. Meanwhile the Boulder Police Department ran over budget by $1,000,000 between December, 1996, and the time the case went to the grand jury in mid-1998. What criminal suspect has ever caused such financial havoc with a community budget in the interest of a prosecution that, in light of the privileged identity of the only suspects, was never to occur? Those budget shortfalls were due entirely to the pressure brought to bear by the Ramseys’ attorneys. Despite the growing political pressure, the financial pressure increased in pursuit of every conceivable lead, while defense lawyers exercised every possible defense tactic, no matter how insignificant. There was pressure on Hunter’s office to share information, to find a reason to fail to indict, and to prosecute peripheral cases that had zero to do with JonBenet’s death. Discrediting the police, ignoring Hunter’s office and lumping both in with the “tabloids” presented a zealous representation of Haddon’s clients. The financial strain on the government, even in the wealthy, liberal community of Boulder, began to weaken the ability of both the police and Hunter’s office to address their responsibilities to cases other than the Ramsey murder investigation.
In 1999, after John and Patsy had escaped grand jury indictment, L. Lin Wood filed a lawsuit against the supermarket tabloid, The Star, over an old headline that read, “Burke Did It.” Richard Gooding, who worked as a reporter in New York and still works for the tabloids, wrote the story, and resigned when The Star retracted it and settled. Wood brought a slander action against Detective Steve Thomas for $80 million. His opinion, naming Patsy as the murderer, is now silenced. St Martin’s Press settled.
Neither The Star, nor St Martin’s Press, is in the business of practicing law or passing judgments. Too much fighting for truth, justice and the American way undermines the bottom line. They sell stories. If a story becomes a liability, they settle a lawsuit for its “nuisance value.” It costs less to sign one check to the Ramseys, than to sign checks to lawyers every month. Publishers cut their losses and look for the next story. What Thomas says or thinks of the Ramseys doesn’t matter as long as his publisher doesn’t have to pay a lawyer, investigator and paralegal by the hour. The Ramseys can have all the vindication they want as long as it’s cheaper than fighting, and fighting the Ramseys was never cheap.
The New York Post also published a “Burke Did It” headline and spent an unreported sum defending itself against the Ramseys. Like the lawyers for The Star, The Post’slawyers finally rolled over. They tried to mine the case for discovery, digging into police, district attorney and corresponding evidence in the Boulder Grand Jury’s files. Every person in that home, invited or uninvited intruder, adult and child must have been investigated. The police did look at Burke as a possible suspect. Documents related to Burke, lawyers for The Post believed, held information that supported their headline, either in the Hunter’s office or within the grand jury files. A New York judge approved discovery requests and ordered the Ramseys to respond. But, The Postfolded its hand, and settled under “undisclosed” terms. The Post can’t make any headlines to sell soap, as did Lou Smit. Altruism is never a tabloid goal.
If The New York Post had been vindicated on the basis of information that Burke was a seriously considered suspect by Hunter’s office or the grand jury, would this have reopened the possibility of an indictment against the parents who presumably knew of their son’s involvement? Has Burke ever taken a lie detector test? The beauty of the “Burke had something to do with it” theory is that it helps explain the parents’ post-homicidal behavior: hiding, hiring lawyers, pointing fingers at “insiders” and friends.
Gold is the goal for both lawyers and the press. A reclaimed image of innocence and victimized perfection surely became one goal of the famously uncharged parents. To shift the voyeuristic interests of the public to the mysterious never-to-be charged intruder was a chief aim of the Ramsey defense efforts. The goal of the public is to satisfy its prurient curiosity. The press and the tabloids, which have tremendous opinion-shaping power, began cashing in on the intruder theory on behalf of John and Patsy in return for newspaper sales. Neither the tabloids, nor Wood, nor Hunter’s office, really had a stake in finding and punishing the killer of JonBenet. They had a stake only in the prevention of an indictment against the Ramseys, and the perpetuation of litigation. The lawsuits were a gold mine for Wood. The criminal defense was a gold mine for the firm of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman. It was a gold mine for Good Morning America. It matters not whether Detective Arndt comes on to speak of the icy look in John Ramsey’s eyes, or Lou Smit shows up with his gory photographs and his absurd intruder theory.
In April, 2001, Wood set up an interview for John and Patsy with the National Enquirer. Although the couple denied the existence of Burke’s and John’s voices in the enhanced 911 tape from December 26, 1996, they admitted he was awake. Now, a safe number of years removed from the murder, Burke’s parents say they learned their son was awake through his lawyer, from when the boy testified to the grand jury. Now that the tabloids can be used to the Ramseys’ advantage, revelatory truths can spurt into the headlines from time to time, coupled with the right denials.
John and Patsy’s tweaking of the tabloid press when it suited their propaganda needs came well-designed and timely in its reconsideration. John and Patsy complain of the press, “… it is so natural to want to outrun them, to outsmart them, to keep them from getting a photo and writing the next front page story to smear you.” Patsy regularly vented her wrath against The Globe and its editor, Tony Frost, ever since the publication of her “baby’s” autopsy photographs. She was equally mad at the National Enquirer because one of its reporters posed as an artist in Charlevoix, duping her into giving a scoop about the family, and how they were fairing, after months in hiding. Photographers had hounded John and Patsy mercilessly, and one can understand their resentment.
One must also respect John’s leadership and management skills in protecting himself and his family from the press, the police and the public. The Ramseys used their high visibility to feed their version of events to the public. On numerous occasions, John and Patsy jumped right into bed with the same company that owned The Globe and employed the editor who was a “money-grubbing, immoral editor who represented all that was evil.”
In 1999, Don Gentile of the National Enquirer had released the story of the enhanced 911 tape which the Ramseys continue to deny and deplore. In April, 2001, Gentile of the National Enquirer interviewed the Ramseys at their request. The couple now unquestionably benefited from the tabloids’ interest in the story. Their denial of this benefit and their constant use of their tragedy and capacity to sell newspapers and fill airtime is, not to put too fine a point on it, as vulgar as it is richly American.
The tabloid journalists who invaded the city of Boulder had to insinuate themselves into the community in order to get the stories they could buy outright in greater metropolises of spicy kiddy porn and murder. In Boulder, the tabloid’s Jeff Shapiro, in order to approach John, attended Sunday services at St John’s Episcopal under the pretense that he wanted to convert from a Jew to a Christian. Through this guise of piety, he got to Reverend Hoverstock, and finally to John.
Immediately upon JonBenet’s murder John and Patsy made it clear that anyone who would speak to the press would no longer be in their social circle. Judith Phillips had sold her professional photographs of Patsy, JonBenet and Burke to the National Enquirer. Soon after, at a softball practice for the “Moms Gone Bad” community softball team sponsored by Patsy, Susan Stine issued a warning to the photographer, “You better get yourself a really good lawyer.” An attorney for the Ramseys had already sent a threatening letter to Judith. If she published or sold her photographs, she would be sued. The Ramseys demanded the return of the release Patsy had signed permitting Judith’s use of her photographs and establishing Judith’s ownership of the photographs. To John and Patsy, and through their lawyers, it didn’t matter that the photographs didn’t belong to them. What mattered was control of the press. The Ramseys filed no law suit because they had no grounds for an action. A lawyer filing such an action may subject his license to scrutiny by the Colorado Supreme Court. Robert Phillips, Judith’s former husband, admitted years later that he filed for divorce because, “I didn’t want John Ramsey coming after me.”
Not only Ramsey friends and former friends, but all the proud and wealthy in Boulder, felt obliged to denigrate the tabloid element in their midst. It became socially acceptable to offer one’s prejudice against tabloids and their employees, while enforcing strict ordinances against any other kind of prejudice, especially against cats or dogs, prairie dogs and homeless schizophrenics. Fleet White, years after his well documented defection from the Ramsey camp, refused to speak with anyone from the media, tabloid or otherwise.
Boulder is notably leftist, but far from liberal. It is in fact, curiously authoritarian. The press became the undoubted enemy. In this town, overwhelmed by the interest in the JonBenet story, the intrusion of the press became more heinous than the murder itself. The cops in Boulder also had plenty of reason to feel animosity for the press. As former police officer Steve Thomas writes of Globe reporter, Craig Lewis:
Boulder is small, fit, cliquish and trendy. Its better neighborhoods are capable of enormous snobbery and arrogance. Pat Korton, the Ramseys’ public relations man, had staged a photo opportunity at St John’s Episcopal Church on January 5, 1997 to create the impression that the entire congregation of the church supported the grieving parents. The myriad cameras and reporters were set up to appear as maggots or piranhas. Soon, Boulder’s wealthy, socially conscious citizens would remove The Globe from grocery and convenience stores. They overlooked the camera hungry conduct of John and Patsy themselves. Suspected, with reason, of having staged the kidnap/murder of their daughter, they now paid professionals to stage their grief and their community’s “support.”
Niki Hayden, a writer for Boulder’s Daily Camera who had attended the service at St John’s on January 5, 1977, wrote an editorial about the press at the church and their invasion of a private religious service. The presence of the press tested the entire community’s faith in religion and in law. Niki was accused of betraying the congregation through her editorial. And, when Niki talked about the editorial with the Reverend Hoverstock, and warned him that John might be arrested, all the minister wanted was to keep St John’s name out of the newspaper. The citizens of Boulder knew they were safe. JonBenet’s killer wasn’t about to come into their homes. They wanted back their privacy.
Dog Pile On The Tabloids
Carol McKinley was an “electronic journalist” working for Fox News. She had to schmooze for news in the interest of ratings in the Ramsey case. She chummed around with other reporters, cops she had known for years working as a KOA radio news reporter, prosecutors and former Ramsey friends such as Judith Phillips. It was spade and pickaxe work. She resented Craig Lewis and the other tabloid reporters who were able to buy information outright. She could only buy lunch or a cocktail for a source, or pay a few hundred dollars for a copyrighted photograph. She stayed in touch with sources, acquaintances and everyone else Lewis spoke to: Charlie Brennan at the Rocky Mountain News, Frank Coffman, a local freelancer, certain cops, and Alex Hunter. She struck gold when Patsy’s sister, Pam Paugh, began to grant her interviews. Given her source, McKinley balanced coverage based on police sources with Pam Paugh’s access to John and Patsy’s intruder theory. Fox News in general took a “balanced” approach. “We report. You decide.” Public anger at the couple’s escape from charges gave way to simple voyeurism. Later, when McKinley aired a broadcast questioning the intruder theory, the Ramsey’s sued her and Fox News. The Ramseys’ “use or abuse” pattern of selective news sourcing continued.
By sharing information, both the traditional and tabloid press could exploit the murder more effectively. With the tabloids ahead of everyone on the investigative aspect of the case, the peripheral victims of the Ramsey case: Larry Smith, Brett Sawyer, Linda Hoffman-Pugh were all but ignored. Under enormous competitive pressure, tabloid reporters bought the information needed for the next deadline. They would hold their gossip until the day after they went to press, then tip a traditional reporter for an on air mention that, “Tomorrow’s National Enquirer reports…” The tabloids could afford to spend so much money for information because they made so much money by offering that information to the public.
Nobody at any tabloid gave a damn about what happened to the people from whom they got information. Their “life’s tough” attitude spread like a disease to the rest of the media confined in the “Mork and Mindy” microcosm that is Boulder. The line between tabloid and traditional journalist blurred into whichever network or tabloid paid one reporter or another. Those in the traditional press saw the tabloids scoop them every week in the biggest news story of the day, and that bred professional and personal jealousy.
At one point, reporters for the tabloids offered to assist the Boulder Police Department in its investigation with information such as the telephone and credit card statements of John and Patsy. The Boulder police had asked Hunter’s office to subpoena those records. He denied the request. The press bought the same records, but without the wait and mess of subpoenas. Cops full of anxiety over the murder, unable to make an arrest, stewed in a cauldron of private and public anger and humiliation.
The Ramseys’ lawyers joined the Boulder cops in despising the tabloids. Hunter, on the other hand, openly chit-chatted with members of the press. He became especially close to Jeff Shapiro and Craig Lewis of The Globe and spoke with them almost daily. Yet, he jumped on the political bandwagon with the Ramseys and the cops to unleash hell’s fury on anyone caught ferreting out unpleasant information about the case such as bungling the autopsy photographs to the tabloids.
John and Patsy set out to malign and destroy anyone who disputed their innocence. The money spent by them through their lawyers, detectives and public relations people, is more money than Lewis was ever authorized to pay to anyone for information. The Death of Innocence drips with venom and titillation. Former friends, former employees, acquaintances, the press, cops and working stiffs all learned that while the Ramseys plucked the heart strings of the public, their hatchet men in law offices used their considerable legal and political clout to discredit, jail, and silence any accuser.
Flatfeet, Gumshoes, And James’ Last Rap
Most people see the police as the good guys, the “thin blue line” between social order and criminal anarchy. Television portrays the world of private investigations as a glamorous one, and investigators as having friendly relations with the police. In actuality, a state of tension exists between law enforcement and private investigators, especially when the private eyes are employed by defense lawyers. Such investigators apply their skills to counterbalance, or undo, police work. They interview witnesses looking for signs of innocence, not guilt. They pick apart police reports looking for errors, technical or procedural, and for a different interpretation of facts. They often testify on behalf of, rather than against, the accused. Private eyes don’t have “real” badges or the powers of arrest and imprisonment to pressure a suspect or witness to talk. They typically don’t have court orders, cooperative business offices or specific statutes that allow them access to private information.
In January, 1997, a caller, who identified himself as “John,” called McGucken Hardware in Boulder about two American Express charges on Patsy’s charge card. The caller followed up days later with a letter signed “John Ramsey” for release of the receipts.
James Rapp and his wife, Regana, were information brokers. Rapp began his training as a private investigator upon his conviction for car theft, after which he served time for parole violation. Since Colorado has no licensing laws for private investigators, Rapp found a promising market for his skills and knowledge pertaining to auto repossessions, process service, and, eventually, he became an information broker. He began selling his services in the Denver area in the 1980’s, and had a nationwide clientele by the time reporters began covering the Ramsey investigation.
Rapp and his staff conned anyone on the other end of the telephone into providing non-published telephone numbers, bank account records, credit card statements, long distance records and the like. He then sold the information to private investigators. Many of the gumshoes he sold his services to were former flatfeet, or former military intelligence officers or journalists. Few had the kind of criminal training Rapp did, nor the gall to work as a con artist over the telephone. Rapp could impersonate a woman so believably that men, playing into Rapp’s coy telephone sexuality, would offer any information he asked for. “My husband and I never have sex anymore,” he might tease, “I think he’s having an affair.” Then, the information broker would ask for a copy of credit card records, mailed to a post office box “my husband doesn’t know about” through “customer service.”
Pinkerton’s, Inc. and its agents coined the phrase “pretext” at the time of the Civil War. The investigator pretends to be a person with a right to the information, or simply a person with an appropriate curiosity, who asks a source for otherwise private information. Most private investigators have used and still use pretexts to garner information, but few develop the techniques and level of artistry that Rapp did. Private investigators who use this kind of calculated guile very rarely encounter any repercussions. A lawyer may not use a pretext in his own investigations. The Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, the rules that govern lawyers in Colorado, prohibit a lawyer and his employees or agents, from using theft, fraud, deception or misrepresentation. That made the kind of information Rapp developed in the Ramsey case valuable.
Working under the name of TouchTone Investigations, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and Phantom Investigations, Rapp would uncover a non-published phone number by calling customer service at the local cable TV business office, the daily newspaper or the local pizza delivery company – anybody who would have the “target’s” personal phone number. Posing as an angry husband, he talked service representatives into turning over long distance telephone records. Acting as John Ramsey, he obtained credit card and hardware store records. He drove the Boulder Police Department crazy by providing those records to the tabloids, who in turn offered them to the police.
That Rapp lied for a living spilled over into his business relations. Before he realized the value of information and his talent at obtaining it, he billed by the hour as most private investigators do, plus expenses. In the early years, he charged for made up long distance charges on his invoice and billed for hours of work that he had accomplished in minutes. Occasionally, he even made up information that was supposed to have been painstakingly gathered.
Stinging the con
For years before finding a steady government paycheck at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Robert Brown worked as a private investigator in the firm of Brown & Cracraft. While the two concentrated on criminal defense work, both knew how pretexts worked, and both had known of Rapp and others like him when they needed help and the information could not be developed by traditional means. Rapp grew increasingly brazen as his company prospered, and eventually came under the scrutiny of the CBI. Agent Brown led the information brokering investigation. Craig Lewis and Joe Mullins of The Globe had used the hardware store data obtained by Rapp for a lurid story about the binding of JonBenet. When The Globe published, Boulder police were mortified once again. < /p>
When the massacre at Columbine High School occurred in April, 1999, a world wide press corps found a fresh story, and most of the reporters were already present in nearby Boulder. Rapp provided them with the phone numbers of family members of Columbine victims. To use them was insensitive of the press and a disaster for the Rapps. Here was an opportunity for the flummoxed police to make a positive headline by targeting information brokers and the “tabloids” for their interference in both the Ramsey and Columbine investigations. This is the kind of police work the Ramseys and their lawyers approved.
The Ramseys so far had escaped the grasp of the Boulder Police Department, but small fish related to the case were better than no catch at all. Plus, the police thought that by going after Rapp, they might have a chance to net a big fish, The Globe’seditor, Craig Lewis. They had long wanted to put the journalist in jail, thus shutting up the most efficient and imaginative investigator in the JonBenet murder. Finally, the Boulder Police, the District Attorney’s in Boulder and Jefferson Counties, Haddon, Morgan & Foreman and the Ramseys could agree on something.
The CBI worked as the police authority for the Jefferson County Grand Jury in conjunction with the District Attorney’s office. Agents from the CBI believed they had good reason to pursue Rapp. When Jane Cracraft’s friend and former partner, Agent Brown of the CBI, came knocking, looking for someone to put the “sting” on Rapp, private investigator Cracraft performed the service. She purchased $460 worth of information on a CBI employee, tape recorded her conversations with Rapp and turned over the evidence to the CBI.
Again, the police were wrong. Although several editors at The Globe bought information from private investigators who bought their information from Rapp, Lewis wasn’t one of them. He had another information broker who was just as accomplished, not nearly so brazen, and careful to avoid the kind of publicity that Rapp attracted. The Columbine disaster occurred in Littleton, Colorado, in suburban Jefferson County, which was under the jurisdiction of District Attorney Dave Thomas. Rapp’s office was also located in Jefferson County. By going after Rapp and the press for their part in “victimizing” the Columbine victims, Thomas could avoid public scrutiny for the way his office was handling the massacre. He was pleased to release news of his investigation into Rapp, his wife and his companies, and ever so much more pleased to release news of their indictments by a grand jury. Thomas wanted to appear tough on crime, and sympathetic to victims of crime. He put Rapp out of business, but he did not catch Lewis with the information broker.
The policy of grand jury secrecy, one of Haddon’s trademarks, kept all testimony in the hands of the Jefferson County prosecutor, Dennis Hall and his boss, District Attorney Thomas. Best of all, the grand jury investigation turned the spotlight off JonBenet for a few days. The press stampeded from Boulder to Jefferson County to report on Rapp as he was being thrown to the lions.
Grand jury prosecutor Hall pursued the Rapps and their information brokering businesses with all the power of the district attorney’s office. He said at the indictment of James and Regana Rapp,
“These people engaged in reprehensible conduct to profit from all sorts of tragedies. They broke the law by impersonating someone to get private information and selling it for profit.”
The indictment of these information brokers suggested that Thomas’ office was helping to heal a community wounded by Columbine. Hall offered Regana Rapp leniency if she would testify against her husband.
In April, 1997, Haddon had been enraged by Lewis’ attempt to purchase a copy of the famous ransom note from the Ramsey’s handwriting expert, Donald Vacca. He and other lawyers working for the Ramseys sent a letter to Thomas, demanding that both Lewis and his lawyer be prosecuted. Thomas didn’t believe he had the evidence he needed to convict Lewis, and had let the accusations sit on the table. As the Rapp investigation proceeded, Thomas and Hall thought they’d caught the scent of Lewis’ blood. Still, the CBI couldn’t link Lewis to Rapp’s operations.
Even though reporters may claim information brokers are protected sources, if the cops can find them, they can bust them if they want to. A journalist’s shield law does offer protection for the reporter. An information broker who was prosecuted, Al Schweitzer, had supplied information to ABC news and had numerous links to other traditional news outlets. None of the reporters who used his information went to jail; Schweitzer did. Now, it was Lewis who had been wreaking havoc with the reputations of police and prosecutors. He had come too close to important information too many times, and the political authorities who had a vested interest in preventing the indictment of John and Patsy wanted to shut him up.
Regana Rapp divorced James Rapp in 1999 and received a deferred judgment on felony racketeering charges. Her punishment for her “crimes,” given her testimony against her husband, was 50 hours of community service and dismissal of all charges after two years. Rapp, the wicked information broker, received 75 days in jail and four years of probation during which he was prohibited from engaging in the private investigations business. He also had to perform 200 hours of community service.
Rapp claims he got religion from this brush with the law. He said after his sentencing that he was going to now devote his life to Jesus. Rapp’s light sentence, given his prior conviction record, resulted from his cooperation with authorities, and the fact that he had committed no identifiable crime. Perjury is a crime, simply lying isn’t.
The biggest freak show ever
James Michael Thompson arrived in Denver when he was two years old. His father served a career in the Navy. Denver turned out to be his father’s last assignment, and he decided to retire there and spend time with his family. Tall, dark and handsome, Thompson’s son lived by his good looks and his wits. He made money as a prostitute and hoped someday to become an artist. Full of youth and wanderlust, he traveled the United States by car, train, bus and by hitchhiking. As age began to diminish his value as a hooker, he settled again in Denver and took a job transporting corpses from morgues to mortuaries. At $13.00 a stiff, he could make over $100.00 in one eight hour shift. Usually though, he made less. He had been up and down all of his life, sometimes homeless, often drunk. He knew the “Queen City of the Plains” like the back of his own hand and he knew the bars up and down Denver’s Colfax Avenue from a well of memories. Thompson was one of the more pitiful of those sideshow performers the press found in Boulder’s murder pageant. He’s best known by his alias, J.T. Colfax, his artist’s pseudonym during his few minutes of Ramsey case fame.
J.T. Colfax had begun to experiment with “agit/prop” art, the manipulation of inanimate objects and/or dead bodies to make “statements.” Other corpse drivers and those who prepare the dead had opened his eyes to the common practice of photographing corpses. His roommate, Dave Rogers, had a collection of corpse photographs from his work at an undertaker in Denver. “We all took pictures,” J.T. says. “A severed head, the grosser the better for its shock.”
With four signs on four corpses, J.T. became one of the most famous “agit/prop” artists in the world, thanks to the Ramsey case, but the public never saw his work, nor did he make any money off his creations. “Getting fired isn’t the end of the world,” one corpse’s sign prophetically read. “Happy Halloween” and “Yee-Haw” read two others. The fourth sign, “The Jay Marvin Show,” a personal favorite of J.T.’s, referred to a local radio personality whom the artist/corpse driver listened to.
And, why the Jay Marvin show? Before he was fired as a corpse deliveryman, the van J.T. drove in his morgue to mortuary rounds “only had two channels on the AM radio,” he explains. “I listened to the Jay Marvin show all the time. I loved it.” As a loyal listener, J.T. once called in and Jay Marvin put him on the air for a half an hour or so while they talked about the mortuary business.
On April 29, 1997, J.T. arrived at the morgue in the Boulder County Hospital at midnight to transport a corpse to Monarch Mortuary in Denver. About the same time, a man from an eye clinic arrived to harvest the eyes from the corpse. J.T. would have to wait. That wait irritated him as he couldn’t make deliveries, or money, while he waited. He was also drunk and had to wait until the eyes were harvested before he could get another drink.
JonBenet was the most renowned corpse in the United States. She’d been right there in that very morgue. Her autopsy photographs had been bought, sold and banned months earlier. The controversy over the release of her autopsy photographs impressed those in the cadaver business as simply media hype and silliness. Bored, angry and drunk, J.T. decided to take the pages of the hospital log that contained the entry of JonBenet’s corpse.
With his little piece of JonBenet memorabilia, J.T. photocopied the morgue log and mailed copies to people he knew around the country. The political paralysis in Boulder had turned JonBenet’s death into no more than a morbid joke. J.T. had no more care for the Ramseys than comedians and pundits on national television. He sent the original pages from his petty theft to a friend in San Francisco, California for safe keeping. Later, he asked the same friend to mail the original pages back, anonymously, to an East Colfax Avenue bar in Denver.
Transporting corpses, down on his luck and drunk, J.T. Colfax got arrested. “I was broke,” J.T. explains. He shoplifted his processed film of “specially labeled” corpses from a grocery store. Security moved in and he was busted for shoplifting – initially. When the police arrived and opened the envelope containing the photographs of his “agit/prop” creations, “That was the biggest freak show ever!”
Homicide detectives from Denver and Arapahoe County swarmed all over J.T. “Who are these dead people? Why did you put signs on them?” The cops claimed that they were not interested in prosecuting him for shoplifting or, later, abuse of a corpse. They just wanted to save the family members of the deceased any grief or horror. In the hours of questioning, the police thought they had found a serial murderer who killed people to turn them into “agit/prop” art.
Finally, his story checked out. His menial job supported his art. The bodies had been properly logged. J.T. was released on a personal recognizance bond for the shoplifting, but things had begun to sour considerably in his personal life. Only a few friends knew about the pilfered morgue pages. J.T. had shown his roommate, Dave Rogers, the morgue log taken in Boulder of JonBenet’s arrival.
M & M Transport Company fired him, of course, after the discovery of the corpse photographs and the shoplifting. Rogers did not want J.T. at his home any more, not with the collection of corpse photographs that Rogers possessed, and the police so very curious about any photographs Rogers may have taken when they questioned him. Rogers helped J.T. to load his few possessions into a car and then dumped him and his bags on the curb outside the Denver YMCA.
To pay the rent, J.T. took work as a day laborer at minimum wage for Manpower, Inc. It was backbreaking work. He had a court date in Denver for shoplifting, and a court date in Arapahoe County where he had taken the photographs for abuse of a corpse. After a long, hard, sweaty day, J.T. sat relaxing at the YMCA, sipping a beer and watching the evening news. He learned that the police were investigating some missing morgue pages containing the JonBenet Ramsey entry into the morgue log. His friend, Dave Rogers, had tipped the media.
Mike O’Keefe, a reporter for the Denver Post, received a phone call from an unnamed source about “the JonBenet Ramsey case.” O’Keefe contacted J.T. at his room at the YMCA. J.T. first asked if the reporter if he was a cop. When he realized that O’Keefe was really a newspaper reporter, J.T realized that all hell was breaking loose. He couldn’t return the original morgue log pages because he’d sent them to San Francisco “for safe keeping.” His West Coast friend had mailed the originals back to a Denver bar on Colfax Avenue. Who knows where they were anymore? J.T. wished he could just explain the whole fiasco to someone. Anyone.
J.T. invited O’Keefe to accompany him to the Denver Public Library located only a few blocks from his room at the YMCA. There in the Viet Nam section, he had hidden his photocopies of the stolen pages. He gave the reporter a copy. In an ordinary murder case, O’Keefe would likely never have taken an interest in some missing morgue pages. This, of course, was no ordinary case. This was the JonBenet Ramsey case, a story with legs that reached around the world, and ANYTHING unusual, or kinky as this was, would sell newspapers. O’Keefe immediately called the Boulder Police Department to offer them a tip, and possibly ingratiate himself should the cops wish to leak something juicy in the future.
Cops and lawyers
“I’ve been expecting you,” J.T. recalls saying when Boulder Detectives Steve Thomas and Dan Gossage swooped down on him at his room at the YMCA.
J.T. confessed to pilfering the morgue pages listing the arrival of JonBenet’s corpse on the night of December 26, 1996. The detectives handcuffed him and took him to Boulder. Then began the hours of interrogation. Once at the jail, Gossage took hair and saliva samples. Then J.T. was locked in a holding cell. He learned that he was waiting to be strapped to a lie detector. Nothing was being done willingly or unwillingly by J.T. He had no choice. He had no lawyer. “You could see their greed,” J.T. says of the cops. “They thought they had JonBenet’s killer.”
J.T. realized he was becoming a suspect in the JonBenet murder. A poor, white homosexual without a lawyer, he knew he needed some help. He’d be listening to the Jay Marvin Show right then were he not in the holding cell. Then, it occurred to him to call the Jay Marvin Show collect from the holding cell. Marvin, who was not a fool, found himself on top of the red hottest story in the nation. A guy behind bars in the JonBenet murder was live on his program!
Within moments, the switchboard at the radio station was smoking. Then the switchboard at the jail erupted. Marvin gave the jail’s number out on the air so that his listeners could ask why J.T. was being held, and why he was being questioned without a lawyer. “The jail house brass” showed up at J.T’s holding cell. They demanded to know if he had used the only telephone in the holding cell to call the Jay Marvin Show. One of the conundrums that dog the Ramsey case is that the police ask the question long after the answer is known.
The JonBenet Ramsey case did not bring about the arrest of J.T. Very poor judgment and a macabre sense of art and humor did. But, once he came under the Big Top, he found himself in the sideshow ring that fed its players to the criminal justice system. Marvin opened the door for the public to discuss the disparate treatment of J.T. compared to the Ramseys. After all, no dead body had been found on the premises. All J.T. had done was to swipe a couple of “official” sheets of paper related to a national scandal.
Still on the air, Marvin began a radio-thon to help raise bail for his beleaguered caller, and then he contacted one of the best criminal lawyers in Denver, Harvey Steinberg, to represent J.T., when suddenly, things calmed down.
Steinberg is used to being retained by bad boy athletes such as former Denver Bronco Bill Romanowski of Superbowl fame, or Pro Bowl Bronco, Brandon Marshall, and Stanley Cup goalie Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche. He is a tough and relentless criminal defense advocate who wins at trial. When court dates are jammed and deputy district attorneys need plea bargains, local prosecutors know him as high maintenance. He cuts deals his clients can live with because prosecutors can’t stomach being embarrassed in the courtroom by Steinberg.
J.T. Colfax was charged with petty theft. For a day laborer facing the shoplifting and abuse of a corpse charges elsewhere, the new charges in Boulder were no big deal. O’Keefe got his scoop on the purloined pages. Marvin hit the day’s ratings jackpot for his on air interview with a “JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect.” Thomas and Gossage got an arrest, maybe not much of one in the universe of the Little Miss JonBenet Murder Pageant, but they’d snagged another nut off the streets for a few hours. J.T. had publicly embarrassed the jail keepers of Boulder, and for a guy who is a jailhouse veteran, that felt pretty good. The law firm of Springer & Steinberg, easily springing J.T., got great press. Once he got out of jail, however, things would become much rougher.
Harvey Steinberg had seemed just plain bored when he met with J.T. to defend him on the misdemeanor charges. The prize of representing JonBenet’s murderer hadn’t materialized. After the radio show, the headlines grew repulsive: “Necrophilia,” “Homosexual,” “Prostitute.” Steinberg had stepped in, pro bono, to defend the rights of J.T. for what had become a radio stunt. All the same, J.T. was in the hands of a skilled attorney. What he needed more was probably a therapist.
One late afternoon, J.T. took the bus from Denver to the abandoned Ramsey house at 755 15th Street in Boulder. He had a lot on his mind. He wasn’t making enough money as a day laborer to pay his rent and eat, mostly because his days were interrupted by ceaseless court dates and police interviews. He walked around to the back of the house, onto the patio, pulled a chair up to the table there and sat, watching the sunset, contemplating the horrible death of JonBenet, her case, his cases. He felt like a wad of chewed gum. The media had sucked out all the sweetness from his story. He was hungry, homeless and he knew he was going to go to jail.
J.T. had been sitting on the patio of the former Ramsey house for a couple of hours before he made his next bad decision. He walked around the house to the front door and found the mail slot there. Finding some old mail, he set it on fire and stuffed flaming pieces through the slot, hoping, but not really hoping, that the whole house would catch on fire. His cheap lighter would hardly light, his matches burned up and he wandered away to a pay phone and called the Boulder Police Department to turn himself in. To his dismay, the Boulder Police Department had to do an investigation before providing the poor transient room and board.
Officers contacted the Ramseys’ attorneys for permission to search the home for signs of arson. Once the attorneys gave permission, officers found the propped open mail slot, burnt matches, a disposable cigarette lighter and some ashes. They found probable cause for a felony arson charge and they knew who did it. The only problem, and there always seemed to be a problem in the Ramsey case, was that they had lost track of J.T.
The Pearl Street Mall is a potpourri of shops, street musicians, mimes and an assortment of tourists, college students, residents, vagabonds and freaks. The Ramseys’ friend, Jay Elowsky, runs “Pasta Jay’s” Italian restaurant just west of the mall. While the Boulder Police conducted their investigation, J.T. slept on a park bench in Boulder. The following morning, his body cold and stiff from trying to sleep outdoors, he called the Boulder Police Department again, and Thomas arrested him just west of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.
When J.T. was charged with arson, a very serious felony, the fun and games were over. Steinberg withdrew, and he was assigned a public defender. And, if Steinberg had seemed bored, J.T’s new lawyer, Cary Lacklin, was … well … “a bastard.”
Whatever Lacklin learned in law school about the zealous defense of his clients had been dulled under the easy deal policies in Hunter’s Boulder. The monotonous complaints of culprits claiming innocence and, worse yet, clients demanding justice and trials, soured him. J.T.’s letters in the court files to the Boulder judge, pleading for any lawyer other than Lacklin, point to the fact that the public defender system is not satisfying its clients. J.T. bounced from Boulder and through Colorado’s jails. No one really cared because J.T. did have a lawyer, even if his lawyer was a reluctant bureaucrat who didn’t care whom he represented, or that someone he represented hated him. Few people open up dusty old court files to read the complaints of convicted arsonists about their dissatisfaction with their legal representation.
Lacklin didn’t want to talk about J.T. Colfax. He responded to inquiries about his representation of J.T. in a dour monotone with all the humanity of a corpse wearing a sign that reads, “Drop Dead.” Lacklin just didn’t give a damn about the years J.T. would spend in jail through his lackluster, easy deal representation. He didn’t return calls his client made to him from the jail. He consistently failed to meet his client in person to discuss any aspect of the case. J.T. says he was misled about his rights and his legal options. This tragic character’s clearest memory of Lacklin was watching him “walk hand in hand from the courtroom” with prosecutor, Trip DeMuth, at each court appearance. “They were working on the same team to put me in prison!”
The problematic case, given J.T.’s admissions and outbursts with his public defender in court and five angry letters in his court file, did not land him at the top of bureaucratic heaps of concerns. J.T. asked the judge to put Lacklin in jail for repeatedly lying to him.
“Not today. Maybe later,” the judge wryly responded.
The plea bargain reached between Lacklin and prosecutor DeMuth resulted in J.T. serving a full two years for criminal attempt in the arson fiasco, concurrently with convictions for criminal mischief and petty theft. He received credit for good behavior, but no credit for the seven months of time he served while begging for a different lawyer. He walked out of jail on Bastille Day, July 14, 1999 a free man, sort of.
“I still live like I’m in jail,” he said in an August, 2001, interview. “Except for movies and cigarettes, there’s no difference. I don’t feel safe. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe again. I try never to leave my apartment except to go to work. I’m a bartender, and I work in the same building where I have my apartment. All I do is save money. I want to buy a house in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s the cheapest place in the country to buy a house. Maybe I’ll feel safe there.”
The impresario of pasta
The parents of JonBenet and their wealthy friends can count on a kinder, gentler criminal justice system. Take, for example, Jay Elowsky, restaurateur, business partner of John Ramsey and one of the friends who sheltered the Ramseys after JonBenet’s tragic death. When Elowsky left Bay City, Wisconsin in 1980 for San Clemente, California, he was well-connected, though not well-heeled. He washed dishes in his aunt and uncle’s Italian restaurant for a while before heading for Boulder to start a formal education and find a better life. Academics didn’t appeal to him, though, and in 1982 he returned to sunny California to cook for six years in the family restaurant. What he missed in book learning, he made up for in mastering recipes. That set his course back to Boulder where he opened his own Italian restaurant, Pasta Jay’s, with the help of his mother, Jean, and his father, Bay City, Wisconsin businessman, Lowell Elowsky. Like any young businessman, he struggled with taxes and payroll, rent and food costs, and then he met a man with a golden touch, John Ramsey.
The Ramseys loved to dine out, and Pasta Jay’s offered rich, delicious meals, fair prices and young, attractive waitresses. John and Patsy often brought their friends and family to the restaurant. One friend who joined them was lawyer Mike Bynum, the counselor who would one day advise John Ramsey to retain Bryan Morgan, of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman, immediately after the discovery of JonBenet’s body in the cellar.
In Elowsky, John came to recognize a potential business opportunity. With John’s advice and investment, Elowsky quickly became a more successful entrepreneur. The former Miss West Virginia took her husband’s new business interest under her wing and helped with the restaurant decor as Elowsky was lifted into the high, rich air of her social circle.
Elowsky also got religion when he came to Boulder, he claims. He met former University of Colorado football coach, Bill McCartney, who gave up coaching to found the Promise Keepers organization, a national Christian group that focuses on instilling religious principles in men. When JonBenet turned up dead, Elowsky, the devout Christian, naturally came to defend his friends and business interests.
Since the time John, Patsy and Burke had returned to Boulder from JonBenet’s funeral in Atlanta, they had been hiding out. Of course, anyone so conspicuously “hiding” will soon find themselves in the media’s cross hairs. Television satellite trucks trolled the streets of Boulder hunting for any shot of the Ramseys that would make the 5:00 p.m. news. Cameraman and reporters hearing that the Ramseys might be hiding out in Elowsky’s house, snapped photographs through open windows and made everyone inside feel like bare skin in a mosquito swamp. On February 10, 1997, Elowsky made the unfortunate decision to scratch the itch.
Warren Schmelzer and Ira Haimann worked for Specialized Engineering. Their office building is located in North Boulder, right behind the Elowsky home. As they sat in Warren Schmelzer’s car, Pasta Jay came toward them with a baseball bat. He approached the passenger side where Ira Haimann sat and threatened him. “Get the fuck out of here!” he shouted. Moment’s earlier, Lee Frank, a freelance reporter, had called 911 when he saw Elowsky pull his BMW into the parking lot of Specialized Engineering in North Boulder and frighten off a television reporter and his cameraman with that same shiny aluminum baseball bat.
Elowsky had mistaken the two engineers for reporters. With a baseball bat, a .40 caliber Sig Saur handgun and language he would never use at a Promise Keepers meeting, Pasta Jay came under the Big Top, center ring. Unlike J.T. Colfax, Elowsky had money, lawyers and power. He was booked and released by courteous and professional police officers. The press reported how Elowsky circled Schmelzer’s car, holding the bat like a caveman. When Elowsky returned to his tan colored BMW, Schmelzer made a break for the office building and was the second person to call 911. Haimann faced off with Elowsky by picking up a chunk of steel pipe he found nearby. Now that both of the men were armed with clubs, and the playing field was equal, Elowsky pulled his gun.
When the Boulder cops arrived, they handcuffed Elowsky and seated him in a squad car. The cops had another arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey case. True, Elowsky wasn’t a murder suspect, but every arrest let the people in Boulder know that the cops were on the job, even if JonBenet’s killer was on the loose. All the media was there to judge Elowsky. His public display of rage cast a shadow on the Ramseys’ “We’re Christians” defense. Patsy had been inside Elowsky’s house, drugged out and crying when her host, on her behalf, went postal in the parking lot next door. The Boulder Police Department knew she was there and saw a legal excuse to interview her. They requested a statement from her regarding Elowsky’s outburst. Patrick Burke, Haddon, Morgan & Foreman’s Boulder lawyer for Patsy, arranged for a police interview at the office of assistant district attorney, Pete Hofstrom. Neither of the Ramseys would ever consent to an interview at the Boulder Police Department.
Patsy showed up for the interview, six weeks now after the murder, obviously “medicated”. She said she felt imprisoned by the media camped outside Elowsky’s house. She cried. She said she was under terrible pressure. At one point she was able to stop crying and say that somebody had broken into her house and had killed her little girl. Her lawyer, Patrick Burke, stood up and stared hard into her eyes until she grew silent, and the interview ended.
Meanwhile, Elowsky had been arrested, charged with felony menacing and unlawful carrying of a concealed weapon, booked into jail and released on a $2500 bond. He had chosen to threaten several innocent parties with both a baseball bat and a handgun. Now, he had to hire John Stavely, a lawyer in Bynum’s law firm. Elowsky replaced Brett Sawyer, the private investigator who had located the autopsy photographs, as the flavor of the day. Threatening to bash a person’s head in with a baseball bat, and then pulling a gun should the victim try to defend himself, would seem to be a more serious offense than Sawyer’s and Smith’s selling of autopsy photographs. Yet, John’s business partner walked away with a slap on the wrist.
Blame the press
Money trumps justice. The petty conduct of buying and selling information brought serious repercussions into the lives of Brett Sawyer, Larry Smith, James Rapp and many other bit players in the tragedy. Associating himself with the JonBenet murder took years from J.T. Colfax. All four served time in jail. All had lawyers and paid fines. Their decisions caused them personal and professional damages. Sawyer and Smith hoped to solve the crime with photographs, and sold them. J.T. trespassed on the abandoned Ramsey property and failed to set it on fire. All of them confessed their actions. J.T. served over two and one-half years in jail. All of them lost any trust they might have had in the American legal system.
Elowsky, on the other hand, plea bargained away the concealed weapon charge and Hunter’s office reduced felony menacing to a misdemeanor. He served two weekends in jail on a work crew, and took court ordered anger counseling classes. He forfeited his Sig Saur handgun, paid $138 in fines and served unsupervised probation for one year. Had Elowsky plead guilty to felony menacing, he would have lost his liquor license. He did not lose his business, as Sawyer did, or years of freedom like J.T.; he lost a little bit of time and some money, as well as the faith of his business partners, Bynum and Ramsey.
To refute accusations that Ramseys’ friend, Elowsky, received favored treatment, Hunter’s office produced the then most recent 1996 statistic showing 65 of 151 felony menacing cases had been plea bargained to the lesser charge of misdemeanor menacing. The Boulder Daily Camera editorialized that Elowsky’s case was not tainted with favoritism. It blamed the media for “their zeal to squeeze one more drop of sensational news from the murder of a child.”
At his pretrial conference, Elowsky appeared calm and gracious. “Thanks,” he said to the media who had come to cover the non-event. His high profile felony menacing had undermined the Ramseys’ fiction that as Christians they and their close circle of friends were not capable of raw violence and uncontrolled anger. Elowsky’s temper became linked with his faith and raised the specter of such outbursts in his friends.
During the sentencing hearing months later, Dennis Brech of the Mount Hope Lutheran Church, said that Elowsky had become less “hyper” since undergoing his anger management counseling. University of Colorado Regent, Jim Martin, wrote a letter to the judge. “It’s clear to me this February incident was a wakeup call to send his life in a different direction.” Elowsky said, “I’ve disgraced the Ramsey family, my family and friends and the Boulder community. I’ve caused a lot of people grief.” What people and whose grief? He had merely made an embarrassing spectacle of himself.
Now John and Patsy could argue that if the bloodthirsty reporters hadn’t surrounded Elowsky’s house and had left the grieving Ramseys alone, Elowsky would never have been involved in threats of violence. This accusation of felony menacing became one more opportunity to blame the press. Schmelzer and Haimann, the two engineers, could have been murdered. That’s a small detail best ignored for purposes of public relations. That Elowsky was willing to menace the press to preserve Patsy’s privacy was what mattered. He could be seen as a sort of hero, if one’s heart was in Patsy’s pocket.
John, Patsy and Burke moved out of Elowsky’s bachelor’s pad soon after the menacing incident. All’s well that ends well – well, temporarily. On May 16, 1998, the arrest of Elowsky for driving under the influence of alcohol within his probationary period provided grounds for revoking his probation. Suddenly, he was on the hot seat again. By the time of the pretrial conference for the alcohol offense on July 27, his probationary period had expired, as had the five-day window for a prosecutor to notify the defendant that his probation would be revoked. Elowsky faced this new charge calmly as he escaped prosecution for menacing.
All of Elowsky’s papers from his menacing incident seemed to have been lost in Hunter’s office. Bill Wise, Boulder’s former first Assistant District Attorney and Hunter’s right hand man for 28 years, explained that the paperwork regarding Elowsky’s second arrest didn’t reach Hunter’s office until June 24. His probation expired before the office could act on the probation violation; a sleep walking assistant district attorney failed to review the file. John Stavely represented Elowsky again. He plea bargained the more serious alcohol offense to a lesser charge. The lucky Impresario of Pasta could ride off into the sunset, driver’s license in hand and continue selling Chianti with his spaghetti. Bynum and his partner, Ramsey, had already left the pasta business. John later told police Elowsky owned a stun gun, thus fingering his friend for JonBenet’s brutal death.