But help never came. Sewer gas invaded Coors Field. Squirrels invaded City Hall. Broncos mascot Thunder tried to invade a mare but injured himself having rough sex. Clearly, it was too late to do anything but pray.

So wipe that smile off your face and get on your knees. Then join us as we rage against the year that was.

United Artists opened a virtual-reality fun center at Park Meadows, and Boulder native Jason Cornwell joined the cast of MTV's Real World, but the real place to lose touch with reality was Boulder, where the death of a six-year-old girl quickly became the most infamous American homicide since little Lizzie Borden went upside her mama's head with an ax.

"It's not O.J. and it's not L.A. Our guy won't walk," said police chief Tom Koby the week after the Christmas-night murder of JonBenet Ramsey. But what he meant to say was, "Our guy won't walk in and confess"--which was the only likely scenario under which his department might solve the case. And what a case it was--complete with cops, a victim and a cast of suspects right out of Barnaby Jones.

For openers, there were Ma and Pa Ramsey, a former Miss West Virginia and a stone-faced computer jock who came across like a hot tamale and a cold fish served up on one surreal platter. The eccentric couple told Larry King and CNN more than they did the cops, surrounded themselves with a phalanx of lawyers, media consultants and makeup artists, and staunchly defended having allowed their first-grader to dress up in skintight Vegas showgirl outfits.

Before long, the case also came to include CU journalism professor Bill McReynolds, another raging eccentric who had played Santa Claus at the Ramseys' Christmas party days before the murder and then showed up outside Rockefeller Center in New York City a few weeks later waving to the Today show cameras. Professor Claus was invited into the studio for an interview, apparently in the hope that one of his reindeer might be able to shed some light on the situation.

As Boulder's finest continued to bumble their way through the probe, they did their best to stay laid-back. Big Chief Koby wore a beard--banned in most metro-area departments--and other officers were allowed to wear earrings if they felt the need. But despite the mellow vibes, the dudes and chicks working for The Man in Boulder couldn't help getting stressed out. Prosecutors and cops set up a "war room" to sift through evidence, then majorly freaked when they suspected someone had monkeyed with their top-secret computer. After an investigation determined that a short circuit in a battery was responsible, an expert from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported, "It's not a burglary. It's not a break-in. It's not a breach of security. It's not lightning."

Still, before the year was out, the city had agreed to pay police sergeant Larry Mason $10,000 to keep quiet about the "stress-related illness" and damage to reputation he suffered after being accused of leaking information to the media. Detective Linda Arndt, the investigative genius who first suggested that Pa Ramsey search the house--leading to his discovery of the body and subsequent contamination of the crime scene--went on medical leave to "recover from the stress" of working on the case. Even Lou Smit, the ace detective from El Paso County hired by District Attorney Alex Hunter to work as a "special investigator" on the case, was described by a fellow officer in Vanity Fair magazine as "a delusional old man": Grandpa Lou decided John and Patsy were just too darned nice to have killed their girl and focused instead on the theory that an intruder climbed through a window, dragged America's People's Princess down to the basement, killed her, spent an hour or so dashing off a couple of ransom notes on Patsy's notepad, and then split.

The one man who might have been able to get to the bottom of the situation, Geraldo Rivera, descended on Boulder but left quickly after being treated rudely by fellow reporters. "I have better things to do than talk to cynical yuppies who make snide references to my coming here," pouted the former Jerry Rivers.

Making an equally quick entrance and exit was James Michael Thompson, also known as J.T. Colfax. The shock-theater specialist, who once was fired from a body-transport company for taking photos of corpses with signs nearby reading "Getting Fired Isn't the End of the World" and "Yee-Haw," fit right in with the Ramsey case. After torching the Ramsey family mailbox, he landed in jail, where he promptly began leaking information about other famous inmates such as the lead singer for Firefall, who reportedly received wild applause from his fellow inmates when he whipped out a guitar and sang "Just Remember I Love You."

As it turned out, Thompson was a better source of information than the quickie book Death of a Little Princess, a tell-all that told almost nothing about "the JonBenet event" but did seem to sum up its otherworldliness. "The natural conclusion was the expectation of an arrest," the book's author noted. "That way the story could die, as expected, to be replaced by something else. But what if it never happened? What if, like TWA Flight 800, the event just petered out without any finality?"

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