Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Playing the angles -- and angels -- in Boulder.

Two weeks until summer begins, and already the dog days are upon us.

They're snapping at our most exquisitely sensitive spots.

As might have been predicted, the most rabid area is Boulder, a town literally going to the dogs -- and the cats, and the ferrets, and the parrots -- as its city council contemplates putting real teeth in a measure that would officially change all references to "pet owners" in city ordinances to animal "guardians" instead. That sort of lunacy deserves no discussion -- but councilmembers discussed it anyway on Tuesday night; at this rate, they'll wind up assigning patron saints to every bean and alfalfa sprout in the bins at Wild Oats.

In the meantime, all of Boulder's humans in desperate need of a guardian -- angel, legal or otherwise -- go wanting.

Exhibits A and B: The Ramseys. Although their daughter, JonBenét, was clearly the one who needed protection three and a half years ago from whomever -- whatever -- was preying on the six-year-old innocent, John and Patsy Ramsey have recently demonstrated their own dire need of guidance. While they left the cold comforts of Colorado three years ago for the more hospitable south, they continue to be inextricably entwined with Boulder -- as stars of the country's longest-running dope opera.

And lately, the action has been heating up. Two weeks ago, with new civil attorney Lin Wood at their side, the Ramseys addressed a hastily assembled press conference in Atlanta and revealed that they'd taken -- and passed (third time's a charm!) -- lie-detector tests administered by a respected polygraph examiner, who had graciously agreed to let them pay for the test. This revelation (although really, would you have expected them to reveal anything other than a positive result?) came after Wood's promise -- and in some cases, delivery on that promise -- to file suit against major media outlets that had pilloried the pair.

From there, the Ramseys took their show on the road.

They visited with Today's Katie Couric last Wednesday, in a reprise of their March interview after the release of The Death of Innocence (which is not exactly climbing the bestseller list). But while the first chat was rather chummy, Patsy Ramsey got downright snippy when former lapdog Couric referred to the lie-detector tests as "self-sponsored." That, Patsy said, was yet another example of biased media reporting.

No matter that the tests had indeed been self-sponsored; had the Ramseys wanted to take an independent -- not to mention free -- test, they could have done so three and a half years ago at the Boulder Police Department. Or later, under the watchful auspices of the FBI. But now, forty months after the murder of their daughter, the test results were too little, too late. They smacked of too much cramming and not enough instinctive knowledge.

Later that night, the Ramseys showed up for another test, this time an appearance on Larry King Live. And here the questions were more grueling, since the examiner was a real pit bull: former Boulder police detective Steve Thomas (whose book, released in April, is doing much better than the Ramseys' tome). Asked point-blank who had killed JonBenét, Thomas pronounced that he thought Patsy was "good" for it.

No guardian angel there.

Perhaps as a result of all these very public shenanigans, on Friday, H. Ellis Armistead, the private investigator (and former Lakewood cop) who'd been working for the Ramseys' local, more close-lipped legal team, resigned from his job. "Mr. Armistead has made this decision in light of the events that are taking place in the media," said a statement from his office.

But Armistead hadn't seen anything yet. The real light came on this past weekend, when the Ramseys posted a composite sketch of their daughter's possible killer on the family's Web site (ramseyfamily.com). And where had the sketch come from? From a psychic -- a dead psychic. Fortunately, Dorothy Allison, who died this past December, had created the sketch back in 1998, during a TV appearance.

Allison's prime suspect looks like a cross between Tim McVeigh, Fleet White, Adolf Hitler, the Unabomber and a schnauzer.

He also looks a lot like your boss, or the guy who delivers your mail, or the man who stood behind you at the grocery store, or the nutcase who tried to run you down last week.

"Have you seen this man?" the Web site asks. "This man may have been in the Boulder area in December 1996. We firmly believe that this most horrible of killers will be caught based on information provided by people who care about right and wrong...Please help, so another innocent child will not be victim and another family will not suffer unbearable grief."

And if that plea is not enough to convince you to hand over the goods -- the site offers a handy tipster link -- there's also a convenient reminder of the $100,000 reward that the Ramseys first announced back in May 1997, at the now infamous "Magnificent Seven" press conference. That was the couple's last official public appearance -- until they had a book to sell. And a two-year-old sketch to post on their Web site.

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