Global Warning

What's wrong with this picture?
Compared with the beauty-pageant clips of JonBenet Ramsey that keep popping up on television, the crime-scene photos published in Monday's issue of the Globe look like something from Mother Goose. Night after night, the ghost of six-year-old JonBenet parades across the news, imitating a Las Vegas showgirl, a cocktail-lounge chorine executing a convincing bump and grind, a bathing beauty whose ruffled suit, blessedly, is not padded, although she is wearing makeup and her hair is lightened in a fluff of blond curls.

Night after night, new beauty-pageant videos appear on the screen. They have an obscene, hypnotic draw.

These images, and the peculiar, perverse world that produced them, are what keep JonBenet national news three weeks after her body was found in a Boulder basement. These images are what blew a local crime into an international "incident," as Boulder officials sometimes refer to JonBenet's murder.

Photographs of JonBenet in pageant poses grace the current covers of "respectable" magazines: People, Newsweek. Some of them even appear in the Globe. But those are not the pictures that have Boulder stirred to action. The offending pictures are the five crime-scene photos that somehow found their way from the Boulder County Coroner's office to Globe headquarters, halfway across the country. That disappearing act is more sensational than the published pictures themselves, which show nothing that has not already been described in the media. Three closeups of the cords that tied JonBenet's wrists; one of the wooden handle, the "garrote" used to strangle JonBenet, with some of her hair still tangled in the attached cord; a shot of the vacant space under the Christmas tree where John Ramsey reportedly placed his daughter's body after carrying it up from the basement.

That's it.
But that's not all.
In its intensive efforts to track down the person who committed this heinous crime--selling the photos to the Globe, not sexually assaulting and then murdering JonBenet Ramsey--the Boulder County Sheriff's office assigned three deputies to the case, who worked over the weekend interviewing numerous individuals. By Monday, they had already administered six polygraph examinations.

That is six more than the Boulder police have administered in their investigation of JonBenet's murder.

On Monday, Boulder County attorneys went to court, seeking a temporary restraining order barring the Globe from publishing more photos of the crime scene and asking for punitive damages. Law enforcement authorities threatened to charge Globe employees with theft if they had paid more than $400--duh--for the pictures.

On Tuesday, Boulder and the Globe reached an agreement: The tabloid would not print more photos and would return those in its possession. But although Boulder apparently has dropped its threat to prosecute Globe employees, it still plans to find the leak.

"A number of promising leads are being pursued," Boulder County Sheriff George Epp had had promised Monday, and more polygraphs are scheduled. But don't bother asking for details: "Because of the volume of news media inquiries, Sheriff's personnel will not do media interviews."

No one connected to this case, it seems, is in the mood to give interviews. After their CNN infomercial on New Year's Day, John and Patsy Ramsey are not talking--not to the media, and certainly not to the police who are supposed to be investigating the murder of their daughter. (Their media consultant, meanwhile, is running circles around Boulder officials struck dumb by the attention.)

Boulder police chief Tom Koby will talk, but he will not "spec-yu-late" on media rumors, as he said repeatedly during last Thursday's community "roundtable" that would have been better held in a hot tub, for all its touchy-feely gentility. While alternately grinning and grimacing, city spokeswoman Leslie Aaholm fielded questions from a panel of five handpicked local reporters, to which the oh-so-sincere Koby responded with pontifications that would do a tenured sociology professor proud. While he wasn't handling the day-to-day investigation of the "incident," he noted, he was encouraging his police officers--those who weren't being punished for speculating to the press, that is--to undergo grief therapy and "take care of yourselves both physically and emotionally." In fact, Koby wrapped up his chat with a canned speech urging all of Boulder to get needed counseling.

At the start of this encounter session, Koby had answered his own question: Should we be living in fear? No.

Indeed, by the end of the half-hour (repeated seven times since on the city's municipal channel, with tapes available at the Boulder Public Library), Koby made it clear that he had a suspect in mind: the media.

The media that kept speculating as to why the Boulder police hadn't searched the house earlier, why the father was allowed to find the body, why the parents of JonBenet weren't interviewed before they headed into lawyerland.

It must have come as a relief for law enforcement authorities when, on Saturday, they could finger a specific culprit: the Globe.

It must have felt good when the Boulder community, held captive by the "media frenzy," could take action and throw the evil rag out of stores that have been all too happy to sell equally offensive issues--gory Nicole Simpson autopsy pix, anyone?--51 weeks of the year. Stores next to theaters where sensitive types are lining up to see The People vs. Larry Flynt, a movie that celebrates a man whose career included publishing pornographic pictures of underaged females (the one who looked nine was really eighteen, Flynt argued--a reverse of the JonBenet aging process).

And won't it be fine when Boulder can finally charge someone with something--even if it is just taking advantage of lax procedures (Koby admits he's never headed a homicide investigation) to make a fast buck off a sleazy publication that's largely indefensible, unless you believe in defending the First Amendment.

Murder is not a pretty picture.
There is one photograph in the Globe that is more telling, more true, than anything else that has appeared about this case over the past three weeks. It is a picture of JonBenet's lifeless hand, peeking out from under the fuzzy sleeve of her white nightgown--a sleeve that is ringed by the cord used to restrain her. The hand is smooth, unblemished, slightly plumped with childhood.

Amid all the glamour shots, it is the only photo to show JonBenet for what she truly was: a little girl.


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