The body was found at the bottom of a six-foot-deep pit at a construction site near a Boulder public-housing project. The hole was covered with particle board, marked with cones and blocked by construction equipment.
Two weeks later, on December 19, Boulder County Coroner John Meyer ruled the death of Lorraine Lawrence an accident. The 36-year-old Safeway courtesy clerk had died of exposure, "due to complications of seizure disorder."
He offered no explanation for the particle board.
And so Boulder's unblemished record of having no homicides that year continued until the very last week of 1996.
Then came the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, a death the Boulder police have had a hard time explaining.
In the four weeks since JonBenet's body was found--reportedly in a basement room where Christmas presents were stored, although her holiday bicycle had been hidden at a neighbor's house--the Boulder police seem quite content with the suspect they have settled on: the media.
It was apparently the media that forced--forced!--a former Boulder County sheriff's deputy to break every bit of training he'd presumably received when he worked for the department fifteen years ago and convince an underdeveloped employee of Shoot-and-Go, or whatever highly professional strip-mall photo processor the Boulder County Coroner's office uses to process its intensely confidential film, to hand over prints of the Ramsey crime scene.
From the moment he received the assignment from the Globe, a publication Brett Sawyer says he didn't really know--although it wouldn't have taken more than a trip to the local supermarket for the crack private investigator to familiarize himself with his new client (if, that is, he got to the store before last week's self-righteous and soon-aborted boycott)--it took Sawyer just four hours to secure the photos. He did so by lying to Lawrence Smith, if that poor schmuck is to be believed, telling him he was working for the Ramseys (who isn't?) and handing over $200 for his trouble and trash. And then Sawyer sent the pictures off to his client, the unknown Globe, which he claims had promised--promised!--that it would not publish them.
And which also happens to have promised Sawyer a big, fat, $5,500 check, a promise on which it delivered.
Sawyer is now filled with remorse (but probably not as much as his underpaid accomplice, who was charged with theft, evidence tampering, obstructing government operations and false reporting).
But he, too, can stop the chest-beating long enough to point a finger at the culprit that made him fall victim to his own greed: the "media craze."
"I believe that the money helped me make the wrong decision," Sawyer told one reporter, "and it clouded my judgment."
Get this man some counseling. Fortunately, all those services touted two weeks ago by Boulder police chief Tom Koby are still available.
Koby urged counseling--for his staff, for residents of Boulder--during a half-hour roundtable in which he took questions from the media, then promptly ignored them. For example, when one reporter mentioned Lorraine Lawrence and asked if police had treated that case differently because of Lawrence's background--because, say, she was a Safeway clerk rather than Boulder's Entrepeneur of the Year in 1995, as John Ramsey was; because she lived in public housing rather than a million-dollar house, a house so "big," Koby said, that it would have been very difficult to search on the day JonBenet was reported missing--Koby turned his reply into an indictment of the media.
And a week later, when he announced the arrest of Sawyer and Smith, Koby still had not exhausted his ire. "It was a graphic example of the media overstepping its boundaries," the chief said of the picture-pilfering. "It was upsetting to people, and I'm glad it's been resolved."
Him and me both. Now perhaps the Boulder police can get around to solving that other crime: the slaying of JonBenet. Perhaps they will finally interview the parents--or at the very least, the parents' media consultant. Or follow one more traditional crime-solving tactic: Turn to a grand jury that perhaps would be less sensitive to Boulder's precious feelings and subpoena those too timid to talk.
Last Thursday, another recent death--never say murder--was resolved in a uniquely Boulder way. In October, 62-year-old Forrest Leigh had been checking to see if his gun was unloaded when--whoops--it fired, sending a bullet through the wall and into the next apartment, where it killed Tara Coakley as she sat down to dinner with friends. Leigh was fined, ordered to give up weapons for two years and sentenced to 200 hours of community service, half of those lecturing on gun safety.
It is a good thing Leigh did not sell any photos to the Globe. Then he might actually have been sentenced to prison.
But the Globe probably wouldn't be interested in any photos of Leigh's victim, Coakley, who was a popular clerk at the Boulder District Attorney's office.
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Nor would it pay big bucks for photographs of the covered pit where Lorraine Lawrence died, or of the housing project where she'd lived, or of the family members who attended her services.
That the media does not treat all deaths equally comes as no surprise. Tiny murdered beauty queens sell papers. Supermarket clerks killed by "exposure" do not. That the law treats suspects differently is no news flash, either. You don't have to look further than Denver and the Duncan Cameron case to realize that.
The surprise hee is that Boulder officials treat victims, the real victims, the same way.
They bury them.