Longform

Justice, Boulder Style

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At one point, according to Thomas's book, a crime-scene tech dusted the Ramsey home for fingerprints while a victims' assistant followed behind, busily tidying up with spray cleaner and cloth.

Even as Thomas and his fellow officers struggled to retrieve what evidence was left and to put a viable case together, other obstacles appeared. Eventually, they would prove insurmountable. Two salient facts became apparent almost immediately: The Ramseys would not cooperate with the police investigation, and the Boulder County District Attorney's Office would be more supportive of the Ramseys than of its own police team.

As Thomas describes it, John and Patsy Ramsey began lawyering up within a day of the discovery of their daughter's body. On December 26, the couple went to the home of friends, where they were joined by another friend, Mike Bynum, a prominent local lawyer who had once worked in the district attorney's office. By the next day, a three-person team hired by the Ramseys had already interviewed the Ramseys' close friends Fleet and Priscilla White.

On December 27, when police arrived to schedule interviews with the Ramseys, Bynum was again present. John Ramsey said little; the family doctor told police Patsy was too overwhelmed to see them. On December 28, prosecutor Pete Hofstrom informed the cops that there would be no Ramsey interviews because the Ramseys were leaving for Atlanta. The Ramseys had gone to the criminal justice center that day and given such non-testimonial evidence as fingerprints and blood and hair samples; Hofstrom suggested the police fax their questions to the family. On New Year's Day, the Ramseys appeared on CNN to proclaim their innocence.

Steve Thomas's theory about what happened in the Ramsey home is just that: a theory. But the facts he marshals do make a convincing, if circumstantial, case for Patsy's guilt. He believes JonBenét's death may have been accidental, the result of a bed-wetting incident during which her head was slammed against something hard. Police saw a box of pull-up diapers hanging halfway off a cabinet shelf outside the child's bedroom and a balled-up red turtleneck on the bathroom counter. Patsy had said JonBenét was put to bed in a red turtleneck; the body was found in a white shirt with a sequin star on the front. Under this scenario, the garrote, the bound hands and the placement of the body in the basement were essentially staging, intended to cover up the nature of JonBenét's death; the duct tape appeared to have been placed over her mouth after she died. Although it has been the subject of hot dispute, no one has determined whether JonBenét's death was caused by strangulation from the garrote or the massive blow to her head; either injury would have been fatal by itself.

The garrote was made with the broken handle of Patsy's paintbrush. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation tested red acrylic fibers found on the duct tape covering JonBenét's mouth and said they were a "likely match" for Patsy Ramsey's blazer. Beaver hairs were also found on the tape, but police were unable to obtain permission from the DA's office to get Patsy's fur coat and boots for testing.

There were no fingerprints on the ransom note, but the tablet on which it was written was Patsy's, and it bore her fingerprints. On the same tablet, there was also what appeared to be a practice note. Both parts were written with a Sharpie pen that was then replaced in its holder in the Ramsey kitchen. Many experts examined the note's handwriting and were unable to rule out Patsy as the author. At least one named her unequivocally.

The Ramseys have said that police were too quick to focus on them, ignoring the possibility that an intruder came into the house and killed their daughter. In the months and years following JonBenét's death, they have mentioned several possible suspects, including their housekeeper, Linda Hoffman-Pugh; a former nanny; a onetime Accent Graphics worker whom John Ramsey had fired; Fleet and Priscilla White (named after Fleet confronted John Ramsey in Atlanta and told him he should be cooperating with the investigation); a neighboring couple -- he palsied and she suffering from Alzheimer's disease; a local reporter whose girlfriend said he'd behaved strangely when he heard about the murder; Jay Elowsky, a Boulder restaurateur who allowed the Ramseys to stay in his house to avoid the press and, in his zeal to defend their privacy, once came out swinging a baseball bat; and -- most famously -- Bill McReynolds, a retired journalism professor who had attended Ramsey holiday functions dressed as Santa Claus. At the time of the murder, McReynolds was still recovering from the heart surgery he'd had four months earlier.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman