Ramsey mystery attracts 'sleuths'
'Net users, psychics try to solve slaying
By ELLIOT ZARET
Camera Staff Writer
Monday, February 3, 1997
Boulder police detectives and the Ramsey team of investigators aren't the only ones trying to solve the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.
In coffee shops throughout the nation, across the telephone lines and on Internet discussion boards, people are trying to figure out who killed the 6-year-old beauty queen.
The story of the little girl, found strangled in her parents' basement just eight hours after being reported kidnapped on Dec. 26, has all the components to draw people in, said Stuart Fischoff, professor of media psychology at California State University Los Angeles. The child's beauty, her parents' wealth, the possibility of sexual assault and the mystery surrounding the murder add up to turn the death of a girl in a small city into a national obsession.
"It fills a kind of gossip gap," said Fischoff. "There's a strong entertainment value, even if it passes as compassion."
Modern technology, such as the advent of the Internet, has made it easier for people interested in things like this to find each other and communicate with each other, he said.
Many of the amateur sleuths have banded together on the Ramsey discussion forum on the Daily Camera's BoulderNews World Wide Web site in an attempt to solve the mystery. Known only by nicknames such as "Mike Hammer," "Texas 1," "Scanner" and "JP," they post hundreds of messages every day to the computer bulletin board.
The discussion, which sometimes starts as early as 5 a.m. and runs through the wee hours of the morning, centers on known facts about the case. The group catalogs every news report and television interview relating to the little girl's death.
They theorize who might have murdered JonBenet, arguing over the plausibility of various theories and the accompanying motivations. When a "thread" or discussion topic "fills up," they continue the discussion on a new thread.
"The remark on TV last eve about overkill rang a bell for me," wrote "Texas 1" in a typical posting. "Someone was intent on killing this child. I don't buy the sex scenario. The rush to judgment was in the tabloids playing up the sex angle to sell more papers. Any thoughts??"
Some claim to have "inside information," which the group quickly and thoroughly scrutinizes. Some in the group are dubious of the accuracy of even media reports about the murder.
"It will be interesting to see, when all the information is made public, how much of the news reports regarding the details of her death were accurate," wrote "Sarah" on Thursday. "For in-
stance, I won't be shocked to find out there was no sexual assault at all, or something else that was accepted to be fact will turn out to be fiction."
While the Internet, through its ability to join people from all over the world with a common interest, has become a center for discussion, the sleuthing isn't been limited to the virtual world.
For instance, one Midwestern man thinks he knows who killed JonBenet. The week before Christmas, his hometown newspapers printed stories about a businessman accused of attempted arson after a partner backed out of a deal, leaving him short of his payment of - how much? - $118,000.
"That's what tipped me off, the $118,00," said the man who called the Daily Camera with his revelation.
The businessman allegedly skipped town on Dec. 22, telling his wife he was going to Kansas City. And since the man said he was going east, he probably actually went the other way - due west on Interstate 70 and then up to Boulder, where perhaps he saw JonBenet and her mother, Patsy, in a mall, followed them home and botched the kidnapping. At least, that's the way the figures it happened.
The murder also has attracted professional and amateur psychics who want to use their special skills to help provide information - from both the material and spiritual worlds.
"The little Ramsey girl seems to be here with me - little JonBenet," said a woman in Fort Myers, Fla., who called the Daily Camera. "She doesn't know she's dead in the physical body. She thinks she's still alive and she has some messages for her parents. She tells me that she wrote those notes that were left there - I know it seems strange."
The woman, a Sunday school teacher who described herself as a good Christian, said JonBenet's spirit has described the murderer to her through her dreams.
"I have a sketch that I've done. She describes him and who he is and his tattoo and his earring and his necklace and where he's from and I've just tried to shake loose of this, but every time I do I throw up and choke and cough - I'm getting sick."
The obsession with JonBenet's death is similar to fan obsessions, Fischoff said.
While there is no "profile" of those who becomes obsessed with such things - media obsession is seen in people of all intelligence levels from all walks of life - they do have some things in common, he said.
"You're tapping into a segment of the population that doesn't have a lot in their life," said Fischoff. "There's the proverbial expression, "Get a life.' They don't have a life. It gives them meaning. Their personal identity is somehow tied in the case."
Fischoff said they also are often physically or emotionally isolated.
"If you have to juggle a family and a career, you can't spend the time on this case, because it would mean sacrificing your family," he said. "These people are not having reality checks imposed on them."
They also are responding to intense media attention surrounding the murder.
"They are told this is important, this is worthy of discussion," said Fischoff. "There are people who only understand what is important by what is in the popular media."
On the other hand, he added, as long as the people don't intrude on the grieving family's privacy or ruin their own lives with their obsession, there's nothing really wrong with it - it's just another strange hobby.
"If someone likes to collect fire hydrants, let them," he said. "The only time there would be something wrong is if their life begins to deteriorate because of it."
One Boulder resident has been uniquely affected by the interest in JonBenet Ramsey's murder. Jeff Hansell, an independent producer at Boulder's Community Access Television, has a phone number one digit off of Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby's.
Hansell said he was tempted with some of the callers to invent some "information" about the case - but he never made up anything.
"I would pick up the phone and they'd say "Chief Koby?' And I'd say, "Huh?'" he said. "I was never quick enough to come up with something good.