Boulder News - 09-19-1998 - Ramsey 'cybersleuths' meet here

Ramsey 'cybersleuths' meet here

Web surfers from across country rub elbows with media types

By Matt Sebastian
Camera Staff Writer

About 30 self-proclaimed "cybersleuths" traded in their Internet chatrooms for the real thing Friday night, meeting in the back room of a Boulder restaurant to gab about their favorite topic - the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.

Their numbers were matched by a virtual who's who of the Ramsey case's fringe - radio talk show host Peter Boyles, an attorney suing John Ramsey on defamation accusations and 6-year-old JonBenét's former photographer.

"It's interesting," said KMGH-TV legal analyst Craig Silverman, "You've got Time magazine here and the tabloids."

Like the ongoing grand jury investigation into JonBenét's death, the dinner itself was shrouded in secrecy, with attendees only learning of the event's location - Dolan's Restaurant - on Friday.

A few days earlier, guests had been e-mailed passwords and told to await further instructions.

"We kind of like to make fun of ourselves," said event organizer Martha Knapp, revealing that the security precautions were more for kicks than out of actual fear of interlopers.

Chris Wheeler, a Lansing, Mich., woman who has a Web site dedicated to Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner, said the trip so far has been "almost an information overload."

"I'm in this parallel universe all the time, reading maps and looking at pictures (online)," Wheeler said. "To put it all together now is just amazing."

Attendees met at Dolan's about 7:30, where they each received "Cybersleuths Detective Agency" photo-ID cards and buttons emblazoned with the logo, "JonBenét Deserves Justice!"

Party favors and a prize drawing were also part of the festivities.

Awaiting dinner, the Web surfers had the opportunity to hobnob with the likes of Denver Post columnist Chuck Green, former Ramsey photographer Judith Phillips and several tabloid reporters.

Not all were comfortable with the evening's purpose, though.

"It's incongruous to attend a party to celebrate the death of a little girl, and this is what it's about," said Boulder attorney Lee Hill, who is representing local photographer Stephen Miles in his defamation suit against John Ramsey and the National Enquirer.

"So I attend with ambivalence."

But the cybersleuths don't see it that way.

"We're here to support the people of Boulder," said a Redwood City, Calif., woman whose Internet handle is "Jan."

The ubiquitous Mrs. Brady, whose eponymous Web site serves as clearinghouse for Ramsey related headlines, said she came to Boulder expecting to find residents who don't care about a little girl's murder.

"But they do care," the Pennsylvania woman said, "And that's the biggest shock to me. This trip has been wonderful."

One such local, Mary Suma, admitted, "They're not a group of loonies."

"I e-mailed them and said I have to go to this and see who these people are," Suma said.

The group spent Friday seeing the Ramsey sites, including the 15th Street home where JonBenét's body was found Dec. 26, 1996, and the Boulder County Justice Center, home of the grand jury investigation into her death.

Some even appeared on Boyles' morning talk show, a favor he returned by attending their dinner.

Today, they plan to spend more time together and have a role-playing murder-mystery dinner planned, at which they'll ply their investigative skills on a non-Ramsey murder.

"There's just so much more than the typed word," Wheeler said. "Putting faces with these images in your head; it's like some of these people, I feel I know better than my neighbors and friends back home."

September 19, 1998