Denver Post - 09-19-1998 - Cyber-sleuths tour land of JonBenet (BAD LINK)

Cyber-sleuths tour land of JonBenet

By Karen Auge
Denver Post Staff Writer

Sept. 19 - BOULDER - None of them is the pale, bug-eyed, pocket-protector-wearing geek you might expect to find in a group of people who spend countless hours online, probing the killing of a total stranger as if it had happened in their family.

They are, outwardly at least, fairly normal. They include a software marketer from Michigan, a suburban-Philadelphia housewife and mother, a newspaper publisher and editor from a small Rocky Mountain town, and a day-care provider from outside San Francisco.

They are the JonBenet Ramsey murder-obsessed cyber-sleuths.

About 30 of them have descended on a wary, notoriety-weary Boulder this weekend for some socializing and some seriously strange sightseeing.

"This is a huge adventure for me,'' said the newspaperwoman, who revealed only her Internet name, "reporter.''

They have come from as nearby as Denver and as far away as Saskatchewan for two main reasons: After more than a year of arguing, communicating and cyber-chatting, these electronic friends decided it was time to actually lay eyes on one another. And they wanted to see Boulder, the hometown of the little girl whose death 21 months ago has linked them in a virtual community.

Kathy, a San Francisco-area day-care operator, said she got a kick out of finally meeting the people she knows so well electronically.

"You hear how someone speaks for two years, you think you know them, you get an image of them,'' Kathy said. When you actually see them, sometimes the image fits. But sometimes virtual reality couldn't be any further from corporeal reality, she said.

The woman they all know as Catnip, whose real name is Chris Wheeler, said seeing the Ramseys' Tudor-style brick home was a bit of a jolt, even after seeing countless photos.

She envisioned it larger, she said.

"I drove by the (Ramseys' summer) house in Charlevoix (Mich.), and it had more emotional impact somehow,'' she said.

Catnip has earned a measure of Internet renown as the founder of the Mark Beckner Fan Club, devoted to the Boulder police chief. Catnip and her cohorts don't expect to meet the man who took over the investigation last October.

"I'd love to meet him, but I didn't want him to think, "Oh here's this crazy woman from the Internet,' '' she said.

Even without a Beckner meeting on the itinerary, the group has a full schedule.

By Friday afternoon, the group had seen the former Ramsey home - three times in some cases - and had toured the Boulder County Justice Center; three had discussed the case for early-rising radio fans on Peter Boyles' show; several had met Hunter's spokeswoman Suzanne Laurion; and three of them even dined at Pasta Jay's - the Italian restaurant owned by loyal Ramsey family friend Jay Elowsky. Elowsky has become well-known for his disgust with media coverage of the case.

On Friday night, they had a secret dinner planned. Only those who knew the password were admitted. Mrs. Brady, the self-described housewife who spends hours a day updating what is the mother of all Ramsey-related Web sites, took a few hours Friday to answer e-mail and let her faithful readers know how the Boulder excursion is going. And she took time to post a photo of herself, Catnip and Panico dining at Pasta Jay's on her home page.

Mrs. Brady has, in her words, "been blown away'' by Boulder.

"I really just pictured violence,'' directed toward her and her comrades. She was expecting something along the lines of what happened to the photographer whose camera was smashed to the sidewalk by a resident irate over the clump of media outside the courtroom for the first day of the grand jury's meeting. (No Ramsey development is too trivial to escape Mrs. Brady's notice.)

Instead, Boulderites have been polite, even cordial, she said.

And Mrs. Brady has put them to the ultimate test - she has smoked in public.

Daring as that may be, Mrs. Brady, and friends weren't fearless enough to reveal themselves when they dined at Pasta Jay's.

They did, however, leave behind a couple of the lapel buttons Catnip designed. The heart-shape pins are red, with white letters that read "JonBenet deserves justice!''

And while they maintain a healthy sense of humor about themselves, they don't find anything funny about the death of a 6-year-old girl.

That, all of them said, is what has drawn them together, what keeps them logging on day after day.

"We want Boulder County to know that we are watching. And we want the killer to know we are watching,'' Mrs. Brady said. "Patsy Ramsey was right. There is a killer out there.''