Boulder Planet - 09-25-1998 - Ramsey cyber-sleuths descend on Boulder


Ramsey cyber-sleuths descend on Boulder

Internet community shares theories, friendship in first face-to-face meeting

By Troy Hooper
Boulder Planet

Tightly squeezing her eyes shut, Rutheevisualizes the stained-glass windows andFrench doors of the red-brick, Tudor-stylehome that reached notoriety some 20 monthsago.

"It was dark and dreary looking," she tellsher friends, seated around a table at PastaJay's.

She opens her eyes and flips through hersmall notebook, scanning the pages ofnotes she scribbled in front of the Ramseyhome earlier that day.

Her new friends listen intently.

"Inside the room with the three windows, inthat room I see vomit on the carpet," shesays. "Somebody was in this room and thenthey went out those two French doors in theback and they came around to the side ofthe house.

"That's when they made the noise," shesays. "They hit something, movedsomething, or something fell over."

"So the noise came from outside the houseand not in the basement?" a friend asks,engaged by Ruthee's visions.

"Yes," she says. "It definitely came fromoutside the house."

Viewing life in 3-D

A gray-haired, self-proclaimed psychic fromVacaville, Calif., Ruthee came looking foranswers at the 15th Street home where 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered Dec. 26, 1996.

Like many of the other Ramsey-obsessed cyber-snoops who descended upon Boulderon Friday, Sept. 18 , she keeps her identity asecret. "Ruthee" is her online pseudonym.

About 30 men and women with similar cyberpseudonyms, or "hats" as they like to call them, came from around the world to the city they had only heard so much about.

After spending hundreds of hours chatting on their computer screens about the murder investigation, Martha Knapp (a.k.a. Mapek),a part-time Boulder resident, invited her cyber colleagues to view the scene of the crime with their own eyes.

Setting aside their daily responsibilities as teachers, software marketers, newspaper publishers and housewives, they came to meet their online counter parts face-to-face for the first time.

They are mostly strangers, but virtually all ofthem had chatted with or crossed each other's cyber paths at one time or another.

With scores of Ramsey-related forums and chatrooms flooding the Internet, many in this cross-section of modern culture consider themselves friends.

Whether sharing their theories about whokilled JonBenet or just shooting the breezeover a cup of Joe and a keyboard, many ofthese online observers have gotten to knoweach other inside and out.

"We tell each other our most intimate secrets," said Mrs. Brady, a forty something Philadelphia housewife and mother of two."On the Internet, nobody's got warts or moles, you're not fat or thin, and it doesn't matter whether you're black or white. People really open up."

Online obsession "Mrs. Brady," also a pseudonym, is a self-described online addict. Her Web page,called "Mrs. Brady's URLs"(http://joshua-7.com/mrsbrady), is perhaps the most popular of the Ramsey-related Websites. It averages about 600 hits a day and, on Sept. 18 -- the day Mrs. Brady arrived in Boulder -- the site set an all-time record with more than 14,000 hits.

She dedicates her Web site to the unsolved murder because, she says, JonBenet reminds her of herself as a child.

"I was a stage kid, too," she said. "I had to dress up in little outfits and that kind of stuff."

Now, what started as a hobby has become a full-time job. Putting in at least four hours every day, Mrs. Brady scours the Internet for the latest in Ramsey gossip and news.

"I've read every single published document that's out there on this case," she said. "And ifit wasn't on the Internet, I went out there andpurchased it.

"It is my calling," she said. "I've driven inblizzards when my computer's gone down tomake sure my Web page gets out on time."

Mrs. Brady says she chats so much that sheand a few of the other female chatters haveeven developed parallel menstrual cycles.

"We found out we're cyber-cycling," Mrs.Brady laughed. "After months of bitchy conversations, we realized our cycles were down to the exact minute."

Choosing a 'hat' that fits

Mrs. Brady says she models herself after Florence Henderson -- the original Mrs. Brady on the 1970s television show, "The Brady Bunch."

"Its very motherly and non-threatening," shesaid.

Radio talk-show host Peter Boyles -- who regularly talks with Mrs. Brady and had her and two other Internet pals on his Sept. 18 show -- simply refers to her as "Ma."

"We're a family. We have our mom figures and our dad figures," Mrs. Brady said.

One Ramsey-chat family member, Kathy Harris from Redwood City, Calif., became inspired by the "Brady Bunch" theme.

"I wanted to be Jan Brady," she said. "I wanted to be anonymous -- the middle child who didn't get the attention. My big thing is, why is it always, 'Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!'?"

Making the rounds

' Most, if not all, who came to visit their virtualfriends in Boulder also saw what may soonbe the city's biggest tourist attractions.

Aside from scoping out the murder site, manyalso caught glimpses of the Boulder County Justice Center -- site of the Ramsey grand jury proceedings that began Sept. 15; PastaJay's restaurant -- owned by Jay Elowsky,who threatened two men with a baseball batbecause he believed they were reporters stalking his friends, John and Patsy Ramsey, in February 1997; the Columbia Cemetery grave of Tom Horn, who was executed in 1903 for murdering a 14-year-old boy; the Boulder Police Department; and even some local hardware stores, hoping to find duct tape and nylon cords matching those used inJonBenet's murder.

In addition, a dinner at Dolan's Restaurant allowed the group to rub elbows with the likes of talk-show host Peter Boyles, KMGH-TV legal analyst Craig Silverman, Denver Post columnist Chuck Green, Boulder attorney Lee Hill, former Ramsey photographer Judith Phillips, several tabloid reporters and other visible figures connected to the case.

Party favors passed out at the dinner party included a baseball-bat keychain reading" Noodle Justice," magnifying glasses, notebooks for keeping track of evidence and Groucho Marx disguises.

"Its was very funny," Mrs. Brady said. "That'show we must cope with the insanity of allthis."

A "whodunit" murder mystery gathering at LaEstrellita restaurant the following night alsoattracted several of the cyber chatters.

But those who participated in the morelighthearted activities insist they are notcelebrating murder.

"We laugh at everything except what happened to JonBenet," a woman callingherself "Voyager" said.

Deep emotions

Although there were times for fun and games, those attending the Ramsey-related festivities spent their free time struggling with how to cope with their emotions.

For some, the murder changed their lives forever.

"JonBenet brought me and my mom back together," Harris said. "We had beene stranged for five years."

"I called her one day on Mother's Day, because, you know, I thought I might as well. And she said, 'Don't think I'm weird, but do you follow that JonBenet Ramsey thing?'"

They have been good friends ever since. She and her friends also said they had a "maternal" connection to JonBenet.

"It feels like she is our baby," Harris said.

"If JonBenet was my daughter, she wouldhave been Casper the Ghost for Halloween. Or worrying about the girl up the street who won't talk to her.

She'd be doing normal things like my daughter did." While visiting the former Ramsey home, Harris and her friend Catnip -- 33-year-old Chris Wheeler -- openly wept.

"She didn't have to suffer," Wheeler said. "Ithink about the people who live around here,what they must go through, what they must have to think about. I bet they feel like victims, too."