Cover image for Presumed guilty : an investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey case, the media, and the culture of pornography
Presumed guilty : an investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey case, the media, and the culture of pornography
Singular, Stephen.
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Publication Information:
Beverly Hills, Calif. : New Millennium Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 241 pages ; 22 cm
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HV6534.B68 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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HV6534.B68 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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On the morning of December 26, 1996, JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in the basement of her parent's million-dollar home in Boulder, Colorado. The events surrounding the death of the 6-year-old beauty queen horrified the city's residents and immediately captured the nation's interest. As throngs of reporters and media crews swarmed into Boulder, local and national networks flashed images of JonBenet, dressed provocatively in pageant regalia, across the country and overseas. Concurring with the opinions expressed on television and radio talk show programs, Boulder's police department focused its attention on two suspects: John and Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet's parents. Despite pressure from the police to arrest the Ramseys, the district attorney's office attempted to establish new leads and identify other suspects, but without the support of law-enforcement authorities, the D.A.'s efforts were stymied.

As the investigation came to a standstill, one man looked deeper. Not content to pass judgment on the Ramseys without conclusive evidence -- and convinced there was a reason for the legal system's wariness in prosecuting the case -- Denver-based journalist Stephen Singular followed a trail from the local bars to the county, jail to answer the question: Who, or what, killed JonBenet Ramsey?

Singular's search led him into the often seamy worlds of tabloid journalism, local politics, beauty, pageants, child pornography, and the business of sex on the Internet. His discovery -- of a subculture that sexually exploits young children and that surreptitiously is working its way into mainstream America -- motivated him to share his findings with the district attorney and the police. PresumedGuilty is his account of this journey into one of the darkest corners of modern American li

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In what he acknowledges is a very speculative treatment of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, Singular (The Rise and Rise of David Geffen, etc.) contends that the six-year-old beauty queen's parents did not murder her. He finds that JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, doesn't fit the profile of women who murder, and he further suggests that JonBenet may have been killed by a pornographer. Singular found photos of children on the Internet who were tied up the way JonBenet was bound, and he learned of a Boulder photographer who had tried to take nude pictures of another child beauty contestant and who was said to have photographed one little girl flying a kite that trailed a "white, nylonlike material" similar to the cord that had been tied around JonBenet's wrist. But Singular's riskiest conjecture involves father John Ramsey. He theorizes that John, fearing that Patsy might die of ovarian cancer before JonBenet attained national celebrity, tried, without Patsy's knowledge, to accelerate the pursuit of JonBenet's fame by having risqu‚ promotional photos taken of their daughter. After JonBenet was killed, Singular surmises, John wrote the ransom note to cover up his bad judgment. As far-fetched as all this sounds, Singular advances his thesis cautiously and even writes that "the future will reveal how much of it is true." Readers who can't get enough of this grizzly case will find Singular's tone and the modesty of his claims persuasive. 50,000 first printing; major ad/promo. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One A great sea once covered the Front Range of Colorado, but over hundreds of millennia, the water receded, the earth convulsed, and huge slabs of brownish rock shot up from the ground. In 1858, miners struck gold in these mountains, known as the Flatirons, and white settlers made camp nearby in a village called Boulder City. Its sixty original shareholders established the first school in Colorado and righteously enforced frontier justice. Murderers were hanged in public, while horse thieves were given twenty-one bare-back lashes and had one side of their heads shaved so that everyone could recognize the criminals walking among them. Boulder, as the town came to be called, expanded and grew right under the shadows of the Flatirons, which rose up behind the community, sheer and vast and the color of dried blood, like tablets of stone driven straight into the land.     Whenever I came into Boulder from the east on Highway 36 and took in this vista, my heart caught and I felt humbled. Mountains can do that to you, can quickly put you in your place and make human affairs seem very small and transient. It happened once again on this morning in mid-April 1997, more than three months after Police Chief Tom Koby's press conference. Spring had arrived in Colorado and last January's cold snap now seemed as distant as Koby's remarks on that brittle evening. He had made only one comment that had echoed into the future.     "The less you know," he had told the media and viewing public, "the easier it is to give advice."     This clearly meant that the authorities knew a lot more than the reporters did, but beyond that the statement was open to interpretation. Did it also mean that the police hadn't grasped the murder yet, so everyone should just relax and let the system do its work? Or that Boulder detectives had already concluded that the killing was highly complicated and going to be very difficult to solve? Or that they'd handled the investigation so badly that it was doubtful it ever could be solved? Or that, for some vague but powerful reason, they weren't committed to solving it? Or did Koby's words mean something else altogether, something impenetrable to those outside Boulder's legal system? Nearly one hundred days after the press conference, no answers had emerged.     I had driven to the Boulder County Justice Center to meet with District Attorney Alex Hunter. Several times between January and late March 1997, I had resisted the urge to pick up the phone and contact him. Finally, I sent him a fax and a week or so later he called and invited me in. Hunter was the head legal official in his county and in most circumstances would have been viewed as the leading figure dedicated to the prosecution of the Ramsey case. But these were not even close to most circumstances.     In recent weeks, I had watched Hunter on television and he had captured my attention. Many D.A.s are macho figures who like to swagger inside their authority. They conjure up cops with law degrees to put behind their badges. Hunter was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and not afraid of showing his vulnerable side in public. He seemed sensitive and unconventional, which was how the town of Boulder viewed itself. I had never met anyone in his position with quite this personality.     Since January, some media people had been regularly blasting Hunter's method of overseeing the Ramsey case, which was to proceed very carefully and cautiously. Yet it was possible that the D.A. was doing the right thing by not panicking or rushing to judgment or giving into public pressure and immediately arresting John and Patsy Ramsey--despite being pushed in that direction not just by public opinion, as expressed on talk radio, but, in a much more serious way, by the Boulder Police Department. Although the department's commander, John Eller, had never led a murder investigation before, he believed that there was no reason to suspect anyone outside the family. Nor had he aggressively sought the help of other investigative agencies more experienced in dealing with homicides; early on, he was satisfied that the case had been made.     Hunter was just the opposite. During a nationally televised news conference on February 13, 1997, seven weeks after JonBenet was killed, he had shown his flexibility and surprised virtually everyone by announcing the hiring of the two most respected members of O.J. Simpson's winning team: Barry Scheck and Dr. Henry Lee. Hunter knew that these men had been far superior in the courtroom (especially at taking apart tainted evidence) to the prosecutors who had tried Simpson, and that if the Boulder D.A.'s office had any chance of finding and convicting the girl's murderer, he was going to need some qualified help.     At his February news conference, Hunter had sounded quite optimistic when discussing the progress of the investigation:     "We're in a zone, Tom [Koby] and I. We know this case is going to be solved and we know where we're headed. But we're going to do it our way and we're willing to pay for the consequences of our actions. We know people want swift justice. We get calls about this all the time. These are the feelings and the conscience of our community, and we're sensitive to this. We've been called arrogant and unaccountable to the people of Boulder. I don't feel I'm being arrogant, but smart, and I was elected to be smart."     Then he made some rather startling comments: "I want to say something to the person or persons who committed this crime, the person or persons who took this baby from us. I mentioned the list of suspects narrows. Soon there will be no one on the list but you. When that time comes ... Chief Koby and I and our people ... are going to bear down on you. You have stripped us of any mercy that we might have had in the beginning of this investigation. We will see that justice is served in this case and that you pay for what you did and we have no doubt that will happen."     On this warm spring morning, the creek behind the Boulder County Justice Center roared against its banks and sent foam into the air. Melting snow in the mountains had become, at this lower elevation, a crashing stream. As I walked into the center, the sound quickly faded. The building was strikingly calm and clean for a structure designed to deal with crime. No cigarette butts had been stamped out on these floors. No walls had been scarred by outraged shoes and no litter was visible. The halls were uncrowded and the employees who ran the metal-detection equipment near the front door were friendly. Boulder, an attractive college town of one hundred thousand affluent, highly educated people, saw very few murders; JonBenet's had been the only official homicide in the city throughout 1996. Evil things were not supposed to happen here, and certainly not to children.     A few minutes early for my appointment, I wandered out into a courtyard, where two men were huddling over Styrofoam coffee cups. I recognized only the sixty-year-old Hunter, a smallish figure with sandy-colored hair and a thin mustache. He bore a passing resemblance to the actor/comedian Martin Mull. For almost a quarter century, Alex Hunter had been Boulder County's district attorney, and his tenure had never been quite predictable.     When initially running for office in 1972, the year in which eighteen year olds were first allowed to vote, Hunter had advocated reclassifying the possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor. During the past two decades, he had fired seven staff members for attending a holiday party that featured cocaine; had unsuccessfully tried to publish the names of drunk drivers in the newspaper; had stopped the practice of forcing rape victims to take polygraph tests; had hired a woman to investigate sex crimes; and had supported a program to distribute clean needles to addicts. He was known for being innovative, calculating, and a good listener. To get citizens' feedback, he had held many town meetings--twelve hundred in all--and had appeared on a talk radio show called "Dial the D.A." He was also known as a longtime player in local Democratic politics, once chairing the Boulder County Democratic Party (in the 1996 election, Boulder's populace had supported Bill Clinton by more than 80 percent).     Hunter's personal life had been equally unpredictable. Some ill-advised real estate investments had once caused him to declare bankruptcy. He had had four wives and had fathered five children, but for the past fourteen years, he'd been married to a gynecologist at the University of Colorado. They had an eleven-year-old daughter, Brittany, and an eight-year-old son, John.     Throughout his career, the strongest criticism leveled at Hunter was that he had dodged complicated or controversial cases. These included murder or child-abuse cases, but mostly they were crimes involving illegal narcotics. "As a drug lawyer in Boulder," a local defense attorney remarked, "it's easy to look like a genius. The D.A.'s office gives you great deals for your clients just to get rid of you."     Unlike many D.A.s, Hunter believed in crime prevention and rehabilitation more than punishment. Instead of racking up as many convictions as possible, he wanted to keep people from entering the often self-perpetuating loop of arrest, incarceration, release from prison, and re-arrest for another offense. First-time nonviolent offenders in Boulder County often received a two-year deferred sentence. Because of his willingness to make deals with defense lawyers, Hunter had been labeled the "Monty Hall of District Attorneys." He countered this image by saying that while most D.A.s plea bargained about 90 percent of their cases, his office only averaged a few points higher than that. He simply ran the legal system in the relaxed manner that was in keeping with the laidback lifestyle that Boulder promoted when recruiting new governmental projects or high-tech businesses. Every weekday, the D.A.'s office completely shut down for an hour between 12:00 and 1:00 P.M. as the wheels of justice stopped grinding for lunch.     Over the years, Hunter's attitudes about crime had generated conflict between himself and the police department.     "The cops in Boulder," says Phillip Battany, a retired Boulder Police Department officer with more than a decade on the force, "try to do their jobs, but sometimes it's impossible. Because the town has only one political party--the Democrats--everyone who's important in Boulder is allied with everyone else and the place is run like a ruling elite runs a private club. For years it was a sanctuary for drug dealers and users. There was no narcotics enforcement when I was a policeman because that's how the people in power wanted it. It was completely haywire from a cop's point of view, and that's why I eventually quit. Nothing that goes on in town would surprise me."     In September 1997, five Boulderites died of heroin poisoning. A retired local physician named Robert McFarland spent more than a decade trying to find out why only a single individual had been prosecuted after Boulder cops had busted one of the largest heroin labs in America in the early eighties. McFarland never did receive an acceptable answer from the authorities. "The whole legal system in Boulder has produced a hands-off environment," he says, "and Alex Hunter has been the right man for the job. His people just don't take on difficult prosecutions, because it's too risky. If they don't think they can get a clear-cut victory, they back off."     Sitting with Hunter in the courtyard was a tall, aging, leathery-looking man with a husky voice. He clandestinely held a cigarette, cupping it in his palm (you're not supposed to break the antismoking law in Boulder, particularly at the Justice Center and even more particularly when you're talking with the D.A.). The tall man glanced my way, but I acted as if I weren't watching them. They huddled more closely and began to laugh among themselves. I went back inside and took a seat in the lobby of Hunter's office.     A few minutes later, the D.A. walked out to the lobby, shook my hand, and led me back into his private chambers, where I sat down on a large comfortable chair. The smoker from the courtyard joined us. He was Deputy D.A. Bill Wise, who, according to Boulder scuttlebutt, frequently had been as much in charge of things as Hunter was. Wise and Hunter had known each other since Hunter had come to Boulder at age eighteen from Briarcliff Manor, New York, to attend the University of Colorado. After graduating from the university's law school, Hunter had clerked for a justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and a deputy D.A. in Boulder. Then he and Wise had worked together in private practice before Hunter became the district attorney.     "So that was you outside," Wise said to me.     I nodded at him. "You didn't look like you wanted to be interrupted."     "We were laughing about the media," he said with a mischievious grin.     "Really?" I asked.     "About Peter Boyles," he chuckled.     Hunter blushed and joined in.     For nearly a hundred days, Boyles had been broadcasting on his Denver radio talk show that he had no doubt about who had killed JonBenet, even if the Boulder Police Department, the D.A.'s office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had not yet made that determination. Boyles boldly implied that the girl's parents, John and Patsy, were guilty. For the past few months he had been predicting their arrest in the next two or three days, or at the end of the week, or at the start of the following week at the latest, or ...     Boyles came from workingclass Pittsburgh. In years past he had prominently displayed a penchant for grandstanding and a considerable chip on his shoulder toward anyone who he believed had led a more privileged life than he had. John Ramsey was a multimillionaire who ran a computer business named Access Graphics; Patsy was a former Miss America contestant; and Boulder was a middle- and upper-middle-class university town, with some undeniable pretensions. The JonBenet phenomenon presented Boyles with the opportunity he had been looking for and the chip exploded.     On the air, he liked to play the old cartoon classic, "Looney Tunes," as a musical commentary on life in Boulder, as well as a parody of the Warren Zevon rock song, "Werewolves of London." The new number, "Werewolves of Boulder," ridiculed Hunter and Chief Koby.     Since JonBenet's death, Boyles's local ratings had jumped from fifteenth to fourth. He reached 28,000 listeners every quarter hour. On 630 AM, KHOW, he now practiced what he openly called "yellow radio," echoing the old notion of "yellow journalism," which made no attempt to be objective or fair in its coverage of people or events. Things "yellow" existed for one reason only--to skewer your targets, to slam them with impunity, and then to stand back and laugh at your handiwork. It was rabid dog radio, and as Boyles's ratings indicated, audiences found it irresistible.     "Why," I asked Hunter, "were you laughing about Boyles?"     He started to answer, but Wise cut him off.     "Now, now," the deputy D.A. said to his boss, "don't criticize the media. You'll just get in trouble."     Wise spoke from experience. A few comments from him to the press following the murder had gotten him officially bounced from the case. In an unofficial capacity, he still consulted with Hunter regularly on the homicide and in the months ahead would help build the D.A.'s connections with certain members of the media to bolster Hunter's public credibility.     The D.A. waved his hand at his longtime friend and colleague. "I'm not running for office again," he said, "and I really don't give too much of a damn what people say, but our skins are still not thick. It's tough to get pounded day after day by the talk shows."     Hunter did not sound as optimistic as he had at the February 13 press conference, his voice conveying more exasperation than authority. He had been vacationing in Maui with his family when JonBenet had been killed, and he hadn't returned to Boulder until four days later. By then, the investigation had already become a forensic nightmare, full of police bumbling, damaged potential evidence, and infighting among the cops. Then the national media had descended on Boulder--like the invasion of locusts that had clouded the skies above the town back in 1860--and colossally magnified the detectives' mistakes.     "We just want to get at the truth," Hunter said. "Other than that, I don't have an agenda."     I glanced around his office, which held a handsome old wooden desk, rows of legal books on the shelves above us, and a picture of the deceased girl wearing a pink sweater. I was struck by the informal openness of this environment and how different it was from the atmosphere that had prevailed in Los Angeles during the Simpson case. These men displayed none of the anger, fear, vanity, or career-climbing paranoia that I saw embedded in the skins of lawyers, private investigators, journalists, and police officers in Southern California.     I felt strangely hopeful.     Wise looked straight at me and said, "The people in L.A. tried to shoehorn the evidence to nail O.J. Simpson and some of it just didn't fit. We're trying to do something different here."     My hope surged higher. Making mistakes is inevitable in law enforcement, but a far greater sin is the unwillingness to learn from the past.     Hunter opened his pen, balancing a small tablet on his lap. "Tell us what you've been looking into," he said. Copyright © 1999 Stephen Singular. All rights reserved.