Brill's Content - 02-00-2000
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
PERSONAL BACKUP HISTORY ARCHIVE:
Take a murder tale that has nothing to it except some alluring video of a little girl dolled up for a beauty contest. Add media hunger to fill the gap between O.J., Monica, and the Next Big Story.
What do you get? Lots of local media people cashing in on the ravenous appetite of national news outlets for a story that had only one problem: There was never any real news.
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
On Tuesday, October 12, 1999, John Ashton, 52, grabbed a few ties and his reporter's notebook and zoomed the 30 miles west on U.S. 36 from his Denver apartment to the mountain hamlet of Boulder, Colorado. Rumors were flying that the grand jury might hand up an indictment in the JonBenét Ramsey murder investigation, and Ashton needed to be there.
He arrived at the Justice Center, on the corner of Sixth Street and Canyon Avenue, at about 1 p.m. The area around the two-story building was already mobbed by reporters, satellite trucks, and camera crews. Ashton elbowed his way to the center of the pack, or "the belly of the beast," as he puts it. He took out his notepad and his pen and waited among the hordes of reporters from newspapers and television stations across the country.
He turned to his left and caught the glance of a similarly dressed man with a microphone in his hand. "Which TV station are you with?" the man asked. Ashton hesitated. "I'm not," he replied. "We're doing a TV movie on that JonBenét thing."
Ashton is not a reporter, but he was hired to play one on TV. The day before, he had got a call from his agent, who told the actor that he had been cast as a reporter covering the murder of the 6-year-old in CBS's rendition of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, based on Lawrence Schiller's JonBenét book of the same name. Schiller, Ashton, and about nine other actors were peppered among the actual journalists. (Schiller is also directing the two-part TV drama, which is tentatively scheduled to air on CBS February 27 and March 1.)
The crowd waited, wondering when-if at all-an announcement about the jury's conclusions would be made. By 3:30, the reporters had begun to realize that, on this day, no announcement would be coming. So, for lack of anything else to shoot, the cameras swept the crowd, capturing the scene of the sea of reporters and actors.
"It was reporters doing reporting on reporters who are actors pretending to be reporters for an alleged documentary on something that may or may not have happened," says Ashton, laughing. "It was like a bunch of mirrors."
In the year of JonBenét's death, 804 children ages 12 and under were murdered in the United States, according to the FBI's 1996 Uniform Crime Report. Her killing should never have been more than a Denver-area story. In fact, "that JonBenét thing" might not ever have made it to the national stage if not for timing. The 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant died during the slowest news week of the year-the days between Christmas and the New Year, when most businesses and the federal government are in low gear.
Then, for a while, JonBenét stayed in the news because of the now-ubiquitous pageant videos and glossy pictures: JonBenét as Rockette, JonBenét as cowgirl, JonBenét as glam girl, JonBenét as feather-clad temptress. With the end of its beloved Simpson epic on the horizon, the All-O.J.-All-The-Time media machine seized upon the eerie but captivating photos of the child pinup and manufactured its next "celebrity" murder trial.
Arguably, between September 1997, when Newsweek and Vanity Fair published the full text of a ransom note found at the murder scene, and October 13, 1999, when a grand jury announced it would hand up no indictments, there have been no significant developments.
But why let the absence of information get in the way of a good story? From January 1, 1997, until November 19, 1999, 20/20, 48 Hours, Hard Copy, American Journal, Dateline NBC, Entertainment Tonight, Extra, the weekend edition of Extra, and Inside Edition aired a total of 438 JonBenét Ramsey segments, according to NewsTV Reports, a Kansas-based auditor of television newsmagazines. Geraldo Rivera-on both CNBC's Rivera Live and the defunct Geraldo Rivera Show-has featured no fewer than 195 JonBenét-related segments. Larry King Live has devoted at least 44 segments to JonBenét.
Meanwhile, Newsweek has run about 30 JonBenét-related items and stories; Time has published about 25. Since April 1997, the Globe, The National Enquirer, the National Examiner, and the Star tabloids have published 124, 73, 51, and 38 JonBenét items respectively, according to the Joshua-7 website, a tabloid archive. JonBenét has been pure gold for the tabs. In the year before Ramsey's death, the Globe, for example, boasted a total paid circulation of its weekly editions exceeding 1 million seven different times. In the year following her death, that number jumped to 22. One can only imagine the circus that would ensue should anyone ever be brought to trial on this matter. Such a spectacle would make the O.J. trial look like a Department of Agriculture background briefing.
The blizzard of coverage continues to shock John and Patsy Ramsey, who sat down to discuss the press's obsession with their daughter's murder. "We were manufactured to be hated," asserts John Ramsey. "We were the media's product."
Dan Abrams, NBC News's legal correspondent, defends the media's coverage of the JonBenét murder case. Not only are unsolved murders fascinating in and of themselves, Abrams argues, but the Ramsey case includes substantive legal issues, most notably how a crime scene that is not immediately secured-as in this case-can forever taint an investigation. "There are intricacies of the legal system that can be learned" from this case, Abrams says. "I think there is a legitimate argument that the public has learned something from the coverage of JonBenét's murder."
Patricia Calhoun, the editor of Denver's weekly alternative paper the Westword, doesn't buy that. "What is the story," she asks, "except that it's a national springboard for a lot of people?" Even those who have leaped from that springboard, like Charlie Brennan of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, acknowledge that more than a national tragedy, the Ramsey tale is a career builder for journalists. "I understand that her death is no greater tragedy than the loss of any other child. And I've recognized that from the start," says Brennan, who also toiled as the collaborator on Schiller's Perfect Murder, Perfect Town. "But I also recognize that a lot of other people seem to think it's a much bigger tragedy, a much bigger deal, than all the other deaths." Ultimately, Brennan admits, "it has been the greatest opportunity that I have had in my career to carve out a name for myself."
Brennan was joined by a cadre of journalists who made it their business to keep the business of JonBenét alive-which has not been easy, given the lack of information. Many relied on sensationalism, untraditional tactics, and rule bending to keep this nonstory in the headlines. In the process, they and their nonstory became the quintessential symbol of a new age in which journalists, faced with the job of finding the next Big Story to feed the insatiable news machine, will reach down for material that by any standard is not news and rely on the work of bottom feeders to fill their pages and airwaves. In the end, the purported aim of finding the truth and reporting it fell largely by the wayside as journalists saw their own stars ascend, hitched to a 6-year-old girl famous only in death.
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
FOOTPRINTS IN WHAT SNOW?
On March 10, 1997, Charlie Brennan, a 15-year veteran of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, was sitting at his desk in the newsroom when a colleague tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a tip about the JonBenét Ramsey case. It sounded like a good one, so Brennan, 44, followed up by calling a man Brennan characterizes as a "law-enforcement source."
The source confirmed the information Brennan's colleague had passed along: The police noted in their initial report that there were no footprints in the snow outside the Ramsey home the morning after the murder. This made it unlikely that an intruder had entered the home. Brennan scribbled down notes, made a few more calls, and hunkered down to write his page 4 report:
Police who went to JonBenét Ramsey's home the morning she was reported missing found no footprints in the snow surrounding the house, sources said Monday.
That is one of the earliest details that caused investigators to focus their attention on the slain girl's family, police sources said.
Although there was no significant storm just before police went to the house the morning after Christmas, it had snowed lightly several times from Dec. 23 to 25, weather records show.
Brennan's scoop was as close to a smoking gun as anything publicly known at the time. Until that point, a broken basement window on the south side of their home meant an intruder could have gotten into the house and killed John and Patsy Ramsey's daughter. Now a lack of footprints in the snow indicated otherwise.
Brennan's findings made national headlines, appearing in publications such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the San Francisco Examiner. Even The New York Times reported Brennan's findings. (Those papers' combined readership is 2,519,501.) In all, 23 publications and news programs picked up the report, according to a search on the Lexis-Nexis database.
His No Footprints In The Snow scoop solidified Brennan as an important force on the Ramsey beat. When journalists from national publications began parachuting into Boulder to get their share of the action-such as Vanity Fair's Ann Louise Bardach, and Lawrence Schiller, who had been commissioned by The New Yorker to cover the Ramsey murder-Brennan was the man they called. In fact, when Schiller decided to expand his New Yorker article into a book, he hired Brennan to help with the reporting. (Brennan won't say how much money he made from collaborating on Perfect Murder, Perfect Town. The hardcover and paperback editions both reached best-seller lists.)
Although Brennan was beginning to enjoy the national exposure-The New York Times was reporting his discovery, Larry King Live was calling-his scoop would soon quietly fall apart.
When Daniel Glick heard about Brennan's No Footprints headliner, he thought it was a bombshell. Glick, a former Washington correspondent for Newsweek who now writes for the magazine from Boulder County, even went so far as to say on Larry King Live that if the Ramseys' claims of an intruder were to be believed, the killer must have had the power to "levitate."
But in mid-June 1997, Glick and his writing partner, Sherry Keene-Osborn, both began to question the story's accuracy. Keene-Osborn said she got a call from an "impeccable source" who warned her that much of what ran in the newspapers and magazines (including Newsweek) was flat wrong. Glick says he raised an eyebrow when, while visiting the Ramseys' Boulder house, he noticed that flagstone surrounded its south side.
They started re-reporting Brennan's scoop. Glick says he found a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who told him that there was little snowfall and that the temperature had been mostly above freezing in the week prior to the murder. Glick says he then deduced that because there were no leaves on the trees to block the sunshine from reaching the flagstone patio outside the broken window, there probably wasn't any snow on the ground outside the broken window-even though there were patches of snow on the lawn. To confirm, Glick says, he contacted a "frost expert" who told him that scientifically one couldn't even determine whether or when frost would have been on the ground outside the window. In other words, the police notation of "no footprints" was meaningless; it certainly did not rule out the entrance of an intruder.
Glick and Keene-Osborn wrote a story that questioned Brennan's reporting. The article was largely ignored by other print outlets, though Geraldo Rivera mentioned Newsweek's report on Rivera Live and Glick discussed his findings on two episodes of Larry King Live. Given the relatively little play by the media outlets that had so quickly picked up Brennan's No Footprints piece, Glick and Keene-Osborn's piece hardly made a dent in what John and Patsy Ramsey's attorney now calls "the greatest urban legend of the case." In fact, five months after Newsweek disputed Brennan's story, The Washington Post reported that "from the start, circumstances surrounding the crime focused suspicion on the parents....There were no conclusive signs of forced entry at the home and no footprints in the snow that fell that night."
The importance of the No Footprints story, Brennan contends, is not whether there actually were footprints or not. Rather, he says, his report showed the direction in which the police investigation was heading: By noting a lack of footprints (wrongly or rightly), the police were clearly considering the potential guilt of the Ramseys. "What I reported was that police noted in their reports an absence of footprints," says Brennan. "That's not Charlie Brennan saying, 'Hey, there was an absence of footprints.' I'm saying, 'Hey, the police put it in their reports.' And they did! They did! That was never wrong."
But when The New York Times ran its story about Brennan's No Footprints article, the paper didn't play up the aspect of the direction of the police investigation. The Times's headline was "No Sign Of An Intruder At Home Of A Slain Child."
To Glick, Brennan's piece unfairly threw a dark shadow on the Ramseys and forever cast them as the homicidal parents. Again, Brennan disagrees: "The public opinion train was way out of the station by the time that story broke," he asserts.
For many reporters, getting the story out ultimately became more important than getting it right. And context was hardly the only element missing. Tabloids such as the Globe, which kept JonBenét on the front page for three years (and counting), fabricated stories outright, says Jeffrey Shapiro, a freelancer who exclusively reported for the Globe from February 28, 1997, to February 11, 1999.
Such a manufactured news bulletin began, Shapiro recalls, over the weekend of August 22, 1998. Shapiro was facing more pressure than usual to find a blockbuster headline. Just a few days before, the National Enquirer had landed the biggest tabloid scoop of recent months: "911 Call Nails Brother in Murder Cover-Up-And It's On Tape," blared the Enquirer.
Shapiro had been a tireless tabloid soldier. He admits that short of paying his sources and breaking the law, he would do anything to live up to his e-mail address: jbsavenger. He pestered people he believed had information; he climbed trees to peek through windows to watch police investigations of the Ramsey home; he even tried to get close to the Ramseys' minister by pretending that he wanted to convert from Judaism to Christianity.
Shapiro defends his tactics even as he betrays his lack of perspective about how big of a deal the Ramsey case is. "Do you believe in undercover journalism?" he asks. "If you were a journalist who knew you had to go undercover to break up a big drug ring that was the cause of death to innocent people or to even solve one of the two mysteries-what is on the missing 18 minutes of Watergate tapes or about the grassy-knoll assassin who shot President Kennedy-would you go undercover? I would. I would in a second," he says with complete earnestness.
Days after the Enquirer's 911 scoop, Shapiro's editor had a big lead for him. Late in the night, on August 22, 1998, Shapiro says, one of his editors, Joe Mullens, called him at home to tell him that Mullens had found a source with the perfect juicy nugget. The lead, Shapiro recalls, was that John Ramsey had handed his pilot, Michael Archuleta, a box potentially filled with evidence, such as the cord used to strangle JonBenét and the tape found covering her mouth. (Mullens referred questions on this topic to the Globe's press representative. So did Tony Frost, the paper's editor. The press representative declined to comment.)
Shapiro says that when his editor filled him in on the details of the tip, he questioned the accuracy of the main source, who turned out to be Archuleta's brother. Apparently, in addition to telling Mullens about Ramsey's having allegedly dropped off the murder weapon at his pilot's home, Archuleta's brother gave Mullens another tip that Shapiro knew was demonstrably incorrect-the details of a conversation Shapiro knew could not have taken place.
Mullens defended his source, Shapiro says, telling the young reporter that although the pilot's brother may have been wrong about the conversation, he was sure about the box delivery. Shapiro says he wasn't convinced.
But Mullens assigned Shapiro to look into the tip anyway, and Shapiro went to stake out Archuleta's house. After waiting for hours, Shapiro called Mullens to inform him that nothing was happening.
Just wait. The police are on their way over to Archuleta's, Shapiro says Mullens told him.
How do you know? Shapiro says he asked.
Because we called the police and told them, so we know they'll be heading over there, Mullens replied, according to Shapiro. Shapiro kept at his post.
Meanwhile, inside the house, Archuleta got a phone call from a Globe editor. According to the pilot, the Globe editor said that Archuleta's brother had told the Globe that John Ramsey had given Archuleta a box of evidence. Would he care to comment? The Globe editor inquired.
Archuleta told the editor that he had been estranged from his brother for about five months. "If you're taking information from my brother, that shows me how stupid you people are," he recalls having told the Globe editor.
Soon after, Archuleta says, an investigator contacted him to tell him that law-enforcement officials were going to come out to his house that night to ask him about information that had just been called in from the Globe. The pilot says he had told the investigator that the police knew from extensive prior interviews that he had not been at the Ramseys' house the morning after the murder. Archuleta says he asked, "Why do you guys chase your tail around every time a Globe reporter calls?" The investigator told Archuleta that they had to follow up every lead, and if the tabloid press wrote that law enforcement had a tip that they didn't look into right away, the police department could get fried in the mainstream papers. (Mark Beckner, chief of the Boulder Police Department, declined to comment while the Ramsey investigation is still active.)
Sure enough, the police arrived at the pilot's house late in the night, Shapiro was there to capture the moment, and the Globe had its headline: "World Exclusive! Cops probe breakthrough charge in Little Beauty murder case...JonBenét: dad caught hiding key evidence. Ramsey hid deathbed sheets, girl's nightie and stuffed animals in box, then gave it to pilot-says source." The article included only one word of Archuleta's comments: "inaccurate."
From the beginning, the story was never based on legitimate sources, according to Shapiro: "They initiated the whole thing...fed it to the police, got the police to react on it so they could write the story."
Shapiro has become an interesting sideshow to the JonBenét circus. At 23, he moved to Boulder just two months after the murder-a year out of college with little full-time reporting experience. Suddenly, he found himself near the center of a media frenzy.
The excitement thrilled Shapiro, but after about a year, he claims, he began to question the fairness of the Globe's style of journalism. Most troublesome, asserts Shapiro, was that his editors weren't interested in any scoop that didn't finger the Ramseys as the killers. In case he ever needed proof to substantiate his claims that his bosses at the Globe had questionable ethics, Shapiro began tape-recording all of his conversations with his editors. He went public with the tapes on 48 Hours and in Editor & Publisher magazine.
In short order, Shapiro went from being a cub tabloid reporter to a veritable "personality." Shapiro has appeared on Dateline NBC and has been profiled in Newsweek, which painted him as a pavement-pounding newshound.
"Shapiro's a real journalist, doing a lot of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting," Daniel Glick wrote in Newsweek. "His tactics are hard-charging but legal; 'I may have made mistakes,' he says, 'but I've never done anything to hurt anyone....I know in my heart I've made a real contribution to getting justice for this girl.'"
In addition, Shapiro is a major character in Schiller's book and TV movie. (Shapiro says he considers himself the "main" character of the book.) He has also written a first-person account of his tabloid travails for The Washington Monthly.
The benefits to Shapiro from his involvement in the JonBenét saga hardly stop with a high public profile. He has pulled off the ultimate coup in bootstrapping: The former tabloid reporter has landed a gig with a paragon of journalism-Time magazine.
Time has not been an important presence on the Ramsey coverage, and bringing Shapiro on as a stringer to cover all matters JonBenét gives Time greater access to the sources who have driven the story. But printing the words of a young man whose only formal training in journalism has come from editors of a tabloid publication that runs stories like "Cop Saw Murder in Dad's Eyes" is risky.
On October 25, 1999, 12 days after a grand jury in Boulder announced that it would not hand up indictments in the Ramsey case, Time ran an article by Shapiro about Lou Smit, a homicide investigator who worked on the Ramsey case on behalf of the Boulder district attorney's office. The piece was cowritten by Richard Woodbury, but Shapiro conducted the interviews with Smit. In the piece, Time reported that Smit believed that a man might have spotted JonBenét as she rode in a convertible in a Boulder Christmas parade, later broke into her house, sexually assaulted the child, and then killed her in a panic.
But Smit says that except for his two direct quotes in the article-explaining that he believes an intruder, not the parents, killed JonBenét-Shapiro embellished and distorted his comments. "It's not right at all," Smit says of Shapiro's Time piece. Shapiro defends his work. "I based that story on a dozen lengthy conversations with Smit. I felt and still feel to this day that it's a very accurate representation of what he has said to me," he says. (Walter Isaacson, Time's managing editor, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Time's news director, Marguerite Michaels, declined to comment, because, she says, Smit has not complained to the magazine.)
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
THE RAMSEYS ARE FAIR GAME
Time is by no means the only mainstream media organization that has looked to those who employ tabloid tactics to get the goods. Outlets such as Dateline NBC and The New York Times have turned to a Boulder gadfly named Frank Coffman to keep them competitive in their JonBenét coverage.
Coffman, 52, is something of a town crier in the saga. A resident of Boulder for more than 20 years, he once lived a quiet life making Halloween masks and writing occasional columns for a Boulder weekly newspaper. But that was before his town's serenity was rocked by the murder of a little girl. As an accident of proximity, Coffman says, he became entangled in the case.
On December 11, 1998, in his downtown Boulder apartment, which looks like a graduate student's crash pad, Coffman's phone rang. John Ramsey's standing on a street corner by your apartment right now! cried the caller.
Coffman took the cue: He snatched a camera and dashed out the door. Coffman saw Ramsey standing on the street corner with his son, a friend, and one of Ramsey's lawyers; with his heart pounding, Coffman raised his camera, aimed, and fired.
Ramsey wasn't pleased to see Coffman with his camera hoisted. "He attacked me," Coffman says, claiming that Ramsey lunged at him and grabbed his jacket before one of Ramsey's attorneys, Michael Bynum, stopped the potential brawl. (Bynum did not return phone calls seeking comment.)
"I was not stalking him," Coffman says without being asked. Still, he adds, it's "kind of weird to take a picture of somebody like that. I wouldn't do it to anybody else...but John and Patsy Ramsey are fair game."
Despite the scuffle, Coffman snapped a few shots, though the camera's flash didn't go off for the one picture that captured Ramsey allegedly lunging at Coffman. "If that flash had gone off, that would have been a fabulous picture," says Coffman. "It would have made him look so damn guilty. Because people would have said, 'Ah-hah! Here he is. The killer,' " Coffman purrs, adding, "and I don't know that Ramsey killed anybody."
But whether Ramsey killed anyone matters little when you've got an exclusive picture. Coffman says the incident surrounding his photography was reported in an Internet chat room and that once the word was out that he had a few photos of John Ramsey, his phone was ringing like a car alarm in New York City. "The New York Times called me," he says. "I didn't try to sell it, but they said, Look, we want to buy this, we want to publish it, so I said, Okay.
The Times ran one of Coffman's pictures on December 16, 1998, along with an item that described the alleged tussle with Ramsey. Coffman says he made $150 from the sale of the photo. (In addition to getting work from the Times, Coffman says, he has peeped through the windows of the Ramseys' former home in Boulder, taken photos, and sold them to Schiller's movie production team. The photos helped the producers properly re-create the crime scene.)
That the Times considers it newsworthy that a "stalkerazzi" photographer claims to have had his collar grabbed by John Ramsey indicates how far even the most legitimate of news outlets have gone for a JonBenét story. Asked about the paparazzi-like photo, Times deputy picture editor Mike Smith said, "We don't encourage or look for that kind of work."
Coffman says he is not a profiteer seeking to make hard cash off the death of a kid. "I never tried to make money on the Ramsey case," says Coffman. "I never asked anyone to send me money....They just spontaneously-all these people who were so desperate to get information and photographs and whatever on the Ramsey case."
Coffman admits that he now accepts retainers from various media outlets in case he finds himself in possession of information they want, but won't say which outlets. "I'd rather retain my freelance independent status," he reasons.
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
GETTING IN ON THE ACTION
There is no question in radio-talk-show host Peter Boyles's mind that John and Patsy Ramsey were involved in the murder. Boyles doesn't know what happened to JonBenét, but what he knows is of little importance. That's because Boyles is a part of the "opinion press." On Denver's KHOW-AM, Boyles broadcasts his beliefs nearly every chance he gets. And why shouldn't he? Since JonBenét died, Boyles's ratings have skyrocketed. In the fall of 1996, Boyles had a 4.9 percent share of the morning audience. In fall 1997, that number jumped 31 percent, to 7.1 percent, a share he maintained through the fall of 1998.
Because of the thirst of the national media to keep the JonBenét mill churning, Boyles doesn't have to reserve his comments for his morning show's local audience. When he wants a little national media attention, he comes up with all kinds of clever ways to get it. Take the war of the newspaper ads.
During the last week of July and the first week of August 1997, John and Patsy Ramsey published two full-page advertisements in the Boulder Daily Camera seeking public help infinding the killer of their daughter.
After reading the Ramseys' first plea, Boyles took action. For $3,100, he placed his own ad, which ran in the Daily Camera the same day as the Ramseys' second ad was printed. Titled "An Open Letter to John & Patsy Ramsey," it outlined Boyles's reasons for thinking the Ramseys are guilty. In part, he wrote, "you are displaying certain characteristics that are totally opposite those of most victim parents....Fred Goldman's behavior exemplifies the true victim parent of a child who has been murdered. You, on the other hand, have led Colorado and the nation on a seven month, low speed, white Bronco chase."
The payoff? In the two days after Boyles's letter ran, he appeared on Dateline NBC, Rivera Live, and Good Morning America to discuss it. Two CBS Sunday night news programs and CBS Morning News aired reports about Boyles and his missive.
Boyles says he talks about the case as frequently and as passionately as he does so that JonBenét will not have died in vain. More than three years into the case, Boyles still covers JonBenét regularly. He has even helped produce a CD of parody songs with titles such as "Big Bad John [Ramsey]."
Still, Boyles is just a small part of the Lynch the Ramseys Brigade. Nationally, Geraldo Rivera is similarly committed to giving airtime to those who imply guilt on the part of the Ramseys. On November 24, 1997, Rivera stood before the audience of what was then his nationally syndicated broadcast show (not to be confused with his CNBC talk show), tie adjusted, mustache groomed. "It is entirely possible," Rivera said ominously, "that this murder mystery will never be solved, and that no one will ever be tried for the terrible crime committed against that lovely child-except for today, except for the mock trial we are about to stage for you right here in our studio."
Rivera then gave new meaning to the cliché "trial by media." He presented a two-part mock trial of John and Patsy Ramsey. (Rivera declined to comment for this story.)
The trial's "witnesses" for the prosecution included Tony Frost, the editor of the Globe; Cindy Adams, the New York Post's gossip columnist who was introduced by the prosecutor as "the world's greatest authority on everything"; a former Miss America; and Craig Silverman, a Denver attorney with no relation to the Ramsey case. Most of the "testimony" came in the form of clips from past shows.
Highlights from these "witnesses" included a statement from Adams in which she said, "Bit by bit, inch by inch, so slowly that you can't see it, it is closing around Patsy....Everything is pointing to Patsy."
Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, a former Miss America and alleged victim of child abuse and incest, "testified" that because her own mother had forced the pageant world upon her, she believes the Ramseys did the same to JonBenét.
Silverman, the Denver lawyer, "testified" that he wonders whether Patsy killed her daughter in a religious sacrifice. Silverman says his so-called testimony was actually an outtake from a different Rivera appearance during which he floated the religious sacrifice theory. He had no idea Rivera was going to use his comments as part of a mock trial until he turned on the TV and saw it himself.
A former Denver prosecutor, Silverman is a self-styled pundit and paid source for the Globe tabloid, according to Jeffrey Shapiro, the former Globe scribe. Silverman confirms he is on the tabloid's payroll. "I will take their money when they offer it but only on the condition that they show me my quotes ahead of time," he says, but later adds, "the vast majority of my work has gone uncompensated." Silverman also waxes analytical for The New York Times, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, Today, Extra, and Fox News Channel.
The "defense," represented by Rivera perennial Linda Kenney, a New Jersey attorney, called friends and relatives of the Ramseys, who said they knew the Ramseys could not have killed their daughter.
A jury made up of six volunteers found the Ramseys liable for the wrongful death of JonBenét. Rivera's studio audience hollered in approval.
Two weeks later, it was reported that NBC News hired Rivera as a full-time employee for $30 million over six years. If NBC hoped to capitalize on Rivera's proven ability to keep the JonBenét coverage going, the news organization got its money's worth. Since going legit full-time on CNBC, Rivera has done about 50 JonBenét segments on Rivera Live.
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
ALL THE NEWS THAT'S LEAKED INTO PRINT
Chuck Green is a 32-year veteran of The Denver Post and an award-winning journalist. Green believes that "the evidence points to the Ramseys' being involved in their daughter's death," and he speaks with a preacher's cadence as he makes his argument that a rich couple has gotten away with murder.
As with Boyles, what Green believes-not what he knows-counts, because he writes an opinion column for the Post four times a week. Green says he has devoted at least 80 columns to the Ramseys. He admits that's a lot of ink for one murder case but says that morally he has no choice as long as JonBenét's killer walks free. "The system has failed JonBenét," he says. "The system will fail and fail and fail other kids as long as nobody cares how the system failed JonBenét."
Green's not just a talking head, though; he claims to have inside "law enforcement" sources. And he freely admits to having served as a conduit for their leaks.
Journalists on this story have covered the "breaking news" by broadcasting and printing the spin fed to them by sources, Green contends. But the longtime newspaperman is hardly knocking himself and his colleagues for having done so. "I don't care if you're covering city hall or a sports team....You report the spin that your best sources give you and by reporting that spin you get access to that source," says Green. A consulting contract with NBC has helped Green ensure that his brand of reporting isn't limited to a local audience. He has made regular star turns on Today.
"That's how journalism works," Green continues. "You report the spin that your best sources feed you and that's how you keep them as sources."
But what about verifying the spin before publishing it as fact? "You try, but you usually can't," he says. "You verify with the guy who's sitting at the next desk to the guy who's giving you the information in the first place. And they're usually working on the same team."
Certainly, reporting often starts with a source's telling a reporter what that source would like to see in the paper the next day. But the job of a journalist usually involves checking the information, especially if the leak comes from a police or prosecution source hoping to test a theory or create the impression that progress is being made on a case. Otherwise, a story may be technically correct-in that the police do believe or suspect such and such-but contextually wrong or completely unfair, as is likely with Footprints In The Snow and the tabloid revelation about John Ramsey's pilot.
But anyone who actually thinks that such verification takes place, Green claims, lives in a dream world. The onus is on the consumer, Green says, to decide if he trusts the reporter. "I think this system serves the public," he says.
Ridiculous, answers University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey, who coproduced a documentary that attacked the media's coverage of the case. "Boulder law enforcement put a ring in Chuck Green's nose and led him around on a leash," Tracey says. "Law enforcement used the media to build a case that law enforcement knew it couldn't construct in court. The role of the journalist is to assume you're being used, assume you're being lied to, and to double-check."
That has been an important rule in the Ramsey coverage, says Carol McKinley. Having reported the saga from the onset-first for Denver radio's KOA-AM before making the considerable leap from AM radio to Fox News Channel-McKinley had been fed a fair share of leaks. Back in late 1997, a Ramsey spokesman leaked her some potential news over lunch.
"There was something in the grass," McKinley recalls the spokesman telling her. "A cord? Some tape? A key?" McKinley says she asked. He wouldn't say, but he implied the news would prove that an intruder had been outside the Ramsey home the night of the murder. This could be a blockbuster, McKinley says the spokesman told her.
After lunch, McKinley returned to her office, got on the phone, and learned that the "something" found in the grass was a kneeprint.
A kneeprint? she thought. What in the world does that mean?
She called a forensic investigator, who, McKinley says, shared her skepticism. "'A kneeprint? So what?'" McKinley says the expert told her, who added that without some other indentation nearby-like a footprint or toeprint-such evidence would likely be unidentifiable.
He told her that there was no significance in a kneeprint in the grass. So she didn't broadcast it.
Such leaks-and people like Green, who say they let them into the public domain without verifying them-have led to the appearance (if not the reality) of "camps" within the Ramsey case: polarized groups of journalists whose work leans toward insinuating either the guilt or innocence of John and/or Patsy Ramsey. "It's defined by who talks to whom and who doesn't talk to whom," says Newsweek's Glick. "A lot of reporters were happy to have sources in one camp and stopped trying to get sources in other camps."
Glick spent six years in Newsweek's Washington, D.C., bureau, and he thinks the reporting of the Ramsey case mirrors Washington coverage in terms of close and longstanding journalistic relationships between specific political sources and reporters. "It's like the old Washington game," he says. "Almost everyone knew where these friendships were. It's not dissimilar in this situation."
Glick himself has been accused of being part of the pro-Ramsey camp. In fact, no national media outlet that runs news reports has been as castigated as much as Newsweek for this type of camp journalism. Consistently, Newsweek's Ramsey stories-usually written and reported by Glick and Keene-Osborn-have espoused a Ramsey-favorable point of view. Most of Glick and Keene-Osborn's "pro-Ramsey" coverage for Newsweek has criticized both the case that the police say they have against the Ramseys-and the press's often sensationalized representation of that case-rather than promoting a belief in the Ramseys' guilt or innocence.
The Newsweek scribes have taken their reporting multimedia; both acted as associate producers on professor Michael Tracey's British-funded documentary, which maintained that the Ramseys had been wrongly tried and convicted by the American lynch-mob media.
The documentary offers what no nonfiction piece at the time could: John and Patsy Ramsey appearing on camera to answer questions about the case and the media's behavior. Newsweek got exclusive rights to the interview and, using outtakes from that on-camera exchange, quoted the Ramseys in a July 13, 1998, article that chastised Boulder's law-enforcement community. The documentary has aired four times so far in the United States on A & E. Glick and Keene-Osborn split half the fee from the U.S. television rights.
Ramsey critics such as Boyles and Green have denounced the documentary as pure spin. Green labels it an "infomercial"; Boyles prefers "crockumentary." They insist that Newsweek and the Ramseys have a symbiotic relationship: Glick and Keene-Osborn get their Ramsey-fed exclusives and the Ramseys get favorable coverage.
To Glick, that kind of criticism shows the inherent flaw of the Ramsey coverage. He says he got access to the Ramseys not because of favorable coverage but because the Ramseys trusted he would not merely follow the spin of his best law-enforcement sources. He says he got access to the Ramseys because they saw that he was "questioning the orthodoxy" and "looking critically" at what law-enforcement sources were leaking. And Glick says that he became skeptical of the police investigation long before he had any access to the Ramseys. Keene-Osborn adds, "During the entire case, most of my sources were within the prosecution. To have labeled me as any kind of Ramsey pawn is laughable."
That Green and Boyles criticize Glick for maintaining a journalist-source relationship with the Ramseys astounds him. "What journalist in the country would say no to three days of on-camera, on-the-record interviews" with the Ramseys? he asks. "If that makes me pro-Ramsey, so be it."
Tracey defends the film against cries of "advocacy journalism" with equal ferocity. "What it was advocating is not being a megaphone for spin, and double-checking leaks from sources," Tracey howls. "If that's advocacy journalism, then, fine."
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
THE RAMSEYS TAKE A TURN
There are two others with a story to tell who have decided to try to sell it: John and Patsy Ramsey.
In April, the two will publish their memoir of the events of the last three years, called Death of Innocence. The Ramseys have chosen a Christian publisher in Nashville to bring their story public.
Once the grand jury announced it would not indict the Ramseys and word spread that the couple planned to pen a memoir, the media vultures began circling for an exclusive interview. "We've received calls from just about every national show," says the book's publisher, Rolf Zettersten, "from 20/20 to Dateline NBC, to 48 Hours and all the morning shows....There's something of a frenzy to get the interview." One weekly newsmagazine, one monthly magazine, one nightly television newsmagazine, and one morning show, Zettersten adds, will probably be awarded coveted Ramsey interviews.
Death of Innocence will likely be a bonanza. And so the most obvious questions: Are the Ramseys profiteering? Are they just two more people latching on to JonBenét, Inc.?
No, says the Ramseys' libel attorney, L. Lin Wood (who is representing the Ramseys in a suit against the Star tabloid). He says that "the nightmare of the past three years has literally depleted this family's life savings, and they are in tremendous debt for attorneys' fees and other expenses related to the criminal investigation." Proceeds from the book, says Wood, will pay off those debts. Any profit beyond that will go to the JonBenét Ramsey Children's Foundation, which donates money to children's spirituality programs.
The idea that a reporter would ask about profiteering nudges the soft-spoken John Ramsey into a passionate response. "A horrible story has been told about my daughter and my family. And I think we have the right to tell our side without being edited or cut down to a sound bite," says Ramsey. "We are not profiting from this. In fact, I find that repugnant. How dare the media criticize us for profiteering? There's so much hypocrisy."
"Mrs. Brady" gets up at 3 or 4 every morning to troll through newspapers and television transcripts and write a comprehensive summary of the most recent JonBenét coverage. "Jameson" has spent anywhere from 2 to 20 hours a day updating her blow-by-blow account of what's happening in the investigation, drawing fire for her relentlessly pro-Ramsey position. "ACandyRose" documents the hoaxes, rivalries, and triumphs of those trying to solve the crime.
No, these are not the investigators, lawyers, or even journalists who continually toil over the question of who killed JonBenét Ramsey. These are the Web names of a virtual network of independent cybersleuths for whom the cause of the slain little girl has become a personal mission.
Immediately after the murder, the Internet became a breeding ground for sites dedicated to JonBenét. More than three years later, a search on seven different search engines retrieves 53 sites with "JonBenét Ramsey" in the title. But that's not all: One frequently cited link page connects to 107 different sites about the crime); another connects to 144).
Web surfers with a true-crime fetish can visit memorial pages, forums, parodies, links to official court and investigators' documents, and even a page where a user can download a font based on the handwriting in the ransom note. "Mrs. Brady's URL's"), one of the most popular sites, has logged nearly 600,000 visitors since September 1997. And a recent chat sponsored by about.com's Crime and Punishment site right before the grand jury verdict ran for a marathon 8 1/2 hours without a break.
Clearly there is something about JonBenét-whether it be morbid or moral interest-that has captured the cyber-imagination. "Mrs. Brady" (who asked that her real name not be used) religiously checks the counter linked to her site. She says as many as 3,500 people have logged on to her site in a single day, and there are about 2,000 people who visit frequently to get an update on JonBenét happenings. The Pennsylvania housewife and former administrative assistant devotes about four hours a day to making sure the site is updated and the links are fresh, and she's been interviewed by a smattering of print reporters, appeared on the Leeza show, and taped an interview with Hard Copy (the episode never aired). "If the JonBenét Ramsey case is a three-ring circus, 'Mrs. Brady' is the ringmaster," says Bill Bickel, who runs the Crime and Punishment pages.
"Jameson" is another chat-room junkie who has become a minor celebrity. A 48-year-old homemaker in North Carolina whose real name is Susan Bennett, she says she was shocked at how the Ramseys were being vilified in the press and "wanted to be the voice of reason." She went from posting frequently on other forums to setting up her own site. She says she has met with the Ramseys at least twice, which some of her online rivals cite as proof that she's acting as their advocate.
Meanwhile, a text analyst and Vassar professor named Donald Foster became convinced that Bennett was really Patsy Ramsey's stepson-and JonBenét's killer. The theory was quickly discredited, but Bennett's notoriety (and the ire she has sparked in others) spawned a mention in the book Perfect Murder, Perfect Town and a spot on 48 Hours last April. "In the JonBenét world," says Melissa Hardie, who teaches at the University of Sydney and has studied the online JonBenét community, "if people hear from Jameson, it's like a brush with fame." Bennett claims she has even been involved in the investigation by passing on anonymous tips she receives online to the Boulder authorities.
In addition to the renegade sleuths who are creating their own sites, the mainstream media have also kept the case alive with comprehensive Web coverage. All of the Denver- and Boulder-area newspaper sites have JonBenet pages, and CNN has devoted an entire section to the crime, complete with links to documents, stories, a time line, and an explanation of who's who in the tangle of players. Outlets like America's Most Wanted, Court TV, TalkSpot, and Yahoo! have also fed the frenzy.
As for the independent sites, those who run them insist money isn't an incentive. "The people who participate have a real aversion to those who make money off the case," says Christine Wheeler (a.k.a. "Catnip"), who owns Justice Watch. Some of the webmasters charge a registration fee to cover maintenance costs: Bennett, for example, charges participants $50 to join her forum, which she uses to pay her $50-per-month server fee (60 people have signed up so far). Others, like Wheeler, accept donations from the people who post on their forums. Many also have links to JonBenét books sold on amazon.com, which earns them a small commission each time the link is used ("Not enough to pay the server fees," says Nancy Osborn, who runs a forum called WebbSleuths).
Ramsey pages that are part of a larger site, like The Smoking Gun or about.com's Crime and Punishment site, usually have advertising and do turn a profit (the owners of the two above declined to reveal how much). Yet "[t]he ratio of the amount of time and money they spend versus the money they would get would be slight indeed," says Hardie of the University of Sydney.
More than anything else, the users say, it's the people who share their passion that keep them coming back online for more. "After a period of time it really did develop into a community of people who care about one another," says Wheeler. This may be a virtual family, but it's a mildly dysfunctional one, with frequent spats and occasional conspiracy theorists (like the recent poster who is convinced that Bill Clinton molested JonBenét and then Hillary killed her).
At a certain point, the JonBenét explosion online ceased to be about the murder of a 6-year-old girl and started to be about the people who had come to discuss it. "It obviously brings people together, but not necessarily over JonBenét," says Hardie. "Everyone says their interest is justice for JonBenét.
But the whole thing would collapse if anything was ever solved....People are caught up in the sheer sentiment of it rather than incitement to action."
Despite the swell of coverage surrounding their daughter's death, John and Patsy Ramsey have granted few interviews. So you would think that the four journalists who landed the longest on-camera Ramsey interview to date would have raked in the big bucks. Wrong.
In early spring of 1998, British documentarian David Mills, University of Colorado at Boulder professor Michael Tracey, and Newsweek special correspondents Daniel Glick and Sherry Keene-Osborn spent three days videotaping on-the-record interviews with JonBenét's parents for a documentary on the media coverage of the Ramsey case. The British television station Channel 4 funded the project for approximately $350,000, says Tracey.
The big payoff was to come from the fee paid for the U.S. broadcast rights, which was to be split equally among Mills, Tracey, Glick, and Keene-Osborn. The foursome even hired a big-time New York agent to ply their wares. But no one wanted to air the documentary, Tracey says, because it took a critical view of the press's behavior.
ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Showtime, HBO, and A & E all passed on the documentary, according to Tracey."It was like trying to sell a virus," he says-because the U.S. media care only for the Ramseys As Killers story. The documentary "was very counterintuitive," Tracey adds.
Tracey says his agent claimed the major networks had made huge cash offers for the rights to the unedited footage of the Ramsey interviews. Tracey says he and his partners declined to sell the interviews without the promise of editorial control.
They didn't have to. In September 1998, executives at A & E changed their minds and bought the rights to the documentary for about $150,000. Of that sum, Tracey asserts, 40 percent went to Channel 4, 24 percent went to the agent, and the remainder paid for travel expenses and other overhead before being cut into quarter shares. In the end, Keene-Osborn says, she took home about $10,000. Glick characterized his documentary-related earnings by saying,"If I got paid by the hour, I would have been better off working overtime at McDonald's."
A & E fared better. The cable network has aired the documentary as a special two-hour segment of its regular series, Investigative Reports."The Case of JonBenét: The Media Vs. the Ramseys" has run four times on A & E, attracting an average of about 2.5 million viewers. The first showing, on September 28, 1998, earned Investigative Reports its highest audience ever, according to an A & E spokeswoman.
JonBenét infotainment has been given the miniseries treatment. CBS will broadcast the TV movie version of Lawrence Schiller's Perfect Murder, Perfect Town; the miniseries is tentatively scheduled to air on February 27 and March 1. Schiller, who serves as both an executive producer and the director of the project, says he intends to seek movie theater distribution outside the United States after the show airs.
Fox is also preparing a JonBenét movie, though its rendition will air for only one hour. As of December, the film was still in preproduction. ZMC Rocket Science Laboratories, the company in charge of the telepic, has also produced such Fox classics as World's Nastiest Neighbors.
As for the CBS-Schiller project, the Ramseys' neighbors have rejected the docudrama's invasive crew. The city of Boulder refused to grant special access throughout the town for filming purposes. So production took place largely in a studio in Utah. An unknown girl of 7 was cast as JonBenét. To shield the youngster from trauma, Schiller's crew created a lifelike dummy of JonBenét for the postmurder scenes, according to a consultant on the project.
Rushing production for the February sweeps, CBS has high hopes for Perfect Murder, Perfect Town. According to a company that buys advertising time from CBS, the network is selling 30-second spots to air during the movie's first night for $175,000. CBS estimates a 23 percent share of the viewing households that evening (versus a normal 18 percent for Sunday nights). Half-minute ads during the film's second-night broadcast will go for $125,000. The network expects to attract 21 percent of the viewing households, as opposed to its normal Wednesday-night draw of 13 percent.
The Santa Scavengers
John and Patsy Ramsey aren't the only people who have been tried and convicted by a JonBenét press horde hungry to turn any scrap of information about the case into "news." Bill McReynolds has his own tale to tell.
In the JonBenét saga, McReynolds is known as Santa Claus. For three years, the Ramseys hired him to play Saint Nick at the annual family Christmas party. His last appearance, during which he was accompanied by his wife, Janet, who played Mrs. Claus, came just three days before the little girl's corpse was found in the basement of her family's house.
This put McReynolds and his wife on the media's short list of those suspected of having murdered JonBenét.
"I'm caught in a spiderweb, and I feel like I'm being eaten alive," the 69-year-old McReynolds says.
A retired University of Colorado journalism professor, he talks while sipping coffee in the cramped kitchen of the modest New England condominium he shares with his wife. He wants neither the location revealed nor his picture taken-because, he says, he is being stalked by private detectives anxious to build a reputation on solving the Ramsey case.
What sent the McReynoldses into hiding? When the police approached him, McReynolds says, he was happy to answer questions and provide blood, hair, and handwriting samples, which he believed were meant to exclude him as a suspect. After all, he says emphatically, "there is not one iota of evidence that I or any member of my family had anything to do with the murder of this child."
From a legal viewpoint, the McReynoldses have a less-than-airtight alibi (they say they spent the night of the murder at home alone). There was also an unsubstantiated story that the girl told friends before her death that she was expecting a "secret visit" from Santa.
From a journalistic viewpoint, the collection of images associated with the couple was impossible for the media to ignore, says Lawrence Schiller, author of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury's Search for the Truth. "Santa Claus. A murder at Christmas. A child who everybody called an angel," says Schiller, who mentions Bill McReynolds 21 times in the book, all but three of the references describing McReynolds as an object of suspicion.
McReynolds concedes that he was "very naive" in his initial dealings with the media: At first, he spoke freely with reporters.
He even interrupted a vacation in Spain soon after the murder, returning to New York to appear on The Geraldo Rivera Show. "All I wanted to do was honor the grief of the Ramseys," he says.
But before long, the media turned unfriendly. In late February 1997, Charlie Brennan of the Denver Rocky Mountain News and Daniel Glick of Newsweek went to Boulder district attorney Alex Hunter and told him of two odd facts they had uncovered: The McReynoldses' 9-year-old daughter had been kidnapped on December 26, 1974 (she was freed unharmed), and Janet McReynolds later wrote a play based on the 1965 torture killing of an Indiana girl that took place in a basement.
The two reporters then confronted the McReynoldses. Brennan's March 2, 1997, story carried the subhead "Strange Parallels In Couple's Life Lead Police To Take Hair, Handwriting Samples," though he opted not to report that he had a hand in tipping police to the "strange parallels." Among the news outlets to pick up the story: the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Associated Press, CBS This Morning, and the Today show. Despite conceding that the two factoids may not be "anything more than unusual coincidences," Brennan still considers the story one of the best scoops he turned up while covering the Ramsey case. (Newsweek never ran the story.)
McReynolds and his wife soon faced a full-on media attack. Overwhelmed, the couple finally went on Larry King Live to make what they said would be their last public comments about the case. They had had enough.
Before talking to Brill's Content, the McReynoldses gave no more in-depth interviews-except for one, when they agreed to talk at length to Schiller. Schiller, Bill McReynolds recalls, told the couple he was preparing a profile of Boulder for The New Yorker. The McReynoldses agreed to discuss the town-and were dismayed at the result.
That interview never appeared in The New Yorker. It did appear, however, in Schiller's best-selling book. When the book was released, the couple was shocked at what they read. Perfect Murder repeatedly identifies the McReynoldses as suspects, and the McReynoldses are angry that Schiller painted this one-sided portrait in a book that as of December had sold an estimated 175,000 copies in its hardcover edition.
Schiller's book serves as a kind of historical record, one that depicts the McReynoldses as sinister characters. Schiller compounded the offense, Bill McReynolds says, by naming him as a prominent suspect while promoting the book on Today and Rivera Live. McReynolds is afraid the unfair portrayal will be spread even further by the movie version of the book.
Schiller calls McReynolds a "very nice man" who "lost sight of what the media can do." Nonetheless, Schiller defends his portrayal of McReynolds as a reflection of "the record of the case as it has been told to me by the police and those investigating the case for the district attorney's office."
Schiller has parlayed the book into a big-media trifecta: Perfect Murder's publisher, HarperCollins, is a division of News Corporation; NBC employs Schiller as a JonBénet consultant; and he has licensed CBS to air the movie version of Perfect Murder twice over the next four years.
Meanwhile, McReynolds will have to tune in to the miniseries to find out whether it portrays him as a suspect. Even if it does, the police do not-they no longer consider Santa a suspect.
On December 10, Suzanne Laurion, the spokeswoman for district attorney Hunter, told Brill's Content, "We do not consider [Bill McReynolds] to be a suspect." Five days later, Laurion made the same statement about Janet McReynolds.
Laurion says she doesn't recall a reporter ever asking her before whether the McReynoldses were suspects.
So far, seven publishers have released almost 900,000 copies of books about JonBenét Ramsey. The most successful book is Lawrence Schiller's Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury Search for the Truth, a veritable sourcebook about Boulder, the Ramseys, the media coverage, and the key figures in the investigation. (Look for the miniseries on CBS in February.) And for those who haven't yet had enough, fear not. There are at least two more JonBenét books in the works-including testimonials from one of the former detectives on the case and from the Ramseys themselves.
A Mother Gone Bad: The Hidden
Confession of JonBenét's Killer
by Andrew G. Hodges
Village House Publishers, 1998
Andrew Hodges, who owns the publishing house that released this book, is a psychiatrist based in Birmingham, Alabama. Here he offers a "psycholinguistic decoding" of the ransom note and other key Ramsey public communications, which, he says, reveals that Patsy authored the ransom note and was one of JonBenét's murderers. To date, about 16,000 copies of the book have been printed; approximately 14,000 have been sold, says Hodges.
The Tragedy and The Truth!
by Linda Edison McLean
McClain Printing Company, 1998
Patsy Ramsey's high-school drama teacher, Linda McLean, has been one of the Ramsey family's best friends for more than 25 years. Her book, which includes a foreword penned by Patsy Ramsey, takes a close look at Patsy's life before and after the murder of her daughter. The book also contains more than 60 exclusive photographs and in-depth interviews with family and friends. To date, 5,000 copies have been printed and 3,000 have been sold.
Death of a Little Princess: The Tragic Story of the Murder of JonBenét Ramsey
by Carlton Smith
St. Martin's Press, 1997
Carlton Smith is a veteran true-crime journalist and the author of The Search For The Green River Killer and Murder at Yosemite. He completed Death of a Little Princess in mid-1997, when the JonBenét murder investigation was just beginning. Consequently, his book is primarily a summary of the events and details of the crime and the investigation to that point. To date, 75,000 copies have been sold.
Who Killed JonBenét Ramsey?: A Leading Forensic Expert Uncovers the Shocking Facts
by Cyril H. Wecht and Charles Bosworth Jr.
Signet/New American Library, 1998
Cyril Wecht is a forensic pathologist; Charles Bosworth puts Wecht's conclusions into prose. Those conclusions, however, are slight. Wecht analyzes the forensic evidence-having never examined JonBenét's body-and concludes that JonBenét was sexually abused before her death and that she died due to strangulation. The book never answers the title question. There are 200,000 copies in print, and the doctor has appeared on such talkfests as Rivera Live and The View.
Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The uncensored story of the JonBenet murder and the grand jury's search for the truth
by Lawrence Schiller
Lawrence Schiller wrote American Tragedy, a best-seller about the O.J. Simpson case. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, which he researched with Denver Rocky Mountain News reporter Charlie Brennan, is considered the most comprehensive book on the JonBenét case, offering a detailed account of the events surrounding the murder, a chronicle of the police investigation, and first-person comments from friends of the Ramsey family, members of the media, and investigators on the case. A two-part miniseries based on the book will air beginning in February on CBS; Schiller is directing the docudrama. The hardcover has had seven print runs and has sold 175,000 copies to date. The paperback, which has had two print runs, has sold 350,000 copies to date. As of December 12, 1999, the book had been on The New York Times paperback best-seller list for five weeks.
Presumed Guilty: An Investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey Case, the Media & the Culture of Pornography
by Stephen Singular
New Millennium Press, 1999
Stephen Singular is a true-crime writer who also authored Legacy of Deception:An Investigation of Mark Fuhrman and Racism in the L.A.P.D. In his highly speculative tome, he advances the theory that JonBenét was part of a children's porn ring and that she was killed by one of her pornographers. The book has 55,000 copies in print, and 43,000 have been sold to date. It made The Denver Post's best-seller list on July 25, 1999.
A Little Girl's Dream: A JonBenet Ramsey Story
by Eleanor Von Duyke with Dwight Wallington
Windsor House Publishing, 1998
Eleanor Von Duyke is the owner of ShowBiz USA, a company that organizes children's beauty pageants. Dwight Wallington, the owner of the publishing house that released this book, is also the author of In The Child's Best Interest. In addition to discussing the world of children's beauty pageants, the authors of this book claim that JonBenét's brother, Burke, accidentally killed JonBenét and that John and Patsy have been covering for him. According to the publisher and author, there are 20,000 copies in print and 5,000 have sold to date.
JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation
by Steve Thomas
St. Martin's Press, April 2000
Steve Thomas was among the detectives first assigned to the JonBenét Ramsey case. On June 22, 1998, he resigned from the investigation, citing health concerns. In a letter dated August 6, 1998, however, he amended that statement and declared that his "primary reason" for leaving the case was his "belief that the district attorney's office continues to mishandle the Ramsey case." The publisher will not divulge the contents of the book, which is tentatively scheduled for release in April 2000.
Death of Innocence
by John and Patsy Ramsey
Thomas Nelson Publishers, March 2000
In this upcoming book, tentatively scheduled for release in March 2000, John and Patsy Ramsey plan to "recount [their] experiences in this tragedy," according to a press release from the publisher. "The book...will address many of the myths and falsehoods surrounding the case [and] give the Ramseys an opportunity to write about JonBenét...." Whatever proceeds are not used to pay the Ramseys' legal fees will be earmarked for the JonBenét Ramsey Children's Foundation, according to the publisher.
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