1999-07-05: Ramsey case snags wide circle into its web
Ramsey case snags wide circle into its web
People, except killer, caught up in the case
July 5, 1999
By Charlie Brennan
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
The discovery of JonBenet Ramsey's body in her parents' basement 21/2 years ago has led to no fewer than 10 arrests.
None has been for the 6-year-old's death.
While the grand jury investigation into the killing is winding down, a still-growing string of peripheral players has been pulled under by the backwash.
Records and reputations have been tarnished by charges ranging from trespassing to attempted arson and racketeering.
"It's kind of mind-boggling," said Lincoln County Sheriff Leroy Yowell, whose department had a role in one of the saga's more unusual sideshows.
One prosecutor says many who touch the case, or are touched by it, come away tainted.
Boulder County sheriff's Detective Steve Ainsworth, who worked on the case more than a year for Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter, has never seen anything like it.
"Ordinarily, on a major case, a murder case like this, we're bringing in everybody and throwing everything we have at it for 72 hours," he said.
"As a result, you solve all kinds of other stuff along the way. But usually it's old cases, things you've had outstanding.
"In this case, all the arrests were made in new crimes driven by the case."
Ainsworth traces it to the media attention surrounding the JonBenet's Christmas night 1996 slaying.
"So many people get caught up in the publicity that they want to become part of it," he said. "They end up becoming too much a part of it and getting themselves arrested."
Former Globe reporter Jeff Shapiro is one of them. And he thinks there should be more.
"Actually, I don't think enough people have been arrested," said Shapiro, now a free- lancer working for Time.
One supermarket weekly staffer said his publication has been the subject of at least four separate criminal investigations -- none resulting in prosecution.
Shapiro was issued a summons for trespassing and harassment after he went to the secluded mountain home of a Ramsey family friend in July 1997 -- bearing flowers.
This was after he'd called homeowner Patty Novack and she'd told him he was unwelcome.
Novack told deputies that Shapiro called her on a cell phone from her front porch, letting it ring up to 20 times.
Shapiro said he was doing his job.
"I was ordered by my editor, Craig Lewis, to go to her house, leaving me very little choice in the matter," he said.
"I felt intimidated into doing what I was instructed to do."
Lewis, recently promoted to news editor at the Globe, said, "Just as he has so many times in the past, Jeff seems to have a hard time taking responsibility for his own mistakes.
"Neither I, nor anyone else at the Globe, ever instructed him to harass anyone."
The Boulder district attorney's office deferred prosecution on the condition that Shapiro stay out of trouble for a year. He did.
A far more serious case is that of James and Regana Rapp, an Aurora couple indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury June 24 on two counts of racketeering.
Employees of the Rapps' firm, Touch Tone Inc., impersonated JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, in an effort to obtain receipts for purchases by Patsy Ramsey at McGuckin Hardware in Boulder the month before the killin, the indictment charges.
It is believed Touch Tone was acting as an agent for a California private investigator, who, in turn, had been hired by a tabloid television program.
A search warrant executed by Boulder detectives against Touch Tone's Denver office on May 29, 1997, showed that police seized folders containing phone records of Jay Elowsky, a friend of the Ramsey family.
Also found was information on private investigator H. Ellis Armistead, who was hired by the Ramsey team, and at least 58 files on the Ramseys.
Elowsky, incidentally, is part of the Ramsey-related crime mosaic as both perpetrator and victim.
In 1997, the Boulder restaurateur earned two weekends on a Boulder County Jail work crew, plus one year of probation, after pleading guilty to misdemeanor menacing. He was charged with threatening two men he believed were reporters at a time when John and Patsy Ramsey were staying at his home.
More recently, the Ramsey case claimed 46-year-old John Gardiner.
Gardiner, a homeless man employed at Elowsky's restaurant, Pasta Jay's in Boulder, was arrested June 10 for allegedly attempting to stab Elowsky.
Gardiner said he "had proof" Elowsky was involved in JonBenet's death, witnesses said.
One witness told police that Gardiner had claimed he had "seen the names of the children coming up out of the sidewalk behind the criminal justice center" and "the children were crying out for vengeance because Jay killed JonBenet."
Elowsky, a close friend and business partner of John Ramsey, was in Michigan when JonBenet was killed and has never been a suspect.
Gardiner is set for a preliminary hearing July 8 in Boulder County Court on a felony charge of second-degree assault.
The Rapps, free on bail, could each be sentenced to as many as 24 years in prison and to fines up to $1 million upon conviction.
Several people have encountered Ramsey-related troubles that don't constitute criminal arrest or charges but still add up to a legal headache.
Free-lance photographer Randy Simons, who had taken pictures of JonBenet for her beauty pageant portfolio, was apprehended Oct. 16, 1998, when a sheriff's deputy found him walking nude along a street in Genoa -- an eastern Plains town of 200 people.
Yowell, the Lincoln County sheriff, said that when approached by a deputy, Simons volunteered, unsolicited, "I didn't kill JonBenet."
He was taken into protective custody, treated at University Hospital, and allowed to return home three days later with no charges filed against him.
Said one detective who has worked on the case but would speak only on condition of anonymity, "I've been involved with grand jury cases before where you'll get peripheral players that are brought in through conspiracy, or whatever.
"But never anything like this, where you have everybody and their brother -- J.T. Colfax being the best example -- feeling the heavy hammer of the district attorney's office while the killer is still out there, uncharged."
Colfax, a Denver artist whose legal name is James Michael Thompson, has just a few more days to serve on a two-year Boulder County jail sentence stemmimg from his failed bid to start a fire at the Ramseys' Boulder home in the summer of 1997.
Colfax is the only person in the case arrested twice. He pleaded guilty to stealing the page from the log book at the Boulder County morgue that documented the arrival of JonBenet's body.
Although incarcerated, Colfax has hardly been silent.
As recently as June 16, a Colfax drawing was posted on his Web site, "The Colfax Diaries." It depicted an anguished figure rendered in bold, aggressive strokes, the following message emanating from its mouth:
"Listen carefully:'' it began, echoing the opening of the Ramsey case ransom note, "there's a certain buzz about the next scheduled meeting of the grand jury. In a briefing at the jail on Wed. June 16, a sign-up list was circulated for volunteers to be on possible Ramsey overtime ... "
Even from jail, one more player reluctant to leave the stage.