2000-04-11: “JonBenet, Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation”
by Steve Thomas and Don Davis, April 11, 2000
ST Page 245
"I returned to Atlanta for one more grave-site surveillance try with the
Georgia Bureau of Investigation at Christmas 1997 and again came up
short in the quest to eavesdrop on a confession.
Chief Koby didn't think the trip was a good idea, and Sergeant
Wickman told me he was worried about the operation, but GBI Agent
John Lang supported going ahead with the hundred-to-one shot any-
way. Pray for a break, for without a confession, this case was going
nowhere. "You guys, in the end, may simply look back and agree it
was a hell of a ride," he said. "But you were home-cooked from the
beginning. This was a no-win."
With a warrant from the Cobb County District Attorney, we once
again set up a command post in Marietta High School. This time our
recording equipment was hidden in a fake but realistic tombstone
constructed by a movie special effects company. It appeared to be made of
granite but was actually a converted decorative mantelpiece from Home
Depot. The family name THOMAS was inscribed in large letters over
"John Thomas 1936-1992." It was a combination of my name and that
of Agent John Lang.
The gates of St. James Episcopal Cemetery were open on the night
of December 20 as our little convoy of undercover cars entered to plant
our fake tombstone. When our headlights swept across JonBenet's
grave, we were surprised to find a marble headstone:
]ONBENET PATRICIA RAMSEY
AUGUST 6, 1990-DECEMBER 25, 1996"
ST Page 246
"It was a clue from nowhere.
I knew that the Ramseys had returned from the Whites' Christmas
party at 10 P.M., and the day ended two hours later. The dates on the
grave marker were another argument for establishing a time of death.
For some reason, the parents were stating that JonBenet had died before
Fresh flowers were on the graves of both JonBenet and Beth Ramsey,
Christmas ornaments hung in a nearby tree, there was a photo in a little
framed heart, and a six-foot-long strip of Astroturf covered the ground.
A stuffed bunny and a ceramic angel, a box with a Nativity scene, and
other mementos surrounded the grave.
"We missed them," I told Lang dejectedly. "That headstone didn't
get here by itself They came early and held some sort of memorial
service." As I kicked myself, Lang said it didn't matter because our
warrant didn't begin for another three days anyway. Even had we been
here, we would only have been able to watch from a distance without
any recording equipment.
We installed our high-tech headstone on a plot forty-five feet west
of the child's grave, feeling like ghouls, then departed the cemetery as
inconspicuously as one can at two o'clock in the morning while carrying
a shovel, flashlight, and sledgehammer.
For the surveillance, the GBI gave us everything we had before and
more, and we began at dawn on December 24, as a slashing rain stopped
and the sun rose on the drenched cemetery. Over the next eighty-eight
hours, tourists looked at the grave, the press looked at the tourists, and
we looked at them all.
Burgers and Cokes fueled us while we recorded the gamut of peo-
ple-women with babies in strollers, self-appointed experts explaining
the case, families, kids, dog walkers, and Rollerbladers. It was a tourist
A white Corvette pulled in, and a blonde with an inch of dark roots
emerged, wearing a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, stirrup stretch pants, and
dark glasses. Detective Gosage and I thought we recognized her. "That
looks like Pam Paugh," he said. She sat on the little bench and wept as
the merciless photographers stalked nearer. She knelt for a moment on
the grave and whispered a few words we couldn't hear through all the
media noise. Speak louder! we urged from the command post. She gave
the headstone a kiss and escaped after only four minutes. We never
figured out who she really was.
A middle-aged couple and their son stopped by, and the boy wandered
away to look at our John Thomas headstone. Our hearts almost"
ST Page 247
"stopped when he rocked it back and forth and loudly called, "This is
made of wood!" After a few minutes of tut-tutting about how anyone
could possibly buy such a cheap marker for the dearly departed, the
family moved away.
The reporters and photographers kept a discreet distance at first but
soon abandoned any restraint and became jackals. One photographer
set her camera tripod right on the grave and rearranged the items at the
headstone to suit her picture. Anything she didn't want was callously
tossed. A poem in a glass frame shattered. For an hour she refused to
relinquish the site. We cursed everything about her.
She wasn't much worse than the rest, however. The women reporters
stayed in their vehicles preening in the mirrors until some unsuspecting
visitor came to the grave. Then they rushed up in tight skirts,
microphones extended like elephant snouts, shouting, "Do you know
the family? Why are you here?"
The swarm eventually camped out at the grave itself, smoking cigarettes
and flipping the butts on the grass, standing around telling dirty
jokes, setting up camera tripods on other graves, and pissing in the
bushes. They were disgusting and had no respect whatsoever for the
little girl in a coffin six feet below them.
With the press sprawled all over the place, there was no hope of
anybody saying anything worthwhile.
After midnight on Christmas-the first anniversary of JonBenet's murder-
I drove to the nearby suburb of Vinings and parked across the
street from the Ramsey house. Security lights flooded the grounds, a
single white rose was in the mailbox, and two great Christmas wreaths
hung on the doors. I wanted to go ring the bell and say, "Let's talk."
But I had been forbidden from doing so."
ST Page 248
"Back at the grave site, our only real opportunity came on the day after
Christmas, when a clean-cut white male about forty years old, wearing
dark glasses and looking nervous, sidled into the cemetery, careful to
keep his back to the press. He pulled out a little camera, snapped a few
shots, and put it away as the press started to film him. Lang and I dashed
for our car as he got into a truck and headed east on Polk Street, and I
couldn't believe my eyes. "That's a Colorado plate," I said, pulling
close behind him. Lang replied, "We gotta take this guy down and ID
We followed him for miles until he pulled into the parking lot of the
Atlanta Historical Society. As soon as he got out of the truck, we flashed
our badges and handed him a bullshit line about him driving through a
drug surveillance area. He bought it and showed a military ID. He was
a navy corpsman based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and said he
was just sightseeing in Atlanta and was from Colorado, where his
I needed to get inside his vehicle and used an old narc trick to obtain
permission. "You have any weapons, narcotics, contraband, bazookas,
or machine guns in your truck?"
"No." He laughed. So did Lang and I.
"Then you wouldn't mind if I look in it, would you?"
"Sure, go ahead. You guys really looking for a bazooka?"
While Lang kept him talking, I tore into the truck, searching for
anything that might tie him to our homicide. The cab was full of fast-
food wrappers, unused 35-mm film, and blank videotapes. I looked
through some notebooks in which he had written. Nothing. Although
he had neglected to say anything about visiting the cemetery, we
couldn't do much more at this point. We had a solid ID on him and
knew where he was based. We let him go. The guy was just another
wingnut that Lang would later thoroughly investigate and clear.
The only other remarkable visitor was John Andrew Ramsey, who
got into an altercation with a photographer.
At ten o'clock the warrant ended, and we shut down the surveillance.
We retrieved the John Thomas marker and moved the wreath we had
left there to the grave of JonBenet. Then a dozen GBI agents and a
couple of Boulder detectives sped down Highway 41 to the Buckboard
cowboy bar for some shots and beer, respectfully toasting the little girl.