2000-04-11: “JonBenet, Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation”
by Steve Thomas and Don Davis, April 11, 2000
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"Detectives also drove through the neighborhood with a video camera, documenting people and vehicles in the area and looking for anything suspicious."
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"Police officers also canvassed the neighborhood. An elderly couple across the street said they had seen John Ramsey's older son and JonBenet's half-brother, John Andrew Ramsey, at the Ramsey home on Christmas Day. Another neighbor, Melody Stanton, whose bedroom faced the Ramsey home from across the street, did not want to get involved with the investigation and told police that she heard nothing unusual during the night. She would soon revise her statement to say that she had heard a child scream."
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"While the house search went on, other cops fanned out to canvass the neighborhood and conduct more interviews. A resident directly to the
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"south reported that the light was off in the southeast comer sunroom of the Ramsey home and thought that odd because it was the only time she was aware in the past few years that it did not bum all night. A neighbor to the north would say that the butler kitchen lights were on around midnight and considered that unusual since it was the first time he had noticed that light being on in the Ramsey home. A third neighbor, to the west, said that her dogs, who barked at anyone walking in the alley, just as they did when the police officer came to question her, made no noise Wednesday night. It was impossible to make a 100 percent sweep because some people were away on holiday vacations, other houses had caretakers, and some just stood empty."
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"Joe and Betty Barnhill, the elderly neighbors so trusted by the Ramseys that JonBenet's silver Christmas bicycle had been hidden with them, would also eventually be pointed at as possible murder suspects by the Ramseys. From the moment I saw them, I knew it was ridiculous that they should be considered and that we should be spending time investigating them.
Joe, a silver-haired man in his seventies, was taking care of his wife, who had Alzheimer's disease, and Joe was crippled so badly with palsy himself that he needed both hands to sign a shaky signature allowing us to obtain their personal and medical records. He never asked for a lawyer, and shook our hands as we left, saying, "I'm confident that you
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will solve it." That sort of cooperation was rare, and we certainly weren't getting it from the Ramseys. We soon cleared the Barnhills.
The Barnhills rented out a basement room to Glenn Meyer, who would be pointed out by Ramsey investigators as a possible suspect because he carried a heavy load of debt. Meyer was an even more unlikely suspect than the Barnhills, since his own son had been murdered in Boston. He could not have been more cooperative with us. After an interview, giving writing and hair samples, and passing a polygraph, he was also cleared.
Meyer and the Barnhills also alibied each other, having watched television together on Christmas night and all going to bed early, Meyer with a case of the flu.
Another reason to interview the Barnhills, however, was that Joe had told the police he had seen JonBenet's older half-brother, John Andrew, in Boulder on the evening of December 25. John Andrew claimed to have been in Atlanta at the time. During the interview Barnhill sheepishly told us he had made a mistake and apologized, saying that he probably would not even recognize the young man in a crowd. That went a long way toward firming up John Andrew's alibi.
The Barnhills also had a key to the Ramsey home, something we had not known. The Ramseys initially said that the only outsiders with keys were two relatives and the housekeeper. Since then we had turned up one with the former nanny Suzanne Savage and now another with the Barnhills. We didn't know how many keys existed, and the number would continue to grow.
Jacques, the white bichon frise dog that belonged to JonBenet and was temporarily in the care of the Barnhills, jumped into my lap while we all watched the five o'clock news about the funeral in Atlanta.
In a few days another neighbor, Melody Stanton, who lived at 738 Fifteenth Street, diagonally across from the Ramsey home, also changed her original story, which was that she had not noticed anything unusual on the night JonBenet died. When a detective interviewed her a second time, Stanton admitted that she had not told the truth earlier because she did not want to be involved in the case. She now claimed to have heard the piercing scream of a child between midnight and two o'clock on the morning of December 26.
If that cry came from JonBenet, it would help determine the time of death. If a neighbor clear across the street heard the scream, I wondered how anyone in the house could not have heard it.
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Her story, which seemed to be a clear piece of evidence, contained its own seed of destruction, however. More than a year later we would discover that Stanton also told the detective, "It may not have been an audible scream but rather the negative energy radiating from JonBenet."
The detective returned to that odd point several times during the interview, but Stanton never again mentioned the "negative energy." She insisted that she heard an audible scream, so the detective did not include the "negative energy" comment in his report.
A year later he was ordered to write an amended report. Changing a report is a huge issue for police since it brings the validity of the entire statement into question. His revised report was not the first, and it would not be the last, that would enter the Ramsey case file."
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"Nedra gave us some two dozen suspects off the top of her head, and when we asked if the initials SBTC meant anything to her, she snapped, "Yes. Son of a bitch Tom Carson." Years before, Carson, the current chief financial officer at Access Graphics, had been involved in Nedra's dismissal from the company. She also pointed to Fleet and Priscilla White, Jeff Merrick and his "vicious" wife, housekeeper Linda Hoffmann-Pugh, a handyman, a painter, the gardener, the nanny, and a couple
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of neighborhood kids. While thinking about other possible suspects, she accused one worker of theft, called a black man "boy," and described a little girl the same age as JonBenet as homely. But she had not one negative word to say about John Ramsey, which I thought was unique for a mother-in-law."
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"Actually, the detectives would- have loved to have found some stranger whom we could wrap in a tight cloak of evidence, for there is no joy in looking at a parent for murder. We found no such person out there, although a recent letter from the Ramsey private investigator supplied a multitude of new "suspects" who had had "frequent and recent access" to the house-hundreds of unnamed guests at Christmas parties, nannies, friends, neighbors, people from the Historic Boulder tour, a battalion of cleaning women, street musicians, caterers, florists, friends, contractors, window cleaners, plumbers, and videotaping crews. When the case began, police were told that the only outsiders with keys were John Andrew Ramsey and the housekeeper, Linda Hoffmann-Pugh. Now a couple of dozen keys were said to be missing."
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"But we all agreed that Melody Stanton, the neighbor who claimed to have heard a scream, "obviously that of a child," on Christmas night, could have done so. I wanted to go over and talk to her right then and dig deeper into her story, but Deputy DA DeMuth refused, putting a blockade between police and Melody Stanton. He said he planned to "prep her" before trial. DeMuth didn't explain his reasons to mere police officers and detectives. I could not fathom why a prosecutor would intentionally stop us from talking to her. Such a thing had never happened before in any investigation I was involved in, but with a wave of his hand-poof!- DeMuth sealed off an important avenue of investigation from the investigators. I knew that in other cities, not only would the prosecutor have okayed the interview but he probably would have helped conduct it on the spot. The difference of opinion between the DA's office and the police had thrown into question whether or not there was a scream at all. It would be up to a jury to make the ultimate decision."
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"In our case, Foster examined hundreds of writing samples from people ranging from family members to Internet addicts, from neighbors to Chris Wolf to the McReynolds family, and a library of books, films, and videotapes."
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"Then he offered up a smorgasbord of suspects that included a cook at Pasta Jay's restaurant, a "striking couple" from "back East" who had been seen in church, his secretary's boyfriend, other church members, business associates, "pigsty" neighbors, and assorted fringe players."