JonBenet: DNA Rules Out Parents
"We moved to Boulder. We very strongly felt we had moved to a very safe, small kind of 'Ozzie and Harriet' kind of community," says John Ramsey, JonBenet's father.
But, last December, Correspondent Erin Moriarty exposed a different side of this quaint small city -- a darker side, made up of a small group of burglars, thieves, and sex offenders.
It's where the answer to Boulder's most notorious unsolved murder, the case of JonBenet Ramsey, may be found. And investigators hope new evidence will finally lead to a break in the case.
The nightmare began eight years ago, in the early hours of Dec. 26, 1996, with a 911 call from JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey.
Boulder police responded immediately to Ramsey's call for help, and what first looked like a kidnapping quickly became a murder, when JonBenet's body was found by her father in a small storage room in the basement of her house.
Because of the bizarre ransom note, and the fact that JonBenet was killed in her own home, detectives focused on her parents, John and Patsy, as their prime suspects.
Boulder police brushed aside the thousands of leads that came in, and dismissed the possibility that an intruder had somehow slipped inside the house and committed the murder. Instead, they leaked information to the media -- sometimes fabricated information, charges of pornography and sexual abuse -- to put pressure on the Ramseys.
"You couldn't go to buy groceries for your family without passing headlines that said that John Ramsey had molested his first daughter. Absolutely false," says Lin Wood, the Ramsey attorney. "Headlines that John and Patsy were pornographers. Absolutely false. Headlines that they were devil worshipers. Absolutely false."
Throughout the lengthy and sometimes hostile police interrogations, both in 1998 and 2000, the Ramseys maintained their innocence. Now, eight years later, 48 Hours reports that investigators are no longer focusing on the Ramsey family.
Detectives working for the Boulder district attorney now believe that one, possibly two, intruders entered the Ramsey home and killed JonBenet and they are finally concentrating their efforts on the underside of Boulder that was largely ignored during the initial investigation.
"A lot of people don't really think about, 'Let's go find out who's their next door neighbor.' It's not until something big happens that we worry about who are our neighbors," says John San Augustin. He and Ollie Gray were originally hired by the Ramseys in 1999, and they are now part of a small band of private detectives, working without pay, and determined to find JonBenet's killer.
"From the get-go, Patsy and John were the focus of JonBenet's murder," says San Augustin. "And nobody really looked into the intruder theory."
"When you start turning rocks over in Boulder, you know, stand back," adds Gray.
What they have discovered is startling. Within a two-mile radius of where the Ramseys once lived, 38 of their neighbors are registered sex offenders. What these private detectives have also discovered is that in the months before JonBenet's murder, there were more than 100 burglaries in her neighborhood.
"All the crime that was actually going on, I don't think that the Ramseys had any clue that this was going on," says Gray.
From the outset, police never seriously considered the evidence that someone outside the Ramsey family may have killed JonBenet.
"I don't think the Ramseys did it and I think they ought to start looking for the people that did," says retired homicide Det. Lou Smit, who once quit because police ignored the intruder theory.
Now, he's back on the case, working for the Boulder district attorney. He can no longer speak publicly, but he spoke to 48 Hours back in 2002: "This murder was not conducted upstairs in a nice bedroom. This murder was conducted in a basement, and it was very vicious."
Autopsy results showed evidence that JonBenet may have been subdued with a stun gun, and then eventually killed with an intricately tied device known as a garrot.
The current investigation also focuses on the possibility of two intruders, because of two very clear, and different, boot prints in the room where JonBenet was found. And, there's another clue investigators are interested in: a rope found in the bedroom next to JonBenet's.
What's more, detectives are now seriously investigating a lead that was ignored years earlier: a report of an unknown blue van spotted outside the Ramsey house the night before and the day after JonBenet was murdered.
After a murder investigation that went nowhere, the answer to the question, "Who killed JonBenet," is likely in the Denver police department crime lab.
"I believe the technology of today makes it extraordinarily difficult for a killer not to leave his calling card," says police forensic specialist Greg LaBerge, referring to the suspect's complete DNA profile.
He believes he has the DNA for the man he suspects is the killer of JonBenet Ramsey: "It would be very, very helpful to the investigation to have that DNA matched to an individual."
The crime lab has two spots of JonBenet's blood found on the underwear she was wearing the night of the murder. Mixed in with that blood is the DNA of an unknown person. It has taken years to isolate, but forensic scientists in Colorado now have a complete DNA profile of the killer. They know the killer is a male. What they don't know is his name.
Augustin and Gray are convinced that the DNA sample belongs to JonBenet's killer, because of a small amount of matching DNA that also was found under the 6-year-old murder victim's fingernails.
48 Hours has learned that the DA's office is using this DNA profile to investigate several suspects in the case.
One of those suspects came to light in a most dramatic way. It was early in 1997, when Alex Hunter, then Boulder district attorney, made a startling announcement: "I want to say something to the person or persons that took this baby from us. The list of suspects narrows. Soon, there will be no one on the list but you."
Those words were written by the FBI as part of a strategy to put the killer and any accomplices under pressure. That strategy may have worked. But just two days later, the Boulder Sheriff's Department discovered a man by the name of Michael Helgoth, dead in his home, an apparent suicide.
Did he have anything to do with JonBenet's murder? "We were walking along at the end of the day, just as calm as can be. He just casually comes up and says, 'I wonder what it'd be like to crack a human skull,'" says John Kenady, who worked with Helgoth at an auto salvage yard outside of Boulder. "And I looked at him and I thought, 'Whoa, I don't want to have this conversation.'"
Just a few months before JonBenet's murder, Kenady says he noticed a change in Helgoth's attitude: "Mike was pretty happy around late November, about him and a partner making a killer deal, and they were each gonna make $50,000 or $60,000."
Kenady didn't think anything of it, until he read in newspapers about the ransom note found at the Ramsey home that demanded a curious $118,000. It was close to the amount Helgoth had said he and his unknown partner would make -– and it was a ransom that was never paid to anyone.
"Then Christmas goes -- comes. And then he's really depressed. And there's no money. And then he said that he wanted to crack a human skull," says Kenady. "And then, she received a crack in her skull. I felt obligated to go to the police department and tell them what I knew."
Gray says Kenady "provided a very relevant piece of information that should have been a priority lead for the Boulder police department." Kenady says he called 10-20 times, but got no response: "No one would call me back."
"I got the distinct feeling that they had absolutely no interest in anything that took them away from the theory that John and Patsy Ramsey killed their daughter," says Gray, even though he and San Augustin were convinced Helgoth was worth a closer look.
"His friends say that he owns several stun guns, that he was a gun nut," adds Gray. "And supposedly through the sources that we talked to, that he used to break into people's houses just for the thrill of doing it."
The stun gun is important because Gray and San Augustin believe, from examining autopsy photos, that JonBenet was incapacitated with one at some point during her attack.
"In that time frame, 1995-95 time frame, the only stun gun that had a laser sight on it was Air Taser," says Gray, who adds that he believes this was the same type of stun gun used on JonBenet.
San Augustin adds that the high-tech boots, which they later took into possession, were originally ignored by investigators in Helgoth's home. But they were later discovered by Kenady and passed on to Gray and San Augustin.
San Augustin showed 48 Hours the underside of Helgoth's boot. "On the left is the high tech impression that was made in the area where JonBenet's body was found," says San Augustin. "There's no reason for Helgoth's boot to be in the Ramsey home where JonBenet's body was found."
The investigators turned the boots over to the Boulder police, who now claim their investigation showed they were the wrong size for a match. But they have yet to be turned over to the district attorney for further analysis.
The private detectives in their investigation also uncovered a number of Helgoth's personal video tapes that they say the sheriff's office ignored. San Augustin says they found one piece of video that included coverage of an unsolved murder in Colorado.
But what was even more disturbing were videotapes of Helgoth and one of his girlfriend's children. "The ex-girlfriend and he had a major argument over supposedly her coming home and finding the daughter in the bedroom, and he was in bed under covers and she was on the covers," says Gray. "They had a big fight and there were temporary restraining orders issued."
Most surprising of all, however, was the nature of Helgoth's suicide. Investigators initially said he died from a bullet to his head. But in fact, Gray says, the fatal shot was nowhere near his head.
"The gun was found on Michael's right and he's right-handed," says Gray. "The bullet hole is on Michael's left and it goes across the body from left to right."
"It became really odd to us that he would then take the gun and bring it around and then try and shoot himself," adds San Augustin. "It doesn't make sense why you would have somebody commit suicide in that manner."
The investigators were left with only one conclusion. Someone killed Helgoth. Why?
"If he's one of two people involved in a major, major-major death of a small girl, what's the best way to eliminate an -- you know, the word getting out that you had any involvement in it?" asks Gray. "You eliminate your partner."
Was Helgoth involved in JonBenet's murder -- and was he killed by a partner for what he knew? In the Ramsey ransom note, there was the mention of "two gentleman who are watching over your daughter."
"If you look at the case real close, you'll see that quite possibly there was more than one person involved," says San Augustin.
But there is one thing investigators are sure of: Helgoth's DNA does not match the DNA profile sitting in the Denver crime lab.
"Investigators must be careful not to put all the weight in the investigation on the DNA because the DNA, as important as it is, could be misleading them, depending on who it matches or who it doesn't match," says LaBerge.
It could mean that if Helgoth was involved, he wasn't alone. And the person who sexually assaulted and killed JonBenet is still out there.
How did 6-year-old JonBenet become a target? Gray and San Augustin have a theory of how she may have been marked for death.
"She was high profile in her community. She had just participated in several pageants in the general area," says Gray. "She had participated in the Christmas parade in Boulder. So you know you have seen her."
Investigators believe that putting JonBenet in the public eye may have inadvertently put her in the sights of a sexual predator as well.
48 Hours has learned that JonBenet may have been targeted for murder long before she took the stage, possibly at a local dance studio called Dance West, where she took lessons.
"To someone with that, you know, kind of a twisted mind, she may have looked like a really good target," says former Denver private investigator Pete Peterson. Less than a year after the murder of JonBenet, he was hired to work on another case in Boulder that had strange parallels to the Ramsey case.
"There's a Dance West school where the victim of the assault in our case, the one that we investigated, and the Ramsey girl, both attended," says Peterson, who now believes Jon Benet was first targeted at that dance studio because of what happened to his client, just nine months after JonBenet was murdered.
Like JonBenet, she took lessons at Dance West. And like JonBenet, another girl, who is identified as "Amy," was attacked and sexually assaulted at night in her own bedroom on Sept. 14, 1997.
That night, Amy's father was out of town. After catching a movie, Amy and her mother returned home late. What they didn't know when they entered the house was that there was already an intruder inside.
Amy's father, who asked that his identity be obscured, agreed to talk about what happened that night: "My feeling is he got into the house while they were out and hid inside the house, so he would have been in there for perhaps four to six hours, hiding."
Before going to bed, Amy's mother turned on the burglar alarm. Around midnight, Amy woke up to find a man standing over her bed, his hand over her mouth. "She remembered the intruder addressing her by her name," says Peterson. "He said, 'I know who you are.' He repeated those things a few times, apparently. 'I'll knock you out. Shut up.'"
Peterson says Amy's mother heard whispering, and proceeded through the doorway, and saw a person, who just brushed her aside and quickly made his escape by jumping out a second-floor window.
"He was like a ghost," recalls Amy's father. "We couldn't figure out where he came from, or where he went."
By the time the Boulder police arrived, the man was long gone. Because the intruder had gotten in and out of the house so easily, Amy's father began to think this wasn't the first time he had done something like this.
"The first thing that occurred to us was that it was the parallel to the Ramsey case because it was exactly the same situation," says Amy's father, who even told the Boulder police about the Dance West studio connection to the Ramsey case. "I think someone, somewhere, drew a bead on her. Obviously had us under surveillance that we were not aware of."
The studio has since gone out of business and been torn down, but photos show that there was a balcony overlooking the dance floor where parents and anyone else could come in and watch the children.
But Amy's dad says that when he told the police detectives about the information he had, "they were completely uninterested in it."
"They were very frustrated," says Peterson. "It was difficult to get them to do anything much less, you know, beyond taking a report."
But not only did the Boulder police dismiss any link to the Ramsey case, they didn't even bother to use the mother's eyewitness description to make a composite sketch. That's when Amy's family hired Peterson. What he has uncovered in his investigation may not only solve Amy's case, but also help lead to the capture of JonBenet's killer.
"This person is someone with a huge ego, someone who views himself as bold," says Peterson, who believes there are too many parallels between Amy's case and JonBenet's murder.
Both JonBenet and Amy were sexually assaulted by an intruder at night in their homes -- within nine months of each other. Fiber evidence shows that JonBenet's attacker may have been wearing black, as was the man who attacked Amy. And there's the fact that both girls took lessons at the Dance West studio.
But Boulder police never found any connections to the murder of JonBenet.
Yet, Peterson found something very disturbing. As he collected evidence in and around the house, and did background checks on people who worked in the neighborhood, he found a group of individuals with criminal histories, who roamed the neighborhood at night.
He made surveillance videotapes, and showed 48 Hours vehicles that he believes were used by a roving band of criminals. "We did tail them at one point, within two blocks from the Ramsey house," says Peterson, who watched the neighborhood for weeks.
In his possession, he had a map that was discarded by the group under surveillance. "I think it's a blueprint for burglary, at least," says Peterson.
48 Hours has discovered that, of Colorado's most dangerous sex offenders, one in eight also has prior convictions for burglary or robbery. "They burglarize and sexually assault if the opportunity presents itself," says Peterson.
And in Amy's neighborhood, that opportunity seemed to present itself quite often. Peterson says there were 19 burglaries, breaking and entering, or trespassing reports in a two-month period. He did background checks on his suspects in Amy's case, and discovered that some of them had at one time worked at the Ramsey home.
"Two or three people we were looking at had associations with both neighborhoods," says Peterson, who went so far as to collect the sample of one man's handwriting. "We talked with him several times. ...We had him write something."
Peterson then had an expert compare that handwriting to the Ramsey ransom note. He claims he found distinct similarities were found, but "handwriting analysis is kind of an art. It's pretty subjective."
He also collected cigarette butts found outside Amy's house, and discovered that the "same brands were found in the Ramseys' alley."
"I expected it to be a serene, quiet, safe area," says Peterson of the Boulder neighborhoods. "It's fairly serene and quiet, but you find that there's a real undercurrent of activity at night that would give me pause for concern if I lived here."
Peterson, however, is a private detective with no police authority. He's been censured by a judge in the past for how he's gathered evidence. And in this case, he's planning to hand over all of his materials to the Boulder DA. He hopes they will take his theory seriously.
In his heart, does he think these two cases are connected? "I think that there's a really good likelihood, that's what we're pursuing," says Peterson. "We're pursuing that angle still."
Meanwhile, Boulder DA investigators are continuing to pursue their own leads.
For a very long time, John and Patsy Ramsey were the most hated couple in America.
"It was like this mass of humanity wanting to crucify us," says Patsy Ramsey. "Our fault was that our daughter was murdered, and we were hated for that," adds John Ramsey.
Boulder police worked almost single-mindedly to try to prove they killed their daughter, JonBenet, but a grand jury failed to indict the Ramseys -– in large part because of one critical piece of evidence. It was the unexplained male DNA in JonBenet's underwear.
"Right now, the DNA profile that's in hand doesn't match anyone associated with the investigation, so that would include the parents," says LaBerge, the Denver police scientist who believes this is the last and best hope to crack the case. "If the DNA never matches someone, the case, depending on the rest of the investigation, may never be solved."
Now, the same DNA that saved the Ramseys from indictment is finally being used to check out the dozens and dozens of suspects who were ignored for years.
48 Hours has learned that investigators are now doing what they call a "grab and swab." Armed with a simple cotton swab, they are tracking down people of interest and demanding a DNA sample from the inside of their mouths.
There is one man, who investigators refer to as the "Candy Cane Man," who had one of the decorative candy canes that lined the Ramsey's front walk on the night of the murder. He says he removed the item a week after the murder "because it was there."
But it turns out that some of the canes were missing the next day, when JonBenet's body was discovered. Investigators fear they may have been taken by the killer or killers as a bizarre souvenir –- which led to this man, who admitted he once had an obsession with JonBenet, and built a shrine to her that he now keeps on his computer.
He also has a fascination with infamous killers, particularly serial killer John Wayne Gacy. This year, he voluntarily gave investigators a DNA sample, and was cleared when it didn't match the Ramsey crime scene DNA.
There is another man investigators say should have been looked at eight years ago: Gary Oliva. 48 Hours spoke to Oliva in 2002.
"When you see that footage of her in her little cowboy suit going, 'I wanna be a cowboy sweetheart' and all that, I've never seen anything like it," says Oliva. "I believe she was a genius at the age of 6."
Oliva, a convicted pedophile who used to hang around the Ramsey's old neighborhood, adds: "I believe that she came to me after she was killed and revealed herself to me."
At the time of her murder, he was just living down the street from the Ramsey residence. He was seen at the candlelight vigil held shortly after JonBenet's death. And four years later, when he was arrested for drug possession, police found a stun gun in his backpack.
He denies killing or hurting JonBenet, and also provided a DNA sample that didn't match evidence in the Ramsey case.
But the Boulder DA investigators still have a list of people they'd like to talk to, reportedly more than 100 names – including Oliva and anyone who can shed more light on the mysterious death of Michael Helgoth.
"It's gonna take a group of investigators to go out and pound the pavement, find out who legitimately could've killed JonBenet," says San Augustin.
48 Hours reports that there is now what's believed to be a complete DNA profile of JonBenet Ramsey's killer. And there's strong evidence that he may have had an accomplice and that he may have tried to kill again.
Meanwhile, the Ramseys are currently living in a small town in northern Michigan with their 17-year-old son, Burke. John Ramsey recently lost a bid for the Michigan State Legislature. And Patsy Ramsey continues her battle with cancer.
JonBenet would now be 14, and a freshman in high school.
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