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A series examining nearly 100 unsolved murders in the region

Negative notoriety

B.J. Plasket
The Daily Times-Call
2001 Times-Call Publishing Co.

   BOULDER  None of Boulder County's unsolved homicides has received more attention than the Christmas-night 1996 slaying of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

After more than four years of expensive investigation along with myriad fights between police and prosecutors, police resignations and civil suits not much has changed.

Police are still concentrating their investigation on the child's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey.

Not long after taking over as Boulder's police chief after the resignation of Tom Koby, Mark Beckner said the Ramseys were "under an umbrella of suspicion."

Now, according to Beckner, they are still the only two people under that umbrella.

    "We have not identified anyone outside the family who is under suspicion at this time," Beckner said.

    "We've investigated many people outside the family and have not tied anyone to the crime scene or the crime."

     The case, which at one point involved the full-time efforts of four detectives as well as many other police officers, is no longer on the front burner.

     "I would describe the pace as slow," Beckner said, "but we're still making some progress."

     The case is now being investigated by two detectives, Tom Trujillo and Jane Harmer, and they are working the case on a part-time basis.

   "Periodically we get pieces of information that help our investigation," Beckner said.

    Some, however, question if the mistakes made early in the investigation will ever be overcome to a point where prosecutors can bring JonBenet's killer to justice.

     The problems began as soon as police arrived at the Ramsey home on 15th Street.

     Detective Linda Arndt, the first detective on the scene, admitted moving the little girl's body. The body remained in the house for several more hours while a parade of police and civilians came and went further compromising the crime scene.

     Within days, the troubled investigation became even more problematic as lead Detective John Eller clashed with District Attorney Alex Hunter and his chief trial deputy, Peter Hofstrom.

     The clash between Eller and prosecutors got worse when Hunter gave several journalists information that Eller may have been disciplined by his superiors while serving on a statewide community policing board.

     No such information about Eller could be found.

     Hunter's efforts blew up when police, angry about Hunter's tactic, placed a body microphone on a tabloid reporter who frequently visited Hunter in his office.

Police listened from a nearby car eavesdropping on the man they felt was keeping the investigation from moving forward.

   That wasn't the end of the in-fighting.

   After Koby slapped a gag order on his officers in an attempt to keep them from talking to the media, Arndt quit her job. She later filed a federal lawsuit against Koby, the department and the city, claiming Koby had blamed her for botching the case and had violated her free-speech rights by ordering her not to defend herself against allegations of incompetence.

    That case is still pending.

    Eller ended his fight with Hunter by quitting the force and moving to Florida.

    Detective Steve Thomas, who was involved with the case nearly from its beginning, also quit, claiming the district attorney's office was stalling the case. Thomas later wrote a book lambasting Hunter and accusing the Ramseys of being involved in their child's murder.

    At one point, Thomas, appearing on CNN's "Larry King Show" with John and Patsy Ramsey, accused Patsy of committing the murder.

   "I think you're good for this," he told her before a national audience.

     Neither Arndt, Eller nor Thomas has returned to police work, and Hunter retired in January after serving as district attorney for  28 years.

    Hunter's last hurrah in the Ramsey saga came in 1998 when he called a grand jury to investigate the case.

After a year of infrequent sessions, the jury disbanded without indicting anyone.

    Hunter, meanwhile, obtained a court order precluding the grand jurors from disclosing any information. Hunter, on the day the grand jury was dismissed, said its proceedings will remain secret forever. He refused to say if the grand jury was allowed to vote on indictments.

    Hunter would later say he called the grand jury "to get medical records," but admitted the medical records he sought were turned over to him before the grand jury was even selected.

    Since that time, others outside the family have been accused, both by the Ramseys and others.

 Last year a group of reporters came under investigation for criminal libel for stories they wrote after  a California woman said she had been molested as a child in much the same way as JonBenet Ramsey by a group of adults that included people who were in Boulder on the day JonBenet was killed.

    Police said they didn't believe the woman, and the criminal-libel investigation was eventually dropped with no charges being brought.

    Mary Keenan, who was sworn in as Boulder County's district attorney in January, says the problems between police and prosecutors are in the past.

   Keenan said she hopes to appoint a liaison to law enforcement in order to improve communication with area police departments. Investigators from the district attorney's office are also attending a homicide-investigation school with several police officers.

   According to Keenan, efforts to improve relations with police are "moving along pretty quickly. We are really happy with their attitude, and they are happy with ours."

    Only time will tell if those improvements will help solve the question of who killed JonBenet Ramsey.

If you have information about this case or any part of the series, call B.J. Plasket at 303-776-2244, Ext. 451, or e-mail him at bplasket@times-call.com

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2001 Times-Call Publishing Co.