A lawsuit that once seemed intended to force Patsy Ramsey to implicate herself in the murder of her 6-year-old daughter has instead directed suspicion away from her.
In a 93-page ruling dismissing a civil suit filed by freelance journalist Chris Wolf against the Ramseys, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes of Atlanta said there is more evidence pointing to an intruder as the person who killed JonBenet on Dec. 25, 1996, than there is evidence implicating Patsy Ramsey.
Wolf and his lawyer, Darnay Hoffman, filed a defamation lawsuit in March 2001 after the Ramseys publicly named Wolf as a possible suspect in the case.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the lawsuit was the claim that Patsy Ramsey killed her daughter and was naming other suspects to shift attention away from her.
That statement meant that to win the lawsuit, Wolf would have to prove that Patsy Ramsey was involved in her daughter’s death.
Wolf and Hoffman based most of their theory on the case from a book written by former Boulder police Detective Steve Thomas, who suggested Patsy Ramsey killed JonBenet in a bed-wetting incident, even though Carnes said there was never any evidence JonBenet wet her bed on the night in question.
According to Wolf and Hoffman, the most damaging evidence against Patsy Ramsey was handwriting analyses they claim prove she wrote the ransom note found shortly before JonBenet’s body was found in the wine cellar in the family’s basement.
The ransom note
In her ruling, Carnes said the note — addressed to John Ramsey and demanding $118,000 in cash — is one of the longest ransom notes recorded in the history of kidnapping cases.
“This fact is important because the longer a document is, the harder it becomes to disguise one’s handwriting,” Carnes wrote.
The ransom note was signed “S.B.T.C.” after the salutation “Victory!”
The judge wrote that the ransom note was taken from paper at the Ramseys’ home and written with a pen that belonged to them.
She wrote that both the Ramseys and Wolf agreed the ransom note was not an “ideal specimen” for handwriting analysis because a broad fiber-tip pen was used.
“This type of pen distorts and masks fine detail to an extent not achievable by other types of pens, as for example a ball-point ben,” Carnes wrote.
However, Carnes wrote that the handwriting in the ransom note was consistent throughout the entire writing, contrary to someone trying to hide their handwriting style.
“One of the most common means to disguise one’s handwriting is to attempt to make the script erratic throughout the text,” Carnes wrote.
Investigators consulted with six handwriting experts, four hired by police and two hired by the Ramseys. All six excluded John Ramsey as the author of the note, and none identified Patsy Ramsey as the writer.
“Rather, the experts’ consensus was that she ‘probably did not’ write the ransom note,” Carnes wrote.
On a scale of one to five, with five eliminating someone from suspicion as the author of the ransom note, the experts placed Patsy Ramsey at 4.5 to 4.0, Carnes wrote.
Wolf and Hoffman, however, hired their own handwriting experts, Gideon Epstein and Cina Wong, who said they were “100 percent certain” Mrs. Ramsey wrote the ransom note.
“In contrast to the experts relied upon by defendants and by the Boulder Police Department, however, neither of these experts have ever seen or examined the original ransom note,” Carnes wrote. “In fact, Mr. Epstein and Ms. Wong do not know what ‘generation’ copy of the ransom note they examined.”
Carnes points out that other people under suspicion other than Patsy Ramsey were not eliminated as possible authors of the ransom note, including Wolf himself.
“For example, forensic document examiner Lloyd Cunningham cannot eliminate plaintiff as the author of the ransom note,” Carnes wrote. “Plaintiff’s ex-girlfriend has also testified that she was ‘struck by how the handwriting in the note resembled (Wolf’s) own handwriting,’ and believes that he is the note’s author.”
The other suspects
The Ramseys’ book “The Death Of Innocence” names five people who they believe should be further investigated, including Wolf.
According to Carnes, Wolf was identified as a possible suspect by Detective Lou Smit, who said there were too many “unanswered questions” about him.
In August 1997, Wolf’s then-girlfriend, Jacqueline Dilson, told Patsy Ramsey’s sister, Pam Paugh, that she believed Wolf was involved in JonBenet’s murder.
According to the Ramseys’ book, Dilson had reported to the police that Wolf had disappeared on Christmas Day and returned at 5:30 a.m. the next day. Dilson said he took a shower and went to sleep.
The next day, Dilson claims, Wolf watched the television report of JonBenet’s death and became angry, claiming that he believed JonBenet had been sexually abused by her father.
Dilson told Paugh and police that Wolf hated big business and once had a sweatshirt with the initials SBTC on it, which stood for the Santa Barbara Tennis Club. SBTC was the signature at the end of the ransom note.
Police never publicly named Wolf or other people named in the Ramseys’ book as suspects.
Carnes notes in her ruling that one man named in the Ramseys’ book, Michael Helgoth, committed suicide two months after the murder and one day after District Attorney Alex Hunter announced they were narrowing the search for JonBenet’s killer.
A stun gun was found near Mr. Helgoth’s body, as well as “HI-TEC” boots. Evidence in the case suggests that JonBenet’s killer used a stun gun on her. Unidentified shoeprints from HI-TEC boots also were found in the Ramseys’ basement.
Another possible suspect is Gary Olivia, a transient with a history of child molestation, who was seen in the Boulder area in December 1996. Carnes wrote that Olivia picked up his mail one block from the Ramsey home and was present at JonBenet’s memorial service.
The Ramseys also identified Bill McReynolds as someone who should be investigated. McReynolds, a former University of Colorado journalism professor, portrayed Santa Claus at the Ramseys’ home for the third consecutive year in 1996 — two nights before the 6-year-old was found slain.
In addition, McReynolds’ wife had written a play about a young girl held captive in a basement.
Carnes also noted that McReynolds’ daughter had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted 22 years to the day before JonBenet’s death. A card written to JonBenet from McReynolds was found in her trash can after the murder.
McReynolds died at the age of 72 last September. Police said they never considered him a serious suspect.
A new beginning
Last December, at the request of District Attorney Mary Keenan, Boulder police handed the primary responsibility of investigating the murder over to the district attorney’s office.
Smit, who had left the investigation after he said police were ignoring other leads, is back on the case.
Keenan’s announcement last week that she agrees with Carnes’ ruling is an about-face in the investigation, and it clearly has created some waves between Keenan and the Boulder police, who feel she was criticizing their focus on the Ramseys.
However, Chief Mark Beckner said in his own statement that he was not going to debate the weight of the evidence in the case.
“It is still our hope that this investigation will lead to a successful prosecution of JonBenet’s killer, whoever that may be,”