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8/18/2006

CU prof helped lead authorities to suspect

Chase Squires
The Associated Press

BOULDER — University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey said he swapped e-mails for four years with a man interested in the JonBenet Ramsey case, never knowing his name, never feeling the need to contact authorities.

Until May.

Something was different, Tracey recalled Thursday, refusing to be more specific. He gave the voluminous correspondence to prosecutors, and that, he said, led to this week’s arrest of 41-year-old John Mark Karr in the unsolved slaying that remains one of the nation’s most puzzling crimes.

It all started with a single e-mail in 2002, one of thousands Tracey said he gets in response to his documentaries on the 1996 slaying of the 6-year-old beauty pageant queen. Over the years, that one contact grew. Tracey said he exchanged hundreds of messages with the mystery man on the other end of his Internet connection.

Tracey, 58, revealed little about the contents of the e-mails Thursday.

He said he’s received thousands of e-mails from amateur sleuths and the curious, but none hinted at direct involvement in JonBenet’s death. Most just offered theories, many wacky, he said, “including a connection to 9/11.”

They were nothing to worry about, however. Until that one e-mail from the person who had shown an enduring fascination.

“There was one particular thing that made me decide I had to do something,” Tracey said. “I’m not going to say what it was.”

Pressed on whether his tip was essential to Karr’s arrest, Tracey would only nod and say, “apparently.” Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy refused to discuss any details of the case with reporters Thursday.

Tracey came to Colorado in 1988 from England, where he led a British think tank on media issues. He has published eight books as well as pieces in academic journals and produced three documentaries, including “Who Killed the Pageant Queen? Suspects,” made for NBC’s Dateline mystery series; and “Witness: Who Killed JonBenet?” for British TV.

Tracey praised the DA’s office and took a jab at the Boulder Police Department, often criticized for botching the case in its early stages.

“I think the history of the track record of this case with the police is not great,” he said.

Long a defender of JonBenet’s parents while investigators said they were under an “umbrella of suspicion,” Tracey criticized those who discounted the possibility that an intruder was the real culprit.