Brill's Content
#1
By Katherine Rosman
Issue Date: February 2000
http://www.brillscontent.com/features/benet7_0200.html

THE RAMSEYS ARE FAIR GAME

Time is by no means the only mainstream media organization that has looked to those who employ tabloid tactics to get the goods. Outlets such as Dateline NBC and The New York Times have turned to a Boulder gadfly named Frank Coffman to keep them competitive in their JonBenét coverage.

Coffman, 52, is something of a town crier in the saga. A resident of Boulder for more than 20 years, he once lived a quiet life making Halloween masks and writing occasional columns for a Boulder weekly newspaper. But that was before his town's serenity was rocked by the murder of a little girl. As an accident of proximity, Coffman says, he became entangled in the case.

On December 11, 1998, in his downtown Boulder apartment, which looks like a graduate student's crash pad, Coffman's phone rang. John Ramsey's standing on a street corner by your apartment right now! cried the caller.

Coffman took the cue: He snatched a camera and dashed out the door. Coffman saw Ramsey standing on the street corner with his son, a friend, and one of Ramsey's lawyers; with his heart pounding, Coffman raised his camera, aimed, and fired.

Ramsey wasn't pleased to see Coffman with his camera hoisted. "He attacked me," Coffman says, claiming that Ramsey lunged at him and grabbed his jacket before one of Ramsey's attorneys, Michael Bynum, stopped the potential brawl. (Bynum did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

"I was not stalking him," Coffman says without being asked. Still, he adds, it's "kind of weird to take a picture of somebody like that. I wouldn't do it to anybody else...but John and Patsy Ramsey are fair game."

Despite the scuffle, Coffman snapped a few shots, though the camera's flash didn't go off for the one picture that captured Ramsey allegedly lunging at Coffman. "If that flash had gone off, that would have been a fabulous picture," says Coffman. "It would have made him look so damn guilty. Because people would have said, 'Ah-hah! Here he is. The killer,' " Coffman purrs, adding, "and I don't know that Ramsey killed anybody."

But whether Ramsey killed anyone matters little when you've got an exclusive picture. Coffman says the incident surrounding his photography was reported in an Internet chat room and that once the word was out that he had a few photos of John Ramsey, his phone was ringing like a car alarm in New York City. "The New York Times called me," he says. "I didn't try to sell it, but they said, Look, we want to buy this, we want to publish it, so I said, Okay.

Why not?"

The Times ran one of Coffman's pictures on December 16, 1998, along with an item that described the alleged tussle with Ramsey. Coffman says he made $150 from the sale of the photo. (In addition to getting work from the Times, Coffman says, he has peeped through the windows of the Ramseys' former home in Boulder, taken photos, and sold them to Schiller's movie production team. The photos helped the producers properly re-create the crime scene.)

That the Times considers it newsworthy that a "stalkerazzi" photographer claims to have had his collar grabbed by John Ramsey indicates how far even the most legitimate of news outlets have gone for a JonBenét story. Asked about the paparazzi-like photo, Times deputy picture editor Mike Smith said, "We don't encourage or look for that kind of work."

Coffman says he is not a profiteer seeking to make hard cash off the death of a kid. "I never tried to make money on the Ramsey case," says Coffman. "I never asked anyone to send me money....They just spontaneously-all these people who were so desperate to get information and photographs and whatever on the Ramsey case."

Coffman admits that he now accepts retainers from various media outlets in case he finds himself in possession of information they want, but won't say which outlets. "I'd rather retain my freelance independent status," he reasons.
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