Ghost of Christmas Past.. By Jeff Shapiro
Ghost of Christmas Past
Obsessed reporter reveals dark under world behind Ramsey case
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by Jeffery Scott Shapiro 

It was nearly midnight on a warm summer night, May 1998, and the moon was
shining brightly above the Flatirons. I quietly stepped out of my Dodge
Intrepid, where I had been listening to John Fogerty singing "The Midnight

Around my shoulder was a backpack-filled with a white nylon cord, a roll of
black duct tape and a black metal Mag-Lite. The ingredients of the bag were all
too familiar to any Boulder cop-the same types of items that may have been used
in the murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey on Dec. 25, 1996.

As an investigative reporter tracking the little girl's killer, I found it
helpful to carry such items. I hoped seeing these items would help me think
like the killer, enter his mindset and, little by little, understand his

I had developed a cozy professional relationship with Boulder District Attorney
Alex Hunter, who allowed me routine access to his office and frequently
confided in me his views of the case. The top prosecutor told me he was
concerned that the police were too convinced of John and Patsy Ramsey's guilt,
and, as a result, no one was chasing other leads. I had already spent a year
investigating the Ramseys, working undercover in the family's church,
interviewing their friends and even traveling to John Ramsey's hometown to
piece together his childhood. I still had my suspicions about Patsy, the former
Miss West Virginia, but based on many months of research, I wasn't convinced
she could have committed this brutal and ritualistic killing.

But now, I felt I owed it to JonBenet to look elsewhere. My search for her
killer led me to isolated cabins burrowed deep in some of Colorado's rockiest
canyons, through dark alleyways and into the heart of greater Denver's seedy
sexual underground. Little by little, my case files began to shine a light into
a dark corner of society that I never knew existed.

My reasons for suspecting an intruder stemmed from a theory developed by Lou
Smit, a former Colorado Springs detective. Smit was a veteran homicide
investigator who had worked on more than 200 murders over a course of 30 years.
Based on several conversations I had with Smit, I was able to piece together
what he believed happened that Christmas night when JonBenet was murdered. In
time, I drew a mental picture of what could have happened. The following
account is speculation, bolstered by my conversations with Smit and other
members of the law enforcement community:

While the Ramseys were out having dinner, an intruder stealthily entered their
home after removing a grate from a basement window-well in their backyard, and
slipped into their home. In my mind, the killer was a young, high-risk
pedophile, a social outcast with a God complex who believed he had the divine
right to take life. This wouldn't surprise me since the intruder strangled
JonBenet Christmas night and used a ransom demand of $118,000. Police thought
the amount might be related to Psalm 118, part of which reads: "bind the
sacrifice with cords unto the horns of the altar." Within minutes, the intruder
began familiarizing himself with the house, perusing books, files and opening
closet doors and dresser drawers. He also left an open copy of the Holy Bible
on John Ramsey's desk to Psalm 35, a passage about being falsely accused of a

While waiting for the Ramseys to come home, he wrote the infamous three-page
ransom note with a Sharpie pen on a pad he found in the house. Then, he
patiently waited in a second-floor guest bedroom located above the garage, next
to JonBenet's bedroom. When the family arrived home at 10 p.m., the intruder
hid under the bed and waited for the family to go to sleep. Then, he entered
JonBenet's bedroom and attacked her with a stun gun on her back, then carried
her downstairs.

On the way downstairs, he left the three-page ransom note on the steps. Before
going into the basement, the intruder noticed an alarm panel with its lights
on. Knowing that the alarm could be wired to any door or window in the house
except the one he'd already come through, he carried JonBenet back to the
basement. Once there, he tried stuffing JonBenet into a large hard suitcase he
found so he could take her away without anyone seeing her. However, the
suitcase didn't fit through the window, and the intruder couldn't get through
the grate while carrying the little girl in his arms. Knowing he couldn't take
JonBenet with him without exiting from upstairs and risking the alarm sounding,
the intruder decided to sexually molest her in the basement of her own home.

Using a package of white nylon cord and a roll of black duct tape he'd brought
with him, the intruder silenced JonBenet and bound her in a ritualistic
choke-chain-like garrote, which enabled him to suffocate her, if necessary. He
then tied the white cord to the paintbrush handle he'd broken into three
separate parts. The intruder then sexually penetrated the six-year old with the
sharp end of the paintbrush handle.

Then, perhaps to satisfy his own bloodlust or simply silence her, the intruder
stunned JonBenet on her face to incapacitate her and then strangled her. While
struggling to breathe, JonBenet clawed at the rope, which explains the deep
fingernail marks on her neck. Before she could get free, the intruder struck
her across the head with an aluminum baseball bat which police found on the
north side of the house. The killer then left the house through the basement
window, perhaps using the suitcase as a step-up to the window well.

Police never found the roll of tape, the remainder of the cord or the sharp end
of the paintbrush handle. They did, however, find an unidentified palm print on
the door to the windowless room where JonBenet's body was discovered the next
morning, as well as a boot-print from his climbing boots inside the room.

Despite her massive head wound, JonBenet barely bled. In addition, she had
petechiae, indicating she had been strangled. Blood vessels underneath her eyes
had ruptured, telling Smit she'd been unable to breathe at the time she was hit
in the head. To Smit, this was proof the garrote had been around JonBenet's
neck first, suggesting the murder had been premeditated. Since the FBI had no
record on file of a parent ever killing a child with a garrote, Smit believed
an intruder-a fantasy stalker-had committed the crime.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence of an intruder was the foreign DNA
commingled in her vaginal blood. It was a minuscule amount, but its "markers"
matched those found in skin tissue under JonBenet's fingernails on both of her
hands. Had JonBenet clawed her assailant while trying to break free from the

When Hunter first suggested I search for intruders, there were scant leads.
Some involved former Access Graphics employees and others were just strange
figures in the bizarre world of child pageantry. To date, the Boulder Police
Department has considered 140 different people as possible suspects in the
little girl's murder. With exception of the Ramsey children, says Boulder
Police Chief Mark Beckner, nobody has been formally cleared.

To acknowledge the fifth anniversary of JonBenet's death, the city distributed
a press release with statistics about the $1.7 million investigation. It
mentions 140 "possible suspects" who've been interviewed to date. What it
doesn't convey are the macabre circumstances that link some of those 140 people
to the investigation.

Investigating and interviewing some of the more intriguing people on that list,
I learned some amazing things that changed the way I view life. What follows is
a sampling of what I found:

The Prophet
Among the first "possible suspects" I studied was "The Prophet."
I had learned of The Prophet from an e-mail he sent his friends about how the
Boulder police came to his apartment in 1997 to confiscate his Hi-Tec boots, a
Sharpie marker and a stun gun-three things possibly used in JonBenet's murder.

The CU student came under investigation after police found his Internet site-a
series of essays about sadomasochism, which included an instructional piece
about Japanese bondage and how to tie complex knots.

On the website, known as "Wide Awake," The Prophet had posted a self-authored
essay called "Barbie Doll, The Ultimate Fuck." His essay chronicled the sexual
torture of Barbie in an extremely sadistic, vicious manner. When John Ramsey
found JonBenet, the killer had left the girl's Barbie doll nightgown beside

Few people around town knew The Prophet. But during his college years, the
manager of a local diner allowed him to hang a mobile of naked Barbie dolls
from the restaurant's ceiling. As I was investigating The Prophet in the summer
of 1998, I found a similar doll in the Ramsey's front yard, stuffed inside a
tiny white sandal. I wondered if the shoe had once belonged to JonBenet. The
blonde doll had a little white rope around her neck and a red spot marked on
her gown by her vaginal area. I immediately called the police who collected the
item into evidence.

In his book Mindhunter, former FBI profiler John Douglas-who was employed by
the Ramsey's to profile the killer-described men who torture Barbie dolls and
predicted they would eventually advance to torturing small, helpless girls.

The Prophet's Internet site featured strange graphics, with a variety of
different kinds of hearts. Some hearts had spikes coming out of them. I
recalled that when JonBenet's body was found, a small shape like a red heart
had been drawn on her left hand.

So I decided to knock on The Prophet's apartment door in order to discuss these
issues. A student told me the previous tenant moved to San Francisco. Today,
The Prophet lives and works in Denver and remains among the ranks of the city's
140 "possible suspects."

The Chase case
Four days shy of the first anniversary of JonBenet's death, CU student Susannah
Chase was found dead on a Boulder sidewalk. She had been murdered while walking
home from the Pearl Street Mall on Dec. 21, 1997. I knew from my conversations
with John Ramsey that he suspected his daughter's murderer had also killed
Chase, since they were both struck fatally in the head around Christmas time.
In fact, Chase had been struck with an aluminum baseball bat.

Not long after the Chase murder, I would learn of a man known as "The
Warrior"-an American Indian who had studied political science at the University
of Colorado at the time of Chase's murder. The Warrior was a tall, violent
young man who had nearly killed his mother in Virginia by striking her across
the head with a shotgun. Police stumbled across The Warrior when someone filed
ethnic intimidation charges against him for leaving a threatening, anti-Semitic
message on an answering machine. "I will find you," The Warrior said. "Do you
hear me? Do you understand me? I will steal your breath from you."

Police became concerned when they went into the bedroom of his apartment and
found it wallpapered with hundreds of news clippings from the Chase and Ramsey

A judge issued an order to have DNA samples taken from The Warrior. The order
recounted information The Warrior's roommate had told investigators. The
roommate told investigators that The Warrior had made a bumper sticker that
stated: "I killed her." The roommate reportedly asked The Warrior, "Which
one-Susannah Chase or JonBenet Ramsey?" The Warrior replied, "Either, or."

I was looking forward to meeting The Warrior when I received a disappointing
call from one of my colleagues, Matt Sebastian-who was the lead police reporter
for the Boulder Daily Camera. Sebastian, who himself was hot on the trail of
The Warrior, told me that The Warrior had an air-tight alibi in the Chase
case-namely, proof that he was out of state at the time of her death.

The Falcon
As suspicion surrounding The Warrior waned, I became aware of another CU
student who was finding himself under the umbrella of suspicion surrounding
JonBenet and Chase. Matthew Falcon came under scrutiny by police after he was
arrested in connection with a vicious assault. He had asked a young woman for
directions, then struck her across the head with a metal rod, causing her to
stumble and fall. When she came to, Falcon apologized and asked the woman if
she was OK. When the woman nodded and asked him the same question, Falcon shook
his head. "No. Run while you still can," he warned her. Police quickly located
the man and charged him with assault. He was considered a suspect in the Chase
case, but was eventually cleared.

The Santa
I was sitting inside my Pearl Street apartment looking through my case files
when I got a curious call from a Boulder detective asking me for information.

"Do you know where we could find Charles Kuralt?" he asked, referring to the
revered TV journalist.

His question related to a new lead that had developed regarding Bill "Santa"
McReynolds. Most in Boulder knew McReynolds-a white-bearded, pot-bellied former
professor of journalism at CU who enjoyed playing Santa during his retirement.

McReynolds had played Santa at the Ramsey's Christmas parties in the past.
Patsy had planned to cancel that year's Christmas party since she was exhausted
from her recent 40th birthday bash at the Brown Palace Hotel. But that all
changed after McReynolds told Patsy that Kuralt's crew had contacted him.
Kuralt was doing a show on men who play Santa, and if Patsy was willing to have
the party, he could produce Kuralt on her front doorstep.

Despite the fact that Patsy had the party on Dec. 23, Kuralt bowed out after
getting tired of following McReynolds during the daytime. Later, the Ramseys
wondered if McReynolds used the Kuralt story as a way to see JonBenet at the
Christmas party.

McReynolds was linked to some other strange phenomena that landed him a prime
spot under the umbrella of suspicion:

*        A friend of the Ramseys told police JonBenet had confided in her that
Santa promised her a special visit after Christmas was over. 
*        His own 9-year-old daughter, Jill, had been kidnapped by a sexual
predator on Dec. 26, 1974. Jill and her friend were eventually brought home.
Jill had escaped violence, but her friend, who was sexually molested, had not.
The assailant was never found. 
*        Janet McReynolds, a.k.a. Mrs. Claus, had written a play in 1976 called
Hey Rube, about a girl adopted by foster parents who sexually abused her in a
basement cellar. The play was a flop, but it didn't stop Boulder police from
passing out copies to the Ramsey investigative team. 
*        McReynolds loved JonBenet. His fireplace was littered with photographs
of her. When Newsweek reporter Dan Glick visited McReynolds at his Nederland
home, McReynolds showed him a small wooden harp with the names of dead children
carved on it's side. When McReynolds held the harp up, he shared a small secret
with the veteran reporter, who later shared it with me.

"I've saved a small place right here for JonBenet's name," McReynolds told

Police were suspicious of McReynolds, but with no hard evidence the search
continued. McReynolds, tired of public scrutiny about his connection to the
Ramseys, fled Boulder with his wife and moved to Illinois.

The Wolf
One day, I got a tip with new information regarding a man I'd met months
before-Chris Wolf.

I didn't know it at the time, but recent information indicates he may have
known McReynolds while studying at the University of Colorado-despite claims by
each man that they've never known each other. Chris Wolf was a local reporter
whose girlfriend, Jacqueline Dilson, had accused him of killing both JonBenet
Ramsey and Susannah Chase. I initially met with Wolf in the fall of 1997 to
tell him what I had learned, although he had a difficult time accepting the
fact his own girlfriend was the tipster who caused his most recent ordeals.

Despite his reputation for being somewhat aggressive and argumentative, I
sensed a deep sadness within Wolf that often made me feel sorry for him.

He had traveled throughout the United States and Latin America, where he
quickly bonded with poverty-stricken peasants and adopted an anti-imperialist
political view on the world. Eventually, he moved to Boulder where he earned a
master's degree in journalism at CU and went on to work as a mountain climbing
instructor for Outward Bound, an outdoor confidence building program.

Later, Wolf worked at various local newspapers as a reporter, where he
sometimes engaged in passionate arguments with his co-workers about politics.
Wolf had a peculiar past-including a history of working as a male stripper and
a 1992 indecent exposure charge to which he pleaded guilty. These facts were
revealed by Wolf just recently during a deposition by lawyers for the Ramsey's,
who are defending the couple against a libel suit filed by Wolf. Wolf is suing
the Ramseys because they named him as prime suspect in their book The Death of

Wolf became a surprising suspect in the JonBenet case when Dilson told police
only two weeks after JonBenet's murder that Wolf had disappeared the night
JonBenet was killed. She told police Wolf was wearing a tennis club-style
sweatshirt, which said "Santa Barbara." Since the supposed foreign faction
claiming responsibility for JonBenet's kidnapping in the ransom note identified
itself as "SBTC," Dilson wondered if it stood for "Santa Barbara Tennis Club."

Dilson also claimed:
*        She saw a package of cord on his dresser. 
*        He owned mountain climbing boots. 
*        He often expressed hostile emotions when talking about John Ramsey and
Access Graphics' parent company, Lockheed Martin, which he believed was
responsible for exploiting third-world countries. 
*        She awoke in the early morning hours of Dec. 26 to find Wolf with mud
on the Santa Barbara sweatshirt and a pair of black jeans. When she asked where
he'd been, he grew angry with her.

There was one other interesting possible connection. Wolf worked as a reporter
for the Boulder County Business Report at the time of JonBenet's murder. I
learned that police had found an issue of the newspaper in the Ramsey house,
which featured a story about John Ramsey. There was a heart drawn around
Ramsey's picture and on the inside of the issue was a separate story, written
by Wolf. It sounded like a strange coincidence, nothing more.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough to visit Dilson. She allowed me to read
Wolf's journals. As I read about his journeys in El Salvador, I realized that
Wolf's Marxist viewpoints were strikingly similar to the politics expressed in
the ransom note.

Wolf had previously said that before JonBenet's murder, he'd never even heard
of Ramsey's company, Access Graphics. But based on his reporting notes, he
actually interviewed a company spokeswoman there several months before the
murder took place. Had he simply forgotten? Perhaps. Reporters don't remember
many of the stories they write, especially the softer features.

Later, when I was examining Wolf's boots, Dilson approached me.
"Can you feel it?" she asked me. I nodded slowly. I felt something-my heart was
pounding, and little by little I began to feel like I was getting closer.
Perhaps an intruder had killed JonBenet, but two important facts seemed to work
in defense of Wolf:

*        Handwriting experts in New York said he was not the author of the
ransom note. 
*        His climbing boots were Danner's, not Hi-Tec, like the print at the
Ramsey house.

My suspicion of Wolf resurfaced briefly when his ex-roommate told me he had
once tried to date Susannah Chase. He later told Boulder Weekly Editor Wayne
Laugesen he was friends with Susannah Chase, and often visited the woman at a
health food store where she worked as a clerk. When Boulder police asked me if
I thought Wolf had killed Chase, I told them I didn't. Eventually, Wolf was
cleared in the Chase murder after I convinced him to cooperate with authorities
by giving them his DNA.

As I wrestled with my personal investigation of Wolf, I heard about "Boots."
Once upon a time, Boots lived with a local woman and her 4-year-old blonde
daughter, until the two had an explosive argument that led to their break-up.
The woman accused the man of masturbating under his blanket while her daughter
was sitting on his bed. Boots lived in a small shack at a local junkyard on
Valmont Road, where he also worked.

On Feb. 13, 1997, DA Hunter had a press conference in order to send a message
to JonBenet's unknown killer: "You will pay for what you have done, and we have
no doubt this will happen." The next day, Valentine's Day, Boots was found dead
in his apartment. Supposedly, he had killed himself with a shotgun.
Immediately, he became another "possible suspect"-albeit a dead one-in the
Ramsey murder.

But the theory that JonBenet's killer got spooked and took his life had a
gaping hole in it: The suicide began to look like a murder. Boots was
right-handed and the bullet's trajectory went from left to right. In addition,
someone had placed a pillow in front of his chest before firing the gun,
something professional killers do to muffle the noise of a gunshot. In
addition, Boots was a former military sharpshooter and parachutist who had been
trained to use an M16 Rifle and hand grenades. I wondered: If Boots was a
sharpshooter, why the odd trajectory?

When police took crime scene photos at Boots' apartment, two items grabbed
their attention. Not only was there a pair of Hi-Tec climbing boots by the dead
man's feet, there was a stun gun beside his hand and a Taser in the distance.
Supposedly, Boots also owned a baseball cap with the letters "SBTC" on it.
Later, a friend of Boots found a videotape in the dead man's apartment that
intrigued police. It was footage of a newscast from a couple of years before.
The news story featured an unsolved case involving a kidnapped and murdered
6-year-old girl. Was the newscast a random recording left behind by someone
else? Or was it a trophy of some kind?

Since the ransom note refers to at least two other kidnappers, Lou Smit
believes it's possible more than one person was involved. It was strange that
some of the exact items used in JonBenet's attack had been found next to his
body. Had the second kidnapper killed his ex-partner hoping to get police
detectives off his trail? If so, his ploy failed. Even though Smit and I found
the Boots' story compelling, Boulder police weren't biting-at least not hard.

The saint
"Thomas Aquinas" was a transient. A paranoid schizophrenic who collected his
mail at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on 14th Street, only a block
from the Ramsey home. Oregon law enforcement authorities say he tried to
strangle his mother, and he managed to make Oregon's registered sex offender
list in 1991 for molesting a young girl. He later spent time in a mental health

Eventually, the disturbed man found his way to Boulder and fell under suspicion
after Boulder police learned he had broken into a building at CU. Looking
through the transient's backpack, police found a stun gun and a poem he'd
written about JonBenet and Susannah Chase.

Eventually, I learned that Aquinas and I had crossed paths at JonBenet's home
during a one-year anniversary vigil for the girl. Photographs taken by private
investigators working for the Ramseys revealed that Aquinas was in the front
row, holding a folder sealed tightly with a strip of smooth, black duct tape.
Authorities seem to have lost track of Aquinas, and at least one private
investigator working on the case says he'd love to find the man.

Kidnapping kits
Since I began working on JonBenet's murder five years ago, I've encountered
many people who ask me the same thing when I espouse the intruder theory. "But
who would try to kidnap a little girl like that?"

I tell them about Gary Dale Cox in Texas. I read about Cox, suspected serial
child abductor in the Fort Worth area, in the Houston Chronicle. Cox, the
newspaper reported, killed himself after police began closing in on him. In his
trailer and car were an abundance of duct tape and cord as well as a stun gun.
It dawned on me: The items used in JonBenet's murder could almost be considered
a standard kit used by serial child kidnappers and pedophiles.

I often reflect on my conversations with Alex Hunter, whom I credit with having
had the courage to resist public pressure to indict the Ramseys. Hunter knew
there wasn't enough evidence to try the Ramseys or anyone else at the time. "I
think there's more to this than we realize," Hunter once told me. "We owe it to
that little girl to find the truth-no matter what it costs."

Like some police and private investigators, I have made a personal commitment
to continue investigating this case until it is solved. And I firmly believe it
will be solved. If I never know the identity of JonBenet's killer, I will know
this as a result of my pursuit of him: People are strange. Society is strange.
And truth is so much stranger than fiction.
Suspect in girls' abduction found dead in Kerrville
Published: Friday, May 04, 2001
Associated Press

KERRVILLE, Texas {AP}— A convicted child sex offender suspected of abducting girls and holding them in a Central Texas cabin killed himself when authorities stopped him Friday. His most recent victim was safe and being reunited with her family, officials said.


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A sheriff's deputy stopped Gary Dale Cox, 48, in his vehicle about six miles outside Kerrville. Cox got out, holding a pistol, while 11-year-old Leah Henry of Houston bolted from the passenger side, said FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne in Slidell, La.

Cox then shot himself in the head, Thorne said.

Leah was being examined at a Kerrville hospital while her parents traveled to meet her.

"She doesn't sound her confident self, but she's OK," the girl's mother, Linda Henry, said before leaving Houston. "She's talking and she sounded very timid, perhaps scared — maybe exhausted. But she's talking."

Houston police Lt. G. Mason said law enforcement officials had narrowed their search for Cox based on computer background checks and a traffic stop in Hondo a couple of months ago.

"We had already come up with his name and had associated him with that case and were working on it at the time the deputy stopped him and he committed suicide," Mason said.

Cox's criminal record in Texas shows one sexual offense involving a child in 1989, and at least four more involving girls ages 12 to 14 in 1992-95. He spent three years in prison and registered in 1999 as a sex offender in Montgomery County, records state.

After he disappeared from a Houston halfway house in March 2000, a warrant was issued for his arrest, according to records. He had been listed as a missing sex offender since last year.

This is a Texas Dept. of Public Safety file photo of Gary Dale Cox, 48, a convicted child sex offender suspected of abducting girls and holding them in a Central Texas cabin. Cox killed himself when authorities stopped him Friday, May 4, 2001 near Kerville, Texas. His most recent victim was safe, an FBI official said.

Associated Press Photo

After Leah disappeared Tuesday, federal agents and police began identifying similarities between her disappearance and that of two other girls who eventually were set free.

Nykema Augustine, 9, of San Antonio was abducted in March, while 11-year-old Lisa Bruno was lured from outside her Slidell home in April.

Both girls were playing at their apartment complexes when they were approached by a man described as potbellied with light brown hair who asked for help.

Both were whisked away and held captive for days: Lisa in a locked room at an unknown location for almost two weeks; Nykema for five days in a boarded-up cabin about a two-hour drive from San Antonio, authorities said.

Lisa reappeared Sunday at a bus station in New Orleans after her abductor released her in Lafayette and bought her a bus ticket home. Nykema's kidnapper dropped her off about a block from her apartment.

Based on highway signs the girls said they saw and the amount of time they spent in their abductor's car, law enforcement officials deduced they had been in the San Antonio area. They began searching Thursday and Friday for a cabin or shack near Seguin.

Leah apparently was being held in a deer hunting camp in Kerr County, about 70 miles northwest of Seguin, in what the sheriff described as a rugged, brushy area.

"We had a tip on the suspect vehicle, and when the officers checked, it was the suspect and the girl," said Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer. "The little girl is safe and sound, and the suspect is deceased, and that's all I can say at this time."

The case also may have turned on the suspect's vehicle, identified by a number of witnesses, described as a white or light gray hatchback. Thorne confirmed that the vehicle found Friday was the one in question, although repainted and carrying a different license plate.

"The main thing is this child is safe and the individual is dead," Slidell police Chief Ben Morris said. "The perpetrator is in the hands of God and hopefully he has washed his hands of him and put him where he belongs."

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