Westword article on Ramsey Internet sleuths:
With the new fall television season almost here, how does this premise grab
you: A group of women, ordinary gals -- housewives, soccer moms, office workers
-- decide to spice up their humdrum lives by entering the glamorous and
exciting world of undercover private investigation. Been done before, you say?
Wasn't Charlie's Angels about a group of bored, albeit sexy, policewomen
recruited to work for a private investigator?
Well, then, here's a Nineties twist: They use the Internet to catch the
killers. Still not interested? Okay, get this: They solve real-life crimes,
crimes ripped from the front pages of today's newspapers. And there are bad
guys, too -- other Netheads who cause trouble and work as enemy spies and throw
out bitchy one-liners every now and again. Very Heather Locklear.
And here's the kicker: The action centers on Boulder, Colorado. It's The Net
meets Golden Girls, with a splash of Murder, She Wrote thrown in.
Nah. Too ridiculous. Not even Aaron Spelling would produce something that
far-fetched. It could never happen, not even on TV.
But it could happen online. After all, virtual reality is stranger than
Meet shorty, tinky, CatNip, mapek and, of course, Mrs. Brady. These gals are
plugged in and ready for action. Their tools: the Net. Their destination:
Boulder. Their target: JonBenét Ramsey's killer. Look out, sugar, 'cause here
More than twenty months have passed since JonBenét Ramsey, a six-year-old
beauty queen, was discovered murdered in the basement of her Boulder home on
December 26, 1996. Although the investigation into her death has yet to produce
an indictment, it's already given birth to a creature that grows larger every
day: the JonBenét virtual community.
The seeds of this online phenomenon were planted just days after the murder in
the Boulder News Forum, an online service of Boulder's Daily Camera where
people can post messages to one another or respond to other people's posts.
They can also chat in real-time with one another in a virtual chat room. While
Boulder residents were still suggesting publicly that local grocery stores ban
the tabloids that were focusing on JonBenét's murder, this was one of the early
places where people went to talk about the case's scintillating details and to
go over the list of possible suspects: an unknown local sicko, the big-haired
mama, the ice-cold daddy, the big brother, the little brother, Santa. It was an
online game of Clue.
At first just a few curiosity seekers came. Some, as they say in Net lingo,
were "newbies," wet-behind-the-ears novices who didn't know a TCP/IP from an
ISP but simply wanted to find out a little more about the story that had caught
the country's attention. Soon thousands were searching the Net for JonBenét
information. The Boulder Planet even registered ramseycase.com and
ramseymurder.com to keep the nation updated. (Both URLs are long since
defunct.) As the case dragged on, though, those who trolled the Net for Ramsey
tidbits were looking for more than news updates. Mostly middle-aged white
women, these surfers logged on to get their fix. JonBenét was now more than
news. The case was their life.
Thousands of chat hours and megabytes of Web pages later, a virtual community
of amateur detectives has formed -- a community of snoop sisters with friends
and enemies, good guys and bad guys, internal gossip and scandal, infighting
and name-calling, and, above all, an overriding obsession with all things
On September 18, this virtual community will become flesh -- like something out
of a science fiction movie. After nearly two years of electronic
correspondence, thirty or so of these online enthusiasts have decided to step
out of the ether and materialize on the streets of Boulder.
"An active contingent wanted to meet in Las Vegas," says Mrs. Brady. (That's an
online pseudonym -- or "hat" -- that the forty-something mom from Pennsylvania
uses to keep her true identity secret.) "I held out for Boulder or nothing."
It's hard to blame Mrs. Brady for wanting to get as close to the scene of the
crime as possible. After all, her Web page, Mrs. Brady's URLs, is one of the
premier JonBenét Web destinations.
When JonBenét was killed, Mrs. Brady didn't have much Internet experience.
"Retired" from her job as director of operations for a large franchising
company, she was just "floating around," she says, and found herself hooked on
JonBenét. By February, she'd "jumped in with both feet."
Today, Mrs. Brady's page is one of the prime jumping-off points for those who
want to immerse themselves in the minutiae of the Ramsey investigation. She
starts her day scouring the Internet, looking for the latest word on the case.
She then posts links to the latest news sources from her Web site. (Her
dedication won her a 1998 Westword Best of Denver award, an honor she's posted
on her page.)
But while Mrs. Brady is just dying to see for herself the house where JonBenét
Ramsey was found dead (she recently took a trip to Atlanta to visit the current
Ramsey residence), she says she's really looking forward to finally meeting her
cyber buddies. Although she's had a couple of eye-to-eye encounters with a few
of the people she's met online over the past months, this is the biggest
gathering to date.
"When you chat and e-mail back and forth," explains Martha Knapp, an active
community member (code name: mapek) who is one of the primary organizers of the
Boulder gathering, "you talk about your lives." In doing so, she says, people
develop real relationships, with interests that go far beyond the JonBenét
Originally from Michigan, Knapp, a writer specializing in business
communication, moved to Kansas a few years ago to help her aging mother. She
found the Internet gave her a social outlet. "We've become such a mobile
society," she says. "Most people don't live in the place where they grew up."
Knapp herself contributes to Cybersleuths, a page somewhat like Mrs. Brady's
URLs, but with a wider range of information on true-crime stories, including
The JonBenét forums and chats give her the "chance to have those
over-the-back-fence chats," Knapp adds, calling the online JonBenét community
"almost like a sisterhood."
Experts say it's not surprising that people within this virtual community feel
so strongly about each other and about their group. "People are people," says
Stacy Horn, author of Cyberville, an examination of the Echo online community
she started at New York University. "That doesn't change when they get online."
Electronic communities, she adds, are "an exact reflection of what communities
are, of what families are."
But where there's family, there's dysfunction. The original posters on the
Boulder News Forum left because Internet pranksters ran virtually rampant.
According to Teri McCord (code name: tinky), a Kansas City mother of three
who's dabbled in writing crime novels and is planning a trip to Boulder this
month with her husband and kids in tow (they want to make their way up to Estes
Park, a favorite vacation spot), the Boulder News Forum "became so obscene at
times I just got out. People would post these vulgar, nasty things and tie it
McCord and others migrated to IRC -- Internet relay chat, another form of
online chatting -- but that, too, had problems. "There are all kinds of punk
kids who like to trash people. It was a real ordeal," says Knapp. Eventually
the group moved to the Forum at a Web page hosted by Joshua-7, which also
housed Mrs. Brady's URLs. Earlier this year, Joshua-7 was reborn as
Today, there are four primary Web pages for online discussion regarding
JonBenét. JusticeWatch, Boulder News Forum (it's cleaned up its act, say McCord
and others), peterboyles.com (the home page of the KHOW radio talk-show host)
and WebbSleuths (see "Must-See Sites," right).
Within these discussions, however, two distinct factions have sprung up. There
are those who think the Ramsey parents murdered their child and those who think
the Ramseys are innocent. Or, in forum/chat lingo, it's the Pro-Rams vs. the
Anti-Rams. Some claim that there's a third faction, the Fence Sitters, but
they're mostly lumped in with the Anti-Rams. And if either side suspects you're
loyal to the wrong faction, look out: These ladies' flames are hot enough to
singe your eyebrows.
Take, for instance, the most notorious Pro-Ram, Jameson, who for fear of
reprisal does not want his/her true identity or even gender disclosed (most
posters refer to him as "he"). Communicating only via America Online's Instant
Message function, Jameson, who lives in North Carolina, explains: "Since I
support the Ramseys I have been targeted by many. They've threatened to burn my
house down, to hurt me and my family." Jameson also complains of prank phone
calls and other harassment. Though Jameson says he's no agent of the Ramseys,
he claims he's been in contact with friends and family of the couple. "Please
don't push here," he pleads, when asked for specifics.
In true conspiracy theory fashion, some chatters on peterboyles.com have
hypothesized that Jameson and John Ramsey are one and the same. "That's a
stupid theory," Jameson responds. "Peter Boyles told me to f*ck myself in his
chat area," claims Jameson, who says he believes the Ramseys are fully
innocent. " said I had been ragging on him for months."
Boyles admits he made the comment. He says that during one of his weekly online
chats, Jameson, whom he calls "this weird stalker person," showed up. By that
time, he had heard enough from this particular Rammer, as he likes to call the
Pro-Rams, and let Jameson, who he is convinced is a woman, have it. "I would
get just unbelievable amounts of e-mail from her."
After being banned from JusticeWatch's forum -- "because I have a strong Ramsey
voice," Jameson says -- he went on to start WebbSleuths, a much more
Ramsey-friendly forum. "The JusticeWatch forum is clearly intended to promote
the 'lynching' of the Ramseys," Jameson says. These days he spends up to
eighteen hours each day working on the Ramsey case and maintaining the
WebbSleuths site. "It is truly a volunteer position," Jameson notes.
And Jameson's volunteerism reaches truly creepy proportions. On August 6,
JonBenét's birthday, he and another Pro-Ram, Anderson, went to the girl's
gravesite in Atlanta and hung angels to commemorate her birth. "It wasn't eerie
at all," Jameson says. "The cemetery is very peaceful and nice."
Jameson says he has no interest in attending the Boulder cyber-sleuth meeting
this month -- not that he's invited. "Many who will attend are 'lynch mob'
members in my eyes and I have no interest in meeting with them," he says, then
adds, "I think it's a shame it's being promoted as some sort of summit
But Mrs. Brady and others coming to the Boulder meeting don't consider
themselves Anti-Ram. "I was very opinionated early on," Mrs. Brady admits. "As
the case went on, I became more of a Fence Sitter." At this point, she says,
she "wouldn't be surprised if they pulled a foreign intruder or a foreign
faction out of the hat. Or, if Patsy confessed, I wouldn't be surprised."
Knapp, who's careful when choosing her words for fear of angering the Pro-Rams,
says that the Ramseys' supporters aren't willing to look at the full case and
are blindly loyal to the family. But in fact, Knapp claims, she hopes the
Ramseys are innocent.
According to Chris Wheeler (code name: CatNip), a 33-year-old longtime
true-crime buff who maintains JusticeWatch, Jameson's pro-Ramsey sentiments
aren't what got him -- or is it her? -- booted from the forum. "I found her
tactics to be such that they create animosity and flame wars and greatly
increase the amount of time I spend moderating the forum," Wheeler says.
Wheeler spends three to four hours each night moderating the JusticeWatch
forum; so far, she's invested about $400 in her online obsession. Her trip to
Boulder will likely more than double that investment.
Wheeler herself has experienced some verbal abuse online, though not from
Jameson specifically. When word got around the online community that she was
taking on JusticeWatch, someone tracked down her name and home address. But
what really upset her was getting flamed on peterboyles.com; she has trouble
even repeating what was written. "On Peter Boyles's forum someone posted,"
Wheeler pauses for a breath, "'that vile flamer that shines Peter Boyles's
shoes with her panties is opening JusticeWatch.'"
Wheeler claims she's never flamed anybody in her life. (Presumably, she's never
shined Boyles's shoes with her panties, either.)
Though Jameson won't be in Boulder to meet face-to-face with his online
adversaries, he has met with other people from the Internet. Lately, he's cast
himself as a clearinghouse for people leaking information to the "authorities."
After receiving an e-mail from someone who wanted to get "something" to
Boulder, Jameson agreed to meet him for the pickup. Since then, he says, he's
often performed such duties for people who want to deliver tips on the case yet
remain anonymous. And some of the tips he passes on, he says, are not favorable
to the Ramseys. He tries not to judge the information he delivers, Jameson
"To pick up tips, I may meet someone at a restaurant or just pick up an
envelope. I have certain pay phones I use," he says. "When I go, my family
knows where I am going. I have a cell phone and always arrange a meeting in a
public place, usually a Cracker Barrel or Dunkin' Donuts -- someplace busy. I
tell them what I will be wearing or carrying -- truly cloak-and-dagger stuff."
But Wheeler says most of the intrigue connected to the online community has
less to do with the actual JonBenét case than it does with the petty
controversies created within the groups themselves. "I think that the
cloak-and-dagger stuff is sort of a historical result of the online
communication of this community," she says. "People take pleasure in finding
out personal information on other posters. That's the amateur sleuth part. If
they can figure that out, I guess they think they've accomplished something."
Here's a conversation that recently took place in the Boulder News Chat when a
lurker -- someone who visits a chat without participating, also known in
JonBenét online circles as a "potted plant" -- entered the room:
CatNip: Who's Xrss?
Patib: A new potted plant.
CatNip: Xrss doesn't talk?
In addition to meeting over dinner, the armchair detectives can take a
sight-seeing tour of Boulder, working off a list of suggested sights compiled
by Knapp. Of course, there's the former Ramsey home, where JonBenét's body was
found. (Knapp is quick to point out that this will not be an organized bus tour
and says her group will be respectful of neighbors.) They also plan to visit
the Boulder County Jail (current home of minor player J.T. Colfax, arrested
last year after he stuffed a burning envelope through the mail slot of the
Ramsey home; he also lifted the morgue log sheet listing JonBenét's body),
McGuckin Hardware (possible source of the rope used in the garrotte), Boulder
County Courthouse, the Boulder Police Department, High Plains Elementary and
Access Graphics. A trip to Rollinsville, the hometown of Bill "Santa"
McReynolds, is also on the itinerary for those interested in attending.
Perhaps the oddest stop on the tour is the Columbia Cemetery gravesite of Tom
Horn, executed in Cheyenne in 1903 for murdering a fourteen-year-old boy. This
past July, authorities found a note attached to Horn's grave addressed to
Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter, threatening to damage the grave if the
Ramseys were not arrested. The group also wants to pose at the Web cam in front
of University Bikes and wave a hello to all the other online buddies who
couldn't make the trip.
The cyber-sleuths are also planning their very own whodunit murder mystery game
-- but one that doesn't involve the facts of the Ramsey case. That would be too
tacky. And as a surprise, Knapp plans to have goodie bags waiting for all the
attendees. She doesn't want to reveal too much about their contents, but they
are certain to contain FBI pens, funny disguises and other stuff any good
Each bag will also hold a T-shirt with a message for JonBenét Ramsey's killer,
printed in lettering that mimics the ransom note: "Listen Carefully! The
Internet Is Watching!
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