Debunking the Intruder Theory

In order to exhaustively test the Ramsey’s Intruder Theory in the JonBenét Ramsey case, investigative journalist and true crime author, Nick van der Leek, dives into criminal archives around the world.  He highlights insights from five reference cases.

In the 1991 crime drama Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling, a rookie FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer finds herself stumped, and approaches the criminally insane but brilliant Hannibal Lecter for insight.  Using the aphorism, it takes a serial killer to catch a serial killer, Starling hopes the former psychiatrist might prove useful, and he does.

Lambs

Lecter memorably provides this piece of advice as a kick-start to Starling, quoting Marcus Aurelius:

“First principles, Clarice.  Simplicity…Of each particular thing ask what is it in itself?”

More than twenty years after JonBenét Ramsey’s murder, isn’t it time we got the obvious stuff out of the way? If the pervasive view on the ground in Boulder, right or wrong, is that there was no intruder, are we able to explain – even to ourselves – why that is? Instead of tooting the horn about the Ramsey’s potential guilt, what about removing the horn entirely?

We can only do that definitively when we apply first principles.  What is an intruder?  Do we know what a real intruder looks like? Do we know how they operate and why they operate the way they do?  Can we definitively explicate the difference between real world intruders and Ramsey world intruders?

The conventional approach by police and prosecutors tends to be to build one’s case using evidence and holding that up as a counter to other potentially bogus scenarios.  But what if investigators took up the same cudgel as the District Attorney’s office did in the late 90’s when they recruited Lou Smit.  Despite representing the prosecution, Smit’s ambit was to figure out a possible “defense” case.

What if police investigators in the Ramsey case investigated the Intruder Theory from a prosecutor’s perspective – but this time in order to debunk it on its own terms? By humoring the Intruder Theory at some length, it means it has to be tested against hordes of real intruders and real intruder scenarios. How does it stand up to that?

What happens when we hold the Ramsey Intruder Theory up to a prolonged and thorough scrutiny? How does it hold up?  By comparing apples with apples, we may finally see just how rotten the Intruder Theory is, as apples go.

Scenario 1: The Karla Brown Case  Karla Brown

What does a Genuine Intruder Narrative look like?

Karla Brown was a popular all-American girl, a former high school cheerleader with a slim, curvy figure and golden-blonde hair. In the summer of 1977 Karla was photographed by a local newspaper in a string bikini and straw hat walking on a beach. After publication of the photo, Karla’s folks had to change their phone number due to the sheer number of calls from young men wanting to meet their daughter.

On June 20th, 1978, when Karla and her fiancé moved into a new house at 979 Acton, in a middle class suburb of White River, Illinois, the neighbors sat up and noticed.  Brown was engaged to be married, and had moved into a house the day prior to her death.  Even so, it was unusual for unmarried couples to be living together in the 70’s. Having completed the move, Brown and her fiancé, and friends who’d helped haul furniture, gathered in the house for an impromptu party.

The next day, June 21st at around 10:45am, the four foot eleven, 100 pound 22 year old was murdered in the basement of her new home. She was also severely beaten and sexually assaulted. When her fiancé, Mark Fair, and his friend, Thomas Feigenbaum, arrived at 979 Acton, they found the front door unlocked.  Fair immediately became annoyed, saying: “I keep telling Karla to shut the door.”  Inside the house, Fair called out to Karla, to no avail.

After searching the house, Fair went downstairs and saw something that turned his stomach.  His fiancé lay half-naked, with her torso submerged in a barrel.  Her hands were tied behind her back with a white wire and plastic extension cord which had been removed from a box in the basement.  Fair shouted, ran and yanked Karla out of the barrel.  He screamed at Feigenbaum to call emergency services.  When the ambulance arrived, medics found Fair still clutching Karla to his chest, grief-stricken and sobbing. There was an attempt at CPR but after a few minutes it was obvious that Karla hadn’t merely drowned, nor had she died recently.

Karla’s body was covered with a blanket to conceal her body from view to curious onlookers.  The darkening street outside was soon flashing with parked police cruisers.

It became obvious that the attack on Karla had been particularly vicious.  Karla had been bludgeoned on the head, strangled, stabbed and bitten on the shoulder. She was covered in large bruises. She had a cut on her forehead and across her nose and chin.  Her jaw was broken in two places. She appeared to have been strangled with a pair of socks that had been tied together [sourced from an upstairs drawer]. Her air supply was also compromised by the same cord tied around her hands, circling her neck.

The drowning appeared to be staged, as an autopsy showed less water in her lungs than would be the case in a genuine drowning. The dressy winter sweater, strange attire for mid-summer at home, was buttoned to the throat and appeared to be another attempt at staging, by partially redressing the victim. There appeared to be a clear intent to make Karla suffer before and during her death. People involved in the case repeated the term “overkill”.

Similarities to the Ramsey case:

  • Just as in the Ramsey case, all the items used to subdue, restrain and kill Karla Brown were sourced from within the home.
  • There was virtually zero evidence of an intruder. No fingerprints, no fibers, no DNA.
  • Overkill indicative of intense emotion. Just as in the Ramsey case, the victim had been strangled and also suffered a severe strike – in fact, several – to the head. Just as in the Ramsey case, there was also additional bruising, which suggested taunting and torture as part of the overkill. Whoever killed Karla clearly had a degree of emotional investment in the crime.
  • Binding and suffocating. Just as in the Ramsey case, there was not only cord used to restrain the victim, but the cord was not tightly or effectively tied.  It had clearly been cut with a knife.
  • Just as in the Ramsey case, the body had been left for dead in the home long enough for it to stiffen.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Basement as crime scene.
  • Prime suspects in both cases passed polygraph tests.

If we’re going to use weapons and materials sourced from within the home as a reason to suspect an inside job, the Karla Brown case suggests care and caution around this mode of thinking.  It may be true but is it necessarily true?

Yet despite these numerous similarities, besides the fact that the cord in the Karla Brown case was tied directly against her skin, there were at least eight glaring dissimilarities.

  • An unlocked, open front door was clearly a possible point of entry.
  • The exit point was also clear. Unlike the Ramsey case where there were negligible signs of an intruder, in the Brown murder, police noticed a bloody hand print left on the doorknob. This indicated the killer hadn’t washed himself when he’d exited the crime scene, indicative that he lived nearby which meant the risk of being seen was of little concern.
  • Incomplete redressing. Although it appeared JonBenét had her original underclothing changed out, the little girl was nevertheless found not only fully clothed and wiped down but wrapped – covered – in a white comforter. Not so in Karla Brown’s case who was nude below the waist. Whoever had gone to the trouble to redress Karla hadn’t bothered to take much care in the procedure, not in the type of clothing used nor in actually completing the process of redressing. This is suggestive of a lack of intimacy and a lack of access into Karla’s inner world. It may also indicate the intruder was in a hurry to exit the scene. The same cannot be said for the covering up of JonBenét, where the intruder seemed to know his way around, and seemed comfortable to spend a long period of time on the scene, perhaps an hour or several hours.
  • Also different in the Karla Brown case was the lack of ambiguity in the crime scene. Due to blood and water in the basement, and scattered TV trays on the floor, it was obvious the struggle had occurred in situ, that 22 year old Karla was severely hurt during this struggle and from the removed blood-stained tampon, sexually assaulted as well.
  • Karla’s killer didn’t go to elaborate lengths to misdirect the investigation; it appeared to be an impulse-driven attack and her killer simply tried to erase evidence of himself using water. Some investigators theorized that a coffee pot had been used to rinse blood from the couch cushions and perhaps other stained areas.  So the intruder had spent some time at the crime scene after the crime and some staging had occurred.
  • In the Karla Brown case, at least three separate individuals – Eric and Edna Moses, and Paul Main – identified the same suspect, spotted in the area at the time of the murder. In the Ramsey case, there is zero eye witness testimony of someone hanging around the outside of the Ramsey home or approaching it on the night in question. Dogs in the alley behind the house on the garage side to the west were silent that night. Scott Gibbons, the Ramseys’ neighbor to the north, saw strange lights on at midnight that Christmas night.  The “strange” quality implying there was either flickering or some type of movement inside the house, but it seems Griffon assumed these skulkers to be the Ramseys, not an intruder.  Otherwise, he’d have alerted authorities, wouldn’t he?
  • The prime intruder suspect [John Prante] had no alibi.
  • The final difference is the most obvious but perhaps the easiest to overlook. Karla was attacked while home alone. The murder and cover-up occurred in an empty home.

Karla’s murder seems incomprehensible until one understands John Prante.  Although he’d once attended the same school as Karla, Prante was unemployed and clearly occupying a different social class as Karla.  Prante asked to join Karla’s housewarming party the day before she was killed, but Karla rebuffed him. Perhaps she laughed in his face.

Prante was a social outcast, and so the rejection of a former schoolmate stung.  Because Prante knew Karla, her rejection hit very close to home.  Karla Brown exposed Prante for what he was then and there – an oddball, an economic loser, a social loser and a sexual loser.

Prante saw Karla as the solution to this inner crisis; he would get his revenge using her life, loveliness and innocence to “square” the transaction.  If her life invalidated him, he’d invalidate her by taking her life and getting her to satisfy his sexual depredations.  He’d use her life and rash violence to get bloody satisfaction. The bite reinforces this sense of not merely his dominance but his physical consumption of her. He was taking a bite out of her to nourish his inadequacy.

Of all the characters in the Ramsey case, which one was the outcast?  Which one had a bone to pick with JonBenét for making him painfully aware of his own inadequacy?

Scenario 2: The Anastasia Solovieva King Case  King

The Mechanism of an Accessory

When is an accessory involved?  Why does there need to be an accessory?

Indle King was a university educated man [honors at the University of Washington] who developed an appetite for Russian mail order brides.

When his first wife divorced him after four years amid allegations of abuse, it cost King $55 000 and King – a bald, dumpy, unattractive man – felt fleeced.  He was determined not to be taken advantage of a second time.  He – 38 – was also determined to control his next bride – 18 – to the extent that she would cook, clean and earn an income in exchange for the honor of being his wife, and having the right to live in America for as long as she was his wife.

Unfortunately things didn’t work out with his much younger and very beautiful second bride either.  While Indle was a social failure, Anastasia was attractive and popular. When Anastasia wanted to divorce Indle, he was determined to deny her a happily ever after at his expense.

King murdered her in his home by sitting on her, and having a young tenant – Daniel Larson –  strangle her with Indle’s necktie, a “process” that according to Larson took more than a minute to accomplish.

The murder was carefully co-ordinated and premeditated, involving both the lure of Anastasia out of her room to be given a hug [which began the process of subduing her so that Larson could place the tie around her neck] but also timing her disappearance on the exact day – Sept. 22, 2000 – Anastasia returned from a visit to her parents in Kyrgyzstan.

This was important so that King could plausibly deny she’d ever returned.  If no one had seen Anastasia back in America, then it would be King’s word against anyone else’s.

King was eventually caught because of numerous visits to his former tenant – Larson –  in jail for a separate crime.  When police interviewed Larson and emphasized the agony of Anastasia’s parents who didn’t know what had happened to her, he confessed.

The questions raised by the King case are these:

  1. If the King killing required two adults to subdue and strangle an adult woman, and if the Ramsey case was an attack by a child on another child also involving strangling, wouldn’t it require two children to subdue a third?
  2. We can distill the motive in the King case to three words: King felt fleeced.

Fleeced = swindled, conned, cheated, defrauded, hustled, ripped off, taken for a ride.

Who in the Ramsey household felt fleeced?  According to John Ramsey the attack on JonBenét was a sort of payback from a disgruntled employee, but if that was the case, why didn’t they make sure they got what they came for – actual money.  In a kidnap scenario, even a dead person can secure a ransom.

Scenario 3: The Aimee VanderHoff Case  Joe Kenda

Taunting and the Significance of Emotion

A working class neighborhood of East Colorado Springs. It’s September 27, 1995. 18:05. While doing laundry in the basement, a 40 year old male – Arnold Harris – opens a closet to provide ventilation for the dryer.  A sleeping bag inside is too heavy to move.  When Harris unzips the bag a foot is discovered. The cops are called. None of the four occupants in the home say they know who the dead girl in the basement is, and she’s been dead “for several hours” in the opinion of the crime scene techs.

Two adults – parents – are present in the home and two daughters.  The son isn’t home. When investigators ask Arnold Harris who the dead girl is, Harris claims he doesn’t know.  Investigators [including Joe Kenda] find it odd how the family appear to be blissfully unaware of the dead person in their home, even with the cops in the home after the “unknown” body was discovered.  There is cooking and laughter.  If this is a cover-up, it’s perfunctory at best.

There appears to be a stage-managed effort by a family pretending nothing is going on, but it’s over-pretending.  It’s too calm to be credible. The basement has no outside entrance so no intruder could have entered from the outside.  What makes this case different to the Ramsey case however is that the victim is the intruder.  But how believable is that?

When examining the body in the crawl space area, police see no signs of violence.  Nothing, besides the dead body in the sleeping bag, appears to be out of place. This suggests the murder didn’t take place in the basement of that house but was moved there after the fact. But why would anyone taking the trouble to move the body inside a house not simply dump it outside somewhere?  Why leave a body to be found in the house?

There’s also no evidence of restraining wounds but there is a red mark to the young woman’s face, indicative of a single punch or blow.  It takes a moment for the investigator to notice a man’s necktie around the teenager’s neck.  It’s pre-knotted, and is embedded so deeply in her neck the coroner [like Meyer during JonBenét’s autopsy] had to cut the tie out of her neck while performing an autopsy.

Sound familiar?  What can we apply to the Ramsey case and more important, what can’t we?

Similarities:

  • Instead of a call to the cops because of a Ransom Note at 06:00 in the morning, in this case, the call comes in the evening close to 18:00.
  • Once again there’s a house full of people completely unaware of who or what or why someone is lying dead in their basement.
  • Also, the dead person has been there for hours.
  • Did the family truly have no idea who lay dead in the basement? It turned out later that those in the home – not only the parents, but also the daughters – did know the identity of the murdered young woman. She was the girlfriend of their son/brother, Marvin Evans, and her name was Aimee.
  • Marvin and Aimee hadn’t been getting along.
  • There is a cover-up, if only verbally, based on trying to protect the son/brother, not saying certain things, not revealing certain things and not showing a certain kind of emotion.
  • There is also a more literal cover-up. Just like JonBenét, the eighteen-year-old, Aimee VanderHoff, was covered up, this time not merely with a blanket [sleeping bag] but also bundled out of sight into the basement closet. The wine cellar was an obscure room in the Ramsey home and the door to the wine cellar was secured.  In this sense, the Ramseys’ wine cellar room was effectively the Harris’ closed closet.
  • Minimal defensive wounds. Like JonBenét, the teenager in this case showed minimal defensive wounds, indicative that she knew her attacker. If she knew her attacker why would she be an intruder?
  • Like JonBenét, the killer [who turned out to be Marvin, someone close to Aimee], didn’t have the heart to dispose of the murdered girls remains outside the house, again, a symptom of some kind of prior and perhaps lingering attachment.
  • The only obvious injury is a severe ligature, and the murder weapon – a necktie – came from inside the Harris home [just as the garrotte did in the Ramsey home].  There’s another knotted necktie in Marvin’s bedroom closet.  What we have here is another case of a knotted killing instrument, just as we do with the garrotte in the Ramsey case.

Did investigators need to do knot-tying analysis to determine whether Marvin had tied the knot of his tie?  Did investigators compare the knot tying of the father, the mother and the two girls?  No, it was sufficient that the pre-knotted tie was found in Marvin’s closet, an exemplar of the same tie used to kill Aimee.  Only a lunatic would claim that an intruder came into the house, borrowed one of Marvin’s ties, made a practice tie, and then made another tie and used that, all with four or five people present in the home.  And then smuggled the dead girl into the basement still with all present and accounted for.

In one sense the knotted necktie is a damning piece of evidence interchangeable – potentially – with Patsy’s notepad, the practice note on Patsy’s notepad, the felt-tipped pen traced to a pen in the kitchen, and the wood of the garrotte found inside and beside Patsy’s paint tote [a broken paintbrush that belonged to Patsy was fashioned into the garrotte].  The knotted tie is analogous here to the Ransom Note, in the sense that – while not nearly as elaborate – it forms an essential part of the murderer’s arsenal.  I’m using a little license here by associating the knot’s connection to another knot, to the Note’s connection to the crime, through the probable writer of the Note.

The neck ligature in the VanderHoff case cut so deep into Aimee’s neck the cord had to be cut during her autopsy. This is indicative of a strong emotion between the victim and killer.  In the Ramsey case, this “strong emotion” hasn’t been adequately explained. Who had reason – inside the Ramsey home or outside – to be strongly emotional when it came to JonBenét?

We gather insight into this very question through the VanderHoff case. The murder of Aimee Vanderhoff by Marvin Evans isn’t a psychological labyrinth by any means.  We uncover these psychological insights, and the emotional nuggets buried within, by drilling deep [but not that deep] into the backstory of the victim.

  1. Aimee and Marvin started dating six months before he strangled her.
  2. They were an interracial couple.
  3. Both were in high school.
  4. The relationship started out intensely, with the couple wearing matching shirts and sharing a bank account.
  5. Just a month and a half into their relationship, the couple began arguing [this insight was provided by Aimee’s family, not Marvin or his family].
  6. Marvin became very possessive, jealous and controlling.
  7. Aimee tried to separate herself from Marvin, breaking up with him and getting her own bank account.
  8. Marvin stalked Aimee, following her, checked up on her, called her and threatened to kill her male and female friends.
  9. On September 11, 1995 just over two weeks before the murder, there was a “precursor” argument involving Marvin yanking a necklace off her neck.
  10. This prompted Aimee’s parents to assist her in taking out a restraining order against Marvin.

The idea that Marvin simply removed a necklace from her neck two weeks prior to Aimee dying of a neck wound from being strangled, and given that Aimee’s parents took out a restraining order against Marvin following this argument, it’s likely the necklace wasn’t merely yanked off.  In other words, it was a narrow escape and part of an escalating cycle.

It’s possible the same “precursor” event took place in Boulder from the Ramsey home on December 23rd, prompting the mysterious 911 call in the middle of a Christmas party.

Four Vital Insights

  • The first vital point to apply here – in terms of the Ramsey case – is the intercession of the Vanderhoff parents to protect their daughter.  Aimee got injured in an argument and they took protective action of their eighteen-year-old daughter.  Ultimately, of course, it wasn’t enough.  Despite the restraining order, Aimee herself went to see Marvin, and when she did she was murdered at his home, and hidden inside his home.
  • The other thing to address is the taunting that was going on. Despite the restraining order, Aimee often called Marvin, which may have felt to an emotionally unhinged and potentially insecure person, like taunting to him.  We don’t know what it felt like for Marvin, a black man, to see his white girlfriend who’d rejected him, through the window of her home socializing with her white friends.  Marvin saw Aimee’s friendships with other people [white people] as provocative, leading to an escalation in his controlling and stalking behavior.
  • One might argue that Aimee going to see Marvin, in spite of a restraining order, was a way of taunting him, but her intentions appeared to be innocent.  She wanted to soothe him and make friends with him whereas Marvin needed her to address his inadequacies. He wanted her back or else.
  • In a real sense the continued access to one another resulted in what may have felt to Marvin like taunting; a repeated prodding of Marvin’s jealousy button. A repeated sense of frustration; wanting something but not being able to have it because of another person.

But there are a few crucial differences to the Ramsey case.

  • JonBenét died in her own home, whereas Aimee died at Evan’s home.
  • There is far more covering up involved in the JonBenét murder and disposal [even if there was an intruder] than the Vandenhoff case despite both victims being known to their attackers.

So why is there more covering up in the JonBenét case?  Why did JonBenét need to be wiped down, her clothing changed, a ransom note written? Well, isn’t it obvious?  Wasn’t JonBenét much better known to her attacker and the folks who lived there than Aimee was to her attacker and her attacker’s kin?

Isn’t a possible high degree of affiliation and thus scandal in the Ramsey case the reason the crime needed plausible distancing?  The attacker couldn’t be just any old attacker in the Ramsey case, it needed to be a bloodthirsty [but not extremely greedy] foreign faction.

Another major difference in the two cases was the control of the crime scene. Investigators knew from the get go it was a murder.  It was never misrepresented as a kidnapping.  Also, investigators overheard Marvin’s mother Cindy whispering on the phone while the cops were on site.  It turned out Marvin’s mother Cindy had called Aimee’s mother to tell her she was dead.   

Why had the family been lying?  They had known who Aimee was, so why lie about it?  This brings us to perhaps the biggest overlap between these two cases. The peculiar behaviour of Marvin’s family and the outright dissembling had something to do with the only member of the family that wasn’t there at the time. This is a flashing parallel to the Ramsey crime scene after JonBenét’s body was discovered.  Everyone’s there – JonBenét’s parents, the cops, friends of the Ramseys and their pastor.  But older brother Burke’s not there.  And everyone’s apparently in the dark about what happened.

Well, Marvin’s family weren’t in the dark after all, were they?  Marvin had gone out with Aimee for six months, most of which included arguments, stalking and ultimately a restraining order.  They had to have known about this, especially if Aimee felt free to visit Marvin at his home on the day of her murder.

In the Ramsey case, by removing Burke from the scene, the Ramseys very effectively removed Burke from much of the narrative as well.  In John Douglas’ book Law & Disorder, Inside the Dark Heart of Murder a total of just 17 lines are dedicated to the Burke Did It theory.  It’s pertinent to point out that while Douglas spends less than half a page discounting the BDI theory, he spends five and a half pages specifically countering the Patsy Did It theory, and that’s besides many other references to why the parents are impossible murder suspects in the Ramsey case.

Just because Burke is absent during the kidnapping phase doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the home during the execution of the crime and cover up.  If investigators took a few minutes to home in on Marvin Evans, the fifth resident of the Harris home, why is Burke such an impossibly hugantic, ginormous leap for everyone else where the general circumstances are similar?

The final point to emphasize is that Marvin essentially lured Aimee to him.  Why was this “luring” even necessary?  Because Marvin had frightened Aimee previously, so Aimee would need an incentive to come over.  Perhaps he’d repaired her necklace and wanted to return it to her as a gesture of goodwill?  And Aimee simply wanted to preserve good relations.  But her naiveté under the circumstances, and Marvin’s toxic downward spiral of feeling himself invalidated by this girl, ultimately played into a psychological mechanism that resolved itself through murder. The inter-racial aspect is perhaps mirrored by JonBenét’s pageantry separating her [or appearing to separate her] into a different social class, which may also have felt like taunting to her jealous killer.

Scenario 4: David Wilson and David Wilson II  

How do sexual predators operate [and are they necessarily murderers]?

In the past, John Ramsey has referred to JonBenét’s attacker as a creature. Specifically, in The Other Side of Suffering published in 2013, John refers to the killer as a “faceless creature.” In Death of Innocence, Ramsey uses the word creature as well, describing “it” as a “deranged assailant”, “a vicious monster”, “a pedophile”, “a psychopath” and someone who liked “snuff sex.”

Sexual predators, especially of children, are not always murderers, and stereotypical kidnappers are not often pedophiles.  The criminal profiles do not overlap!

The David Wilson case provides some truth serum to the silly charade of semantics described above. It’s a reality check not only on how a sexual predator operates but how you catch one.  It’s also a reminder of what sexual predators typically do and more significantly, don’t do.

In 2005 David Wilson attacked twelve women during a yearlong siege in Phoenix, Arizona.  The attacks were so frequent the cops eventually had every officer available combing the streets for days on end.  Such were Wilson’s indefatigable appetites, despite a heightened police alert, Wilson’s attacks continued.

Real sexual predators can’t control their appetites, and hence, re-offend until they are caught.  In the Ramsey case, there was clearly no child predator stalking the streets of Boulder either in the months before or immediately after JonBenét’s murder.  The notorious predator Robert Browne, also operating in Colorado, had already been apprehended by Christmas of 1996, so if JonBenét’s attacker wasn’t Browne, this had to be someone new.

In the Wilson case [also known as the A.M. rapist] dozens of police officers were called upon to hunt down the nocturnal predator. The neighborhood felt traumatized and terrorized, the cops committed to weeks of stakeouts, but the attacks continued regardless.

Wilson on the other hand was no slouch.  Committing a sexual crime without leaving DNA or fingerprints takes some doing.  Because Wilson had no priors, his DNA wasn’t on record, so strictly speaking it was not a DNA case, and DNA wasn’t going to be enough to catch him.  This case amounted to simple track and trace.  It was identifying strike patterns and doing stakeouts, and casting as wide a net as possible. The fact that Wilson struck so often meant the police could get closer to catching him just as he was learning to execute progressively “cleaner” attacks.   And Wilson was clearly improving at his criminal craft.  The question was, could the cops up their learning curve?

If Wilson was methodical in how he selected his victims, and if all his victims fit a particular profile [white, 20-46, all lived alone], how could one begin to apply the same insights to the Ramsey case?

If the police had waited for a DNA bingo – as the authorities in Boulder apparently still are more than twenty years later – they likely wouldn’t have caught Wilson as soon as they did.

A serial attacker has a carefully thought out plan, including entry and exit. If the Ramseys were right about the intruder, not only did he bungle the murder and kidnapping, he seemed to forget to molest his victim and underestimated the size of the suitcase he was going to smuggle JonBenét out with. Does this sound like an experienced attacker or a virgin killer?

Wilson’s work as a satellite television installer, plus his awareness of police tactics [his father was a police sergeant] taught Wilson to be meticulous about washing DNA from a scene.  His job also provided him with unique access to his victims. He watched them for weeks on end before striking.

Who had this kind of unique access to JonBenét? There are only a select number of people who could have watched JonBenét for weeks on end.  Typically, continuous day-and-night access to very young children is only possible for parents, siblings and friends of a similar age.

Thanks to his job, Wilson could “case the joint” before targeting and attacking victims. As such, Wilson certainly fits the description of an “inside job.”  But the profile only goes two steps: technician/laborer – sexual attacker.  None of Wilson’s victims were kidnapped and none of them murdered.

Now let’s look at a convicted child sex offender, ironically another David Wilson, this one from Houston, Texas. We’ll refer to him as Wilson II.  In this case, we can see what a child sex offender looks like, how he re-offends and what the sexual damage looks like.  Once again, DNA wasn’t used to link Wilson to the crime but something far worse, and far more repulsive.

Wilson II sexually assaulted his 23-month-old niece [his sister’s infant daughter] over a period of a year.  Wilson II had unrestricted access to the infant which fomented not just abuse but serial abuse. In this case the consequences are diabolical. When the toddler was taken to a doctor she was diagnosed with HIV, genital herpes and chlamydia. Reconstructive surgery was required to repair chronic infection to her private parts. A doctor informed police the child had been sexually abused due to the nature of the sexually transmitted diseases she was infected with.

So where does one find such a monster?  Well, not stalking neighborhoods like Wilson I, the satellite television installer.  The investigation into Wilson II started and stopped at the child’s home.

Here we have one horror piled onto another: had the police and doctors been more attentive, Wilson II could have been apprehended a year earlier than he was.  Think of that.  A year of abuse against a less than two-year-old child that could have been avoided.

The point is neither Wilson nor Wilson II were nameless or faceless creatures.  As soon as we view criminals as monsters, we remove them from their own sick psychologies, and worse, we remove ourselves from making any attempt to connect the perpetrators and their psyches to their crimes.

Ramsey’s description of a serial attacker suggests a bold, skilled criminal.  My impression of the attacker is kinda different.  The attack on JonBenét seemed clumsy, poorly planned, poorly executed; a colourful mixture of playfulness and panic.  The staging echoed all these qualities; the overkill in the murder itself is mirrored in the overkill of the staging. To strangle and bludgeon a small child is overkill.  A three-page Ransom Note is overkill.  So is inviting the neighborhood into a crime scene as a captive audience.

Bizarrely, Ramsey’s profile of the creature with “strange mannerisms” who might be “younger”, a “man” who “likes movies”, an “ex-con” and whose attack on JonBenét “wasn’t his first crime” was someone who may appear “perfectly normal.” Perfectly normal looking? Was John Prante perfectly normal looking as criminals go? Was Indle King? Was there nothing that mattered about Marvin Evan’s appearance?

Well simply going by appearances, wouldn’t that exclude John Mark Karr? It would also exclude the housekeeper [not younger, not male, no priors] as well as Access Graphics employees [not ex-cons, not younger, no priors], but who wouldn’t it exclude? Would it exclude Burke?

  • strange mannerisms
  • who might be younger
  • a man who likes movies
  • his attack on JonBenét wasn’t his first
  • someone who may appear perfectly normal

Who in this case appears perfectly normal and has strange mannerisms?

Scenario 5: Ian Stewart  Ian Stewart

Invoking A Kidnapping – A British Version of a Phantom Intruder

The man who would murder his fiancé Helen Bailey, a successful children’s author, met her under the slimmest of circumstances, just as he met his first wife, Diane.

“We met in the canteen and I stole a chip off her plate. That’s how we met,” Ian Stewart told a British court referring to his first wife, Diane. Stewart met Helen Bailey on a Facebook group for bereaved widows and widowers. But the slimmest chance is all a monster needs to get his hooks in, and even from a single hook, a lethal cancer can spread.

Diane Stewart, Ian Stewart’s first wife, died suddenly on the back patio of their house [supposedly of an “unexpected” epileptic fit], because her health had been deteriorating steadily before her death.

Was it just bad luck that women seemed to die suddenly and unexpectedly around Stewart?

Grief was the tie that bound Bailey’s fate to Stewart’s and perhaps blinded her to the fact that she was being gradually poisoned by someone in her own home. Greed was the tie that bound Stewart to Bailey.

Bailey’s unexplained disappearance, even before Stewart married her, was inexplicable to the authorities, at least at first. Unlike JonBenét, who was found after seven hours in the basement, Stewart’s wife was discovered five months after her disappearance buried and rotting in a cesspit [buried in her and Stewart’s shit in other words] under their house.  Her dog Boris was thrown into the stinking sludge as well, for good measure.

But Stewart thought he had a plausible explanation for Bailey’s death and disappearance.  She’d been kidnapped. Later the explanation was expanded to a “bungled” kidnapping.

It’s interesting that in Stewart’s version he identifies two kidnappers/attackers and has them moving freely through his home.  It’s also noteworthy that the moved manhole cover is another version of the broken basement window.

Stewart relayed a message from the kidnappers [received by phone]:

“Helen and Boris are with us. She is helping us solve a problem. Don’t tell anyone where Helen is.”

A few days later, Stewart claimed, there was a follow-up message, this time from his fiancé directly:

“I love you, sorry about everything.”

In this version, Stewart didn’t need a Ransom Note, but in the face of Helen Bailey’s continued absence, his explanation seemed plausible, and police accepted it for as long as five months after Bailey’s disappearance.

Stewart also slyly used the threat of the kidnappers to remain silent to explain his reticence during her long absence.  Stewart had thought of everything. It’s easy to play Monday morning Quarterback in a case like this, but we can see Stewart was able to outwit the cops for months.

The biggest advantage he had over the cops was the absence of a body.  While that was in play, Stewart could theoretically spin any yarn and in the absence of evidence, the cops had little choice but to accept Stewart’s evidence. But once Bailey’s body was discovered, Stewart became a natural suspect. Of course by then the case was already stone cold.  What was there to link him to the crime then?

Solving this case would have nothing to do with DNA evidence, or ransom notes, phone records or any other hard or soft forensic evidence.  It had nothing to do with statements or fingerprints, footprints or murder weapons.  It had to do with money transfers. Stewart had thought of everything except this.

Initially Stewart explained the large amount of money missing from his fiancé’s account had simply gone to the kidnappers.  But when the cops checked the actual accounts, who were the kidnappers?  Well, Stewart of course.  In the end, Stewart was caught by following the easiest evidence of all – the money trail.

Despite being armed with suspicious transfers into Stewart’s bank, without Bailey’s body there was little else to implicate Stewart.  For three months and hundreds of hours, police combed through Stewart’s [actually Bailey’s] 100 year old mansion.  It was only after consulting with the original blueprints from a former owner that they located a four metre cesspit in the garage area of the house.

If it had taken the cops much longer to locate the cesspit, Stewart may well have gotten away with murder, perhaps not for the first time. Stewart must have felt the septic tank was a “trump card.”  And in a real sense it was.

A body is an immensely valuable piece of evidence, revealing method of death, time of death but most important, it is causa sui in the evidentiary sense that a crime has taken place at all.  In other words, a body is self-evident, while the absence of a body is simply, evidence of absence.

The police in the Stewart case never came up with a smoking gun. They admitted no single piece of evidence indicated a murder investigation.  Its resolution came down to a culmination of small things, and figuring out the hidden backstory.

Incredibly, even after Bailey was discovered buried below the garage in Stewart’s home, Stewart maintained a ruse albeit with a few new touches added to his continuously evolving story.

Stewart’s motive was simple but it was also in a sense an enormous incentive.  He was playing a high stakes poker game for months or years on end, and he was playing to win.

The incentives were plenty: a £3,326,316 fortune, enormous properties as well as pension and life insurance payments from his fiancé.  Essentially though, the incentive boiled down to a single document: Helen Bailey’s will. The transaction was simple.  If Bailey died, Stewart won the entire jackpot, and he wouldn’t have to marry her to get his paws on it. But he would have to play his cards perfectly.  In 21 months, Stewart concocted his plan and lied about it for five months [two months until he reported her missing in April and three months after that when her body was discovered in July] after he’d executed it.

Stewart, like Indle King, was a university graduate, graduating with first class honors, so it’s not hard to imagine an educated man planning a crime for months initially outsmarting cops.

What we can’t imagine is this level of callousness until we see it for ourselves. Which are we more inclined to believe?  That a middle-aged dude who’d lost his first wife simply had a bad memory, and very bad luck with women, or that he was operating with crystal clear clarity, driven by greed, and capable of unspeakable cruelty?

As it turns out; the latter. Within hours of her murder, Stewart initiated a cover-up, beginning with the disposal of a duvet from the couple’s home at a refuse tip, captured on CCTV cameras. He also wasted no time getting the first of those big cash transfers underway.

Just a month after killing Bailey, Stewart renewed Arsenal season tickets, and used Bailey’s bank account to do so. But take the psychology a step further. Every time Stewart used the toilet of that house, he knew where the shit was headed, he knew he was burying the past and burying Bailey that much more, and moving that much further forward, into Bailey’s money. Think of the sick satisfaction he probably felt.

The edge the Ramseys had on Stewart were the aspersions cast on the investigators and the investigation itself.  Had Stewart been able to attack either, accusing them of harassing him or arresting him without cause, he could have delayed the discovery of Bailey’s remains, perhaps indefinitely.  Of course, Stewart’s biggest failing was the most obvious: his greed made him impatient and his impatience showed damning transfers of money, and lots of it, into his personal accounts.  He’d covered everything but he couldn’t cover the obvious – the money and his greed.

Prosecutor, Charles White, described Stewart as “an arch dissembler, he was able to trick everyone, so I think anybody who came across his path was a potential victim.”  The victim closest to Stewart, naturally, was Bailey.  As a successful author, she had to have an intelligent head on her shoulders, so how could Stewart get around that?

It turned out Stewart was surreptitiously stupefying Helen Bailey over a long period with the sleeping drug Zopiclone. And Stewart was gradually upping the dose. What Stewart had figured out was a “painless” and “easy” way not only for Bailey to die, but also for her to be murdered.  There wouldn’t need to be an effort, or a struggle, or any shedding of blood.

Stewart’s plan was brilliant for its cold-blooded cruelty and callousness.  Similar to John Prante, Stewart had drowned his victim, and done so in a way that he could shove in Bailey’s face the humiliation he’d “suffered” at having to “beg” her constantly for an allowance.

Bailey’s outstretched arm below the manhole also suggests a simmering consciousness at the time of her murder.  She may have been woozy and chronically compromised, but the realization of what Stewart was doing would have been something she could have smelled, and smelled acutely. The killing of Bailey’s dog Boris could also have involved drowning the dog while still alive in human excrement.

The only reason we know Stewart’s plan in such detail is because a successful chemical analysis was conducted by Dr Mark Piper, a forensic toxicologist, of Bailey’s hair.  There was little cell tissue to test and the hair seemed a long shot.  What investigators discovered were increasing amounts of Zopiclone in Bailey’s hair closer to the root, and decreasing amounts towards the tips.

During Bailey’s absence, Stewart sent a number of texts to her phone, claiming subsequently in court that she had it with her.  Stewart also travelled to the couple’s property in Kent where her phone connected to a router located at this property.  Fancy footwork for a man trained in Information Technology.  But for an arch dissembler, Stewart’s arrest was less fancy.

The arrest itself was filmed, as was Stewart’s badly-acted response to it.  We also see Stewart’s attempt to manipulate information out of the police, and their stalwart insistence that statements be made on the record at the cop shop.  Since all of this happens backgrounded by a staircase, one can’t help imagine the Ramseys in a parallel universe, fairing somewhat differently at the hands of authorities.

And here’s the key insight into a monster.  Some of the cruelest monsters are the biggest cowards. This is the part we fail to reconcile.  Because why should someone cunning and cruel enough to murder, someone brave enough to kill, lack courage?  It’s precisely this lack of courage in life, this lazy approach to resurrecting one’s status from the cesspools of failure that’s the source of the cowardice in the first place.

An investigator involved in the case called the endless flushing of shit onto the corpse of his murdered fiancé “an incredibly cruel and cynical way to dispose of someone you claimed to love.”

But wasn’t this the same shitty cynicism that prompted the Ramseys to dispose of JonBenét in the way they did, flushing her away with three sheets of paper into a basement which would one day fill to overflowing with a case comprised mostly of bullshit?

Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” If anyone can do that in the Ramsey case, they either deserve a medal or a dishonourable discharge. Perhaps the latter.  There’s an unexpected side-effect to a fully immersive Intruder Investigation.  What we invariably find is where there is a real intruder, there’s real grief. When Karla Brown’s fiancé was asked years after her murder to describe the scene in the basement that midsummer’s day, Mark Fair reacted with immediate grief. He broke down on the stand sobbing uncontrollably.  It was as if the murder had happened that very day.

Indle King, in sharp contrast, showed no remorse for his wife’s death in court. Where was the grief in Marvin’s Evan’s home, or in Marvin Evans himself [who went to work to establish an alibi]?  Even the sex predator David Wilson expressed remorse for the sexual pain he’d inflicted on his victims, although his knowledge of legal procedures perhaps played into this display.  How was Ian Stewart able to go on a luxury cruise in the middle of an investigation into his fiancé’s murder?

When we apply the same questions to the Ramseys, we must also necessarily ask, if the intruder narrative is fake then isn’t the grief fake too?  If there is an absence of grief, with whom is it most absent?

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