Chief Marshal Kolar Reveals What He Learned in the JonBenét Ramsey Investigation
TELLURIDE – When Telluride Chief Marshal James Kolar left Telluride in 2004 for Boulder, he took on what was arguably the most controversial law-enforcement investigation in the country in the 1990s.
Kolar would spend nearly nine months at the helm of the Boulder District Attorney office’s investigation into the night-after-Christmas 1996 murder of child beauty pageant contestant JonBenét Ramsey, a crime that has never been solved.
Critics of the D.A.’s handling of that case – and they are legion – charge that a carefully executed stonewalling, orchestrated by John and Patsy Ramsey, parents of the murdered beauty queen, is why the case remains unsolved.
Critics of the Boulder Police Office’s handling of that case charge that a botched police investigation, tainted by the department’s fixation on the guilt of the Ramsey family, is why the case remains unsolved.
Now, six years after his return to Telluride from Boulder, Kolar has written about the case, in Foreign Faction: Who Really Kidnapped JonBenét? The just-released 508-page book reads like a brimming-over evidence file. It reproduces 39 key documents and photos of everything from the neck ligature, skull fracture, wrist bindings, garrote and abrasions found on the victim to the broken window, intact cobweb, boot prints and wall smudges found at the murder scene, to the bowl of pineapple from which JonBenét ate, shortly before she died. She ate that pineapple, Kolar writes, “not long before receiving the blow to her head” that would have killed her, had she not been subsequently strangled, with a fashioned-at-the-scene garrote, while her parents and brother purportedly slept upstairs.
Also reproduced is the strangely rambling ransom note, attributed to the “kidnappers” but believed by many to have been written by Patsy Ramsey (who died in 2006 after a 13-year-battle with ovarian cancer). There is a photo of the family’s Maglite flashlight standing upright on the kitchen counter, eventually “identified as a possible weapon used in the blow to JonBenét’s head.”
As Kolar explains in his book, JonBenét was already dying from that blow, which “would have rendered [her] unconscious and accounted for the absence of any additional defensive wounds on her body…i.e., broken fingernails, bruising on her hands or fingernail scrapes on her face,” when “the tightening of the garrote” around her throat “resulted in her death by strangulation/asphyxiation.”
JonBenét’s father would find her body, wrapped in a white blanket, in the dark basement wine cellar roughly six hours after the kidnapping had been reported to authorities.
Kolar has titled his book Foreign Faction, in a nod to the family’s theory – which he offers up in docudrama form at the outset – that perhaps John Ramsey’s disgruntled former employees or business associates had orchestrated a kidnapping turned murderous, complete with a pedophile dubbed “Monster,” who accidentally kills the victim in the course of trying to restrain her, and then, as she lies dying, sexually assaults her.
“It’s a theoretical construct,” Kolar said in an interview last week, of the fictional lead-in to his careful compilation of evidence, “something that could have happened, given the evidence in the case.”
But he does not subscribe to the intruder theory. “It’s always possible,” he allowed, “but is it probable? I don’t believe this is the case.”
Nor does Kolar believe JonBenét was killed by a stranger who became fixated on her as she made the rounds of regional beauty pageants. Those pageants “are pretty closed” to all but the contestants’ family members, he said. “They just don’t have strange male adults hanging around” stalking potential victims.
And while Kolar undoubtedly has his own informed opinions about what happened in the Ramsey family’s Boulder home in the early hours of Dec. 26, 1996, he cautions against a rush to judgment from the snippets of evidence that he provides.
“There is not a prosecution to be had,” he said of the still-open case that has cost taxpayers, to date, upwards of $2 million. If Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner and current District Attorney Stan Garnett “believed otherwise, they would prosecute,” he said.
“It is no longer a case that requires people to petition the governor of the State of Colorado to initiate another grand jury,” as was done in 1997-1998, when then-District Attorney Alex Hunter “was dragging his feet on the matter,” Kolar said in the interview.
“I have the utmost confidence in Stan Garnett,” Boulder County’s current district attorney, he added, “but it is my feeling that the initiation of another grand jury in 2012 would not result in an indictment, or criminal charges being filed.
“It is an extremely complicated legal landscape,” Kolar said, and one he does not believe can be navigated, at this late date. “I don’t believe a grand jury investigation at this juncture is going to cure the failures” of the last one.
In print, Kolar reiterates concerns voiced by Boulder investigators regarding John Ramsey arranging to attend “a business meeting in Georgia” shortly after the murder, wondering how that meeting could “outweigh the need to work with authorities in their attempt to identify the person who had just murdered his daughter.” He points out discrepancies in statements from the family, and questions why, in the morning hours before John Ramsey came up the stairs carrying JonBenét’s already decomposing, rigor mortis-stiffened body, Patsy Ramsey seemed “so uncomfortable…with a uniformed police officer being in her home," reporting that the officer in question had been “a little unnerved when he discovered that she was peering at him through her fingers” as the search for JonBenét progressed. He notes that lab analysts found fibers from Patsy Ramsey’s clothing on the duct tape John Ramsey peeled off his daughter’s mouth after finding her body in a dark cellar where, police-work would ascertain, he had not turned on the light.
Perhaps most tellingly, Kolar asks if then-9-year-old Burke Ramsey, JonBenét’s brother, might at one point have “physically demonstrated firsthand knowledge of the lethal blow that had been struck to the head of JonBenét.” He cites information, psychological studies and statistics about “sexual abuse perpetrated by children 12 years of age and younger” in the book, Sexually Aggressive Children, Coming to Understand Them.
Two newly discovered bits of evidence were entered into the case file during Kolar’s tenure. The marks on the victim’s back, presumed caused by a stun gun, were shown to match a toy seen in the basement near where JonBenét’s body was found. And photographs of a still-intact cobweb, in the window of the basement train room that, it had been suggested, intruders used for access and egress, could rule that window out, as a point of entry.
Of the investigation, Kolar said mildly, “There were interviews that we could have done” and “some grand jury subpoenas that could have been issued,” had the District Attorney’s office decided to become more aggressive about the case.
As to why that never happened, and why the public fascination with the murder has never really gone away, he said, “There are so many strange elements in this,” from “the ransom note to the very wealthy family to the very violent death of this little girl at Christmastime – it’s like the perfect storm.”
Foreign Faction: Who Really Kidnapped JonBenét? is now on sale in Telluride at Between the Covers and Apotheka, and also available at www.ventuspublishing.com; the author has donated two copies to Wilkinson Library.