Made for Each Other

The Karr fiasco is over, but Michael Tracey's quest for unlikely suspects in the Ramsey case goes on and on.

In 2002, Mills and Tracey cranked out their second Ramsey documentary, aired in the U.K. as Who Killed the Pageant Queen? and on Court TV as JonBenet: A Second Look. The program signals Tracey's transformation from bemused observer of the Ramsey media brawl to Minister of Information for the Ramsey camp. It's also a wet, sloppy kiss to Lou Smit, who takes viewers on a step-by-step orientation to the intruder theory.

An intruder could have slipped through a basement window, Smit explains, hid under a bed to await the Ramseys' return from a party, used a stun gun on JonBenet to remove her from her bedroom, dropped the note on the stairs, strangled her in the basement and fled, leaving his DNA and possibly other evidence.

Smit is seen climbing through the basement window, driving his DeLorean in the mountains and poring over crime-scene photos. Other interviewees, drawn chiefly from law-enforcement agencies in Colorado Springs, are brought on camera to say what a helluva cop Lou Smit is. In the last act, Smit fights for his right to testify before the grand jury -- saving John and Patsy from "a latter-day lynching," the Brit narrator notes. It's the Lou Smit Show.

Collaborators: Professor Michael Tracey, with John Mark Karr inset
image: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images. Photo illustration
Collaborators: Professor Michael Tracey, with John Mark Karr inset


See also:
Special John Mark Karr/Michael Tracey archive
With creepy documents and weird phone calls
Hear the former JonBenet Ramsey suspect for yourself
All at Denver Westword

Journalistically, the piece is as balanced as a fatwa. There are no interviews with dissenting sources. The script includes a couple of disparaging quotes from former Boulder detective Steve Thomas, but there's little hint of the real controversies posed by Smit's theories. Some investigators believe that Smit, a deeply religious man, got too close to the Bible-toting Ramseys from the outset. His stun-gun scenario is based on photos of small marks on the body and experiments with anesthetized pigs; the autopsy report indicates the marks are abrasions, not burns, and a more definite conclusion would require actual tissue examination. Several of the clues Smit stresses -- an unidentified Hi-Tec boot print in the basement, odd hairs and fibers -- are the kind of residue that defense attorneys routinely use to conjure up mystery suspects. Every crime scene is going to have some unexplained crud.

A few of the mysteries have been cleared up over the years, including a basement palm print that was eventually matched to Melinda Ramsey, JonBenet's adult half-sister. Others remain, including the unexplained DNA. That has led some observers, including a Georgia judge hearing a libel case against the Ramseys, to conclude that it's more likely that an intruder killed JonBenet than either parent. But the documentary's worshipful slant -- Lou Smit said it, so it must be true -- transports the whole stun-gun-wielding-sadist scenario from theory to near-certainty.

That documentary set the stage for a more ambitious one two years later, Who Killed the Pageant Queen?: The Prime Suspect. Brought back into the official investigation by DA Lacy, Smit was no longer available to emcee, but no matter. This time around, Tracey and Mills wanted to focus not on the theorist, but on possible killers who fit the theory.

The third trip to the well recycles footage from the earlier documentaries, and the producers' trademark bombast. JonBenet is introduced as the "most famous murdered child in history" (history apparently doesn't extend as far back as the Lindbergh kidnapping), and her parents are "the most hated couple in America" (Britney and Kevin must be disappointed). Fortunately, "a completely new team of investigators has recently uncovered dramatic new facts about the murder," all pointing to the prime suspect.

The new detectives on the case turn out to be private investigators who've worked for the Ramseys' attorneys: David Williams, Jennifer Gedde, Ollie Gray and John San Agustin. The documentary notes their prior association with the Ramsey team, then proceeds to hopelessly muddle their role. Lacy's office has sought their help, the narrator explains, and although they're "unpaid volunteers," they're "an important part of the new investigation."

These on-camera sleuths are presented as quasi-official spokespeople. Their investigation has been "set up" by Lacy's office, we're told; they're "a new team of detectives appointed last year." This is pure invention. Lacy invited the Ramsey PIs to a meeting in 2003 to share their research with her team; that's it. As for being unpaid volunteers, Gray and San Agustin (who's also an inspector in the El Paso County Sheriff's Office) have been consulting on the case, without pay, for the Ramsey attorneys since 1999 -- and still are, according to San Agustin. Gedde, who's now an attorney herself, apparently hasn't been actively involved in the case for quite some time.

Also undisclosed is the relationship between San Agustin, Gray and Lou Smit. Smit is San Agustin's former captain in the sheriff's office, and Lou Smit Investigations is part of a linked network of Colorado Springs-based investigative services that also includes Gray's and San Agustin's firm. Between Smit's stints in the DA's office, he and Gray looked into several leads in the Ramsey case together.

"What Lou was doing was totally separate from what we were doing," San Agustin says. "But I wouldn't say there was a wall between us. There was collaboration, up to a point."

Mills defends the documentary's portrayal of the Ramsey team as "new" investigators chasing down leads for the district attorney. "They were the only people who could speak," he says. "The DA, Mary Lacy, gave us no help in making that program. But Gray and San Agustin were extraordinarily well-informed. They knew the key lines of inquiry."

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