By Albert Samaha
By Darwin BondGraham
By Keegan Hamilton
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
By Tessa Stuart
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
The key lines of theirinquiry, anyway -- which is to find the perp or perps who used a stun gun on JonBenet and then killed her. The program soon keys in on one Michael Helgoth, a Boulder resident who died from an odd but apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound less than two months after the murder. Helgoth had a stun gun, a pair of Hi-Tec boots -- and, according to some sources, an unhealthy interest in young girls. Most intriguing of all, his death came the day after Alex Hunter went on television to address the killer, a speech carefully scripted by the FBI: "The list of suspects narrows. Soon there will be no one on the list but you."
But Helgoth isn't the prime suspect. In fact, the Helgoth lead isn't new at all. Boulder police had looked at him years before and ruled him out. They claimed Helgoth's boots didn't match the print in the basement -- although this is disputed by Mills, who says the boot was never properly tested. (Other accounts have linked the print to JonBenet's brother Burke, an assertion San Agustin dismisses as "baloney.") Worse, the police found that Helgoth's DNA didn't match the material in JonBenet's panties.
To Mills and Tracey, and to virtually all proponents of the intruder theory, the DNA is crucial. It's the single most important piece of evidence -- far more important than, say, that silly, inexplicable ransom note. The DNA doesn't match that of any member of the Ramsey family, so it must belong to the real killer. The documentary even reports that the DNA in the undies matches other DNA found under JonBenet's fingernails, all of which "had come from the same unknown white male" -- a dubious assertion, since sources in the district attorney's office have described the fingernail sample as too contaminated or degraded to be meaningful.
"Do we have an exact report on that? No," says San Agustin. "As to the validity of that, I couldn't tell you. That's what we were made aware of."
The documentary zags around the DNA problem by suggesting that Helgoth was one of two intruders in the house that night. Isn't there a second unidentified footprint in the basement? Doesn't the ransom note talk about "two gentlemen watching over your daughter"? Wouldn't it take two people to haul the stun gun, cord, duct tape and other paraphernalia?
The prime suspect, it turns out, is Helgoth's presumed partner in crime, a trailer-park resident "who shared his interest in martial arts and young girls...a close associate, who has since disappeared." Without naming the man, several acquaintances of the suspect describe his threatening manner and violent past, including a prison stretch "for a sexual assault on a child."
"I tried to steer clear of that individual," one witness intones, "because he could have been, you know, a menace to me or my family."
Scary stuff. But the portrait of the prime suspect began to crumble as soon as the documentary aired. An alert viewer in Scotland noticed a close-up of court documents pertaining to the prime suspect. Although the producers had blacked out his name, they'd left the case file number and the man's date of birth clearly legible. Soon the amateur Ramsey sleuths on the Internet knew his name: John Steven Gigax.
Mills is abjectly apologetic about the blunder. "We were determined not to identify him because he might well be innocent," he says. "It's one of the most embarrassing mistakes of my career. It was a piece of incompetence on my part, for which I am ashamed. It was a complete cock-up."
But making Gigax identifiable wasn't the extent of the cock-up. He was also easily found, contrary to the documentary's claim that he'd disappeared; he was, and still is, selling reproductions of Nazi jewelry on the Internet. In fact, at least two of the Gigax acquaintances interviewed by Tracey and Mills were aware that he'd moved to Indiana several months before the Ramsey murder. How could this critical fact have eluded the filmmakers and their crack team of investigators?
"Nobody that we spoke to knew where he was," Mills insists. "And he would not have been eliminated as a suspect had we not made the documentary. It actually makes the thrust of the documentary, that these leads were not being pursued."
Actually, there's no reason to believe Gigax ever was a suspect in the Ramsey investigation -- except to Smit and the Ramsey team. Mills and Tracey are both under the impression that he was "eliminated" by a DNA test after the documentary aired, but that, too, is erroneous. In fact, much of what they report about Gigax was never properly checked.
Gigax first learned of his sudden infamy shortly after the documentary aired. "People I didn't know from Adam were e-mailing me, saying I was this prime suspect in the Ramsey case," he recalls. "I called the Boulder DA's office and talked to Tom Bennett. He said I was not a suspect, that I had never been a suspect."
Gigax offered to send Bennett sales receipts that proved he was in Indiana over Christmas 1996. He also had a dozen witnesses who'd seen him there on Christmas Day. As he sees it, the film mangles basic facts about him, his whereabouts and his criminal record to make him fit the part of a crazed ninja-stalker killer. Calling him a "convicted pedophile" is a bit misleading: After what he describes as a drunken and unconsummated encounter with a teenage babysitter 21 years ago, he was convicted of attemptedsexual assault and served less than two years. Yes, he pleaded guilty in 1996 to a menacing charge over a fight in his trailer that ended with the stabbing of a neighbor, but he received probation and arranged to complete it in Indiana.