By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
T: Why did you take the rope in?
D: The what?
T: The rope, you know, that you took in with you. Why that? What were you thinking?
D: What do you mean by "the rope"?
T: The rope that you left around her neck.
-- Phone call between Tracey and Daxis, June 5, 2006
T: Why don't we just kind of reverse roles here, then. I will tell you what I understood you to have told me in the e-mails -- and then maybe that will help you speak.
D: Why don't you do like what I said about the ransom note?...I want to know, what was it about that note that made you think ofSpeed, Ransom andDirty Harry?... Can you please help me understand that?
T: This is sort of out there. "Don't try to grow a brain" is fromSpeed.
D: Well, can I put it to rest right now? Totally irrelevant.
-- Phone call between Tracey and Daxis, July 6, 2006
Last spring, Tracey went to the Hungry Toad for an interview with Gaby Wood, a writer for London's Observer who was working on a lengthy piece about the Ramsey case. "He arrives with a manila envelope and tells me knowingly that he feels very close to solving the case," Wood wrote.
The envelope contained crime-scene photos. Tracey showed Wood a close-up of the noose pulled tightly around JonBenet's neck and explained that this was a "vicious attack," not a piece of staging. "There's no question in my mind now that someone came in who kind of knew them, who got off on little girls," he declared. "I think it was a very sick game by a very sick person."
At the time of the interview, Tracey was engaged in a different game with the man he believed to be that very sick person. Call it a collaboration, one that would finally produce a prime suspect worth arresting. The e-mail relationship with Daxis had intensified. Soon it would lead to marathon phone calls that Tracey would place to various numbers in Thailand -- all recorded, of course, for the benefit of the DA's office. It was a relationship forged by mutual need. "I love you but I'm not gay, Michael," Daxis explained in their first-ever phone call. "I love you because I need, I suppose."
In spite of his claim of prior contact with the Ramseys, Daxis needed Tracey because of his access to Patsy, who was battling ovarian cancer. Daxis badly wanted to confess to her. (She died June 24.) And Tracey needed Daxis. He wanted to clear the Ramseys of any lingering suspicion, he explained, by bringing the real killer's confession to the world. So the two of them agreed to write a book about Daxis. Tracey agreed to give 50 percent of the proceeds to his misunderstood collaborator -- later upped to 80 percent, after Daxis pointed out that he was doing most of the work.
But Daxis insisted on keeping his distance. He wouldn't reveal his real name. He hinted that he had been one of JonBenet's teachers, then backed off again. He wouldn't give a DNA sample. "Michael, you don't owe a publisher crap," Daxis told him. "If you run across a publisher who looks at you and says, 'Well, where's the DNA evidence?,' just tell them to go to hell."
The elaborate make-believe put incredible strain on both parties. It was Daxis's job to play Scheherazade, to offer one fascinating tale after another, to weave the confusing detritus of the Ramsey mess into a compelling confession. It was Tracey's job to be fascinated, to indulge his faceless partner's quicksilver moods and endless digressions about his sexual exploits with young girls, to listen politely and never show revulsion, spurred on by the storyteller's promises to reveal much, much more.
"I think it is time for me to share the words JonBenét and I shared," Daxis wrote last May. "Will you help me feel comfortable enough to do that?"
Tracey tried. He knew if he didn't humor him, Daxis would disappear again; he'd threatened it many times. But it was difficult to profess absolute belief in someone who was clearly "several apples short of a picnic," as Tracey put it in an e-mail to Smit. Daxis made absurd claims about having "borrowed" young girls from their parents and returned them without consequences, about girls who mailed him their underwear as if he were some kind of pedophiliac Tom Jones, about eight-year-olds who "dominated" him sexually. It all sounded so...unreal.
"In every case where I had a sexual or romantic relationship with a little girl, 10 or younger, I have gone straight to the mother and revealed my feelings and actions," he boasted in one e-mail. "Their reactions might surprise you."
His version of JonBenet's death, as it began to spill out in bits and pieces of e-mails, also smacked of fantasy. JonBenet had gone with him to the basement without struggle, had willingly participated in sex games with him, had inadvertently been choked to death. Several elements contradicted theories that Tracey held as absolute gospel. There was no stun gun, Daxis insisted. It was an accident, not a brutal murder.