Pitt and the Pendulum

The JonBenet case, shrink-wrapped by Valley forensic psychiatrist and sleuth Steven Pitt

(Because the murder case remains "open," Pitt won't say who he believes killed JonBenet. However, his statements about the case strongly suggest he suspects that Patsy Ramsey is the killer.)

Before he moved to the Valley in 1992, Pitt worked as a forensic psychiatrist in Colorado. There, he earned a solid reputation among law enforcement types as a straight talker.

Pitt's involvement in the Ramsey case increased dramatically as time passed. He got to know the Boulder Police Department's lead detectives on the case, and came to the conclusion that, contrary to popular belief, they were "as professional and competent as any agency could ask for. These people were getting battered on all fronts, but they continued to do their jobs, and I thought they were doing them well despite the impossible circumstances."

Boulder police sergeant Tom Wickman and Steven Pitt have worked closely on the JonBenet case.
Paul Rubin
Boulder police sergeant Tom Wickman and Steven Pitt have worked closely on the JonBenet case.
Hundreds of reporters converged on Boulder last week for the big grand jury announcement.
Hundreds of reporters converged on Boulder last week for the big grand jury announcement.

Pitt found a kindred spirit in Ramsey chief case agent Sergeant Tom Wickman. An eclectic, cerebral 46-year-old who earned a master's degree in psychology, Wickman picked Pitt's brain about the case for hours on end.

"His terminology and world [are] different than mine," he says of the psychiatrist, "but we are both logical thinkers who come at problems from our particular backgrounds. He called me about those cats that were being eviscerated down in Phoenix [Ahwatukee], and he told me, 'I'd do this and this and this,' and I'd do the same thing [to try to find the perpetrator], but would say it in different terms.

"He studies me, but I study him, too, and I don't think he's got a leg up on me in that department. Pitt is the kind of guy who does the right thing, and I don't think he has an agenda."

Pitt says he watched as dozens of "experts" -- who were peripherally involved in the Ramsey case, if they were involved at all -- were quoted extensively in the media.

"I've had the unique perspective of seeing this case from the inside out, in that I know the facts of the case, and the players in this case," he says. "It's really troubled me to see this mass of media feeding on this rampant speculation from other allied health professionals -- pathologists, forensic psychiatrists, psychologists on the outside looking in, you name it -- knowing they're really not running on all cylinders."

To Pitt, the divisive relationship between the police and prosecutors became almost as intriguing and challenging professionally as the murder case itself. That's not to diminish, he says, the facts that surround the tragedy of JonBenet:

"You have a young girl found dead in the cellar of the very home she grew up in. You have a three-and-a-half-page ransom note. You have two parents who are absolutely denying any involvement whatsoever. You have physical evidence which points against an intruder, which goes against the parents' protestations of absolute innocence.

"You have the nation's media and international media just transfixed. You have the principal suspects in this case having just about more money than God. You have it taking place in a relatively small college town, where there are only a few homicides, if that, each year. And the biggest one is, of all the murders in which a child's body has been found in a house, there's only either zero or one case on record in which a parent [or guardian] hasn't been responsible."

In the spring of 1998, Boulder police turned the captaincy of the seemingly stalled case over to the D.A.'s Office. The move opened the door for the long-delayed in-depth interviews by authorities of John and Patsy Ramsey.

Boulder detectives had spoken to the couple in April 1997 -- Patsy first, then John -- trying to pin down the couple to their actions and whereabouts around the time of their daughter's murder. Pitt says he and the cops wanted to videotape those sessions, over the Ramseys' objections.

"But the prosecutors were saying, 'Let's make nicey-nice, this is the beginning of a dialogue,'" he recalls. "The cops and I were saying, 'Bullshit. This is our bite of the apple. Let's go for it.' But we didn't win that fight. The day after the interviews, John and Patsy hold this press conference with hand-picked reporters, and nail the police. It was a frustrating situation."

Though the police hadn't named suspects in the little girl's murder, it wasn't a mystery that the Ramseys were the prime -- some would say exclusive -- focus. (The most anyone officially involved has said publicly is Boulder police chief Mark Beckner's comment that the couple remains under "an umbrella of suspicion.")

Months passed, and that "dialogue" prosecutors had longed for hadn't materialized. But the Ramseys smelled an opening after Alex Hunter's office took control of the case, because John and Patsy knew they had allies there.

As Hunter's people prepared for the pivotal interviews, the D.A. put Pitt on his payroll.

"When I talked to different people about him," says Hunter, "he came with really high marks. He gave us insights in terms of 'profiling' people that we were looking at that I thought were beyond all of our expertise, important, helpful stuff. He's tough and tenacious, and he isn't just a book kind of guy. He was particularly valuable in giving us suggestions about the order and timing and nature of the questions we'd be asking the Ramseys. He always has had extremely strong feelings about the case, which, to put it mildly, he wasn't afraid to share."

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