Pitt and the Pendulum

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

But Pitt says Hunter's staff ignored all but one of his suggestions, and that was to videotape the sessions:

"Even if the Boulder [police] guys weren't going to be able to interview those people, I wanted them on site so they could watch in real time, and could make suggestions to the interviewers during breaks, etc. I wanted them to put a time code on the videotapes to make it easier to track afterward. And I wanted the interviews to go as long as possible, with a bunch of questions that I wanted them to ask -- they never touched them."

What actually happened seems absurd in the retelling. Pitt sat with one team of detectives at the Boulder station, miles from a police station in a neighboring town where the Ramseys were being interviewed simultaneously, but in different rooms.

JonBenet Ramsey
JonBenet Ramsey
Dr. Steven Pitt outside the Boulder Police Department.
Paul Rubin
Dr. Steven Pitt outside the Boulder Police Department.

The interviews continued for hours on end, someone would rush a just-completed videotape to the Boulder station, where the detectives and Pitt would watch it, in an unprecedented exercise of investigative futility. (The cops asked Pitt to focus on Patsy Ramsey, befitting her position as the unofficial lead suspect. A second team of detectives concentrated on John Ramsey.)

The interviews, while fascinating and occasionally enlightening to Pitt, didn't seem to move the case closer to resolution.

Later in the summer of 1998, Alex Hunter convened the investigative grand jury that finally concluded last week.

"Timing is everything," Pitt says, "and it's not just the timing, it's the spin -- putting on the pressure of what you're trying to achieve with a subject or subjects. . . . Two or three months without anything happening sends a signal to the other parties. . . . I think if Alex is being honest, he'd tell you his biggest regret was losing the momentum after the interviews, even if they didn't go as well as they could have, and not going forward with the grand jury then -- or even before then."

"Did Steve say that?" Hunter asks New Times in a separate interview.

Hunter chuckles.

"That's Steve. He can be pretty difficult once in a while. But he can be pretty damned savvy, too."

It's Wednesday morning, October 13, 1999, which will turn out to be D-Day -- more precisely, non-D-Day -- in the JonBenet Ramsey case.

Hundreds of journalists are sitting on their hands across the street from the Boulder County Justice Center, wondering when, if and how the grand jury's decision will be announced. No one in the know is talking, at least publicly, so reporters have taken to interviewing each other. Geraldo Rivera has flown into town, but he hasn't made an appearance. Instead, he's sunning himself at a bed-and-breakfast just west of town.

A few miles east, Boulder police sergeant Tom Wickman and detective Tom Trujillo -- both of whom have been assigned to the Ramsey case since day one -- are investigating another violent crime.

A 22-year-old woman has been stabbed as she lay in her bed in the early morning hours. By now, just before noon, she's undergoing surgery, and already has had her gallbladder removed.

Her story to police at the scene: She and two female roommates live on the second-floor apartment near the University of Colorado campus. She was sleeping alone in the wee hours on a mattress on the floor of the one-bedroom unit. A person she never saw stabbed her in the right side with a steak knife he'd gotten (assuming it was a he) from the kitchen. Her assailant then had fled.

The woman said she'd pulled out the knife, closed the bedroom door and waited for about 15 minutes before phoning a male friend from a phone that sat a few feet from her in the bedroom. In turn, the friend had called 911.

The account doesn't smell right to the detectives, but they're aware of another recent incident across the hall, in which a man allegedly threatened another woman with a knife.

The detectives have asked Steve Pitt to join them at the crime scene. He makes a pronouncement after poking around the apartment for a time.

"This girl may have done herself," Pitt tells the cops.

He reads a forlorn letter that the victim -- is she a victim? -- had recently written to an ex-boyfriend. On a living-room shelf, he finds two cards from her mother -- who lives in Massachusetts. The missives express hope that the young woman's money situation is clearing up.

Pitt studies the photos on the walls and on the refrigerator that depict a thin, pretty girl who looks younger than 22.

"Maybe she knew she was dealing with the Boulder PD," Pitt jokes darkly about the strange sequence of events after the stabbing -- the 15-minute delay, then calling a friend, and not the cops.

Pitt's reference is to the Ramsey case, specifically to ex-Boulder detective Linda Arndt, who was the first to respond to the crime scene. Arndt recently complained on national television that her superiors had failed to assist her fast enough at the Ramseys'.

Pitt gets away with his gallows humor because the detectives like him, and know he respects their work.

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