Westword March 30, 2000
"Hartman asked if Hill would be willing to show the deposition to a reporter. With the seal lifted, Hill didn't see why not. It was only after that reporter asked Beckner why the police hadn't looked at the deposition that Hill suddenly got a telephone call from Deputy District Attorney Bill Wise, who had miraculously developed an interest.
When the story broke, other members of the media were suddenly interested, too. A reporter from the Fox Network interviewed Hill, who openly wondered why, after spending $2 million on the case, the Boulder police had not bothered to pick up a free, five-hour interview with one of the prime targets of their investigation.
A thousand miles away, a 37-year-old woman saw the interview. She talked to her therapist, who did a little Internet research on Hill, and together they agreed that he could be trusted with the woman's secret.
The woman called Hill. "I think I have information that may be relevant to the Ramsey case," she said.
Hill's response was to put her on hold and go make a pot of coffee. "Great," he said to Yoo. "Now I got someone who wants to talk to me about the Ramsey case." He hoped the woman would hang up before he got back, but she was still there when he picked up the phone five minutes later.
Resigned, he asked her to tell him her story. She had been victimized since early childhood, she said, by a subculture, including members of her own family, that used children for sex. One of the men who had participated in the abuse was a friend of the Ramseys.
The woman listed the ways she could authenticate her connection to this man and prove what she was alleging. For example, when she was seventeen years old, she had persuaded the police in the small southern California town where she lived to charge a man named Mackie Boykin with sexual assault. Boykin, she said, had choked her using cords, scarves and ropes to make her body simulate orgasm while other men had sex with her. Boykin had pleaded guilty and been sent to prison.
The more the woman talked, the more disturbed Hill became. If even part of what she said was true, she had endured one of the most horrific childhoods he'd ever heard of. And if the woman's therapist -- who The Witness said could verify that she'd been telling this story long before JonBenét was killed -- was legitimate, then this woman was potentially a very important witness.
Within the hour, Hill received another call, this time from the woman's therapist. She confirmed what he'd been told. "I feel sorry for you," she said. "You're where I was ten years ago."
Recalling the Akiki case, Hill's first question was whether she practiced "repressed memory development" or used hypnosis. No, the therapist replied. Her client, like many others who have suffered sexual abuse as children, had mental-health issues dealing with dissociation; but otherwise she was a mentally competent and honest woman who only asked that the police investigate her allegations. "She's doing it for other little girls," she said.
Hill looked for any excuse to dismiss what The Witness had to say. He did not need to get re-involved in a case that had already cost him more than he could afford. He had plenty of other cases to worry about.
Still, this woman sounded so alone and frightened. After several more telephone conversations with The Witness, as he'd now come to think of her, and her therapist, Hill decided he needed to go to California to meet her and review her materials.
At her therapist's office, The Witness laid out what she knew while Hill videotaped. She said she didn't expect Hill, or the police, to take her word for what had happened to her -- what was still happening, she said, as her therapist confirmed that The Witness continued to be assaulted and controlled by this subculture. The police in her hometown just took her family's word for it that she was crazy, despite the fact that she had told the truth twenty years ago and sent a perpetrator to jail.
Hill returned from that trip "a changed man." He believed her -- even if not every word she said was true, even if she was drawing conclusions that might not be accurate, he agreed that a qualified law-enforcement agency needed to look into her claims.
Back in Boulder, Hill spoke to Barrie Hartman, who arranged a secret meeting with Hunter. Accompanied by Singular, who thought that in light of his own research The Witness's story was plausible, Hill met with the district attorney and one of his investigators at Hartman's home.
Hill presented what The Witness had told him. He knew it sounded incredible, but was impressed when Hunter didn't blow him off. He, in fact, asked a lot of questions. They all agreed that they should proceed slowly, that The Witness should gather what evidence she could of her family's own role in the sexual abuse of children and its possible connection to the Ramsey case.
But then things changed drastically. The Witness called, frightened. She had recently been beaten and sexually assaulted by members of her extended family, and they'd warned her about keeping her mouth shut, she said. They were trying to pressure her into coming to Colorado with one of the men she said had been her childhood tormentor, who was connected to the Ramseys. He had been calling her himself, ever since Hill's television interview regarding the Ramsey deposition, to check on her. Now she was afraid she might be abducted, or worse.
Hill contacted law-enforcement friends in the Los Angeles area, where The Witness claimed much of the abuse had happened, to try to get a case going. However, he ran out of time.
On the Saturday of President's Day weekend, the woman's therapist called Hill from her mobile telephone. She had The Witness in her car and they were on the run. "We think we're being followed," the therapist said. The Witness had left everything -- her apartment, her clothes, her belongings, even her car, so that anyone stalking her wouldn't know that she was escaping. They were on their way to an airport four hours away so that The Witness wouldn't be spotted leaving Los Angeles. She was coming to Colorado.
Hill met her at Denver International Airport after midnight. She was frightened and had little more than the clothes on her back. She'd even left her purse and the prescribed estrogen she took because of a hysterectomy she'd undergone several years before (attributable, she said, to the sexual abuse she'd suffered since childhood).
Hill took her to a hotel in Boulder, where he left her to spend the night. He'd contacted Hunter, who'd arranged for him to bring her to the Boulder Police Department on Tuesday. At first, the police said that Hill couldn't be in the interview room with her, at which The Witness balked. But after pointing out that even the Ramseys were allowed to have their attorney sit with them during police interviews, and the fact that there would be no interview otherwise, the police relented.
In the meantime, Hill needed to find a safe place to hide her. His first thought was an official "safehouse" of the sort used to protect victims of domestic violence. However, because Hill would not reveal the name of the man The Witness was afraid of -- whose name would have been instantly recognizable -- the safehouses in Boulder and Longmont refused to accept her, even after Hunter intervened.
On Tuesday afternoon, The Witness met with two Boulder detectives while Hunter watched the interview on closed-circuit television from another room. Hill didn't know it, but The Witness was ill and running a high temperature.
Halfway through what would be a four-hour interview, Hill took a break and went back to his office. He was stunned when he listened to a message from The Witness's therapist. They had figured that The Witness's family would file a missing-persons report in order to locate her; they'd even briefed Hunter about the possibility. Now he learned that the Boulder police had contacted the police in The Witness's hometown and told them that not only was she in Boulder, but that she would be coming to the police station with her attorney, Lee Hill, to talk about the Ramsey case. The police in California had passed all of that information back to The Witness's family -- the very people she didn't want to know where she was or what she was doing.
Livid, Hill returned to the police station and told The Witness what had happened -- in front of the detectives, who tried to explain that they were just following standard procedure. The Witness turned pale. She said she was now concerned over the safety of her niece, who she suspected may be suffering the same abuse she had. And she was worried about the case, because now her family would know to destroy or hide evidence. And she was worried about her personal safety. The man she was naming was wealthy and these people, she said, were ruthless.
At the end of the interview, the detectives slid their business cards across the table to her. But there was one last thing The Witness wanted to tell them. She said that in the most recent assault, she had been burned with a stun gun. She wanted to know if there was a female detective who could examine and photograph the marks as evidence. The cops arranged it.
When she stepped out of the interview room, Hill, who didn't want to make a scene in front of her, demanded that Hunter come into the room. When the district attorney was present, Hill lit into the detectives. They'd done very little about letting The Witness get to the important parts of her story, choosing instead to question her about when she might be "going home."
"She can't go home," Hill yelled. If their leak to the California police was standard procedure, then any stalker in the country could locate his prey by filing a missing-persons report. He was a former law-enforcement officer and he knew that revealing the whereabouts (much less that she was a potential witness in a murder case) of a competent adult who knew where she was didn't wash.
"At considerable risk to herself, she leaves everything and comes forward to try to help you people. Then you needlessly strip her of her only security and tell her pursuers where she is and what she's doing. And all you can give her to shield herself is two fucking business cards. I'll be goddamned if I'm the only one responsible for her safety."
Hunter tried to diffuse the situation, but Hill and The Witness left through the back door. Now Hill was really worried about finding her a safe place to stay. He turned to his friends with the American Indian Movement -- if there was one group of people who weren't afraid of standing up to the government, it was AIM. He called friends, a poor family who didn't have much. Yet without asking any questions about why this woman might be in danger or what risk they might face, they told Hill to bring her over. Suddenly, he felt enormous relief. Leave it to his people to offer what they had to someone in need.
The Witness stayed with them for several days, but Hill knew that they were barely scraping by as it was, so he looked for someplace else to hide her while they waited to hear from the Boulder police.
In the meantime, Hill called an FBI agent he knew and told him the story. The agent recommended a colleague who was a specialist in child pornography. Accompanied by Singular, Hill and The Witness went to meet the federal agent. In one hour, the agent knew more of the woman's story than the Boulder police had learned in four. What's more, whether he believed her or not, he treated her with respect and empathy. And he set her up with an FBI victim-witness advocate who found her a place with a Denver-area safehouse. There, once staffers knew The Witness's story, they hired extra armed guards.
The next day, however, Hartman called Hill. He'd decided that the woman's best protection would be to publicize her story. Then, if anyone made a move against her, he'd draw attention to himself. Hill, Singular and Hunter were against the idea, but Hartman remained convinced that this was the best way. And that's how a brief outline of the woman's allegations hit the newspapers."
The meeting with the FBI and the news story accomplished two things. At the safehouse, The Witness, who had been complaining that she was in severe pain, was taken in for a medical examination, which revealed that she had recently been beaten and sexually assaulted as she'd claimed; in fact, she was suffering from abdominal bleeding, had several sexually transmitted diseases and showed marks where she claimed to have been burned with a stun gun. Her injuries were so severe that she stayed in the hospital for two days.
However, because of the publicity, tabloid reporters were on her trail. The safehouse managers were afraid they'd find her and reveal the location, endangering other women. She had to find someplace else to stay. This time, a friend of Hill's, who had made it a passion to gather information on the Ramsey case through her Web site, offered her home in Boulder. Hill and The Witness gratefully accepted.
The Witness sits on the couch, clutching a pillow to her abdomen. She looks ready to bolt when Hill announces he has an errand to run and leaves her alone to tell her life story to a stranger.
Dressed in a loose-fitting plaid shirt and sweat pants, The Witness would blend in to any crowd. She's of average height and build. Her hair is short, brown and unremarkable. Her blue eyes tear up behind wire-rimmed glasses and her face flushes several times during the interview, but she doesn't cry. When she smiles or laughs, it's always a quick, fleeting thing, as though she's waiting for the other shoe to drop.
She's been living here since the first article appeared in the Daily Camera. She's afraid to go outside. Afraid that they may spot her, and she will have to flee again.
The question is: Are they real? Or are they just the figments of her paranoia, the bogeymen of a troubled 37-year-old woman?
It's easiest to dismiss her story, as the police in Boulder and California apparently have done. But there's also enough to make one wonder.
She was born April 25, 1962, and since that time has led a double life. One life was presented to the public: a pretty little blond, neatly dressed and very polite, though quiet under her mother's watchful eye. And like another famous girl thirty some years later, she was dressed up and posed for photographers -- for example, she's a model for a 1964-'65 calendar that's among the "evidence" she has shown to Hill.
The other side of her life was much darker. Her earliest memory, she says, is of sitting on the toilet in her parents' home when she was three years old, screaming because blood was dripping from her body into the water. "I had been raped," she says.
In hundreds of pages of recollections she wrote down for her therapist, long before JonBenet was murdered, she alleged, "I was taught at a very young age to tolerate the pain or be punished. I was taught at a very young age to always thank the man for being so good to me, and one of the first statements I memorized for my family was, 'It was my pleasure,' even if what had just been done to me hurt me.
"The only problem that they ever had with me was that sometimes when a man was going to start ****ing me, I would urinate all over the bed. My urinating in the bed caused me to have more than one beating with a belt, but it seemed to be something that I couldn't help."
Her child's body was too young to enjoy sex or achieve orgasm. Toward this end, a man named Mackie Boykin was appointed as her "handler." Boykin had been in her life, she says, "ever since I can remember." However, he became part of the family after his brother married her mother.
Living just a few houses down the street, Boykin's job was to train her and other little girls -- whom she says her family and their "guests" referred to as their "Pretty Little Whores" -- in sadomasochistic sexual practices. One of his favorite techniques was to get her body to simulate orgasm (through convulsions) by choking her to the point that she almost passed out (and occasionally did). To accomplish this, he sometimes pressed his thumbs against the carotid arteries in her neck, or used a variety of ropes, belts and scarves to bind her wrists and ankles and choke her, all while other men, referred to as "Uncles," sexually assaulted her.
This subculture was a family tradition, according to The Witness. Her own mother told her that, as a child, she had been similarly used by one of the men whom she allowed to rape her daughter.
Some of The Witness's evidence seems innocuous until it's placed in context with the Ramsey case. There are photographs of her on Santa's lap, like those last photographs of JonBenet -- however this Santa, The Witness says, was part of the child-sex subculture, a "warmup for the main event."
There are the letters and photographs, even a name in her baby book that proves she and her family have a long connection -- dating back to the 1930s -- with the family of men she says sexually abused her, including the man who has been a family friend of the Ramseys.
Still, it doesn't prove anything regarding JonBenet’s death. They're just tantalizing pieces of an unsolved puzzle, especially in light of recent information that's made headlines -- after The Witness came forward. The Ramseys contend in their new book, The Death of Innocence, that the police need to look at their innermost circle of friends. Also, investigator Lou Smit, a legendary homicide detective who was hired by Hunter but quit because he felt the Boulder police were too focused on the Ramseys, recently said he believes that an intruder entered the house, and noted that JonBenet had stun-gun marks on her. And, as everyone knows, JonBenet was found with a garrote around her neck and a piece of cord tied around one of her wrists.
The most convincing piece of the puzzle is that when The Witness claimed to have been sexually assaulted once before, she told the truth. Boykin was subsequently charged with 64 counts of sexual assault, kidnapping and various other related crimes. He was allowed to plead guilty to four counts and served only ten months. Two days after he was released from prison, he showed up at the doorstep of The Witness, who had moved out of state and was supposedly in protective custody -- but her own family had told him where to find her. She was seventeen, and her torment by Boykin and others, she says, continued for nearly twenty years.
It even continued after November 1996, when Boykin died -- one month before JonBenet was murdered. The question lingers: With the master of sexual asphyxiation of little girls gone, had an amateur messed up and accidentally killed JonBenet?
The Witness does not know. But she and people like Singular, Hill, Hartman and even apparently Alex Hunter believe it is a possibility worth examining. As to whether she seems credible, The Witness doesn't act any crazier than Detective Linda Arndt, who rolled her eyes wildly, talked about counting her bullets because she was afraid of John Ramsey and claimed to know who killed JonBenet in an interview with ABC last fall.
At any rate, The Witness's account is interrupted when Hill returns. She's exhausted and starting to stress out, clutching the pillow ever tighter. She nearly goes through the roof when there's a knock on the door. It's the Boulder police. But how did they find her?
Not to worry. The officer is there to arrest the home's owner because she failed to appear in court over a citation for her barking dog. The tension runs out of the room, lost in the irony as Hill laughs: The Boulder police haven't managed to arrest anyone for the murder of JonBenet, but they can track down a renegade dog owner -- all while a would-be witness in their town's biggest murder case cowers behind the door.
As Hill begins to leave to arrange bond for the home's owner, The Witness looks up from where she's sitting on the ground, petting the dog, and tells Hill, "You're my hero."