AR­REST MADE

Jonbenét Mur­der Case:

In Touch (USA) - - Cover story -

Con­fessed pe­dophile Gary Oliva, who was ar­rested for child pornog­ra­phy on June 16, has ad­mit­ted to be­ing ob­sessed with Jonbenét and was liv­ing near her Boul­der home when she was mur­dered in 1996. Now, former homi­cide de­tec­tive Bo Di­etl tells In Touch, “in­ves­ti­ga­tors will go over Oliva with a fine-tooth comb.”

A former sus­pect in the Jonbenét Ram­sey case is back be­hind bars. Inside the new in­ves­ti­ga­tion

It was after dark on June 16 when three po­lice of­fi­cers, act­ing on a tip, made their way down a stretch of train tracks in Boul­der, Colo., to hunt down a sus­pect. Within 20 min­utes, they walked un­der a bridge and came upon their man, a 52-year-old tran­sient with a sun-weath­ered face, a scrag­gly beard and hair down to his shoul­ders, who handed over his Ore­gon state iden­tity card and was quickly ar­rested. The charges: pos­ses­sion and at­tempt to dis­trib­ute more than 20 graphic images of child pornog­ra­phy.

As hor­ri­fy­ing as those charges are, there is an even more shock­ing el­e­ment to the case: the man’s past con­nec­tion to the bru­tal mur­der of Jonbenét Ram­sey. A con­victed sex of­fender, Gary Howard Oliva has ad­mit­ted to an ob­ses­sion with the 6-year-old beauty queen, who was found blud­geoned, with the crude gar­rote that was used to stran­gle her still twisted around her neck, in the base­ment of her home on the day after Christ­mas in 1996. He’s re­vealed that he was near the crime scene on that ter­ri­ble night. Sev­eral days later he called a friend to con­fess that he’d done some­thing horrible to a child, and was even pre­vi­ously ques­tioned by cops in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case. Now, In Touch has ex­clu­sively ob­tained doc­u­ments that il­lus­trate the depth of the con­fessed pe­dophile’s de­prav­ity. Ol­lie Gray, who worked as a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor for Jonbenét’s fa­ther, John Ram­sey, and has stayed on the case, tells In Touch he be­lieves Oliva may have been an ac­com­plice in the mur­der. “I’ve al­ways had a strong be­lief that Jonbenét died at the hands of a ring of pe­dophiles,” he says. “Gary Oliva should have been looked at more closely years ago but the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by lo­cal po­lice wasn’t done right.” Pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor Richard “Bo” Di­etl, a highly dec­o­rated former New York homi­cide de­tec­tive who has also in­ves­ti­gated the case, agrees. “This is a bomb­shell ar­rest,” he tells In Touch. “In­ves­ti­ga­tors smell blood in the water.”

Oliva’s rap sheet is chill­ing. The re­ported para­noid schiz­o­phrenic, whose lengthy crim­i­nal his­tory includes prison time for the sex­ual as­sault of a 7-year-old girl in Ore­gon and an at­tempt to stran­gle his own mother with a phone cord, was first grilled about Jonbenét after a drug ar­rest in 2000. Cops searched his back­pack and found a pic­ture of her, a poem ti­tled “Ode to Jonbenét” and a stun gun, which he claimed had been given to him for pro­tec­tion. (That raised sus­pi­cion be­cause marks on Jonbenét’s body led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to con­clude a stun gun was used on the child right be­fore she was mur­dered.) “The po­lice depart­ment is cer­tainly very fa­mil­iar with him, both be­cause of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that was done in the con­text of the Ram­sey case, and be­cause of his crim­i­nal his­tory and the fact that he is a reg­is­tered sex of­fender,” says Boul­der city spokes­woman Sarah Hunt­ley. “We are not com­fort­able rul­ing any­body in or out as a sus­pect in con­nec­tion with Jonbenét, in­clud­ing Mr. Oliva.”

Those are stun­ning words. Boul­der au­thor­i­ties have been

ex­tremely cau­tious with their pub­lic state­ments after once declar­ing John and wife Patsy Ram­sey un­der “an umbrella of sus­pi­cion.” But in­ves­ti­ga­tors have long sus­pected that there was more than one killer. “There were at least three or more peo­ple in­volved,” Gray, who is now work­ing the case on his own along with a team of de­voted de­tec­tives, tells In Touch. “There were more than 30 child mo­lesters in town when Jonbenét was killed.” To find ev­ery­one who par­tic­i­pated in the mur­der, Gray says “the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is going to have to dig deep into a pe­dophile ring that has ex­isted for many years in Boul­der. “

Boul­der cops ig­nored that pos­si­bil­ity for years. Gray be­lieves that inexperienced de­tec­tives, over­whelmed by the mag­ni­tude of the mur­der that rocked the nation, mis­han­dled the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. By swiftly fo­cus­ing on John and Patsy as sus­pects, they missed clues that could have led to deeply trou­bled lo­cal junk­yard worker Michael Hel­goth. In an ex­clu­sive In Touch re­port, Gray named Hel­goth as Jonbenét’s killer just this past April. “I be­lieve Hel­goth and his ac­com­plices com­mit­ted the crime; there’s no doubt,” says Gray. And while Hel­goth died less than two months after Jonbenét, the cap­ture of one of the other killers could finally crack the case.

Oliva first caught the at­ten­tion of Gray’s team back in 1997, when he showed up at a vigil held at the crime scene on the first an­niver­sary of Jonbenét’s death. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed that

he had been home­less and liv­ing in Boul­der on the night of the mur­der, re­port­edly had a his­tory of fail­ing to regis­ter as a sex of­fender, and that he fre­quented a church soup kitchen less than a block away from the Ram­sey home. “Hel­goth spent some time at build­ings owned by the church and Oliva also got his mail at the church,” says Gray, who adds that his team tipped off Boul­der cops about Oliva back then. “There’s a pos­si­ble link be­tween the two men that needs a much more thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

And just days after the mur­der, a friend says that Oliva made a haunt­ing con­fes­sion. “He was sob­bing on the phone. He re­lated to me that he’d done some­thing horrible,” his friend, iden­ti­fied only as Michael, told 48 Hours in 2002, adding that Oliva told him he had hurt a child.

It cer­tainly wasn’t the first red flag. Michael re­vealed that Oliva had sent him graphic cas­sette tapes on which he sim­u­lated rap­ing a child and talked of “mak­ing ba­con strips out of lit­tle girls.” And In Touch has ob­tained ex­clu­sive doc­u­ments from his 1991 ar­rest in which he read­ily ad­mit­ted that “lit­tle girls turn me on” and stated that he needed help. He was con­victed of sex­u­ally abus­ing his 7-year-old vic­tim while babysit­ting her. “He also took a cord and tried to stran­gle his own mother,” Gray points out, re­fer­ring to the 1991 ar­rest. (Oliva de­nies the stran­gling charge.) “And Jonbenét was stran­gled with a gar­rote.”

Nat­u­rally, Oliva was drawn to Jonbenét. “Sex of­fend­ers would be looking at Jonbenét as their golden tro­phy,” Di­etl tells In Touch of the kinder­gartener, who’ll al­ways be re­mem­bered for the glam­orous photos and videos in which she was styled to look like a grown woman, pos­ing provoca­tively with red lips and golden ringlets. “When you see that footage of her in her lit­tle cow­boy suit going, ‘I wanna be a cow­boy sweet­heart’ and all that, I’ve never seen any­thing like it,” Oliva told 48 Hours in 2002. And while he ad­mit­ted that he was liv­ing just down the street when she died, he in­sisted he didn’t mur­der her. In­stead, he said cryp­ti­cally, “I be­lieve she came to me after she was killed and re­vealed her­self to me.”

Still, cops ig­nored tips about Oliva. He wasn’t ques­tioned un­til his ar­rest nearly four years after Jonbenét’s death, and sub­mit­ted his hair for a DNA test at that time. The results re­port­edly didn’t match the sam­ple found on her un­der­wear but “in­ves­ti­ga­tors must be care­ful not to put all the weight in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the DNA,” po­lice foren­sic specialist Greg­gory Laberge tells In Touch. “Be­cause the DNA, as im­por­tant as it is, could be mis

lead­ing them, depend­ing on who it matches or who it doesn’t match.” In­deed, in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized foren­sic expert Henry Lee said that the DNA could have come from many sources, going all the way back to the fac­tory in which her clothes were man­u­fac­tured.

Now that he’s back in cus­tody, Oliva could still give up crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. “We feel like we ought to look at all peo­ple as be­ing pos­si­ble sus­pects who have been pos­si­ble sus­pects be­fore,” says Boul­der city spokes­woman Hunt­ley. Gray plans to hand over all of his files on Oliva. “All these bits of in­for­ma­tion pile up and tell us that po­lice need to start over and take a good look at Oliva,” says Gray, adding that he won’t give up on find­ing out what hap­pened to Jonbenét, who would have turned 26 this Au­gust. “My group is do­ing what we can, but in the past we’ve been ig­nored by po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors.” Di­etl doesn’t think that will hap­pen this time with Oliva. “In­ves­ti­ga­tors will scru­ti­nize his every moment, ev­ery­one he’s been with, ev­ery­thing he’s said and ev­ery­thing he’s done,” he says.

Gray is con­vinced that they’re close to catch­ing all of the killers. “There are a group of men walk­ing free who thought they lit­er­ally got away with mur­der when they stran­gled Jonbenét to death,” says Gray. “Now they’re sweat­ing be­cause Oliva’s ar­rest has sparked a fresh in­ter­est in the case. We’re hom­ing in on them, and we won’t stop un­til we bring them to jus­tice.”

— Re­port­ing by Larry Ha­ley

‘‘ I should have killed you a long time ago” — CON­VICTED PE­DOPHILE GARY OLIVA TO HIS MOTHER BE­FORE AL­LEGEDLY TRY­ING TO STRAN­GLE HER

DARK OB­SES­SION

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