Jonbenét Murder Case:
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