Case `took over my life,' professor says

August 18, 2006|By NICK MADIGAN | NICK MADIGAN,SUN REPORTER

A University of Colorado journalism professor who authorities say led them to the man who confessed to killing JonBenet Ramsey has been fascinated with the case for years.

"That little girl kind of took over my life, certainly professionally," Michael Tracey, director of the university's Center for Mass Media Research, told the Rocky Mountain News in a 2001 interview.

Tracey, 62, a Briton and former head of a media think tank in London, has produced three television documentaries on the JonBenet case, the most recent in 2004. All were intended primarily to dispel doubts about the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, whom he believed had been unjustly targeted for suspicion.

John Mark Karr, the man arrested this week in Bangkok, Thailand, in the killing of the young beauty pageant star on Dec. 26, 1996, contacted Tracey after watching one of his documentaries and began a four-year e-mail correspondence with him, according to an interview in the Rocky Mountain News this week with Ollie Gray, an investigator hired years ago by the Ramsey family.

Gray told the newspaper that Tracey eventually became disturbed by certain things Karr was writing about in his e-mails and was encouraged by investigators to continue corresponding with him so that they could track him down.

Yesterday, reached at a news conference held by Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy to discuss Karr's arrest, Tracey told the Rocky Mountain News: "I don't know if he's guilty. He's a dangerous guy, whether he did it or not. He has the right to be presumed innocent. I got involved in this, for 10 years, because I believe that right was never extended to the Ramseys, and that was wrong."

Patsy Ramsey, who died in June of ovarian cancer, had been told that an arrest in the case was close.

Tracey's office voice mail was full yesterday, and he could not be reached for further comment. University officials referred reporters' inquiries to the college's spokesman, Barry Hartman.

"He's being besieged, and I want to know what to do with all this media. It's his show," Hartman said.

Hartman, a former editor of Boulder's Daily Camera newspaper who retired in 2001, said he and Tracey had been "trading notes" on the JonBenet case for years.

"He was always very knowledgeable about it," Hartman said. "He never gave up. He's a very tenacious guy."

Once Karr was arrested, Hartman said, it became clear that Tracey's efforts had paid off.

"He is the link, no question about it," Hartman said, referring to the professor.

He and Tracey had been "aghast" at investigators' treatment of the Ramseys, he said. "Instead of trying to find the real killers, they just assumed it was the Ramseys," he said.

In a University of Colorado news release on Dec. 7, 2004, about Tracey's documentary Who Killed the Pageant Queen? Tracey was quoted as saying that "media leaks about the evidence and absurd theories as to how JonBenet died helped to convince the public that the parents did it."

Tracey's biography on the university's Web site calls him an "internationally recognized researcher and scholar" who went to Colorado in 1988 from England, where he had been head of the Broadcasting Research Unit, Britain's leading think tank dealing with media issues.

In an article in the Rocky Mountain News in December 2001, Tracey said he had been working in relative academic obscurity when JonBenet Ramsey was killed five years earlier.

Tracey's career took a different path, the newspaper said, after he wrote a commentary for the Daily Camera critical of the news media's handling of the Ramsey case.

"I've written eight or nine books," he told the Rocky Mountain News, "but that little op-ed piece that took 45 minutes did more to shift my life than anything else."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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