From Mortuary Transporter to JonBenét Ramsey Suspect: An Interview with JT Colfax
Jason Arment interviews JT Colfax surrounding the series of events and choices that wound him from being a mortuary transporter to a JonBenét Ramsey suspect, and more.
[Jason Arment:] You’re taking photos of the dead?
[JT Colfax:] I stole them, I shoplifted them.
Then you request JonBenét Ramsey’s medical documents.
I stole them.
Let’s start at: you’re taking these photos that eventually get you in trouble.
That was the first—in one blob of trouble. It was the mortuary photos. I was all over the news and getting charges in four different municipalities. For the photos alone, when someone added fuel to the fire and snitched on me for stealing the morgue log papers that logged JonBenét into the Boulder Community Hospital morgue, which acts as the morgue in Boulder.
Someone snitched on you?
Another mortuary worker who wanted to be a cop.
How do you get in trouble for the pictures, first and foremost. Let’s go there.
Previous to this, I was living in San Francisco again. I was going to commit suicide, and I went to Canada. I had this crazy idea called “temporary Cobain” that I graffed all over Vancouver. Chickening out of suicide, I thought, “I’ll just go to jail in a foreign country, you know. Burn something down.” I wanted to make it to the French side of Canada, to learn French. Temporary Cobain meant to put yourself into suspended animation—just burn something down, go to jail, and be different in four, five, or six years.
This was back before Fight Club was a thing, before escaping from society became romanticized. What year was this?
’96, when JonBenét was killed.
That Christmas, I had left San Francisco for a month and a half. I stayed in a hotel on Grandville Ave in Vancouver—the Royal Hotel. I was just waiting for the day to commit suicide or something. Originally, I wanted to go to France to go to jail. Then, I wanted to go to Montreal, but I was just stuck there.
The hotel thought I was such a weirdo. Bitterly, I had to get up every day by ten or eleven o’clock, just so they could clean my room. They’d become really upset if I didn’t let them in there for a day or two. My family was calling San Francisco, frantic, because I wouldn’t communicate, because I wouldn’t even get the messages. And I was waiting to do all this. And the day after Christmas, I used the rest of the money to buy a ticket back to San Francisco, but could only make it back to Seattle. I called my sister, she sent me the money, and I traveled back to Denver on a bus.
In Portland, Oregon, at a McDonald’s on a layover, reading The Oregonian, and somewhere around page 10, this is the first I ever heard of, and I didn’t know how to say it, weird name, JonBenét Ramsey. Then I go through epic blizzards and flooding. Delay after delay. I finally got back to Denver by New Year’s, miserable and exhausted. Through the stress of trying to commit suicide for two months. I stay at my sister’s house.
By Jan 7, 1997, I saw a classified ad for a “first call” position in the mortuary business. At the time, I’d been that before, but I’d never seen an ad for it ever. Naturally, I hopped right on it. I come back a total wreck, then BAM, I’m back in the mortuary business.
The JonBenét case is raging everywhere; now it’s spread around the world. But it’s just something in the background, I’m so depressed and out of it and starting a new job. I’m not paying glued attention to it or anything, but you can’t live in Denver and not hear about it. It’s giant. At that point, it was giant because of the police bungling. Also, her pageantry and that sort of thing.
What police bungling?
The police get the call early in the morning at 6 o’clock. They understand it’s some sort of kidnapping, so they pull up lights blaring in front of the kidnapping house. Anyone who has ever watched television for more than two hours knows that is not the way to do it, because the house might be watched by the kidnappers. And they have no choice but to believe this is kidnappers—the mother is saying that and saying there is a ransom note.
Then the house fills up with people, and they let the father and a friend search the house. They walk right to a basement boiler room. And he’s like, “Oh my God! There she is!” And picks up the body, brings it up, and dumps it under the Christmas tree. Creating trace particles everywhere. And his best friend also knew right then.
God, I almost …
Bringing you back?
It does? I abused JonBenét in the media, and for my own fun—
What do you mean, “abused JonBenét?”
As in, I didn’t take her seriously and used for my own purposes.
So, probably more accurate to say that you were not respectful of JonBenét and the memory of her life.
It chokes me up sometimes, when I think about Fleet White and his wife, who were the friends the Ramseys had dinner with that night, Christmas night. And they believed so much in them. And then they realized they were being used. But that came later.
Police mistake was that Fleet White and Jon Ramsey were told by the police to go search the house for any other kind of clues, when the house should be completely unoccupied by anyone but police at that point. And there is also the fact that John Ramsey, before the search, made arrangements with his pilot. They all intended to go to Atlanta for Christmas. But he told his pilot that there would be a delay, and they’d be leaving in a few hours. To me, it’s the most giant red flag of all. Who do you think you are? Your daughter is missing, and you’re going to fly off to have your regular Christmas plans?
But just on the subject of JonBenét herself, which I’ve had to deal with so long. Some kind of cold state overtook me. I don’t like seeing pictures of her, and I don’t like thinking about her at all. I only really thought of police bungling and my own problems.
So, you’re telling me you made her into an abstract thought because it was easier to deal with the death of a totally innocent child?
There definitely was something, pageants and the way she was presented, that made me think of her as a cartoon.
Yeah, it’s sick, but it’s typical Americana. I see what you’re saying, but I don’t know if it reflects poorly on the parents, because it is so common.
It made me feel less about her. I suppose you could find some other six-year-old who was murdered, and I could feel more about it, somehow. I definitely picked up children. I picked up a young boy, eight years old in Wyoming. He was killed in an accident while riding with his father in a big rig. And I heard about it all the way up there, because you can only get one radio station all the way to Casper.
When you say picked up?
Picked him up as a dead body. I came from Denver to get him, because they didn’t have a good airport in Wyoming. Those were lucrative jobs for me, by the way, to go into Wyoming. I picked him up fully ready, as in, he was dressed and casketed. That was heartbreaking. A little boy in a tuxedo.
It sounds like this impacted your psyche. So, you’re doing your thing.
Life is going on. I hate the owner of this first call service. His name is James Cullven. I hate him. He’s just an awful person. Now, I’m out of my sister’s house. I suffered from depression. And my sister loves me and she takes care of me so much, but she didn’t know much about it at that time either, as much as she knows now.
I would stay at her house for weeks, for months, I was always like a robot—uncomfortable. And they would wonder why. I couldn’t help it, because I was staying there.
It’s hard to be “on” all the time.
Which made things worse. As soon as I started getting paid by the first call service, I moved to a slummy rooming house which you could get very cheap for those days in Denver.
80 dollars a week or something.
What year was this? 1997?
Very early. January 7th. I was dirt poor, but back then you could get your own place and get out of people’s hair. It was a dump. It was just a tiny room. And the owner was a tyrant! Scream, scream, scream all the time. He seemed to treat me okay, like I was different from some of the bums.
We need to get to where the rubber meets the road, about the photos.
Operating as poorly as I was, I did things like shoplift. I was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, in that rotten little room.
Were you being paid while you were on call?
No. You only got 13 dollars a body in town, and then the further out of town you’d get more. And you’d get a little more if you went on a house call. But they did add up. And I generally had one Wyoming trip a week. And that could be like 150 bucks for me. Considering I’m paying 80 dollars a week, the other 70 dollars of the 150 dollars is there. And then, of course, all the daily—some days you may pick up ten 13-dollar corpses. Other days you sit there all day, not knowing.
So, I got the rig outside, it was a Suburban. As part of ordinary mortuary experience, what happens is, you’ve got two gurneys out there. You’ve got sheets and various things. Because generally, you go to the hospital to pick up the body, you lift up the sheets and pull them over onto your gurney. Then you throw your fresh clean sheet onto the bed, and the nurse signs off.
During this endless standby, because I had these sheets I had out in the car, I started painting things onto the sheets. Then I’d throw them onto bodies, later, if no one else was there. I had keys, or codes, to get into mortuaries. I never went to a mortuary just to do that. I always had a drop-off or a pickup.
They would say things like, “Getting fired isn’t the end of the world.” Obviously, that was on my mind. “Happy Halloween.” I guess I was kind of thinking of them as greeting cards. But it made it look—this very much confused the police, and public—it gave the appearance that I stood around the bodies at night, in the morgue, painting for hours. But I didn’t. I did it at home.
Okay. So, this is all going on. How do the photos of the dead come into play?
So, I take the photos. I have them developed at a Safeway store in Five Points, which was very much a ghetto at the time. I get them from the counter, in their envelope, and then go shopping around the store and I shoplift them. They’d be like nine or ten bucks, and I need that nine or ten bucks. One time, I got busted. They saw me from upstairs or on camera or something. I took the inner envelope out and crumbled up the other thing, and hid the photos. They knew exactly where. I get taken upstairs to the office. There is a real off-duty cop on duty.
At first, it’s all ordinary. I’m just a shoplifter who stole nine dollars of merchandise for not paying for those pictures. But then they opened them, and life changed drastically after that.
At first, it’s all ordinary. I’m just a shoplifter who stole nine dollars of merchandise for not paying for those pictures. But then they opened them, and life changed drastically after that. Because next thing you know the entire Safeway parking lot filled up with cop cars, filled up with them. There were cops everywhere. And the cop’s greed was incredible.
I knew it was going to be weird when they discovered what was in the photos, but I didn’t expect it to be so murder-y. I didn’t expect, with all the mortuary equipment in the background of every photo, I didn’t expect it to be so concentrated on that I had murdered these people. And there is a wide variety of people in the photos. They freaked out.
Describe these photos for me.
The photos turned out to be taken in four municipalities. It’s not like I cared as I took the photos, where I was, it just meant I come in at two o’clock in the morning to this place and no one is here, so I can go ahead and throw something on this body and take a picture.
But, of course, to the bane of my existence, I worked all over the metro area and further to Wyoming or Colorado Springs, and now I have cases in four different municipalities. And what is in the photos, the main thing is that it shows all these places, every single photo had a corpse in it. I don’t remember if there were any, at that point, if I’d taken any strange, “Oh, this corpse looks disgusting, or giant, or fat, or armless.” I think every one of them had been dressed up a little.
Were you dressing them up?
Dressed up as in throw a sheet over them with signage. Or sometimes it was about poster-sized paper that I had with me. What attracted the police so much was, well, it was all dead bodies with strange things.
There was one where I, uh, the mortician who later snitched me out on the JonBenét Ramsey morgue logs, I popped by his house. He was Mormon. His family was there. I had to go on call, it was his birthday, and his mother gave me a party blower. And I had that on me. I didn’t buy it or anything. I had it on me, and I had to go on a call. So, I stuck that in a woman’s mouth.
Which was deeply haunting because it was very, very late at that time, and it popped right back out of her mouth. Then I realized her jaw was sewn shut. But I did get it to stay in there and take that picture. And that one cost me dearly, I would say.
Did the police not like that?
It reeks of someone who has time to do whatever they want.
I feel like it’s one of those dark humor things. You can make it look terrible—
It was totally a dark humor thing.
But you can also make it look totally innocent.
That was my surprise. As in: I knew I shouldn’t be doing this, and what if this was your mother and all of that. I definitely have come to that conclusion over the years. I was a little defiant at first. I was stunned by the arrest. I was like, this is art I’m seeing here, all these atmospheres and these bodies. Someone came up with this for me, called me a still-life photographer.
Wouldn’t you be a still-death photographer?
I thought it was clever.
I understand, but a still-life painting involves life.
[door knocks heard in the background, a package dropped off, interview continues]
It wasn’t as if you were desecrating the corpses.
Yes, I was.
Were you charged with that?
I was charged with that. I was charged with abuse of a corpse. In which, the main line in that law reads something like “offending community sensibilities.” I pleaded guilty. I spent two days in jail. I was supposed to be released, but they kept holding me because that way cops from other municipalities could come. I’d been in Littleton, the cops called me and told me to come down to the Littleton Police Station right away or they would come get me. Then they booked me there. The charges kept coming, even after I was released from jail in Denver.
So, I get there and this horrible cop, like a TV cop, gets up to go greet the two—a detective from Littleton and a detective from Englewood—who came to charge me. I’m in a glassed room. I turned the lawbook the cop I’d been talking to was reading. I read the law about abuse of a corpse. The other two detectives who just arrived cried out, “He’s reading the law! He’s reading the law!” Like I’d just pulled out a grenade.
Knowledge is power, my friend.
I will never forget that. Because I looked through the window like, “What are you, stupid?” I’m still going to be free to go after this. I’m going to be able to go to the library, which I did eventually, to make copies of that law. But this, “He’s reading the law!”
To your memory, you did not actually break the law?
No, I think I did.
In your opinion?
Do you want your mother dressed up with something that looks like a ’60s sleeping bag?
It’s a vague and poorly written law.
It is vague, but there are so many vagaries of what people can do. And, of course, the worst thing is, when you’re charged with abuse of a corpse there is only one thing that everyone comes to.
They think it’s sexually, but it doesn’t have to be, at all.
Which reminds me. Back to the very first arrest in Denver, after all those cops arrived at Safeway for what was a shoplifting incident turned thing of interest.
Were they really treating you like a serial killer?
When I finally was put in a cop car and I saw the Suburban I was in charge of being left behind in the Safeway, and I was on the way to the Police Station, the police car screeches to a halt because another cop car was coming down the street the opposite way.
Obviously, the driver of the car I was in was friends with that one, and he wasn’t going to let that guy out of the loop on the big kill on me. He yanked up the photos from the front seat, ran across the street, and showed his friend through the window of his police car. That guy had nothing to do with this case, but it was obviously hot on the wires of all the radios. They thought so much they had a Dahmer.
They weren’t just trying to railroad you at this point, they’re trying to fry you.
It was more greed. God, they hoped it was so. They really hoped I had killed twenty people and dressed them up, and they were in on the bust.
They were real glory hounds, is what you’re telling me.
It reeked of it. Why stop in the middle of the road and run over and show a cop who has nothing to do with the photos? Because you want your buddy to see the fresh evidence before it gets logged in.
You eventually make your way to some kind of precinct. You’re booked in. Then what?
I’m in the homicide squad, with a body tape outline on the floor to intimidate all the people who are sitting in the seat I’m in who did murder someone. It goes on and on about the photos and how I did it. How I had access. With me saying it’s not that big of a deal. There were two detectives who were mainly doing this. I can’t remember the other one’s name, but one who still works for the cops is named Larry Valentine. He takes me, kind of does this buddy thing where he touches me on the shoulder. I don’t think I’m handcuffed. I probably am. I certainly had been in the car. Maybe he takes them off. And takes me in the hall, and down the hall a little.
There is a holding cell there, but with the door wide open. This is not like an inmate-infested place, this is the homicide police hallway. He takes me there and sits me down and tries to do soft talking, nice voice, and mentions things like, “Sometimes we all get lonely.” Bit by bit, he’s trying to slice into the sex thing. When he did that it was like a sinus headache like you’d never believe. It went all the way down my spine, like “Oh my god!” Because if it isn’t about the idea that I killed all these people—which obviously was never going to materialize as a case, so I wasn’t worried about it—it was the idea that I had sex with these bodies.
Did they ever outright ask you if you had fornicated with the deceased?
Did you say no?
Yes, of course.
Did they check for semen inside of the deceased?
Not that I’m aware of. I bet you they did. You know I’ve never been asked that question?
After all these years.
Whether you fornicated or the semen?
Oh, the fornication, I’ve been asked that for sure. But any mortician is going to be asked that for sure.
I don’t think so, I really don’t.
It happened to me all the time!
Maybe at a party or something.
Yeah, that type of thing.
But not at the cop shop.
No. Okay, yes, totally different. But in casual conversation that is something a mortician gets asked all the time.
That’s just bad, dark humor.
But the gravity of being asked that when all you can say is “No,” and say it in disgust. But there is no way that is going to prove in anyone’s mind that you didn’t.
At this point, there is absolutely no proof that you fornicated with any of the bodies.
No, and there never could be.
Because you didn’t?
Well, yeah. Because I did not.
So, this cop is shaking you down … go forward.
He’s doing the friendly, good cop thing. And as soon as he verges onto the territory and I realize it, I defend myself with, “Corpses are disgusting! I can’t believe you’d even think that!” And now I hate him, and I’m brought back in with the other detective because there is no good cop situation. I must have said, “You can fuck off! That is ridiculous!” I was righteously indignant, but I was also in horrible shock that this is never going to end.
Bottom line, you’re not playing ball. So, you get brought into the room and what do they say then?
I did talk. I said this one is at this mortuary. They asked me. They had certain pictures they were more interested in.
You even cooperated.
I mean, I shoplifted the evidence in a mortuary van.
You’re dead to rights.
At a certain point, they showed a black corpse. We had one black mortuary. There is only, to my knowledge, still just one black mortuary in town. They never called us, but they did once. And I took this black woman over there. And when they showed me her, I refused to identify where it came from. But it wasn’t about her race or anything like that. It was their interest in her because she was different, and me realizing that I’m not doing myself a favor by identifying all the mortuaries where these came from.
And it sure came to pass that it was terrible that I did. First, during this horrible day of being charged with all this and having all of this interaction with the police, I’m only charged in Denver. But then, they reach out to my boss, who I never spoke to again, they go through the books and find out where the business has been lately and come up with all these counties and municipalities. I have charges in Denver County, I have charges in Arapahoe County, I have charges in Littleton, and I have charges in Englewood—both of which are in Arapahoe county, but they’re separate home rule municipalities. Separate courts and everything. So, I’ve got four separate cases, and I’m also thinking if they find out this one was in Jefferson County, this one was in Douglas County, I’ll be going to court forever!
I stopped identifying the mortuaries. And they found it odd I clammed up on the black woman. That mortuary was such an offshoot weird place to go for me, it made me realize I need to stop identifying these places, period. I get taken to the Pringles-can city jail downtown, where it’s so airtight and awful. I ended up staying there for two days, even though the next morning I went to court and got released on a PR bond. But I just remain, and remain, and remain in jail while they work on spreading the word.
So, I come out of the jail, I get to where I was living with the Mormon snitch. He tells me there was this weird little blurb in the paper—I haven’t been home in two days, so he knows something is weird—and there was the most hackneyed one-inch thing in the Rocky Mountain News, not my name in it, totally all jangled and weird. Totally typo insanity. Like they put it as a place marker because they didn’t understand the whole story yet. But then the whole media was on it like crazy.
I agreed to go to the Denver Post building and get interviewed there. They confronted me with Paula Woodward and her team from Channel Nine News, the dominating news channel at the time. I tried to tell, “The cops are lying on this and that and the other.” And she was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, cops lie.” She was not going to hear it. She was a real big bitch. She was the worst reporter I’ve ever dealt with. She mentioned me in her book somewhere and I haven’t even looked. I just know that I’m in there, and I have so low esteem for her that even though it’s me in a book, I’ve never ever even looked at it.
Then, I’m out. Everything is a disaster. I have no job. I have no money. My Mormon roommate who was a bodybuilding and very good-looking guy, could talk about nothing but gay, gay, gay. He thought I was asexual. We all three worked for the same company when I first started that first call thing. He quickly moved on to another job, but I worked with him some. He trained me. And there was another guy, and he was going into the Marines. And he quickly left. And when he did, by that time, I was now the roommate. Those two had been friends for years.
And this guy, we composed a letter to the Marines when his friend was in boot camp in USMCRD to destroy and hurt him. We used the name Demetreus. Acted like Demetreus was upset about him leaving for the Marines. A letter that could be harmful to him and made in such a way that it would have to be opened by someone else to figure out who to deliver it to. By screwing up his name.
Did they keep him in?
I never heard. But we made it on purpose so that it wouldn’t just go right to him, he opens it and goes, “What the fuck?” It was to him, yet not addressed quite correctly. So, someone else would have to know. But the point is, they were friends for years before they joined that mortuary thing, before I came along, and this is what he wanted to do. To harm him with gayness. This guy was obsessed about being gay.
When he moved into the place that I ended up living with him, some gay people from across the street gave him a plant or something. He spoke to them nicely, and then he threw it into the yard after they got back into their house across the street, so it would just rot outside on the lawn. He was obsessed with gayness.
So now, I come back from jail. He knows the media is trying to dig in—I believe that he even received phone calls, somehow. So, I’ve got to get out. I think I borrowed some money from my brother and stayed at the YMCA. Which I’d picked up a corpse in, before, by the way. I must have stayed a night or two because I got the call that I needed to go to Englewood or Littleton, or some other police office I went to where I was charged for three: Arapahoe County, Englewood, and Littleton, where I “read the law!”
So, I had to get out. I had nothing. The YMCA was only 120 dollars a week or something, and I was under massive pressure. And I ended up starting the Ramsey house on fire.
We’re moving way too fast. It is very common for headlines to spur forward police activity.
And as those headlines grew, the police would constantly put into the media notions of my autonomy with the bodies. They used the word autonomy all the time. Which explains how I could throw these paintings on bodies and all that. But they used it in such a way that anyone in the public would automatically wonder what else happened.
I believe that the cops really tried as hard as they could to infer that, and that the media was like, “No, he’s just a kook.” I did then start participating with the media, and alternative media, where I could say what I wanted. One cop told me, “You’re the one causing this.” Because I was in the media. But I never once called the media during that. Never once.
By “in” you mean involved.
No, by me saying the cops did this, the cops lied, or anything like that. That’s why they came and kicked my mattress over in the YMCA. When I’m so destitute and busted. They pound, that horrible cop pound, on the door and toss my room for no reason whatsoever.
And they said, “Because of what you are doing.” As in, because I said this or that.
What do you think they meant?
Because I said anti-cop things in the media. Or engaged with the media period. But I did go to that office where I read the law and got charged by those three different detectives.
When I was in the waiting room, after check-in, they had me sit down and a woman came and sat down next to me reading that day’s Denver Post with a huge article about my day. Just striving to make sure that I can see that. And you wanna go, “Look, that’s me,” but you don’t. And she was an Associated Press reporter. Sitting right next to me beforehand. Then I go in, and it’s just a matter of fingerprints, being charged in all these counties. It’s not a big interview, at this time. Because they already got all that from Denver.
As soon as we were done with the paperwork, the police introduced me to her. They PR’d me with her.
Were any of the questions you answered to your detriment?
It went everywhere. And it ended up on CNN and all kinds of things. It was basic, and I have nothing to complain about. But the fact that the cops arranged it and had her sitting right next to me, to see if I would say something to her. She was definitely showing me that article. And there was an L-shaped series of seats, and there were at least fourteen other places to sit. And she sat right next to me reading the paper in a scrunched-up way.
This is while the JonBenét case is going on.
You’ve got to remember that I know other morticians take pictures, all the time. They have scrapbooks. The guy that owned that company had a scrapbook.
You’ve got to remember that I know other morticians take pictures, all the time. They have scrapbooks. The guy that owned that company had a scrapbook.
How did you know that they did?
My two coworkers.
I hated that guy. And as a first call person to be told that you’re going to be there at 8 a.m. till 6 p.m. and go off on your calls, and then you’re going to be on call all night? No one ever does that. It was just unacceptable to me, as in like, the one thing is you do your calls and you go back home. If you need some sleep, you rest. You don’t sit in an office in a tie all day. It was like two rooms down the hall, and then a reception area, and then an area for me, at this point, because the other two left. I’m sitting there watching a TV they’d installed. I hear mumbling. And he had handwritten a letter of, “All employees will do something.” And then gave it to his mother, out there, and so she types it up and comes and hangs it up next to the TV.
I’m sitting there by myself as I’m the only employee. And I got up and looked at it—I wish I could tell you what it said. It was just boilerplate “all employees will do this,” you know, clean up their lunch debris or whatever. It’s not like I did something to cause it. It was just a memo to all employees and I’m the only employee. And I’d sat there watching it being typed, wondering what was going on. It’s just four sentences, with all this blank space. I signed it like a child with a crayon, to take up all the space.
I then went on some calls and they harassed me the whole time with, “What is taking you so long!” And all that. And I say, “It’s fucking mayhem out here with the traffic!” I never stopped anywhere. I never ever was much of a person to interrupt a call and do something else. So, the pressure kept building on them rushing me, and it’s like, “You made me go all the way to Jefferson County, and I’m in the parking lot going to the coroners over there,” when they’re like, “No!” And that’s when I went to the YMCA. They made me come all the way to the YMCA in downtown Denver because the police were there. So, it’s like, come on give me a few minutes to drop this body off. Then I had to go all the way back to Jefferson County and drop that body off.
The memo filled me with hatred already, and then the constant irrational rushing when anyone could look at the time I got the call and where I am now, and really should not be that concerned about it. Maybe if you got out of your presidential office and go do a call yourself, the problem would be solved. So, I said something like, “I’ll be there when I can be there,” and I hung up. They caught me at another mortuary on the phone. And I hung up on his mother. When I came back, he was all like, “Look, we gotta talk.” And he had that clipboard. “What is the meaning of this?” My huge scrawl. And he was like, “You yelled at my mother!” I told him to fuck off. And he barked, “Give me your pager!” And that was the end of that.
I immediately got a different job at a different place.
This sounds like the job is not that regulated, and maybe it should be.
The only place I ever heard of that wanted people to sit in an office all day, and then be on call all night. And aside from just the insanity of, what is the point? There is nothing for me to do. If I don’t have a dead body and paperwork to fill out about it. I worked for the next company for two months before the whole thing exploded, and it exploded on a better, nicer company—not that they were great. But I really destroyed their business. And that first company, they went on talk radio and tried to say all these things. Like the company I worked for when I got busted, they’re full of criminals and all this. And a very popular radio host named Jay Marvin said, “We know who you are.”
They tried to take advantage of it to boost their own business, when it’s like, this is like mortuary secret stuff. Most people don’t even know what first calls are. And it’s like, you should keep your fucking mouth shut and not get into this when you own a company I worked for two months ago.
It does sound like Tiger King, in a way. You’ve got these non-felonious things happening, you’re not a felon. But this is when the other shoe drops, right? Tell us about it.
This was a media mess, and it had gone national to some degree. Remember Paul Harvey? I was on that. I never heard it, but an inmate told me. It’s not like I haven’t done anything really crazy, like the Ramsey house arson. But the things I put on the signs, and all that. He read it as, “A kooky mortician in Denver does such and such.”
So, I got all of these corpse abuse charges, everywhere. This is very bleak to me. I have nowhere to go. I’m borrowing money just to stay for a week, here and there. And I’m seeing charges stretching out. Say, I get a job anywhere. Say, Taco Bell. How am I going to go to all these court things for a year? For four different municipalities?
So, everything is bleak as well.
And the maximum amount of charges are being leveled at you.
The roommate that kicked me out. That is obsessed with gays. He decides that, in the midst of all this publicity, he needs to throw gas on the fire. He calls the Rocky Mountain News and gets one of the main Ramsey reports, the case is raging but totally separate from me at the time, and tells them how I stole the morgue logs from the JonBenét Ramsey case.
Which I did.
Okay. How did you do that?
I went to the morgue in Boulder. I was pretty drunk. I left from my rooming house in downtown Denver. I was talking in a three-way conversation with two drag queens from New York City. And they loved my mortuary stories. And then I get a page, and they just can’t believe it. “You’re going on a call right now?”
So, I drove to Boulder Community Hospital from downtown Denver. I miss the highway exit that would go to Boulder. Which I grew up so near. Which is the most familiar highway exit in Denver to me. But I keep on driving, and there is no exit all the way to Thornton. Then I come all the way back down and get off. I do get there, to the hospital.
The security guard has to take me down to the morgue. He whispers to nurses I checked in with, and buys me a cup of coffee, one of those where the cup comes down and the coffee gets squirted into it. They know I’ve been drinking, and they’re very nice about it. But he’s getting me a cup of coffee because of it, instead of telling me, “We are not releasing to you.”
We go down into the basement. There is a podium with a giant book on it, and we start checking out my ordinary, dull, fifty-something-year-old guy’s body. I’ve got him sheeted up, and on my gurney, with a cover over it, totally ready to roll. We’re right by the door. I’ve got to sign this guy out, naturally. Anyone who is bringing in a body or taking it out, you’ve got to log into this book to establish chain of custody. A knock comes at the door. I’m already like, no, no!
Remember, I’m not in trouble yet. I showed my roommate the morgue logs the minute I got home, like a schoolgirl. So, I’m just about to leave but a knock comes at the door. And it’s your worst nightmare as a first call person. It is the IBANK.
What does IBANK stand for?
Eye. Bank. The Eye Bank of the Rockies.
Okay, keep going. Sorry, I thought it was some kind of acronym.
So, I’m a two and he’s a King, if we’re playing poker. I have to roll the goddamn body back over, put it on the autopsy table. It doesn’t take forever, but it takes a while. The security guard says, “Well, it’ll be a while.” And he arranges with me that he’ll be back later for the checkout, because I cannot take the body now. I roamed around the basement of the hospital. I stole a piece of a phone to get a longer cord for my phone, because that is how I lived at the time. I couldn’t spend any money on anything. And then it occurred to me.
I’m in a dark conference room, and then it occurred to me that this is the morgue—and I’d propped open the door of the morgue with a magazine—and I did my roaming bored, and kind of angry—I’ve been through this before and really hate it. If I’d have been gone, I’d have been gone. They’d have had to come to the mortuary and do this or something later, without me. Now I have to wait, wait, wait, and I’m drunk. Then, it occurs to me. I’m far off in the basement, away from the morgue, and then it dawns on me that this hospital also is, and that morgue I was just in, is the morgue that JonBenét had to go through.
As soon as that hit me, I went roaring right back in there, grabbed my magazine and let the door shut. I take that book on the podium and flip back through it. Because anyone knows the date! Christmas. And sure enough—how could she not be there!? It is like a little lightning strike to me. There she is! And it’s like, of course she is. How could she not be? And I’m in a big room with a security guard. At first, I took some pictures of the book, hoping that he didn’t notice the flash. And nothing seemed to happen. And then it occurred to me. And I reached up to the top pages and carefully ripped them out.
A lot of podunk police departments still put out reports like that. I have not ripped any pages out yet, though. But I have been dumb enough to pay them money to make copies, not realizing what was happening.
I rip those pages out. I can still see them. I can’t envelop, without making a giant mess, my whole life. And yet I ripped these with really good precision. And it was a very heavily bound book. And I put them in my pocket. I start looking around, and there is, like in any morgue, there are brains everywhere. There are jars and jars full of brains. And the thought occurred to me that JonBenét’s brain is in one of these. I never saw anything marked that, or anything, but I bet it was.
What else occurs to you, in this place?
Mostly just waiting. Just waiting and waiting. And then, finally the guy is done. He leaves. I get ahold of the security guard, somehow. Probably by dialing a couple of numbers into a phone. And off I go with my body. My boring, dull, ordinary body. Dropped that off wherever that was. Go home, hangover, etc.
I did gleefully show my roommate and laid out the pages on the dining room table. And he was like, “No way!” It was obvious it was a thing. Even though the info contained on the two facing pages was of no value. It would in no way change the case because it was missing. It was just when she arrived there, who brought her, and where she went, which was Crist Mortuary. Crist Mortuary, up in Boulder. Which I’d been to in my travels. And, of course, four pages later in that book had been my signature. I’d been there before, I believe.
So, nothing happens, through the bulk of the publicity. I’m going on talk radio, both local papers.
Were they friendly to you?
Yes, in most cases. I was just kind of an oddity. And all they wanted was just a couple of soundbites to explain. “You just see the craziest things, and I wanted to document it.”
And you didn’t hurt anyone?
On that front, I’ve got to say. If I’d gone to trial, I would have been confronted by the families.
But the families wouldn’t have even known.
They still don’t. They still don’t, as far as I know. But if I’d have pressed it to trial, they would have brought in the families to say, “Yes, this outrages my sensibilities!” There is no way you can win with someone going, “That is my mother, and look at her! She has a party blower in her mouth on a mortuary table!” It would have never worked.
When does this come into play?
By the Ramsey morgue logs hitting.
I’m at the YMCA, and the next police knock comes. I did do a large interview with the Rocky Mountain News, and divulged too much information in that, I think. The police were not aware the pages were missing until that roommate of mine told the reporter, and the reporter called the police. That was a weird and intruding thing too, because I had copies of the morgue log and I hid them in a Vietnamese book in the Denver Public Library not so far from the YMCA.
I called the Rocky Mountain News guy, and he came right away. I walked him over to the library. At first, I was in terror. Oh my God, he’s going to think I bullshitted him because the first Vietnamese book on the top shelf, the most inconvenient, biggest, thickest books in Vietnamese I could find didn’t have the logs. But I did find them, and there they are. I give him the copies of it, and I believe they put them on the news because I believe I painted the copies, or used magic markers and made it all rainbowy around her name with her name all yellowed. Which I did not do to the originals.
I’m sure that made you look fairly crazy, but keep going.
You could almost see him ejaculate in his pants. Like, “Yep, I’ve got my story. I’ve got my story right here.”
And that night, the dreaded knock comes again. Not nearly as rude as your usual police knock, but a police knock nevertheless. And it’s detective Thomas and detective Gossage, who are now quite well known to me and everyone as part of the Ramsey Detectives. They search the room. They’re quite polite, basically. One was nicer than the other, of course. And they were like, “Do you have anything about JonBenét Ramsey in this room?” And I told them no. And I told them, “I sent the logs to a friend, and I’m trying to get them sent back here.” They’re arresting me for the morgue logs, by the way.
But of course, it’s all about the JonBenét thing. And they find in the closet some horrible collage I put together about some of the publicity. And there was a picture of JonBenét—a very elegant inch-sized picture of her face—and they go, “We thought you didn’t have JonBenét in here?” And I went, “That’s about me!” Because the article below it. Which they took as very indignant.
It’s not like I had it and held it. It was in the closet. It was an awful piece of mess that I was making to try to do some kind of piece of art and make some money. So, they were antagonistic about that, like, “You have a picture of JonBenét in your room!” And I’m like, it’s a tiny incidental picture. The thing is poster-sized, and she is an inch. And the article is about me. They became almost apologetic as they went, “We’re going to have to put handcuffs on you.”
On the ride up to Boulder, the nicer one, detective Thomas, whose life was destroyed by this.
How was his life destroyed by this?
Because he accused the Ramseys on Larry King Live, on TV, with them sitting right in front of him. He’s like, “I think you’re good for it.”
I don’t know why, but that makes me emotional. Because I knew him, to some degree. The roasting of everything was so intense in that case alone. Not with me, or anything, but me too. His wife left him, and all kinds of stuff. And he was portrayed as a wife-beater with very little evidence—it was internet gossip. He was the smartest one of them. It was a great joy to me when I saw it on jail TV, him saying, “I think you’re good for it, Patsy.”
But he starts asking me about being gay in the car. In the most casual way. “So, were you born that way, or …” And I realize completely that this is not just chit-chat, this is also a bit of interrogation. You know, this girl was molested. And he wants me to talk about being gay, to see if I’m gay or not. Because I don’t present that way.
A lot of gay men—and I’m not trying to tell you how you think—but the idea of a naked woman, that is just not the slightest bit appealing.
Gross. It’s never been appealing to me. I’ve tried it. I’ve forced myself to try it. But the point is, that chit-chat, that wasn’t just like, “We got a long ways to go to Boulder, how is being gay working for you?” It was to flavor their own minds about whether I could possibly, whether it’s official or not, cops need to suss out from a person if a case is molesting and killing a young girl. You’re going to ask a guy who you’ve heard is gay.
I get to Boulder, and they show me words off the ransom note, which was highly, highly explosive at the time. It hadn’t been released yet—leaked to Vanity Fair, later. But for me to be going, “Why was I asked that?” And then they swabbed my mouth, and they took hair. They cut themselves, detective Thomas, cut himself taking a sample of my hair.
I was booked for just the morgue logs. I got bailed out live on the radio by a radio host. I’m back out, real soon. And I did immediately humiliate them by writing to a gossip column in the Rocky Mountain News. They were being portrayed as the Keystone Cops. They cut their own hands trying to take a hair sample.
It was a terribly sad and horribly emotional moment for me to be asked these questions: Did you ever know JonBenét? Did you know John? Did you know Patsy, Burke?
Just to be clear. You have never met any of these folks.
No. But I did live in Atlanta when they did.
Okay. But did you meet them?
You never met JonBenét yourself?
Did you ever see her at a pageant?
No. I’ve never been to a pageant then, now, or ever. If you wanted to go to one right now, I wouldn’t go.
Not really my scene, but I catch your drift.
There were a lot of murder questions. And it’s foggy to me as to why I would be expected to—well, I was a suspect. There were like eight or nine words they gave me off the ransom note.
Oh, they made me write them! And the worst most frightening part of it of all was—I do print. I’m old and I grew up with cursive, but I switched to print in high school. And there is something I do, like perhaps an A or something, is still cursive to me or something. But there are letters that I did then, I do now, I always did.
And they were like, “Stop doing that!” And that was very scary to me, because the absolute essence of that is, “Change your writing.”
To match the killers.
It strikes you. You don’t want to change your writing.
They shouldn’t ask you to change your writing.
I can’t imagine any scenario where you are having a suspect who is presumed innocent write, and then you’re yelling at them.
“Stop doing that!” in an angry, angry tone.
Did you stop?
I think I still did it. And when I did it again, they were disgusted. Perhaps they thought I was masking? But I’m scared, because I’m not doing anything. I don’t want to leave a bunch of words that they can find other things where they can be like, “You totally lied in print with that. That’s not the way you write at all.” I wrote the way I wrote, and still write. It was very scary, very scary, to be told to “stop doing that.” It was issues of just certain letters that displeased them.
I’m then driven across town to the Boulder County Jail. Get booked. I’m just setting up my stuff on an upper bunk when some Mexican comes up—he’s my celly—he comes up from down in the day room and says something about the toilet not working. I just barely get things set up when I hear, “Roll up.” And I’m like, “What? How can I possibly be getting out of here?”
And Jay Marvin, who is barely still alive, was a big radio host in Chicago—who I’d called from intake. He was very big for a couple years in Denver until he fell ill. During that corpse photo thing interview, I would actually come and hang out in the studio and chip in every now and then. He was a very suicidal, weird man who would make remarks like, “I’m going to blow my head off after the show.”
He didn’t have a problem with your dark humor?
No, because I would say things like, “When they send your body home, make sure to call Delta Cares. That’s the program.” My voice would just come in. It would show the police I was sitting with him—it’s not like I was on all day with him—but it’s just like, he is sitting in the fucking studio with him. Just little things like that.
All of this is going on. The police, they’re not happy. You’re getting shook down. You’ve been let out. You’re associating with the press, which might have saved your ass. Or maybe it made it harder at the time, who knows.
And now it’s the Ramsey detectives I’ve got. I am busted. I’ve got all of those corpse photos. I don’t have a corpse photo problem in Boulder. But I did steal those morgue logs. That’s what they came for. That’s what they charge me with. And probably something else, but only related to that.
When do you start worrying about, “I’m about to spend time in jail. Maybe I don’t want to.”
But here is the thing. I’m bailed out, but I have nothing, nothing, now.
The bail lady is all amazed I got bailed out by this radio host. I ask her where the town is. She lets me go, finishes out her paperwork, and then she sees me walking and decides to go ahead and give me a ride to the bus station. And I believe she may have shelled out a couple of dollars to help get me to Denver. I doubt I had anything. This was way out in residential nowhere. But she takes me to the Boulder bus station.
Then, I called my brother, and he got me back into the YMCA. Their maid at the YMCA is like, “Yuck!” when she sees that I’m back. Because they know. So, then, I eke out my existence that way another little bit of time by borrowing money from my brother, who I will never be able to pay back.
Then I realize: I can’t keep doing this; I have all these cases. And the sickest idea occurs to me, but it’s the only path I could think of.
Then I realize: I can’t keep doing this; I have all these cases. And the sickest idea occurs to me, but it’s the only path I could think of. Everyone is going to go, obviously and forever, there are some mental health problems, but the best I could come up with was go to Boulder and fuck with the Ramsey house—start it on fire.
You think, I don’t want to go to these jails, which are rougher. But if I go burn this place down—?
I’m so glad you said that, because that reminds me. Part of the logic of doing this drastic thing, to start the Ramsey house on fire. Because it occurred to me that I’d been to some of these other jails, even if only briefly. Boulder’s jail has carpet, you can see on the bulletin board there is a movie on Friday and Saturdays, there is popcorn and Pepsi.
It’s a jail for rich hippies.
My future is: I’m going to jail. So, I chose the nice one. So, I go up to Boulder and make all my cases be controlled by living in the Boulder jail. I start the Ramsey house on fire. I don’t really get it going. I sit out there for hours and hours on their patio. I look in the garage and see “Ramsey Xmas” on boxes. Which when you’re looking in a house like that and see that, oh my God, it’s so weird.
I want you to talk about being freaked out about the prospect of going to a rough jail, so you think, “I’m going to take control of my future.”
It’s just life itself. As in, I can’t keep borrowing. I hate it. It’s expensive for my brother. I have to end that. I don’t have a phone—cell phones weren’t prominent then. How am I gonna get a job? I’m all over the news. I don’t have a place to be called at. How am I going to go to all these court dates? The future with just these misdemeanor charges is very bleak as it is. Now I’m suddenly in the media for these morgue logs, which bleeds into—I’m somewhat of a Ramsey suspect.
But to be fair, logically, you were never a Ramsey suspect—to a rationally thinking person.
I felt secure in that, in myself. But that did not stop a lot of people from thinking that. And why shouldn’t they? And I’ve just been greased over their faces for the last two months, in town anyway, for weirdness in the mortuary business. And then it’s like, “Ah-ha! Look at this guy!” And the word “suspect” was used in some papers.
This is the price we pay for our system.
Now, I’m in jail. And I just am thinking, “Okay, just a little rest here,” and I get out of the jail within half an hour. But I’ve got nowhere to go. I eke out another week or two on my brother’s dime and then I realize that I’m in no mental health way able to get a job.
I don’t look like a person who should be hired. I am so corpsified myself. I look like a person who has been using speed for five years, because of just the stress of the last two months. Who is going to hire me? No one. And I have no way to be contacted or anything. It’s impossible.
I decide I’m going to start my inevitable jail time now. And I went up to Boulder. I had somewhere around ten dollars. Some of which was used to get up there, about two and a half dollars for bus fare. I sat around on the Pearl Street Mall for a while, in front of Access Graphics, where Ramsey worked. I bought a soda and a hotdog. Weirdly, that was so important to some people, what did I do?
Then, I found a Manson-type girl, a very dirty, dirty, hippie, mean girl who was talking to me. And I told her my story, and I told her I came to Boulder to start the Ramsey house on fire. And she made damn sure I knew where it was. She walked with me for close to a mile, then she told me this way, that way.
Was she attractive?
No, she was a dirty mess. She was a Manson-type girl, and not Marilyn Manson.
Well, that’s less cool than that could have been, but keep going.
She could see I was deeply serious.
Did she know you were serious?
She knew I was serious. I believe I had articles and things, and I showed them to her.
You had them on you?
In my bag.
Very John Fante of you. Did you know John Fante was from Boulder?
Never heard of him.
Famous author. He wrote about doing much the same thing. But go on.
We sat at a picnic bench, and she told me the rest of the way to the Ramsey house. She drilled it in—she made sure I knew. It was very important to her.
I bet she bought a paper the next morning. So, I made my way to it—to 15th Street where the Ramsey house was. And I did not see it. I passed by it the first time. There were about three houses down a woman raking. I asked her. She kind of sighed with disgust, but she was polite and pointed it out. She was sick of being asked that. It was broad daylight. Say about four o’clock in the afternoon. Other cars did come and take pictures. Two tourist girls parked a car and got out and looked at the house with me, and I talked to them.
This is when the sun is up?
I don’t do anything on the Ramsey property because of this. There are people driving around looking at this. But the two tourist girls, black and white college girls from out of town who came to look at it, we chatted briefly for a minute about the case and the freak show, all of that. Then, they told me some of my story and they became very uncomfortable, and one of them took a picture of me.
Was it ever published?
No. If the internet was bigger then, she would have posted that somewhere. Now you just post it, and off it goes. But anyway, she was like, “Do you mind if I take a picture?” And she took it right away, before I could even answer. Then, they left. Immediately. I made them so uncomfortable—I don’t blame them. Then I went to Chautauqua park.
I’m published at Chautauqua.
And I’m sitting there smoking a cigarette at a bus stop. Luckily, there is an extra lighter laying there, knowing what I’m going to do. I wait until dark—roam around, roam around. Then, I come back to the Ramsey house, and I go up and down the alley, and up and down around the front. In the alley there is a big area by the fence where you can drive cars in, and there is no gate on it. It’s big enough that two cars could drive in there at the same time. A huge gaping hole in the fence. So, I enter the property that way. And I look around, through the windows—peep through the windows.
Then, I sit on the patio furniture, and move one of the chairs so I can look at the house more. And I just sit there smoking cigarettes, totally miserable. This is so stupid, what I’m about to do. I know it. But I also cannot think of a different plan. I mean, what am I gonna do? If I call my brother for some more money? What, another week and then I’m back where I started. So, I’m determined. Oh, and by the way, some neighbor saw I was sitting out there. And they did notice that I moved a chair and was staring at the house. But they thought I was some kind of security because I wasn’t doing anything but sitting there and staring at the house.
I go into the crevice between the garage and house. And there are Ramsey things, and they have nothing to do with me, that light up my brain just from the glowing worldwide fame of the whole thing. Like when I look at that window and see the spiral staircase it’s like a little stroke or something, like, “Oh my God! I really am here, and I’m going to do this.” Same thing when I look in the garage, the back of the garage has windows on it. I look in there and see boxes and boxes labeled “Ramsey Xmas,” and I wonder who boxed that up? The police, the Ramseys?
So, this is the moment where you take back control of your life. You’re lighting this place on fire where someone killed a little girl. You have nothing to do with it. Probably demonstrably have nothing to do with this. But you’re internalizing this the way most people won’t because it’s time for you now to seize control of your fate.
And even up to that moment, I am not any kind of expert on the Ramseys. Which I kind of became later, in jail. I was doing my mortuary jobs and running around town and all of that before. And being a person who lived in Denver with time on their hands, with the job.
So, I’m sitting on the patio, and I decide, “This is so miserable and awful—I can’t sit here forever.” Asking myself if I’m really going to do this. And review the fact that: I have nowhere to go, nothing else is sensible, I am going to jail, and I want to go to jail in Boulder.
Why do you want to go to jail in Boulder?
Because it’s a young college town jail. Without the hardened criminals, and everything. I’ve only barely seen it, but I have seen it. It’s clean. If I’m going to have to go, I’d rather go here. So, I do this—I commit a felony by arson and make it so buses will come and take me to my court cases in the future and all of that. I was never so relieved. I mean, the rest of the night was miserable. I ended up calling the police on myself.
Were you worried about, in particular, that inmates might not hear you out? And might just read your papers and be like, “You might be fucked up. You might be fucking little kids.” And not hear you out when you say, “I’m basically goth.”
Well, going back to the beginning, the Denver city jail. I always call it the Pringle can—a very bad atmosphere jail where there is no air. They knew! I was ordered released, but they didn’t let me out until they got together with the other municipalities.
And then these other municipalities had to have their stay.
I got a personal recognizance bond. It takes forever. By “forever” I mean two, four, six hours: whenever they feel like it. But I was there for two more days.
Okay. So then, at some point, you are literally held—
My point for that was, going back to that. I’m crawling the walls, like, “Why? Why am I still in here? I got a personal recognizance bond.” More detectives came and interviewed me there, and they acted like, “We’re surprised you’re still here.” And I’m like, “You lying motherfuckers. You know you kept me here.”
When I get back to my cell, I get released. I get back in my suit coat. I looked ridiculous compared to everyone else. Going down the hall, someone unseen to me said, “Man, how’d you get corpses into Safeway?” I’m too far away and almost out the door for conversation, but they knew something about it already. But they think I’m abusing a corpse in Safeway—on the ground, fucking a corpse.
It’s a macabre game of telephone. But you get let out. And eventually, they process you back in, and they don’t let you go. For how many years?
For that, about 2.7 years at Boulder, after the arson.
Take me back to when you’re being processed in for this.
For the arson?
For the arson, for the initial three years.
The arson itself was: they had an in/out mailbox. I reached in there and felt that they had a cabinet in there, but that is all.
From the JonBenét house?
From the street harshly zoomed in, the best they could do, a National Enquirer picture of a pack of matches. I left the little tiny door on the mailbox open so that some air would get in there because it was failing, the fire. I truly did intend to—I lied to the media afterwards when I said that it was just a tiny little thing just to get to jail. What I did could have started the house on fire.
I did try.
So, you were taking one thing at a time. The first thing was burn the house down, then get arrested.
I expected it to go up, and for me to just be standing there like, “Yep.”
Tell us what happened. You threw some flaming stuff in there, what goes on? What are you throwing in there?
Whatever I had that was paper out of my bag: articles about me, the corpse thing, and I did have the paperback version of Interview with a Vampire. I’ve always equated JonBenét with that girl because of that, Claudia. You know, that bitter little girl who is stuck in a vampire’s body. She grows up into a hundred-year-old vampire but, “I’m a little girl!” Remember?
I don’t remember that part, but I’m going to rewatch it now.
So, I throw page after page of that on fire in there. Books of matches. Things like that. Maybe, I don’t know if I had some of their mail, or whatever. But I did not stop anywhere and bring any supplies.
You didn’t bring any accelerant? No gasoline? No oil?
No. I couldn’t have afforded it. Not a thing. That march all the way from downtown Boulder to their house is a couple of miles. I didn’t even think to bring any of the multitudes of papers anywhere, not a pile or a few!
So, I throw these things in there. I go back on the patio and wait and wait and wait. Then I went back, and the fire hadn’t taken. And I did it again—nothing happened, nothing happened. Then I think I threw the whole matchbook in there. Then I left, went the other way down the street, and went all the way back to downtown Boulder. Just as miserable as you can get. As in, anyone who sees me, people would cross the street. Like, this guy has something wrong with him. And I sat on a bench in front of a cop shop, you know, those little mall things. And there was a cop in there. And he came out and locked the door and went, “How is it going?” And even he looked at me like, “There is something wrong with him?”
If he’d have just engaged me in the slightest bit, I would have told him what happened. Then, I went all night long in misery. I’ve left this mess, and it’s totally traceable to me. I wrote something on a matchbook, or something, I believe. The next morning, I’m exhausted. You can’t take this kind of depression and exhaustion without wanting to get off your feet. I slept at a restaurant called Mustard’s Last Stand, on a bench out front.
I’ve eaten there.
I called the police station and asked for either detective Thomas or Gossage, by name. Or, in any case, I asked specifically for the Ramsey detectives. I told them it was JT Colfax, and I was put right through. And this is at a time when idiots from all over the world are calling in like, “My neighbor did it,” when they live in New Zealand.
What did you say?
“Have you heard anything?” And they’re like, “No?” And apparently, I did say, “Well, I’ve done it again.” Kind of like in the Gilligan way of, “I’ve done something really stupid.” And that was in every article and got really bad. Because it made it sound like, “I’ve returned to the Ramsey house and I’ve done a thing.” I told them what happened.
At the time, I’m in front of a granola shop. There is a malamute tied to a street pole. And the owners put it there and went inside. The malamute does what it does. Doesn’t like it that they went in. He looks bored as can be, but he’s howling. So, this is the atmosphere. This wasn’t happening when I dialed and now that happens. The cop is like, “What is that noise?”
God, the luck I had. It sounds like I’m standing on a child or something, and just killing it. It sounded horrible. Anyway, I tell them what I did. They said, “We’ll be right over.” And a squad car came too. They all got there at pretty much the same time. The squad car people put handcuffs on me.
So, that starts your three years in confinement?
Yup. Two point seven years.
I think Eric Parker’s confinement was a lot easier to rationalize. They held him for years because he did X, Y, and Z. And it turns out he couldn’t even do that, so they let him go. They held you for three years?
Well, no. I was sentenced.
You were sentenced to how many?
Well, first it dragged on forever. Seven months go by, and I get to court and it’s an arraignment. I hated my public defender. I was like, “Arraignment!?” He claimed he told me that. I couldn’t believe that my arraignment was seven months earlier, when I first went to court. He was like, “You knew!” I hated him. I asked for him to be fired. The judge was all like, “Maybe later.”
I was stunned that, after something like seven to eight months, that I’m still not even arraigned yet. I didn’t know that. I thought I was. Because of the court appearance, which I was removed from, by the way.
Why were you removed?
So, the next morning. After, you know, the fire. You got to court. You get charged. The judge starts talking about the next case, arson, etc., the public defender who I’ve never seen gets up and starts arguing about boilerplate shit, like a bond. I stood up and went, “Could your honor introduce me to that man who is talking about me?”
Which was like a needle being lifted off a record. And there were reporters there. And that did get in. But they went, “Colfax claimed that he never met his public defender.” Like, I’m going to put on this show in front of the judge, and I really did talk to him for five hours.
You had never met him?
Never! Never saw him, never heard of him. Cary Lackland. Everyone called him “Lackluster” in jail. Everyone hated him.
His reputation was well known?
Boulder is a small place. For 2.7 years, meeting all of these inmates coming and going. Most people come for a few days, or something. “I used to deliver pizzas to that guy. He’s a huge drunk!” And I would hear all of these things about his house. Like the house is just covered in crap. You never know whether to believe it. He did look like a drunk, though, and he was awful.
I interrupted immediately and went, “Could your Honor introduce me to that man who is talking about me?” And he had to sit there humiliatingly and look at me and go, “I apologize to your honor. I have not had a chance to meet the client.” Then, he looks at me and says, “I am Cary Lackland and I’m from the Boulder public defender’s office. I have been assigned to this case.”
Did you ask for a new one?
How long did it take?
The media claimed I’d never met my public defender. But my public defender had to do this whole thing of saying, “I’m sorry your honor.” So, don’t say “claimed.” Why not say: “the public defender admitted he had no chance to meet with his client.”
If your constitutional rights had been honored, you wouldn’t have needed to.
But on the media front alone. To watch the way things got twisted in the media, who I always had a good relationship with before, because they were doing art articles about me like, “Say some bullshit about your art.” And it all goes fluffy and fine, or you have a bad feeling.
To say, “He claimed.”
This is the start of three years.
This is my first court appearance. It’s for arson. The media is there. The stress is on. But, weirdly, I’m protected in a sense. Well, the court rattled me. That part, being gotten up to be looked at, to have my charges read in front of the other inmates was not good. But in reality, the next ten days I would say, I was in a bubble, like heroin. I felt nothing. I felt so at ease. I needed other inmates to go, “Look! You’re on TV again.” And I wouldn’t even bother.
I’ve never felt so, so relieved. I was totally relieved. It was an endorphin-style thing. People would say, “You’re so calm about what you’re facing.” And I felt nothing. Then, you’d get filled with paranoia and inmate problems, and all that. Although a lot of it was okay for a long, long time, there is nothing worse than being on the other end, when you’re at two years and three months, four months to go, now it’s very irritating.
So, after all this. A lot of railroading. You end up in jail.
So, I’m in jail now—period. I’m in SMAN—special management. The public defender visits once, or something, not much happens. Seven months go by, slight contact from him, maybe a letter here or there. But I don’t even know that I’m not arraigned yet. It was just, being in jail and letting it all go by. I’m taken by van from my comfortable Boulder jail to the other jails. I’m there for arraignments. I’m only in court for five minutes, but it takes me two, three, or four days, at least two, to get back to Boulder. In which I’ve lost my cellmate, or my single-person cell, or whatever.
It’s agitating because I’m going to the real big city jails and living like that. At the worst of it, the intakes of things, I got put in with a very serious murderer who had been in prison for around twenty-six years. But he was up on a writ, I was in the writ pod of the Arapahoe County Jail. Pale-as-a-ghost murder guy, who was always talking about his case, going, “Well, they say I bit her tits off.” He’s trying to scare the shit out of me, and he is.
Life goes on that way. I’m in SMAN for about a month, and they realize because of all the publicity and all that, and the weird charges, that is naturally where they put me. It’s also segregated for snitches and stuff too, but no one thinks that of me. I got put into the General Population and the very first day when we marched down a hall to the chow hall was a big rack of trays, and you grab your tray and go into the chow hall. When I was reaching for a tray, a voice from the line, way back behind me with no way to identify who, says something about, “Why did you kill JonBenét?” or “Child molester!” or something. And I immediately turn into a whirling dervish of clown publicity. And it worked.
You are a very well-educated man to know what a “whirling dervish” is. So, while you’re in there—
This is a very important point, though. Now, I’m out and about with people and it’s the very first thing that happens, and I cannot have everyone thinking I’m a child molester.
So, what do you do from there?
I make jokes. I steal every piece of police paperwork I can find. I send it to newspapers, and I mock them. I show other inmates, “Look at what I did!” And they’re all going, “Tell them about the food.” They’re all suggesting things for me to do.
So, you have access to the ear of the media while you’re inside.
Yes, because of my previous art projects and because of all the noise of what was going on. So, I published some things that are banal. The very first one, I get my commissary order list and it says “white power donuts” on it. I asked someone and they said, “Oh, it’s been like that for years!” I get back in line to grab a different commissary list, because I need the first one to order, and I send it off to Westword and they put it right in—just this weird racial thing. But it’s just a typo.
But they’re using your every mistake against you.
Everything I can pick on the jail for, and sometimes Ramsey things. But anything, notices that we’re going to have sack lunches on Saturday because the Broncos are in the championship. It’s just a dumb notice on the bulletin board. But me? I yank it off.
Bronco mania in this town, of course this is going to get publicized. As in, the media needs everything about the Broncos they can get. And how about some weirdo, the weirdo. I’m very well-known at this time. And mind you, I’m going on radio from jail to a show that gets 120,000 listeners. It peaked with that show. And I was a regular there, on all the time. They were always leaving me messages.
Do you remember the name of the show?
Peter Boyles. He is now a nut on KUNS. He’s one of those right-wing Trump-y nuts now. Libertarian weirdo, but too far. As in, just out of his mind. The fact that I did these things and they would show up in the media. Everyone in my surroundings in jail knew and were suspicious of my charges related to JonBenét. That was the hardest time.
The people in jail have some sleuthing going on, in and out. You were never beat up for “touching” JonBenét?
No, I got into many fights. But it was more of a “I hate your face,” type of thing.
To read Part Two of this interview, click here.
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