Alan Prendergast - westward
One day in February 2000, the Whites found a message on their answering machine from a [i]Daily Camera[/i] reporter, seeking last-minute comment about a story the paper was planning to run on a "pedophile ring" and the Ramsey case. The next morning, splashed across the front page, was a copyrighted story by Barrie Hartman, the paper's opinion-page editor, announcing "new information" that "could provide a major breakthrough" in the JonBenét case.

The information came from a 37-year-old mystery woman from California, who claimed to have suffered years of sexual and physical abuse dating back to when she was three. Much of the abuse had come during holiday parties, she said, and involved asphyxiation and blows to the head -- similar techniques, in her view, to those used on JonBenét. Although the perpetrators of these ritual-abuse parties weren't explicitly identified, the article went on to explain that "the woman said she knows the Ramseys through the Fleet White family. She said the godfather to her mother is Fleet White Sr., 86, of California."

Hartman's report noted that Boulder police had interviewed the woman for several hours and were skeptical of her claims. But her attorney, Lee Hill, described her as "among the most credible witnesses I have ever interviewed." And the punchline came from District Attorney Alex Hunter, who was quoted as saying that the woman's story was "very believable" and "warrants investigation."

The story quickly went viral. It would be almost three months before the Boulder police and prosecutors issued a statement debunking the woman's "child sex ring" claims about the JonBenét murder. By that time, sordid speculations about multi-generational pedophilia in the White family were circulating across Boulder and cyberspace. It would take years of open-records battles and court action before the Whites were able to learn more about how the woman had managed to insert herself into the Ramsey investigation, win the ringing endorsement of the top prosecutor in the case, and be the subject of a front-page story that was as remarkable for its omissions as for its wide-eyed gullibility.

The woman's name was Nancy Krebs. She had a documented history of sexual abuse by a family member, who'd been convicted of sexual assault in 1980, and her grandparents had been good friends of Fleet White Sr. -- that much was true. She said she'd contacted Boulder attorney Lee Hill, who'd represented a local man in a civil case related to the Ramsey investigation, because she'd seen him on television and her therapist was urging her to come forward with what she knew. Hill, in turn, had introduced her to Hartman.

Hartman was hardly a disinterested party in the case. The Camera's coverage had been highly sympathetic to the Ramseys and critical of the police. Hartman apparently paid for Hill's plane ticket to California so he could meet with Krebs. The ultimate objective, Hartman later admitted, was to bring the mystery woman and her story directly to Alex Hunter, since he didn't trust the Boulder police to adequately investigate her claims.

Hartman arranged a meeting between Hill and Hunter at Hartman's house. Also present was a DA's investigator, who took meticulous notes, and Hill's friend, author Stephen Singular, whose book on the Ramsey case had theorized that JonBenét's death was tied to a pedophiliac subculture in Boulder. Singular asked Hunter "if there was interest in investigating the White family."

"Alex Hunter responded that he was interested in any nexus to Fleet White," the investigator noted.
Hill talked at length about the need to protect his client from a vengeful ring of abusers, including members of her own family, and expressed his belief that the supposed rift between the Whites and the Ramseys was "just subterfuge."
When the police sat down with Krebs and Hill a few days later, they soon discovered several huge problems with her story. She was the subject of a missing-person report from California. She claimed to be a witness in at least two other homicide investigations. She claimed that she'd been sexually assaulted at different times in her youth by Fleet White Jr., Fleet White Sr. and "Uncle" John Ramsey, and that her mother and niece were present at the Whites' 1996 Christmas dinner, hours before JonBenét was killed.

But the detectives found no evidence that Krebs had ever met Fleet Junior or Ramsey. Her mother and niece weren't at the Whites for Christmas dinner. Almost nothing about her account of that evening fit the circumstances of the JonBenét homicide. Hartman, who interviewed Krebs extensively himself before running his front-page exclusive, didn't respond to a request for comment. But it's doubtful he would have published such a tale if Hunter hadn't remarked how "believable" the witness was.

Hunter had sat in on the first round of police interviews. Hartman would later tell investigators that Hunter had been opposed to going public with the story. So what prompted him to endorse the mystery woman in print? Hunter didn't respond to a request for an interview for this article, but he backpedaled on his comments almost as soon as they were published.
"Opinions about believability are premature before...a full investigation is complete," he acknowledged in a hastily issued press release.
A secretary's notes of phone messages coming into Hunter's office after the article appeared indicate that his enthusiasm for pursuing the Krebs allegations took some of his colleagues by surprise. A message from prosecutor Michael Kane: "Kane thought you had come to the conclusion that this woman is a goof ball, so Kane is curious how this hit the paper the way it did."
Message from Boulder police chief Mark Beckner: "Mark thought you and he had come to an agreement on Sunday that, yes, while there were some credibility issues, Mark agreed that they needed to follow it up.... Obviously you believe she is more believable than they do at this point."

Other media outlets quickly picked up the story. The local CBS affiliate, News 4, even used its report on the mystery woman to tease the upcoming Schiller miniseries. Fleet and Priscilla suspected that more than coincidence was involved in the trashing of their reputation, just as the miniseries was hitting the airwaves (based on a book the Whites had denounced as riddled with inaccuracies) and the Ramseys were preparing to launch their own book. "The 'umbrella of suspicion' needs to reach beyond the heads of John and Patsy Ramsey," huffed an editorial in the Camera -- and that wider net had ensnared and befouled the entire White family.

"We really don't know where Nancy Krebs came from," Fleet says now. "I can't prove this, but I believe that one reason people came after us is to demonstrate to the world that there were other suspicious people out there. We were already in the crosshairs. We were the flavor of the month."

After eleven weeks and extensive interviews with members of her family, the Boulder police concluded the Krebs investigation, having found no credible evidence linking anything the woman said to JonBenét's murder. (Krebs, who has said she never wanted her story published but has also never recanted, could not be reached for comment.) The Whites embarked on a long, frustrating campaign to seek criminal libel charges against the Camera and those individuals responsible for disseminating the woman's allegations.
. In 2003 a special prosecutor declined to pursue the matter, noting the shaky legal standing of the state's seldom-used criminal libel statute and other considerations. The newspaper emerged unscathed from the legal machinations surrounding the Ramsey case. Not so the Whites. In 2001, Fleet White was summoned by the defense to testify in the trial of attorney Tom Miller, who'd been charged with commercial bribery after his client, a tabloid editor, allegedly attempted to buy a copy of the ransom note. White defied the subpoenas, concerned that his testimony might compromise the murder investigation.

Miller was acquitted. White was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to thirty days in the Jefferson County Jail.

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