The Hungry Toad

When CU Professor Michael Tracey isn't lecturing his students on journalism ethics or pounding pints at his off-campus office, he's hunting for JonBenét's killer—turning up the likes of John Mark Karr to feed his obsession.

January 2007

The documentary followed Smit as he outlined his theory. He used pictures from the crime scene, expert witness testimony, and even demonstration—crawling through the Ramseys’ basement window himself—to demonstrate how easy it would have been for someone to enter the Ramseys’ house. The documentary aired in July 2001 in England, and a year later in the States on Court TV. For each sale of this production, Mills says, he and Tracey earned about $15,000 apiece.

Tracey was lambasted for making a documentary based on the theories of one investigator. At least one enraged viewer, Fleet White Jr., who was cleared as a suspect and was an estranged friend of John Ramsey’s, wrote to the University of Colorado, demanding Tracey’s termination.

The criticism only emboldened Tracey. In 2001, Mills and Tracey, now both convinced of the intruder theory, made a third documentary, “Who Killed the Pageant Queen? The Prime Suspect.” There had been a number of unsolved crimes in Boulder in 1996 and 1997 (the time of JonBenét’s killing): a murder, burglaries, and even the sexual assault of another young girl. Mills and Tracey figured if one person was tied to all of those crimes, it would make for a likely JonBenét murder suspect.

Mills and Tracey zeroed in on a man they did not identify. They depicted him as sinister figure who prowled the streets of Boulder at night dressed in a black ninja outfit, and built a case supporting their theory that this man may have killed JonBenét. Two men identified on camera as the mystery man’s friends even hinted that, yes, he was the murderer.

According to the documentary, a group of “independent investigators” was hot on his trail. A court document from one of his previous arrests was displayed on camera to prove that he existed, as if that proved so much more. While the documentary did not reveal the man’s name, redacting it from the document, the case number was visible. One amateur sleuth used basic research skills and Google to trace the document to Gigax—who, according to the Boulder DA’s office, never had been nor ever would be under investigation for the murder of JonBenét.

But that fact didn’t stop the effects of Tracey’s fiction. After the program’s 2004 broadcast, Gigax’s e-mail inbox filled with correspondence from as far away as Scotland, and all had the same message: A television program had just aired in Britain in which he, Gigax, was being implicated in the murder of that little girl in Boulder.

With a criminal record of menacing and attempted sexual assault, Gigax had left Boulder more than 10 years earlier, months before JonBenét’s murder, to clean up his act. He’d gone to Indiana to escape from the drugs, the alcohol, and the unsavory crew he rolled with at the trailer park where he lived in Boulder. He wanted to leave behind the stigma of a drunken altercation that had put him on house arrest. He wanted to go home and reconnect with his estranged son.

On the phone with me, Gigax spends an hour defending himself from charges he should never have had to face. He cites unassailable alibis (including credit card receipts) that put him in Indiana around the time of the murder. Today Gigax wants to know: Why the hell would Tracey blame him for a murder that he couldn’t possibly have committed?

“I live a nice, clean, decent life here,” Gigax says. “I live in a small town where there isn’t even a stoplight, a store, or a gas station. These are homespun people I live with, and I’m an outsider; it took a while to build relationships,” he says. “But since the media started calling me, it’s gotten weird.” So weird that he had to quit his job at the factory. “That was the kind of job where people ‘accidentally’ die,” he says, completely serious. “I worked with a bunch of tobacco-chewing, stock-car-driving, good ol’ boys. If they ever caught wind that I was a suspect in the murder of JonBenét, well…”

David Mills takes the blame for the Gigax blunder, insisting that Tracey had nothing to do with it. Never mind that they’d formulated the thesis for the documentary together, Mills says it was his decision to go with Gigax. “Tracey is the thinker, and I’m the technician,” Mills says, adding that Tracey wasn’t present when Mills edited the documentary in England. “If I could talk to Mr. Gigax right now, I would apologize. I am desperately sorry that I put something on screen that revealed him.” Mills removed the direct references to Gigax before the program aired in the United States later that year.

Tracey isn’t as remorseful as his colleague. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to see what the evidence tells me. It doesn’t mean I always get it right. In the kind of work I do, things are open to interpretation. But at the very basics, it’s what I know. So what it became was a metaphor for everything that wasn’t done in the investigation, about leads that weren’t being followed.”