By LAUREN SILVER
BOULDER, Colo. (Court TV) — More than 25 years after JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in her Colorado home, a man who confessed to the crime but was never charged in connection with the case is continuing to talk about his obsession with the child.
JonBenét Ramsey was 6 years old on Dec. 26, 1996, when her parents reported her missing. Her body was later found in a room in the family’s basement, and investigators said that the child, who had competed in beauty pageants, had been bludgeoned and strangled.
In the pre-dawn hours of December 27, a man said he received a phone call from a former classmate confessing to the brutal murder.
Michael Vail attended a small high school with Gary Oliva, and the two men remained in contact for some years. Speaking to Court TV, Vail described his former classmate as odd.
“We knew there was something wrong with Gary. In fact, we called him ‘Scary Gary.’ He was known for breaking into places and getting art supplies. I mean, he could break in and steal things, but he was definitely into stealing art supplies and things of that nature.”
The two men kept in touch, exchanging messages via cassette for several years after they graduated from school.
“Over the 16 years, things he sent me got darker and darker until it was including tape recordings simulating a rape of a child, really horrible things like that,” Vail claimed.
The correspondence was limited to tapes, until the early morning hours of Dec. 27, 1996, when Vail said he received a phone call from Oliva.
“You remember a phone call you get that’s terrifying. You remember it. You remember the room you’re in,” Vail said. “I get that phone call and it’s Gary’s voice but he’s, like, [panting] ‘I just hurt a little girl.’ Like, it was the most terrifying thing. I’m getting goosebumps just now telling you guys this. It was terrifying.”
Hours later, when Vail retrieved his copy of the LA Times, he said that he saw the headline saying that a 6-year-old girl had been murdered and knew immediately that Oliva had been involved.
Despite contacting the police tipline immediately, police never followed up with Vail or asked him for more information about Oliva.
“I know Gary did this. I know he killed JonBenét Ramsey.”
JonBenét’s parents, Patsy and John, were publicly named subjects of the investigation before police later said that DNA testing cleared both as suspects in their daughter’s murder. DNA found at the scene has only been linked to an unidentified male.
In 2021, the Boulder Police Department said that it had analyzed nearly 1,000 DNA samples as part of its investigation into the murder and had sent detectives to 19 states to interview or speak with more than 1,000 people in connection with the crime.
Oliva was arrested in 2016 after the Boulder Police Department received a tip that he was downloading child pornography. When police arrested him a second time in 2000, police noted he had a photo of JonBenét in his possession, and Oliva admitted to officers that he was obsessed with the beauty queen. He has never faced charges related to JonBenét’s murder.
After his arrest, Oliva continued to correspond with Vail, switching to letters. Vail told Court TV that he has worked to continue to get information from Oliva regarding the night of JonBenét’s murder, believing Oliva to be guilty in the case.
While speaking live with Vinnie Politan on Aug. 8, 2023, Vail opened a new letter from Oliva, in which he rambles about a garden: “In the garden, there are patches where others have dumped things of little value that need clearing out and tilled ready for planting that our patches no matter what tries to grow the surface then dies and never takes hold. It needs the right nutrients. That’s where the patches are. But things never get planted at the right time so you must keep replanting.”
Forensic handwriting experts Mozelle Martin and Dawn McCarty told Court TV that they see significant similarities between letters written by Oliva and a ransom note that was found inside the Ramseys’ home before JonBenét’s body was found.
The ransom note, addressed to JonBenét’s father, John, alleged to be from a “small foreign faction” and demanded $118,000 for the return of his daughter, who according to the note was “safe and unharmed.”
“When you overlay them and they line up so well, that’s a really loud pronouncement in my profession,” said Martin.
The experts specifically examined the letter a, as well as the words “like, the, if, you, at and the” to find similarities between Oliva’s writings and the note.
John Ramsey, who continues to speak out about his daughter’s murder and fight to find justice for her, told Vinnie Politan in July that he never had any interaction with Oliva.
A photo purportedly taken at a vigil one year after the murder, taken by a private investigator working for John Ramsey, shows Oliva attending the vigil, holding a large folder.
Anyone with information related to the investigation into JonBenét Ramsey’s death is asked to contact the Boulder police tipline at 303-441-1974, [email protected] or Northern Colorado Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or nocrimestoppers.com