Geraldo Rivera Show - Monday, March 31, 1997

This transcript was found on the old Boulder News Forum Archive and was copied "as is" from the forum posting.

* Interview: JonBenet Ramsey: investigating Mom; panelists discuss Patsy Ramsey's possible involvement in the murder of her daughter
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Investigative News Group
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HOST: Geraldo Rivera

(Excerpt from beauty pageant)

GERALDO RIVERA: That is the haunting voice of the innocent little child who cries out from her grave for justice. But are we any closer to an arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey case? We will talk with several experts whose analysis of the evidence points in a startling direction. Our ongoing investigation of the Ramsey murder poses the question: Did the mother have anything to do with it? Next GERALDO RIVERA SHOW.

(Excerpt from beauty pageant)

RIVERA: It is painful enough to watch the video of JonBenet Ramsey dancing and posing. It is that much harder to listen to this little beauty queen, hear her voice. It seems almost as if she is still around, vibrant and just as adorable as she was when this video was taken.

It has been, ladies and gentlemen, just over three months since her brutal murder. Who did it and what in the world is taking so long to resolve this terrible mystery?

That's the main question we'll be asking over the course of this hour, but our very specific focus is much more narrow. Here's the question: Could it have been her mother? Could Patsy Ramsey have played some terrible role in taking the life of her precious daughter, or at least in covering up the crime?

Today--two exclusives. First, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine. This is the forensic psychiatrist Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber, but we have known each other for decades.

Dr. JUDIANNE DENSEN-GERBER (JD, MD, Forensic Psychiatrist): Forty years.

RIVERA: Imagine. She is here today with never-before-seen video of little JonBenet. That video Dr. Densen-Gerber has carefully studied, scrutinized and analyzed. You know how I cherish your opinion and--and hold it in such high regard. My first question is having st--I--I tell you what. Before I get specific, give me a general overview of what you have discerned.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Well, first I'd like to just comment on what you showed because it's the only patriotic beauty contest--child beauty contest singing that. And when I had reviewed about five hours, Geraldo, of the tapes and she sang "God Bless America," and she said, `land of the free,' I said, `The land of the enslaved children.' And my feeling very strong...

RIVERA: And I--land of the enslaved children. Isn't it true?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: And my first reaction is, one, we cry out certainly to catch the person who did--was the perpetrator or who covered up the perpetration. But what about all the other children? I brought you this, which I--first time I've ever seen--from Connecticut which advertises another beauty contest.

RIVERA: Mm-hmm.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: And I have been talking--I wrote the child pornography and sexploitation laws for Gayle Kil--Kilde all the way back in 1978...

RIVERA: Mm-hmm.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: ...which passed. We didn't put in beauty contests. We didn't even know about them.

RIVERA: Do you think that these contests, per se, are abuse?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Well, like this they are. The first one I studied was one Birch Bayh asked me to study, which was in Naked City, Indiana, and a very ticklish question, literally, because Indiana was the first state to have nudist camps. And these had children under 15 posing, and anybody who could pay $15 could take as many pictures of them as they wanted. And it took us a while to close it down, but we did. This is pretty much the same kind of thing.

RIVERA: Is there any indication, in terms of that tape, that this child was previously the victim of child abuse?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Oh, definitely, and I think you've shown some of them on prior shows, in that you can't look at these tapes and not see that she has bruises. She has a very big bruise during one time in her antec--what we call the antecubital fossa, the same place people shoot heroin. There's another time where one of her eyes when she's being crowned is barely able to be opened. And furthermore, there is even the fact that she--when she is crowned in one contest, she's disoriented and she can't find her way off the stage, and this is not the first contest. So I think that very much she was sort of in a trance or in a mesmerized state when she did this because, really, she was j--a puppet. She wasn't a--her person--her own person.

RIVERA: Was she the puppet of her mother?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Well, for the shows definitely. There is no question that I think there was a symbiotic relationship between the mother and child. This mother had been Miss West Virginia. I believe her sister was also Miss West Virginia and they didn't make Miss America. And certain people have told me that when this baby was just born the mother said, `This is my future Miss America.' So she was fulfilling a long-term dream of the mother to make it.

RIVERA: Is there any indication in your analysis, as you scrutinize, as you investigate, that the mother could have played any role in this?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Well, there is no reason--let me put it the other way--there's no reason to suspect the father any more than the mother.

RIVERA: What is there, if anything, in what you have analyzed in this case that would indicate any culpability or involvement by the mother, Patsy Ramsey?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Well, the first thing is definitely the bruises, the eye that didn't open, the disorientation at the beauty contest. To the best of my knowledge, the father never went with her. I mean, it was the mother who went with her. So it couldn't be the father at least being the physical abuser of the child. In addition, the 30...

RIVERA: That's interesting. I'd not--I'd not thought that one through, but y--of course, that's logical.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: ..the 30--the 30 visits to the pediatrician, the mother took her to. What did she go to the pediatrician 30 times in two years for? Looking at the autopsy report, with the chronic and old vaginitis or inflammation, I have to assume that that had to be told sometime to the mother. She must have had a discharge. I mean, she was abused for probably two and a half to three years.

RIVERA: What would have been the motive that night?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: There are many possible motives. Either that the child--which has also been said--did not want to go to the January 5th Las Vegas or--and I've asked for the curriculum...

RIVERA: That would be--What's that?--about...

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Two weeks.

RIVERA: ...two weeks--just under two weeks later, after the homicide.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: It's under two weeks. Or it could easily have been that the child, in school--and I've asked for the curriculum from that first grade--could have been studying good and bad touching and she could have easily said, `I'm not going to do this anymore,' or `I'm going to tell someone.'

There's another thing which I learned from your associate that you had one of her friends on, and this friend said that Patsy loved her daughter very, very much, but she was always concerned that she go to the bathroom, urinate before--and I think this was on your show--before they went anywhere. Well, it's strange--it's--when you talk `went anywhere'--it's a little sick joke--before she went to heaven, I have to say. The fascinating thing in the autopsy that confused me from the very beginning is she had an empty bladder. So she had to be k--killed within five minutes after she went to the potty.

RIVERA: Meaning what?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Meaning that someone took her to the potty. It wasn't a death throes, death agony. So some--now to me, it's the strangest thing in the world for a perpetrator to take a child to the potty right before you kill the child. In addition, whoever killed the child, I feel, did not have much strength because the blows to the head did not fracture anything. It was a contrecoup concussion.

But second of all, if a man becomes enraged and it's a small child or a woman, he'll just put his hands around her and crack the cricoid. This person had to take long, thin strings, put ligatures--put it around the neck and even take a piece of wood to twist it tight enough to kill her.

In addition, the child appears to have been dragged naked downstairs because she has a--bruises all over her back and her thighs. So I would say, I assume, since the father picked the child up immediately upon seeing her dead in the basement, he would have picked her up. And if you could pick her up, you'd put her in a car and you'd throw her in the woods, if you'd done this thing. So it appears to me the person was not strong enough to pick the child up or take it. That doesn't mean it has to be the mother, but it does mean that it could be the mother just as easily as the father.

RIVERA: Here is our plan, ladies and gentlemen: Aside from continuing our fascinating discussion with Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber, we'll be speaking with a former Miss America who was herself abused as a child and get her take on--on this terrible case. We'll talk to a reporter who has the very latest and some exclusive photographs. And we'll talk to a handwriting expert--a renowned forensic handwriting expert who will give us her take on what the--that evidence--the handwriting--physical evidence has so far revealed. Our general title--we're investigating the death of the child. Our specific focus, though, is Investigating Mom. JonBenet Ramsey continues right after this.

Ms. MARILYN VAN DERBER ATLER (Former Miss America Who Was Sexually Abused By Her Father): (From upcoming segment) ...not crying but close to it and she said, `You said something that hurt me very badly today.' And I said, `I'm sorry, Mother. Tell me--tell me what it is and I'll try not to say it again.' And she said, `You said your father pried you open...'


(Excerpts from 02/26/97)

Dr. CYRIL WECHT (Pathologist): Do I believe it was accidental in the sense that it was not an intent, initially, to kill this girl? Yes, very much so. And with regard to the sexual business, too--chronic, acute--the fact of the matter is there is no evidence of a brutal sexual assault on this girl. It was a careful situation so as not to leave any injuries.

Ms. JERALYN MERRITT (Criminal Defense Attorney): The pediatrician of this child m--met this child many, many times over the last couple of years. He says there was no prior sexual abuse, no evidence of it. And he also says that he would have known it if there was. And he saw this child on a regular basis, and I think we have to give some credence to that because, with all due respect to Dr. Wecht, he hasn't spoken to the pediatrician as far as I know and he hasn't met the child.

(End of excerpts)

RIVERA: The debate on location in Boulder, Colorado, between Dr. Cyril Wecht, on the one hand, the noted forensic pathologist, and two of the local criminal defense attorneys, Jeralyn Merritt and Larry Pozner.

Let's go right now to Tony Frost, the editor of the Globe, the controversial tabloid that has, though, broken some exclusive ground in its coverage of this troubling case.

Tony, welcome aboard.

Mr. TONY FROST (Editor, Globe Magazine): Hi, Geraldo.

RIVERA: Tony joins us via satellite from the Globe headquarters in--in Florida. What city in--in Florida are you?

Mr. FROST: Boca Raton.

RIVERA: Boca Raton, OK.

Mr. FROST: That's right.

RIVERA: Before I get to what's new, I was away last week and in looking at your edition last week, Tony, you had some photographs here--Joel, follow me--that I want you to tell me the significance of as we go through them. First of all, you have a photograph inside what you call the `death mansion,' the child's bedroom...

Mr. FROST: Yeah.

RIVERA: ...I'd not seen the picture--footprints indicated here near the bed. What's the significance, Tony?

Mr. FROST: Well, this is where the crime started, Geraldo, in JonBenet's pink-painted bedroom. And we see that the police cut into the carpet to take away samples of carpet. And there's two squares there, and that we believe--or we're told by our sources, police found fibers, possible signs of footprints. Now between the bed they took a--between JonBenet's bed and a spare bed, they took another square of carpet. This is where they initially thought there could be semen stains. This is where a fluid was found.

RIVERA: And here, her dresser. You show her little dresser with her--her little, you know, crown and whatever.

Mr. FROST: Sure.

RIVERA: What's the significance of this photo?

Mr. FROST: The significance of that is the experts we showed these photographs to--we showed them to five experts, all--all top in their field and Cyril Wecht was one of them--and they made the point that this was a very neatly kept dresser, including items like JonBenet's earrings, her tiara, her bracelets. And it was all neatly kept. Now--now that shows that there wasn't a struggle because if there had been a struggle, the odds are, say the experts, she would have knocked the dresser top and knocked some of these items off.

RIVERA: All right. A square cut out; you say semen stains. Now, Judianne, they may have found semen. It might not have had sperm in it, indicating...

Mr. FROST: That's right.

RIVERA: ...perhaps the donor was a man with a vasectomy. I don't know...

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: I've asked for that, too. Whether...

Mr. FROST: That's right.

RIVERA: I don't know if John Ramsey had a vasectomy...

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: I've asked that question.

RIVERA: ...or not, but go ahead, Tony. What about this?

Mr. FROST: The--the--the--the initial information that we had from our sources was that square was cut out because--because forensic investigators believed they had found a semen stain. That may not be the case, but that's what--one of the objects that's being tested at the laboratories at...

RIVERA: At Cellmark Diagnostic in Maryland...

Mr. FROST: Yeah.

RIVERA: ...this footprint in the--in the child's bathroom, I guess.

Mr. FROST: Yeah. Now the other thing we have is there was anoth--there was another square taken just inside the doorway of--o--of JonBenet's bedroom, and we traced the killer's steps that night from--from the bed where the crime took place--and this is where most experts believe she was killed, that she was choked on her bed. And then the killer dragged her, or carried her--part carried, part dragged down the spiral staircase. You can see do...

RIVERA: Down here?

Mr. FROST: the--down the staircase. You can see that it's been dusted for fingerprints as has the--the outside of her door dusted for fingerprints.

RIVERA: OK, let me flip the page.

Mr. FROST: Now two--two more pages. We see the door to the cellar at the bottom of the spiral stair--at the bottom of the staircase, and then we go into the basement and we see the golf clubs--John--John Ramsey's mono--monog--monogrammed golf bag, another set of clubs, presumably Patsy's, beside it. And on the floor, traces of a red substance. This, we're told, is luminol, which is a chemical used to bring up bloodstains on--on--on floors--flooring and carpets. So...

RIVERA: OK. And here, the final photograph.

Mr. FROST: Her final resting place, where her body was dumped.

RIVERA: In the cold, dark cellar. Her body...

Mr. FROST: This is--this is an--this is an annex to the basement through--through this door here. Now initially, when the--when--when police came--a--and--this room was not searched. The door was jammed; it wasn't opened. And this is where John Ramsey, eight hours later--after the police were first called, this is where John Ramsey found JonBenet's bound body, ripped off the duct tape and took her upstairs and placed her un--beneath the Christmas tree.

RIVERA: All right, Tony, tell us, if you can, what's new? You've just put next week's edition to bed. What's in it?

Mr. FROST: We--we have more--further evidence here in the latest issue, Geraldo, more--more photos--five more photos which show a false lead that--that--that police believe was the--deliberately set in the basement. It's a window that was left ajar and police examined all around it and they came to the conclusion that no one came in or out of that window. They believe the killer opened it to--to mislead investigators.

RIVERA: And remember, folks, no footprints in the snow outside...

Mr. FROST: That's right.

RIVERA: sign at all of forcible entry.

Mr. FROST: N--no. The other interesting thing, Geraldo, is that we're told police sources believe the killer wiped himself down and possibly wiped down JonBenet's body.

RIVERA: Himself or herself.

Mr. FROST: That's right. And--an--an--and we have the basement toilet which was ripped apart. The plumbing was taken to pieces by the investigators looking for traces of--o--of--of the fiber or material that--that was used to wipe--wipe JonBenet down and used--and--and--and the killer himself wiped himself down.

RIVERA: OK. Tony, thanks.

Mr. FROST: Sure.

RIVERA: Ladies and gentlemen, Marilyn Van Derber Atler knows a lot about what it feels like to be exploited as a child. She also knows what it feels like to be horribly abused by her own family. Her father, ladies and gentlemen, abused her in a sexual and emotional and--and mental way between the ages, I think, of five and 18 years old. She is Miss America 1958, and she knows of what she speaks. And we'll hear from Marilyn right after this.

We're Investigating Mom.


RIVERA: Here she is, Miss America, Marilyn Van Derber Atler, 1958. And as she talked there and paraded in front of all of us, what we didn't know is that she had a deep, dark and terrible secret. Her father, a prestigious man in the community, a wealthy man, a popular man, had abused her for 13 years.

When you see the video now--first of all, how old were you?

Ms. ATLER: Twenty.

RIVERA: So two years had gone by, more or less. First of all, welcome.

Ms. ATLER: Thank you.

RIVERA: Thank you for being here.

Ms. ATLER: Thank you for the work you do.

RIVERA: She's become a tireless campaigner against child abuse and exploitation, and we love her for that.

Let me ask another question. I know how you react, because we've been together before, when you see the--the videos of this little child. Tell us why you have such a negative response to her prancing and dancing.

Ms. ATLER: I--I think watching it today was as difficult as watching it the first time I saw it. Just seeing it over and over doesn't--doesn't take away how this chid was used, how she was exploited, how she did exactly what she was told to do.

Th--th--that's abuse, in my opinion. I--I've been asked to judge these Little Miss pageants for years. Who had any idea? Who had any idea what they--what at least this one was like? I don't know what all of them are like. But they should be outlawed. No girl should be involved in any sort of pageant like that until she's at least 16. We should end it.

RIVERA: There's definitely a sexual aspect to the way they costumed her.

Ms. ATLER: No question about that.

RIVERA: I saw that the first day. It is impossible--as that assistant DA in Denver said the very first day, `It's impossible to look at these videos and not see a terribly exploited child.' I believed that then, I believe that today. But here's our focus, Marilyn. We were wondering about Mom and we're wondering about what role, if any, your mother played--and I don't know to what extent you have spoken of this before--in this long, long period your father was so abusing and exploiting you.

Ms. ATLER: I haven't spoken of it before. I think most of us almost literally give our lives for our families because we don't want to destroy our families. I would never have put my father in jail. Let--let me rephrase that. I would never have put my father in jail until I learned only three years ago that he never stopped. My sister Gwen, who is six years older, when I went to talk to her, sh--she was 30, married with two children, and her first words were--to me were, `I thought I was the only one. I never should have left you. It's my fault.' She thought she was the only one. I knew I was the last one. And when I learned three years ago that my father never stopped, that he violated until he died at age 75--that's why many survivors come forward. They won't come forward for themselves, but if they find that their violator is continuing to violate, then they may come forward and say, `Not the next generation. No, no, we're going to end this.' So I would've--I would have pressed charges against my father knowing that.

My mother died in June, and I was a--a very good daughter to her and I was very respectful. And I would not--and I chose carefully what I said about my mother while still trying to educate. I think one of the most difficult sentences I've ever said in--in public--I was talking to 600 people, and one day I just--I just said, `My--my mother hurt me more than my father ever did.' And I was expecting people to say, `Why don't you leave? We don't understand that.' And these--these people were just nodding and coming up afterwards and saying, `Yes. I--yes.' And I know that's so hard to understand, but m--when I told my mother a year after my father died, she said she didn't believe me, which I was not prepared for at all. I mean, now I say to survivors, `Don't expect--don't--don't expect the support.' And when she said she didn't believe me, I just felt like I'd been--I was 48 years old.

She died in June. In November, I spoke in Medford, Oregon, and people stand up in line--stand in line to talk to me. And I noticed this woman in her 70s, pure white hair, waiting to talk to me and finally an hour, she gets up to me and she said, `You know, I worked for your father for a number of years.' And I said, `Really?'


Ms. ATLER: And she said--and I said, `I'm sorry.' Meaning, `I'm sorry that you--I know you adored them both and I'm sorry that you had to hear what I had to say tonight.' And she dropped her eyes and she said, `Actually, your mother was in touch with me twice since your story came forward,' which is 1991. And I said, `Really?' And she said, `She told me that what you were saying wasn't true.' And I thought, `Why doesn't that surprise me.' She defended my father t--to her death. She couldn't--she--my mother was not a mean or a vindictive person. You would have adored her. She was funny and--and smart and she had all the social graces. She just couldn't take my father on or--or s--or s--if she had accepted the fact that I was an incest survivor, then she had to say that--`Then I wasn't a mother and I--and I wasn't--then all that I thought I was, I wasn't.' That's real hard.

RIVERA: Did you ever share with your mother--I have this--and I--I--I'm sorry that I--I need to say this because I know this is going to be awful in a sense, but I have this image when I look at you now of something you described once of having you--how you would try to protect yourself, in a sense, from your father by going into the fetal position...

Ms. ATLER: Well, that's the only time...

RIVERA: ...and how he used to unpeel you in a sense.

Ms. ATLER: Well, Mother and I never talked about it. And when my story went public in 1991--I told her when I was 48 and my story went public when I was 53, and we still didn't talk about it. It's the elephant in the room that we--but one day she called me, about four--four years ago and she was--not crying, but close to it. And she said, `You said something that hurt me very badly today.' And I said, `I'm sorry, Mother, tell me--tell me what it is and I'll try not to say it again.' And she said, `You said your father pried you open.' And I said, `I did say that, Mother, because people are saying he molested me.' And I--people have to understand what that means. I locked my body into a tight fetal position and he pried me open. And she said, `Please don't say that again.' And I said, `I'll try not to.'

RIVERA: We'll be right back.

Ms. PAMELA GRIFFIN (Friend of Patsy Ramsey): (From upcoming segment) JonBenet wanted her makeup off after she competed, and Patsy was taking it off and got some in her eyes and it got a little bit red and swollen. But her eye isn't swollen from being hit.


(Excerpt from news report)

Unidentified Man #1: Can I ask you to respect her privacy? She does not want to answer any questions. She just wants to go home. Thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: Can you tell us why you were in Washington?

Ms. PATSY RAMSEY (JonBenet Ramsey's Mother): I had an oncology appointment with my oncologist today.

Man #2: Are you doing OK?

Ms. RAMSEY: I had a great checkup today.

Man #2: Good.

(End of excerpt)

RIVERA: That's Patsy Ramsey. I had not seen that. Rerack that, Donny, please? I had not seen that video. but I want Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber, once more to take a look at this and...

DONNY (Cameraman): Camera one.

RIVERA: ...just roll it as soon...

Ms. RAMSEY: (From news footage) I had an oncology appointment...

RIVERA: Freeze it.

Ms. RAMSEY: ...with my oncol...

RIVERA: Comment, Judi?

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: Well, the mother certainly is not as beautiful as the daughter, even in spite of the ages. I don't have any other comment.

RIVERA: She seems--she seems much more relaxed than the videos that I've seen.


RIVERA: Much more so.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: This is after the--the killing? That's an amazing picture. As you know, Geraldo, last year my son was killed in an accident and it took many months before I could even really appear in public.

RIVERA: And you were not even, obviously, involved in his tragic death.

Dr. DENSEN-GERBER: No, he was killed in California at 32.

RIVERA: Yeah. Well, you know, we e--we expressed our--our condolences to Judianne then. It's a horrible thing, too.

Yes, ma'am?

Unidentified Woman #1: Yes, my question's for Marilyn. I admire you for coming forward with this story. It's very difficult to hear. It must be very difficult to speak about. I was curious, is there a correlation between beauty pageant participants and sexual abuse?

Ms. ATLER: Well, that means we'd have to lump all beauty pageants into one, an--and there are so many different ones that--and I don't

Webmaster: This transcript is obviously incomplete but that is the way I copied it from the old Boulder News Forum. If I can locate a full version I will correct this file.