WEARING CRISP DRESS BLUES and a holstered .357 Magnum, Boulder, Colo., Police Chief Thomas G. Koby was the picture of unflappability on the morning of Feb. 13 as he faced a crush of national media starving for information about the Christmas-night killing of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey. Unfazed by the volley of questions, Koby, 47, kept most of his answers brief, ranging from a terse "No comment" to an even terser "Next question," while Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter stood by his side showing support.
Yet almost simultaneously, Bill Wise, one of Hunter's top prosecutors, was suggesting to a nearby meeting of the Boulder County commissioners that Koby's cops might have botched some evidence in the Ramsey case. (Believing JonBenét had been kidnapped, detectives permitted her father, John Ramsey, 53, to search his house unsupervised with a family friend. Finding his daughter's body in the basement, Ramsey tore off the duct tape sealing her mouth and carried her upstairs to the living room.) Wise's public apology the next day didn't disguise the fact that the DA's office was establishing its own investigative team. Hunter hired forensics expert Dr. Henry Lee, who had testified for O.J. Simpson's defense, and consultant Barry Scheck, the Simpson team's DNA specialist; and was looking for a seasoned homicide detective. "Friction is normal and healthy," says Hunter.
After nearly 30 years in law enforcement, Tom Koby is suddenly at the epicenter of the nation's most sensational criminal investigation, and his career may well hang in the balance. Calling it a "no-win situation" for Koby, The Denver Post's Mike McPhee wrote that if the killer is caught and convicted, prosecutors "will bask in the glory." If not, maintained McPhee, "Koby will take the hit."
Amid the turmoil the Houston-bred Koby has been a virtual sphinx, enforcing an almost total official silence about the Ramsey case. On the face of it, the inquiry seems to have progressed little since the day after Christmas, when JonBenét's father, a wealthy computer executive, found her lifeless body with the tape on her mouth and a cord around her neck. An autopsy confirmed that the child had been sexually molested, and police have revealed that a three-page ransom note, reportedly demanding $118,000, was found in the Ramsey's Boulder home, which apparently showed no signs of forced entry. But they have yet to name a suspect. As of Feb. 26, JonBenét's father and mother, Patsy, 40, a former Miss West Virginia, had refused to submit to formal police interviews. After twice providing handwriting samples, John Ramsey is said to have declined a third request. The parents and their son Burke, 10, have left their home and have been staying with a succession of friends in the area.
The national spotlight may not have been what Koby had in mind in June 1991, when, after 22 years of police work in Houston, during which he had risen from patrolman to assistant chief under future U.S. drug czar Lee Brown, he arrived in placid Boulder, home of the University of Colorado and a place where he could indulge his love of the outdoors. "Tom thought he'd died and gone to heaven," says Brown, now a professor at Rice University, who calls his former assistant "a true leader" and "a strong advocate for the troops." As for his unflappability, Koby seems to have been born with it. Says a childhood friend: "It's like he was always on a natural tranquilizer."
"I view my role as a coach, a facilitator, a cheerleader and a mediator," Koby told the Longmont (Colo.) Daily Times-Call shortly before moving to Colorado with his wife, Teresa, and their daughter Megan (son Michael remained in college in Texas). In Boulder he has worked with university officials to curb underage drinking on campus and declined to sponsor a Boy Scouts of America Explorer job program because of the Scouts' discrimination policy against gays. Robert Fink, former dean of music at the university and a member of a citizens' review panel set up to monitor the Boulder police, describes him as "not an outspoken, macho kind of guy—just a regular person you can talk with."
More revealing may be the department's painstaking two-year inquiry into the 1994 killing of a local theater owner by several teenagers. "They were really secretive," Ron Baird, a writer for the Colorado Daily, says of the police. "By the time they finally made a case, it was airtight." Clearly, Koby hopes to repeat that success. "This is not L.A.," he told a community meeting on Jan. 9. "Our guy won't walk." Yet inevitably, as time has passed without an arrest, not everyone is convinced. "I suspect," says Denver Post columnist Chuck Green, "that statement will come back and haunt him."
VICKIE BANE in Boulder and LAUREL CALKINS in Houston
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