A SUSPECT in the JonBenét Ramsey case was found with shrines and more than 300 images of the slain pageant queen on his phone – just three years before he confessed to murdering the girl in disturbing jailhouse letters.
Gary Oliva, 59, was arrested in Boulder, Colorado, for possession of child pornography in June 2016 and later issued an indeterminate prison sentence – meaning he will only be released if he passes the state’s sex offender treatment program.
For years leading up to his arrest, Oliva was considered a suspect in the still-unsolved murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey, who was found bound and beaten in the basement of her family home on December 26, 1996.
Oliva had ties to an address just 13 houses away from the Ramseys at the time and attended a candlelight vigil held for the girl after her shocking and brutal death.
A former classmate of Oliva’s, Michael Vail, told The U.S. Sun that he received a phone call from Oliva on the same day JonBenét was found dead, crying through the receiver: “I hurt a little girl.”
Vail reported the call to Boulder police the following morning after reading about JonBenét’s murder in the L.A. Times. However, investigators wouldn’t contact him until 2002 after the district attorney’s office started looking over the case again with fresh eyes.
Oliva has never been charged in connection with JonBenét’s death.
This story is part of an ongoing series investigating Gary Oliva’s potential ties to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.
He does, however, have a lengthy criminal history that includes sexually abusing a seven-year-old girl and attempting to murder his mom by strangling her with a telephone wire.
His most recent arrest – which he remains incarcerated for – came in 2016 when he was caught uploading images depicting the sexual abuse of children to his personal Gmail account on public WiFi connections across Boulder.
In a copy of his arrest affidavit obtained by The U.S. Sun, Boulder BP said it was made aware of Oliva’s illicit activity by Google.
Oliva, who was homeless, was detained under a bridge near a railroad track on June 6, 2016, and his phone and other personal items were seized by investigators.
On the device, police recovered approximately 695 images depicting child pornography. Details about the images are redacted in the report.
Additionally, there were 335 photos of and relating to JonBenét.
“Some were regular photographs of her likely found online,” reads the report. “Of those photographs, 19 were images of JonBenét’s autopsy like from photographs that had previously leaked to the press in years past.
“There were also many photographs of what appear to be shrines to JonBenét Ramsey. It is unknown where these shrines are located or if they were created by Oliva or not.”
Investigators also noted that a number of the contacts saved in Oliva’s phone referenced members of the Ramsey family, and several videos paying tribute to her were saved on the device.
Numerous other images depicted scenes of cannibalism, torture, and mutilation of dead bodies, per the report.
Along with those images were drawings – believed to have been crafted by Oliva – that depicted rape, murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism.
Images of children crying or otherwise appearing scared had been saved on his phone in large quantities and dozens of images purporting to depict cannibalism and death had been wiped from the device.
Oliva’s sketch notebook and a black rucksack were also seized by police.
In the notebook, Oliva had made a number of collages that combined photographs of either semi-nude girls or girls in bathing suits with images of child pornography.
In his backpack, investigators found numerous items, including what they called “8 magazines of interest.”
“[Seven] of the magazines were American Girl magazines and featured photographs and featured photographs of young prepubescent or early pubescent girls.
“The other magazine was a skating magazine with a young female approximately 11-12 years old on the front cover.
“Due to the nature of this case and Oliva’s history of sexual assault on a child as well as my training and experience […] people with pedophilic impulses generally will use those types of magazines for the purposes of sexual gratification.”
Officers noted that at the time of his arrest, Oliva showed no remorse for his actions but did reportedly tell them that he “admitted to having a problem with young girls […] around the age of eight and nine.”
Oliva is currently housed at the Limon Correctional Facility in Colorado.
Three years after his arrest, Oliva penned a series of odd and disturbing letters to Vail, claiming to have killed JonBenét by accident.
In one of the letters, which Vail shared with The U.S. Sun, Oliva wrote: “I never loved anyone like I did JonBenét and yet I let her slip and her head bashed in half and I watched her die. It was an accident. Please believe me. She was not like the other kids.”
In another, he claimed: “JonBenét completely changed me and removed all evil from me. Just one look at her beautiful face, her glowing beautiful skin, and her divine God-body, I realized I was wrong to kill other kids. Yet by accident, she died and it was my fault.”
In other letters penned by Oliva, he claimed to have a “disorder” for killing children.
“Please don’t hate me. I’m sorry I turned scumb [sic] but even when you first met me I told you how I wanted to kill children.
“When I met JonBenét she took away that horrible craving to kill kids that you know me for.
“She changed me into a new person. But it’s okay. I’ve killed so many children I’ve lost track.”
Vail forwarded Oliva’s apparent confessions to BPD in 2019.
In a statement at the time, a spokesperson for the department said: “The Boulder Police Department is aware of Mr. Oliva and has investigated his potential involvement in this case, including several previous confessions.”
The department went on to state that they “routinely receive information” on the Ramsey investigation and that information “is reviewed along with other tips and theories.”
The department refused to comment further, citing an active and ongoing investigation.
BPD’s response appeared to signal that investigators do not believe Oliva is responsible for JonBenét’s death.
He was DNA tested in 2000 but sources say he was not found to be a match for the DNA evidence recovered from the crime scene.
However, very little DNA exists in the case.
Over the years, BPD has been accused of failing to properly secure the crime scene after JonBenét was found dead, which destroyed or contaminated potentially crucial DNA evidence in the process.
JonBenét was just six years old when she was found dead in the basement of her family’s sprawling Boulder, Colorado, home on December 26, 1996.
She had been reported missing hours earlier after her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, awoke to find the girl missing from her bed and a bizarre three-page ransom note at the foot of a staircase.
It was John who would discover JonBenét’s body. She was found swaddled in a white blanket inside a seldom-used room the family referred to as the wine cellar.
JonBenét had been strangled with a garrote fashioned from white rope and a broken paintbrush handle taken from a box of Patsy’s art supplies.
Her wrists were tied, black duct tape covered her mouth, and she had suffered a fracture to the back of her skull.
JonBenét’s cause of death was ruled asphyxiation and blunt force trauma to the head. There were also signs of sexual assault.
While her killer has never been found, for the last almost 27 years, Michael Vail said he’s been unwavering in his belief that Oliva was either responsible for or somehow involved in JonBenét’s death, citing what he calls an abundance of circumstantial evidence tying him to the crime.
In addition to staying at a property only 13 houses away from the Ramsey home at the time of the murder, Vail said it’s the garrote found wound around the young girl’s neck that gives him additional cause for suspicion regarding Oliva’s potential involvement.
“When we were at school, Gary used to creep into homes, buildings, and classrooms and steal art supplies […] paintbrushes, glue, paint, things like that,” said Vail.
“He was getting his mail 13 houses away from the Ramseys, and I think he broke into that home more than once.
“What was down in the basement room, where JonBenét was found? That’s where Patsy kept all her art supplies.
“I never looked at that garrote until after 2016, and when I saw it all the hairs on my arm stood up straight away and goosebumps were all over my neck.
“I said to myself, ‘Holy crap – that’s a paintbrush and there’s a knot on the f**king string.’
“When I look at some of Gary’s art collages he did at high school, he was fascinated with knots – complicated knots.
“It blew my mind when I saw the knots and when I saw the garrote my heart just sank,” he added.
“What an awful thing to do to a person, a sadistic and cruel thing.”
POLICE ‘F**K UP’
In a previous interview with The U.S. Sun, John Ramsey said BPD’s “incompetent” investigators were so fixated on him and Patsy being responsible for JonBenét’s death that they overlooked glaring leads and potentially vital pieces of evidence in the immediate aftermath of her death.
DNA evidence eventually exonerated John and Patsy of any wrongdoing in 2008.
Vail believes a potentially crucial clue overlooked by BPD at the time was the call Oliva made to him hours after JonBenét was found dead.
The phone rang sometime around midnight on Dec. 26, 1996, as Vail was watching TV.
On the other end of the line was the familiar yet distressed-sounding voice of Oliva, who, through sharp and panicked exhales of breath, gasped out the words: “I…hurt…a…little…girl!”
“Holy s**t,” responded Vail. “What do you mean? Where are you,” he pried.
While struggling to catch his breath, Oliva apparently informed Vail he was calling from a payphone in Boulder, where he had been living on a ranch.
Vail tried to push him for more information, asking for his phone number, the address of the ranch, or the name of someone he was staying with.
But Oliva hung up the phone, leaving Vail alone with his thoughts as he attempted to make sense of the conversation he’d just shared.
“It was a very disturbing phone call,” Vail reflected.
“I couldn’t make sense of it […] I don’t know how the hell I got any sleep that night.
“But then I got up in the morning, around 7am, stepped out onto my front porch to pick up the L.A. Times […] and there it was right on the page, ‘Girl, 6, found slain in Boulder, Colorado.'”
As Vail read about the early details of the case that morning a chill ran up the back of his spine.
He immediately informed his wife of the disturbing call he’d received from Oliva the night before and then dialed the number for the Boulder Police Department’s tip line that was printed at the foot of the article.
“I called that number as fast as I could and reported it right away,” he said.
“I told them, ‘Hey. This guy called me and told me he’d hurt a little girl in Boulder’ and then told them everything I know.
“And then I sat back and waited, thinking I’ll soon be reading in the newspaper that Gary had been arrested.
“But day after day went by and I was like: ‘Why hasn’t Gary been arrested yet?'”
After reporting Oliva’s call to Boulder PD Vail waited patiently for an update from investigators.
However, three months would pass and, still, the phone didn’t ring.
Taking matters into his own hands, Vail once again called BPD to report Oliva’s call for a second time.
“I said, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you guys because I’m wondering why haven’t you arrested Gary yet?’ And they just put me through to a recorded line and I left a message but, again, nothing happened.
“I was just baffled. How can this guy call me and tell me he’s hurt a little girl before it’s even in the newspaper and the police don’t do anything?
“I always just assumed the police knew what the f**k they were doing.
“But there’s no understanding not following up on that lead. I was convinced Gary did it because never in my life have I heard a grown man sobbing like that – ever.
“I wasn’t there, obviously, but I have my theories as to what happened.”
AN ‘EXPERT CREEPER”
At the time of Vail’s second call to BPD, Patsy, and John Ramsey had already been designated the key persons of interest in the case by investigators.
Vail wouldn’t hear from authorities until 2002 when the District Attorney took a fresh look over the case.
Vail turned over boxes of letters and other items Oliva had sent him over the years to the DA’s office where they remain to this day.
He shares John Ramsey’s long-held theory that an intruder broke into their home and killed JonBenét in a kidnapping gone wrong.
The theory was championed by veteran Colorado detective Lou Smit, who came out of retirement to investigate the case for the District Attorney’s office in early 1997.
Smit, after a week of working on the case, came to the conclusion that the Ramseys were innocent and an unknown assailant had broken into the home, likely while they were out celebrating Christmas Day.
In the years that followed, Smit compiled a huge database of evidence, potential suspects, and other information, seeking to identify the apparent intruder.
Named high on Smit’s list was Oliva. In addition to Oliva’s proximity to the crime scene, Smit pointed to Oliva’s arrest on Dec. 12, 2000, on the University of Colorado campus on charges of criminal trespass, drug possession, and possession of a weapon by a prior criminal offender.
At the time of his arrest, Oliva was found with a stun gun in his possession, in addition to a photograph of JonBenét and a poem he’d written about her, titled “Ode to JonBenét.”
The discovery of the stun gun was a particularly interesting development for Smit, who had long theorized one had been used on JonBenét to subdue her in the moments before her death.
Smith told CBS’ 48 Hours in 2002 that Oliva may have been a part of a group of several men that broke into the Ramsey home.
John Ramsey told The U.S. Sun he believes his family was being watched for several weeks or even months before JonBenét’s murder, suggesting also that the culprit – or culprits – had been in or broken into the home previously.
Reiterating his belief that Olvia was a “creeper” who was staying near the Ramsey home, Vail said Oliva may have crossed paths with JonBenét at some stage and developed a fascination with her.
“Gary’s proximity to the Ramseys is one of the things that most alarms me. Where he was getting his mail, 13 houses away, was accessible via an alleyway that also ran behind the Ramsey home.
“I can’t imagine he hadn’t seen JonBenét […] And since I know Gary used to creep into homes and buildings and steal art supplies, I think he could’ve been inside that house numerous times.
“He was a creeper and expert at sneaking in and doing things without anyone ever knowing he was there.”
‘A MENACE TO SOCIETY’
Oliva’s 10-year sentence is due to come to an end in 2025, though it remains to be seen whether or not the state will agree to release him.
Vail says his former classmate should never be permitted freedom, regardless of whether or not he was involved in JonBenét’s death.
“Gary is a danger to society,” he said. “This guy needs to stay in jail.
“Society would not be safe with him out […] he’s told me in some of our calls that you could give him shock therapy and still he’d have these urges.
“I’m mean, this guy is sending me drawings of grilling and eating children.
“He’s a menace to society.”