Confession: I have no idea what happened in the Ramsey home in the late-night hours of December 25th, 1996.
I’ve read every major book about the case and watched every available documentary.
I’ve spent far more hours online trying to reconcile obscure clues—shit-covered candy box and incestuous dictionary included—than I did ever did studying for the bar exam.
I’ve had people I respect tell me I’m an idiot for not accepting the intruder theory,
and I’ve had people I respect tell me only an idiot
could fail to recognize the blatant guilt of one or more Ramsey family members.
And still I equivocate;
certainly some authors and bloggers have proffered scenarios that are theoretically possible,
but none of these hypotheses feel exactly right to me.
There are very few crimes that leave me feeling as ambivalent as the Ramsey case.
Even if the perpetrator is unknown
it’s usually possible to use the totality of the clues to form an opinion about what happened;
anomalous crimes—where the facts refuse to coalesce into a satisfying narrative—are exceedingly rare.
Most of these outlier cases are high-profile mysteries like Jonbenet’s murder,
but one little-known series of events I’ve never been able to pigeonhole
is the peculiar disappearance of Amarillo attorney David Glenn Lewis.
The mystery began on Super Bowl Sunday, January 31st, 1993.
David Lewis’s wife Karen and nine-year old daughter Lauren returned from a weekend shopping trip to Dallas and discovered David, age thirty-nine, had vanished.
By all appearances David had been preparing to watch the football game—the VCR’s record function had been turned on at kickoff but the tape had not been stopped at the game’s completion.
Two freshly-made turkey sandwiches were left behind in the fridge,
and David’s watch and wedding ring were resting on a kitchen counter.
Since nothing in the home appeared disturbed and none of David’s belongings were missing Mrs. Lewis assumed her husband had simply gone out to watch the game.
When he failed to return home by morning, however, she filed a missing persons report;
the following day David’s red Ford Explorer was found in front of the Potter County Courts Building in downtown Amarillo.
His house and car keys were under the floor mat, and his checkbook,
credit cards and driver’s license were in the car where he usually kept them.
and despite the absence of overt evidence of foul play Mrs. Lewis was certain someone had harmed her husband.
David was close to his parents and brother and absolutely adored his daughter Lauren;
there was no way,
his friends and family insisted,
he would ever leave voluntarily.
David’s stable and harmonious home life wasn’t the only factor which suggested foul play:
David had recently told his wife his life had been threatened,
although he refused to divulge the details or identify the source of these threats.
Practicing law can be a divisive profession,
and David’s loved ones believe his undoing likely had roots his legal career.
David had previously spent four years as a judge in nearby Moore County,
and his family theorized a disgruntled defendant may have been nursing a long-simmering grudge.
He was also due to testify in a high-stakes lawsuit involving his former law firm, Ham, Irwin, Graham and Cox.
A wealthy client was suing the firm for an alleged conflict of interest;
although David no longer worked at Ham & Irwin he was scheduled to fly to Dallas for a deposition the week after he disappeared.
According to the Amarillo Globe News, David had stated he had no intention of minimizing the firm’s wrongdoings:
“I’m going to tell the truth whoever it hurts,” he told his father shortly before he vanished.
The Amarillo Special Crimes Unit initially opened a criminal investigation into David’s disappearance
but the probe was canceled eleven months later.
Although the reason for the delay in obtaining the information is unknown,
detectives learned two plane tickets had been purchased in David’s name shortly after he disappeared.
On January 31st a ticket was purchased on a flight from Dallas to Amarillo,
and February 1st a ticket was purchased from Los Angeles to Dallas, with a stopover in Amarillo.
Law enforcement has never released the payment method or departure time of the booked flights,
and it’s unclear if the tickets were ultimately utilized.
Although the Lewis family was devastated by the decision to close the case
the Amarillo Police Department declared David voluntarily missing and suspended their investigation.
The Lewises vowed to keep searching on their own,
but for more than a decade David’s loved ones were left with nothing but questions and memories—and here this story would end if not for a series of newspaper articles published ten years later in Seattle, nearly 2,000 miles away.
“People Go Missing and Killers Go Free” was the tagline of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s 2003 exposé on the shortcomings of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
A law enforcement database designed to link missing persons with unidentified human remains,
the NCIC was antiquated and dependent upon cooperation from individual police departments which often failed to materialize.
As the Post-Intelligencer articles demonstrated, an appalling number of cases slipped through the cracks.
Galvanized by the series,
Washington State Police Detective Patrick Ditter embarked on a crusade to identify a John Doe found on the outskirts of Yakima ten years earlier, on February 1st, 1993—the man had been killed in a hit and run.
Although the NCIC again failed to provide a match,
Detective Ditter began googling the unidentified man’s statistics and eventually landed on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s webpage.
One of the missing men featured on the site sported a distinctive pair of eyeglasses,
and an identical pair had been found in John Doe’s pocket.
Fingerprint and DNA tests followed,
and eleven years after his death Yakima John Doe’s identity was definitively established—the hit and run victim was missing attorney David Glenn Lewis.
Aspiring suicides occasionally travel to distant states in an attempt to spare their loved ones,
but the circumstances of David’s death were far murkier.
The hit and run occurred at 10:24pm on a lonely two-lane highway in Moxee,
approximately ten miles outside the Yakima airport.
After spotting David walking down the center line
a concerned motorist turned around to warn other drivers—but it was too late.
David was found crumpled in the road, a Chevrolet Camaro seen motoring away from the scene.
Although there was no criminal investigation,
Detective Ditter is adamant David’s death was an accident, not suicide.
(The investigator’s explanation for David’s late-night sashay down the middle of a highway 2,000 miles from home
remains a tale untold.)
David, clad in well-worn military fatigues, had no identification and no known ties to Washington State.
The manner in which he traveled to the West Coast has never been established,
but the two tickets purchased in his name appear unrelated to his journey from Amarillo.
Below, for the sake of clarity, is the timeline:
January 28th, 1993:
— David’s wife and daughter travel to Dallas for a shopping trip
January 30th, 1993:
— David is last seen, although the circumstances of the encounter have never been publicized
January 31st, 1993:
— Super Bowl XXVII begins at 5:30pm Central Standard Time; the Lewis’s VCR apparently lacked preset capability since investigators presume David was home to activate the record function
— Mrs. Lewis and daughter Lauren return home to an empty house in the late-evening hours
— At some point a ticket is purchased in David’s name from Dallas to Amarillo
Dallas is a six hour drive or a one hour flight from the Lewis home. If David purchased a ticket departing from Dallas how did he get there? He didn’t drive himself— his vehicle was left behind in downtown Amarillo. If he traveled via plane why did he purchase his ticket to Dallas with an alias but purchase a ticket back to Amarillo under his real name?
February 1st, 1993:
— Mrs. Lewis reports David as a missing person
— At some point a plane ticket is purchased from Los Angeles to Dallas, with a stopover in Amarillo
— John Doe is killed in Yakima at 10:24pm
Did David purchase an (ultimately unused) ticket from Los Angeles because he was at LAX on a stopover en route to Yakima? If so, why would he buy that ticket in his real name after using an alias for his initial ticket west? I suppose the LA ticket purchase could have been an attempt to obfuscate his ultimate destination, but California seems a poor choice to misdirect the investigation away from Washington State.
David Lewis’s loved ones continue to believe he was the victim of foul play.
Although an autopsy detected no drugs or alcohol in his system,
family members believe David was drugged with a substance undetectable in a conventional toxicology screen—perhaps LSD or another hallucinogenic—and pushed into traffic.
“They would have had to fly him over (to Yakima). They would have had to drug him, chain him,” David’s father Hershel Lewis told the Amarillo Globe News. “I think it was force.”
The odd aspects of the case don’t end with the inexplicable ticket purchases: David Lewis wasn’t the only Amarillo-area man who vanished in the 1990s.
On June 20th, 1994—eighteen months after David’s disappearance—forty-seven year old Johnny Lee Baker went missing from the city of Borger, an Amarillo suburb.
At approximately 9:30pm—after returning home from jogging—Johnny spoke on the phone with his son;
nothing appeared to be amiss.
The wealthy, locally-prominent pharmacist has never been seen or heard from again;
his money, possessions and vehicle were left behind but one item was missing from his home: the garage door opener.
Johnny owned his own pharmacy,
and like David was reported to be a devoted family man;
the two men had grown up together in the town of Phillips,
an Amarillo suburb.
In what is almost certainly nothing but an eerie coincidence,
the town of Phillips no longer exists;
upon which the houses sat
was owned by the Phillips Petroleum Company,
and in the 1980s the entire town was evicted—a 1980 explosion at the plant caused significant damage,
but posters on various message boards claim the explosion was a cover-up for something more sinister.
(Government land grab, ecological disaster, and/or Jade Helm staging-ground—it’s a choose-your-own conspiracy adventure!)
(Odd unrelated factoid: when the townsfolk of Phillips attempted to block their eviction they hired F. Lee Bailey, legal counsel of choice for Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler—it’s a small world after all.)
Although it’s unclear how closely the men stayed in touch as adults,
they apparently retained some connection:
after Johnny’s disappearance local gossips suggested the childhood friends had run off together to Vegas.
(Johnny’s rationale for bringing his garage door opener to Vegas is unknown; maybe it was lucky.)
All of these peculiar circumstances aside,
I’m familiar with Occam’s razor: the simplest explanation is the most likely explanation.
David left his watch and wedding ring behind,
traditional hallmarks of suicide;
his ticket purchases make no sense because depressed people aren’t thinking clearly.
As a pharmacy owner Johnny had a vast knowledge of prescription drug use in Borger,
so he was probably murdered or whisked off to the witness protection program.
In the Ramsey case, statistics indicate one or both of her parents murdered Jonbenet, probably after she peed the bed.
I can’t explain why these perfectly rational explanations are so unsatisfying to me, but they are.
I’d rather believe Johnny and David—two vanished men from a vanished town—were initiated into the CIA as teenagers,
the town of Phillips nothing more than an elaborate MKUltra experiment.
David died in Yakima on a black-ops mission gone awry,
and Johnny was transferred overseas to shield him from the assassins with the lethal Chevy Camaro.
(The Baker garage door remote doubled as a covert CIA communications device, obviously.)
I’d also prefer to believe Jonbenet’s murder was perpetrated by a stranger;
maybe Mr. Cruel flew in from Australia and burrowed his way into the Ramsey basement—his vocabulary was posh enough to place an accent mark on “attaché” and parents in the home didn’t faze him.
These fanciful scenarios are probably the true crime version of rose-colored glasses, I know:
David wasn’t an itchy-footed suicide victim who caused his loved ones untold anguish—he and Johnny were American heroes keeping the world safe for democracy.
Jonbenet wasn’t killed by a family member—a monstrous pedophile must have entered her home, because children are never killed by someone they love.
These are all fictions, perhaps, but they make me feel better.
Just like I feel better pretending that as long as we all lock our doors we’ll be safe.