JonBenét Ramsey was a 6-year-old beauty queen who was murdered on December 26, 1996 in Boulder, Colorado. Her death and the following investigation became a mass media event that was given heavy coverage throughout the United States. Although hundreds of man-hours and millions of dollars have been spent searching for her killer, no one has ever been charged with her death.
Almost 2000 children were murdered in the United States during 1996, but the case of JonBenét Ramsey was latched onto by the media and was dubbed by some to be the "crime of the century" (for those who had forgotten Leopold and Loeb, the Lindberg kidnapping, the Rosenbergs, Watergate, and O.J.) Thanks to the way that the case has been portrayed in the media, most people feel that her parents John and Patsy Ramsey killed JonBenét. Although family members are usually the perpetrators in the murder of a child, the evidence is not that clear-cut with the Ramseys.
This case does not begin on the night that JonBenét was killed, but rather three days before. At 6:48 p.m. on December 23, 1996, a 911 call was placed from the Ramsey home to the Boulder Police Department. The call was terminated before an emergency dispatcher could speak to the caller. Six minutes later the police called the Ramsey home, but got a voice-mail message, so a police officer was dispatched to the house. The officer was told that the call was a mistake and he did not file a report. At the time of the call the Ramseys were having their annual Christmas party, complete with a Santa Claus who passed out presents to neighborhood children. With so many children in the house, anyone could have accidentally dialed 911.
Shortly after 5:45 a.m. on December 26, 1996, Patsy Ramsey called the police to say that JonBenét was missing and that a ransom note had been found in the house. The note read:
Listen Carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We
do respect your business but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our possession. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.
You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a earlier
delivery pick-up of your daughter.
Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to outsmart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back. You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities. Don’t try to grow a brain John. You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!
Despite the warning of her daughter being beheaded, Patsy still made the 911 call. Within seven minutes, two police officers arrived at the 15-room Ramsey home. They made a quick search of the house, including the basement, and the surrounding grounds. The police noted that there were a number of open windows and at least one open door; therefore an intruder would not need to have broken in. One possible point of entry was the basement window, not only was it easily accessible via a ground level, lift-out grille, it had also been broken sometime before Christmas and could not be locked. No footprints were found in the snow, but one of the officers on the scene noted that when he walked on the driveway and sidewalks, his steps left no visible footprints because of lack of snow in those areas. As the police were searching the grounds, Patsy again ignored the warnings of the ransom note and called two married couples that were friends of the family and the family minister. They all arrived at the house by 8 a.m.
John Ramsey called a bank to make the arrangements to have the ransom money ready. At about 1 p.m., Police Detective Judy Arndt, who had taken over the investigation, asked John Ramsey, Fleet White, and John Fernie (two of the family friends that had come over) to go through the house to try to find anything that might have been left behind or taken by JonBenet. Arndt later testified:
John Ramsey immediately went to the basement of the house, followed by Fleet White and John Fernie. Within a few minutes, Fleet came running upstairs, grabbed the telephone in the back office located on the first floor, and yelled for someone to call for an ambulance.
I ran to the front of the house, where the door leading to the basement was located. I saw John Ramsey run up the basement stairs. John Ramsey was carrying a young girl in his arms. Both arms of the girl were raised above her head. There appeared to be a string hanging from the girl's right wrist. The girl's lips were blue; she appeared to have livor mortis on her back side of her body; she had rigor mortis; she was not breathing...her body was cool to the touch; she had a white cloth strung around her neck similar to the cloth string around her wrist; there was a red circular mark in the front of her neck about the size of a quarter, at the base of her throat; she had an odor of decay to her, she had dried mucus from one of her nostrils.
John Ramsey told Det. Arndt that he had found JonBenét in the wine cellar in the basement, underneath a blanket, with her wrists tied above her head and a piece of tape covering her mouth. Ramsey had removed the tape from her mouth before he carried her body upstairs to the first floor.
According to the autopsy done on JonBenét’s body, the cause of her death was strangulation coupled with an 8 ½ inch long skull fracture, and that she died sometime between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (meaning she was already dead by the time Patsy called 911). Although both injuries would have been lethal, investigators are still unsure which happened first. The method of strangulation was from a garrote that had been made from nylon rope and a broken paintbrush handle (the other piece of the handle could not be found). Two pairs of small spot-like wounds were found on her body, one on her back, and another on her face. These were later determined to have come from an Air Taser stun gun. The autopsy also revealed that JonBenet had been sexually assaulted before she died, and a pubic hair was found on her genitals. Small samples of plant material were also found in JonBenét’s vagina and her hymen was torn, leading some to speculate that the killer had used the other piece of paintbrush handle to assault her, and then took it with him as some sort of souvenir.
Physical evidence found at the scene seems to point to the murder being committed by an intruder, and not a member of the family:
- A basement window in the Ramsey house was found open after the girl's body was discovered, with signs that debris in the window well had been recently disturbed.
- A suitcase was found lying flat below the window and could possibly have been used as a step.
- A sole print from a Hi-Tec hiking shoe was found near the body. No one in the family has the kind of shoe.
- A metal baseball bat was found outside the basement window with fibers on it that matched those from the carpet in the room where the body was found. JonBenet’s head fracture is consistent with a bat.
- The piece of duct tape over JonBenet's mouth did not match anything found in the Ramsey home.
- The pubic hair found on JonBenet does not match any member of her family
- Both of the Ramseys were administered polygraph tests, which they passed.
This is not to say that some questions have not been left unanswered. Why would the killer leave a ransom note if he was just going to murder JonBenet anyway? Or did he plan on kidnapping her and then decided to kill her on the spur of the moment? How did the writer of the note know so much about the family, such as the fact that John was from the south and had recently gotten an $118,000 raise? How did he know the layout of the house so well that he could sneak in, commit his crime, and get out with out being heard? What about the 911 call on December 23? Could it have been an indication of problems in the family? There is also the fact that handwriting analysis of the ransom note is inconclusive, with some investigators even saying that it was written by Patsy Ramsey. Could she have actually been involved? We’ll probably never know.
Both the police and the media immediately jumped on John and Patsy Ramsey as being the focus of the investigation, disregarding the possibility that an intruder killed JonBenét. The media did all they could to paint John and Patsy as the killers, even going so far as ignoring evidence that proved their innocence and spreading false stories that John Ramsey had been sexually abusing his daughter for years. The copious amounts of footage existing from JonBenét’s days as a child beauty pageant contestant (which involved her putting on make-up and prancing around in skimpy clothing) seemed only to add to the speculation that her father might have been a pedophile. Because of this pervasive and false media coverage, most Americans will probably say that her parents killed JonBenét. This was even the opinion that I myself held before starting research on this writeup.
The case dragged on for years, with the press also continually blaming the Boulder police department for screwing up the investigation. Not only did the police do an inadequate initial search of the house, but they also let the crime scene become tainted by allowing John Ramsey to move his daughter’s body and by letting several other people to move through the house. There was also a revolving door of investigators working on the case, with new people being brought in because the Police Department was not happy with the results they were getting. Even Lou Smit, a renowned detective who came out of retirement to help with the investigation, eventually resigned because he felt that the Boulder police were focusing too much on the Ramseys.
A grand jury was eventually convened for over a year, but was unable to indict anyone for the murder due to lack of evidence.
On March 31, 2003 a U.S. District Court Judge threw out a libel suit by Chris Wolf, a former Boulder journalist who sued the Ramseys because they named him as a possible suspect. Wolf argued that Patsy killed her daughter and tried to cover it up. The judge ruled that Wolf was defamed, but there was virtually no evidence to support his theory that the Ramseys murdered their child, so their statements could not be considered malicious. One week later, the District Attorney in charge of the case said that she agreed with the judge’s ruling that the evidence points to an outsider and not the Ramseys.
JonBenét Ramsey was killed over six years ago. Her parents lost not only their child, but also lost their privacy and had their names dragged through the mud for over half a decade. JonBenét's killer still remains at-large.