JonBenét Ramsey was 6-years old at the time of her unexpected death on December 26, 1996. She was the daughter of John and Patsy Ramsey, and younger sister of Burke Ramsey. John ran the computer systems company Access Graphics, which was later absorbed by Lockheed Martin. Patsy was a previous beauty queen, which was why she so excitedly got JonBenét involved in the child beauty pageant world (Mack, 2020). JonBenét was well known, thanks to her mother, and her death caused a media frenzy.
That morning, the Ramsey’s woke up to get ready for the day and Patsy found an unusually long ransom note on the staircase. The note was nearly three pages long and full of superfluous language that is unusual for a ransom note. According to the note, the group who kidnapped JonBenét was a “small foreign faction.” The note claimed she was in their possession and safe, but that they would require the Ramsey’s to follow their instructions in order for JonBenét to live to see 1997. The kidnappers asked for $118,000, $100,000 in $100 bills and $18,000 in $20 bills. They were instructed to put the money in a brown paper bag and wait for a phone call between eight and 10 AM the next day, and to rest well as the delivery would apparently be exhausting. The letter writer claimed that, should they not follow their instructions to a T, JonBenét would be immediately executed and the family would never get her remains for a proper burial. The men reportedly watching her apparently did not like John Ramsey, as warned by the letter writer. They were instructed not to interact with the police or to tell anyone what was happening, including stray dogs and bank authorities. If anyone was contacted or the money was marked in some way, JonBenét would die. The writer signed off the letter, S.B.C.T (CNN 2006).
Despite what the letter said, Patsy Ramsey immediately called both the police and family friends to assist in the search for her younger daughter. By six that morning the police had arrived; reportedly they found no evidence of forced entry upon their arrival. Mistakes were made, however, in preserving he crime scene. While JonBenét’s room was closed off, the rest of the house was open for friends and family to go through, resulting in the crime scene being contaminated. By one that afternoon, the family was understandably getting agitated and an officer suggested that John Ramsey search the house with a family friend to look for any possible evidence. The two immediately headed to search the basement, where they made the brutal discovery of JonBenét’s dead body. She was found with duct tape over her mouth and white cord wrapped around her neck and wrists in a makeshift garret with part of a paintbrush, and some reports say she was found with a white blanket over her torso (Crime Museum 2020). John brought her body upstairs, where he removed the duct tape from her mouth and, according to some, covered her body with the white blanket against the officers’ orders. This contaminated her remains, compromising any evidence that may have come her. For many, this was seen as extremely suspicious and fueled rumors that JonBenét was being abused by her parents (Mack 2020).
JonBenét’s cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation from strangulation and a small fracture was present on her skull. While it is believed that she was likely sexually assaulted before or after her death, no seminal evidence was found but her genitals had been wiped clean. There was, however, drops of blood found on her underwear. She had pineapple in her stomach that must have been eaten that night, and while Patsy and John didn’t remember giving her any, a bowl was found in the kitchen with pineapple and Burke’s fingerprints on it. It is worth noting here that, while fingerprints can tell us someone was there, we cannot attach a timetable to fingerprint evidence the way we can other pieces of evidence, so the time that Burke got the pineapple can’t be determined. The Ramsey’s maintain that Burke was asleep in his room the entire night (Crime Museum 2020).
The case gained national attention. The family quickly came under suspicion, and their behavior unfortunately fueled much of the suspicion. The initial interviews with the immediate family members of JonBenét were delayed, allowing time for a story to be developed should they have been involved in the crime. Many believed, and some still do, that the ransom note was staged, partially due to the unusual length of the note. It was determined that the stationary used belonged to Patsy, as did the pen used to write it. Handwriting samples were taken from each family member, but the results remain murky. While some believe that Patsy Ramsey had to have been the writer, others believe the handwriting analysis was inconclusive or entirely exonerated her. The note drew more suspicion to the family when it was learned that the amount asked was the exact amount that he received in a bonus that year. The family was fairly reluctant to work with the police during the investigation, later stating that they were hesitant to work with police out of fear that they would be framed just to have the case solved (Crime Museum 2020). The paint brush used in the makeshift garret was from Patsy’s art kit. Some theorize that Patsy, either from jealousy over JonBenét’s success in beauty pageants or anger over the fact that she was a chronic bed wetter, may have lost her cool and smashed her head into a hard surface. Burke was enough older and bigger than his younger sister and would have been able to overpower her, and if he had accidentally killed his sister, it would explain the somewhat unusual behavior of his parents (Mack 2020). The Ramsey’s refused to submit to more interviews in January of 1998 unless they could view the evidence police had collected (Research 2020). In 1999, a Colorado grand jury voted to indict the Ramsey’s on child endangerment and obstruction of a murder investigation charges, but the case was never prosecuted. The prosecutor felt the evidence in the case did not sufficiently meet the reasonable doubt standard and chose not to go through with the case (Crime Museum 2020). Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006, never knowing who killed her daughter (Research 2020). CBS aired a special in 2016, The Case of JonBenét Ramsey, which led many to believe that Burke was the one that killed his sister. He brought a $750 million defamation suit against CBS that was settled out of court in 2019 (Crime Museum 2020).
Some theorize that the killer was an intruder, who’s footsteps were disguised by the rugs in the house. A boot print that could not be linked to any of the family members was found next to her bed, leading to the belief that she was likely taken from her bed. When the basement was searched and investigated, a broke window was found that is thought to have been an entry point for an intruder. On top of that, the blood drops in her underwear belong to an unknown male, not the men in her family (Crime Museum 2020). Gary Oliva was arrested in Boulder, Colorado on drug charges in 2000. Oliva was a known sexual predator, but DNA cleared him of the Ramsey murder. He continued to terrorize Boulder after his release until he was arrested again on two counts of exploitation of a minor, specifically child pornography. In 2006, school teacher John Karr confessed to the murder while in Thailand. While his confession was vivid and horrific, it became quickly clear that it was nothing more than fantasy concocted based on what information available to the public. Karr was not the killer, though he was a pedophile obsessed with JonBenét (Mack 2020). He claimed that her death was an accident, caused after he drugged. His claims were discarded when it was learned that there were no signs of drugs in her system at the time of her death and his DNA was found not to match the DNA from her underwear, which was added to CODIS in 2003 (Crime Museum 2020). The Santa that worked the Ramsey party the night before the murder has also been suggested by some, but was never formally accused of the murder. He claimed to have a special relationship with JonBenét, referring to her as his “special friend.” He had a tube of gold glitter that she gave him as a gift, which is presumed to have been mixed into his ashes when he passed away in 2002 (Mack 2020).
In 2006, a new district attorney, Mary Lacy, was appointed to the case. DA Lacy made a public apology to the Ramsey’s in 2008 when she was profiling the DNA evidence. The case was officially reopened in 2010, with a focus on DNA evidence this time. The DNA evidence was sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation with hopes that newer, stronger methods would yield better results in 2016 (Crime Museum 2020). As of now, no new evidence has been made public. JonBenét’s death still remains a mystery, and the noise surrounding her murder has only made it harder for investigators to figure out what happened. The trial by media the family had to endure convinced many that they must have been at fault, while the evidence points towards the actions of an intruder in the household on the night of her murder. As it stands, only the evidence that may someday come from the DNA sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation may finally give the family and the public the answers being looked for since 1996.
Crime Museum. 2020. Jonbenét Ramsey – Crime Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/cold-cases/jonbenet-ramsey/> [Accessed 24 December 2020].
Research, C., 2020. Jonbenet Ramsey Murder Fast Facts. [online] CNN. Available at: <https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/us/jonbenet-ramsey-murder-fast-facts/index.html> [Accessed 26 December 2020].
Mack, E., 2020. Jonbenét Ramsey’S Death Is Still An Unsolved Mystery. [online] Rare. Available at: <https://rare.us/people/jonbenet-ramsey/> [Accessed 26 December 2020].
“CNN.Com – Text Of 1996 Jonbenet Ransom Note – Aug 17, 2006”. Cnn.Com, 2006, https://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/08/16/ramsey.ransom.note/.