20 Years Later, A Look Back At The Still Unsolved Murder of JonBenét Ramsey

JonBenet Ramsey [Photo: Instagram/@JonBenet_Support_Group]

On December 26, 1996, six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado. Police suspicion immediately fell on her parents John and Patsy, who claimed that their daughter had been abducted.

It has been 20 years since JonBenét’s death, and though the family was cleared of involvement in 2008, the many mysteries surrounding the case — the police mistakes, the pineapple, the broken window, the haunting beauty-pageant photos of the bubbly blonde girl — continue to be an obsession for both experts and armchair detectives.

Early Mistakes 
The Boulder police made many crucial mistakes at the crime scene. They failed to secure the crime scene, allowed friends to come into the house, and did not immediately separate John and Patsy to take their statements, according to former Boulder police chief Mark Beckner. Beckner wrote in a Reddit AMA (which has since been deleted, but a cached version can be found at the Denver Post) that since the crime happened at Christmas time, there were fewer people available to get to the scene. Officer Linda Arndt also allowed John Ramsey to search the house himself, which meant that the little girl’s body was moved when he carried it upstairs. Arndt then moved the body again so that it could be near the Christmas tree.

“There clearly was not a child abduction,” retired FBI agent Jim Clemente said on Media Mayhem. “The district attorney looked at the pictures and said, ‘No parents could do this to their child,’ therefore he prevented the detectives from separating and interviewing the parents.”
Charlie Brennan, a journalist with the Boulder Daily Camera, recently told The Today Show that he believes Boulder police should take another look at the 20-year-old case. Brennan fought to have records made public, which showed that the grand jury voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey in 1999 on charges of child abuse resulting in the first-degree murder of their six-year-old daughter. The district attorney, however, refused to sign the indictment.

John and Patsy Ramsey have always denied any involvement in JonBenét’s death, and have been heavily critical of the police investigation. John told Larry King Live in 2000 that investigators had decided that he and his wife were guilty immediately and failed to investigate other suspects.

The Ramsey House in Boulder, Colorado [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

The Ramsey House in Boulder, Colorado [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

The Ransom Note
Perhaps no piece of evidence has been more controversial than the ransom note, which Patsy claimed she found in their home. In the note, the alleged perpetrator claimed to be from a “small foreign faction” and demanded the sum of $118,000 — which was later revealed to be the exact amount of John Ramsey’s bonus that year.

The letter went on to explain that JonBenét would be “executed” if the authorities were contacted, and warned John and Patsy that they would be under constant surveillance. Police later determined the note was written on paper from a notebook in the Ramseys’ house, and then the family underwent handwriting analysis to determine if there was a possibility that any of them had authored it. John Ramsey’s sample seemed to show he didn’t write it, but Patsy Ramsey’s sample was labeled “inconclusive.”

“The FBI told us they’d never seen a 2.5 page ransom note,” Beckner explained. “No note has ever been written at the scene, and then left at the scene with the dead victim at the scene, other than this case.” District Attorney Mary Lacy mentioned that she did not consider anyone in Ramsey’s immediate family to be under any suspicion in the commission of the crime. 

Beckner also revealed the depth of the friction between the police and the district attorney’s office, saying: “After that initial day, we felt pressure from the DA’s office not to push too hard on the Ramseys. This was a constant source of frustration and much could be written about this and the reasons for it.”

Related: Crimeline: JonBenét Ramsey Murder

John and Patsy Ramsey on Larry King Live in 2000 [Photo: YouTube (screenshot)]

John and Patsy Ramsey on Larry King Live in 2000 [Photo: YouTube (screenshot)]

The Pineapple
A bowl of pineapple with a spoon was found on the table of the breakfast room, and fingerprints on the bowl were later revealed to be from Patsy and Burke Ramsey. The fruit became significant due to the fact that the coroner found traces of undigested pineapple bits in JonBenét’s large intestine. Patsy and John insisted that their daughter was asleep when they arrived home from a friend’s Christmas party, so many theorize that if her parents fed her the pineapple later that night, then it can be concluded that they lied to investigators.

Bedwetting/Sexual Abuse 
Details from JonBenét’s autopsy and comments from experts including Mark Beckner, who wrote in his Reddit AMA, “Evidence was found that would indicate she was sexually assaulted some time prior to the day of her death,” indicate that the six-year-old may have had prior vaginal trauma — but they are divided over whether this could indicate a prior injury or infection, sexual abuse, or nothing at all. JonBenét was known to have issues with bedwetting, and Thomas theorized in his book JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation that Patsy Ramsey, stressed by ”an approaching 40th birthday, the busy holiday season, an exhausting Christmas Day, and an argument with JonBenét” may have been angered over a bedwetting incident that led to ”some sort of explosive encounter in the child’s bathroom” and JonBenét’s death.

The Intruder
Many people continue to believe that an intruder — either known or unknown to the family — crawled into the basement through a window that had been broken, leaving scuff marks, to access the little girl. But Mark Fuhrman spoke to Steve Thomas before writing his book The Murder Business, and claims that Thomas emphasized the fact that there were cobwebs over the window, which would indicate to him that the window had not been recently disturbed. Another misunderstanding arose when the media reported that there were “no footprints in the snow,” leading many to believe that the perpetrator must have come from inside the house. However, the ground was hard and frozen, so it’s possible that footprints may not have been detectable.

John Mark Karr Confession/Other Suspects 
There appeared to be a major break in the case when teacher John Mark Karr admitting to the killing in 2008, but it soon became obvious that he had made a false confession. Several other suspects have been suggested over the years. Ollie Gray, a private investigator hired by the Ramseys, told InTouch that he believes Michael Helgoth, a man whose family owned a junkyard on the outskirts of town, was the killer, according to Daily Mail Online. Gary Howard Oliva, another Boulder man who was reportedly eyed in the JonBenét case, was arrested in June and charged with sexual exploitation of a child, according to Inside Edition.

The “touch DNA”
In 2008, Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy announced to the press that the three Ramsey family members had been fully exonerated by three pieces of male DNA found on JonBenét’s long johns and panties, which were acquired by scraping the sides of the cloth for skin cells, or “touch DNA.” But many experts maintain that the DNA could have come from many other sources.

Both the family and investigators continue to be haunted by the case.

Patsy Ramsey died in 2006 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. John Ramsey moved away from the Boulder area and attempted to move on from the tragedy. Radar reported that John lost most of the family fortune, and called his beloved daughter’s death “a great cloud that I carried around with me.” After briefly dating Beth Twitty, the mother of Natalee Holloway, he married Las Vegas fashion designer Jan Rosseaux in 2011. He said that there is not a “day that goes by when I don’t think of JonBenét,” according to Hollywood Life.

Burke Ramsey, now 29, will speak publicly for the first time about his sister’s murder on Dr. Phil in a three-part series beginning September 12. Also on September 12, A three-part series, JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery, will air on Investigation Discovery.

JONBENÉT: AN AMERICAN MURDER MYSTERY follows experts as they reexamine the evidence of one of the most baffling and infuriating cold-cases of all time, using the latest technology, insights from specialists who have studied the case for more than two decades, and interviews with new and old key players. Watch the special three-night event beginning Monday, September 12 at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery or any device with ID GO. 


Hollywood Life

Denver Post 

Media Mayhem/YouTube

The Today Show

Main photo: JonBenét Ramsey [Instagram/@JonBenet_Support_Group]

  • whatyouwant

    My main question is why did the Boulder police continue to pursue the Ramseys once the evidence was leading away from them as suspects? Did they have a known suspect and was that suspect “connected”? I don’t get it.

    • John Wick

      I watched the Dateline special Friday night. It too left me with more questions than answers. But the jury had actually brought forth a child abuse charge,but the prosecutor didn’t try it or release that info until recently.

      • whatyouwant

        I watched the A&E special last night. Didn’t realize there was another show on Dateline, or I would have watched that one, too. Beginning tonight, there is 3-part series on ID.

        There were several bits of completely new information to me. One is that they frequently left their house unlocked. I knew they were undergoing remodeling and people were in and out, but I didn’t know it was a common habit for them to not lock their doors at night. John Ramsey said they felt “safe” after moving from Atlanta. Also, they were part of a Holiday Home Tour and just a few days before Christmas, several groups walked through their house. It was estimated the total number was around 1000 people.

        I live in the Midwest and both of these practices (unlocked doors and home tours) are quite common around here.

        • John Wick

          The open house parties are not exactly a great idea. I’ve had friends robbed or worse. I used to enjoy them as a boy in Spain before coming here. It used to happen all the time during holidays though that something bad happened. I’m actually shocked that most people will let that many strangers and their children be as free as they are here.

          • whatyouwant

            Well, I still live in a fairly small town, in the country, outside the city limits. Mostly around here, the people you have to worry about are those you know! But even at that, it’s uncommon, because a lot of thieves don’t want to rob from their neighbors, although it is not an absolute. This is all overgeneralization, of course.

            I really was not raised to be paranoid, though. We do lock our doors at night, but when we’re at home during the day, they’re open. We have a dog outside in a kennel and he will bark if a strange car comes up the drive. Our house doesn’t face the street (it faces the driveway) and is only visible in one direction of the main road. Otherwise, you have to know the house is there. Google maps has changed this somewhat, but still you have to know the area.

          • John Wick

            I used to not be paranoid about home safety until mine was robbed as a child. That’s why I always lock my door.

          • whatyouwant

            When I was quite young, my family lived in Boston for the summer while my dad was taking a seminar at Boston College. We subletted a townhouse in the city. One day while my mother, sisters & I were at a nearby park, it was broken into and several items, including guns, were stolen. My dad changed his tune about the number of guns he kept around after that. (Yes, the guns were his and he’d brought them from our home to this completely different state as a method of protection, but he wasn’t there at the time and my mom was not willing to share his enthusiasm for defense.) I shudder to think what would have happened if we had walked in on the burglars…and that very nearly happened.

            After the summer was over, we went back home and to our previous practices, minus several guns. My dad sold a few more and I think really lost his taste for hunting shortly thereafter, too.

          • John Wick

            Well it’s never a good idea to have more weapons than you can handle or keep hidden. I only own three guns,but only take them out to clean them for the most part now. After living in New York City and seeing the insanity there,I never want to be unarmed again. I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. It’s got some great people and places,but the fringes always move to big cities. A lot of bad energy goes through there. I know this is a crime page not a paranormal one,but I believe evil can collect and breed. So many stories I could tell.

  • Thomas Jones

    The brother?

  • Julien

    John Ramsey is the sole killer. Who ruled him out as the ransom note writer? There is a document which shows his writing very similar to the note.

  • Katherine Resnik

    I want to know why the security guard that arrived after Patsy placed the call when searching the house he didnt check the basement, or how is it that after asked to search the house for any items that might be out of place John Ramsey immediately opened the basement door and found Jon Benet?

  • Little Donnie Ung

    If I was her daddie I’d be hitting that young poontang too !