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.
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 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 MurderThe 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.
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.
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.
Main photo: JonBenét Ramsey [Instagram/@JonBenet_Support_Group]