It’s been 20 years since six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in her basement, a mysterious ransom note left on the stairs. Public opinion has long been split on whether her wealthy, privileged family were involved in her death and perhaps staged a crime scene to cover it up, or whether the grisly murder was the work of an intruder.
These theories have been revisited for the anniversary of the still-unsolved case. Investigation Discovery aired JonBenét Ramsey: An American Murder Mystery, which featured an exclusive interview with a suspect who had at one time confessed to the crime, and A&E aired a documentary that seemed to favor the intruder theory. Experts convened for a CBS series claimed that the evidence pointed to Ramsey’s nine-year-old brother Burke having committed the crime, with the parents covering it up in order to protect their surviving child.
At this point, it’s possible that the JonBenét Ramsey case will never be solved. But there have been similar cases throughout history where children have gone missing or been found dead, and investigators had to determine whether the crime was the act of an intruder or an insider, most often a family member.
Charles Lindbergh, Jr.
In what has often been called “the crime of the century,” Charles Lindbergh, Jr., infant son of superstar aviator Charles Lindbergh, was kidnapped from his home on March 1, 1932. After putting the baby to bed with a cold, the baby’s nurse discovered him missing from his bed a few hours later. There was a lifted window, and a strange envelope on the sill, containing a ransom note.There would be additional ransom notes demanding more money until the baby’s body was eventually found more than two months after his disappearance. Police were able to trace $14,000 of the ransom money to the home of a German-born carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann. Hauptmann would later be convicted and eventually executed for the crime, but there were appeals up until the last minute protesting his innocence.
Most recently, Lloyd C. Gardner, a history professor at Rutgers University, has written an afterword to his book on the Lindbergh kidnapping suggesting that perhaps the famous father was involved. Lindbergh uncharacteristically missed a speaking engagement to be home that night, and would later take over many aspects of the investigation, controlling the flow of information. Gardner also cites evidence that Lindbergh believed in Social Darwinism and eugenics, and may have been distressed by his sickly son — the infant had rickets, hammertoes, and unfused skull bones, among other maladies. The history on this case has largely been written, with Hauptmann as the sole kidnapper, but certainly there remain questions as to what happened that cold night in 1932.
In the early morning of November 24, 1997, Marlene Aisenberg reported waking up to find the laundry-room door to the garage open, and then discovered her five-month-old baby Sabrina was missing from her crib. In a case that mirrored that of JonBenét Ramsey less than a year earlier, the parents gave an impassioned plea for help on local news, and immediately public opinion and investigators began to focus on the Aisenbergs themselves as possible suspects.
Adding to the mysterious case were allegations that the photograph used in many of the missing-child posters was actually of the Aisenbergs’s older daughter as an infant. The Aisenbergs were eventually indicted on conspiracy and additional charges, which were later dropped when a judge ruled that incriminating recordings of the Aisenbergs discussing the case had been obtained illegally.
Although an informant reported that a cellmate confessed to chopping up and dumping the baby’s body in crab traps in the nearby Tampa Bay, that claim has never been substantiated, and the fate of baby Aisenberg is still unknown.
On October 3, 2011, Lisa Irwin’s parents last checked on her around 6:40 P.M. Sometime after that, she simply vanished from her crib in Kansas City.
The family’s three cell phones had also been taken, but the front door was unlocked and there was no other sign of an intruder. Since stranger abductions are rare, and abductions of babies from their homes even rarer, the investigation originally focused on the parents. However, Irwin’s mother passed a lie-detector test, and there were witness tips about possible suspects, including reports of a man with an “under-dressed baby” in the neighborhood the night Irwin went missing, as well as the discovery of burnt baby clothes inside a dumpster.
As of today, the Irwin disappearance has never been solved. There remains a $100,000 reward for her return — if you have any information, please call the TIPS Hotline at (816) 474-TIPS.
DeOrr Kunz, Jr.
A 2015 summer camping trip in the Idaho mountains went awry when two-year-old DeOrr Kunz vanished from his chair, where he’d been while his parents looked for nearby places to fish. A massive search effort followed, including all-terrain vehicles and hundreds of volunteers, but no trace of the little boy was ever found.
Kunz’s parents and the two other adults who were on the trip are still considered persons of interest in the case, and investigators have said that there are inconsistencies in their timelines and statements. However, no physical evidence has been found to indicate foul play, and the parents maintain that their son may have been kidnapped by individuals living off-the-grid in the woods. Forest officials say it would be difficult for anyone to live in the forest, due to weather conditions, and that there is also no evidence of any animal attack.
When three-year-old Madeline McCann was reported missing from her family’s Portugal holiday apartment on May 3, 2007, what resulted has been called the “biggest missing persons investigation for decades.” She had been sleeping in the room with her younger siblings while their parents had dinner with friends, and Gerry McCann reported that she was in her bed when he did a routine check-in at 9:05 P.M. By 10:00 P.M., when Kate McCann was conducting her check-in, Madeline was gone.
Because the holiday apartment was not initially treated as a crime scene, multiple people were in and out, and potentially crucial evidence was compromised. Over the years, there have been tips about possible sightings of men carrying children that matched Madeline’s description – police have released e-fits of one such man and still consider him a suspect, while another was cleared as another holidaying father with his own child.
Suspicion has largely centered around the McCanns due to what was seen as their lax care of their children while on holiday, but they were cleared by investigators in 2008. The current theory – after police have investigated at least 60 persons of interest – is that Madeline may have been kidnapped or killed during a botched burglary. The case remains open, but investigators have said that forensic evidence has yielded no clear leads and there are no plans to conduct any further testing. The McCanns continue to hold out hope that their daughter is alive.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Main photos: Baby Lisa [KCTV]; Lindbergh Wanted Poster; People magazine cover