Murder of JonBenét Ramsey
|Born||JonBenét Patricia Ramsey
August 6, 1990
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
|Died||December 25, 1996
Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.
|Resting place||Saint James Episcopal Cemetery
Marietta, Georgia, U.S.A.
|Parents||Patsy and John Ramsey|
JonBenét Patricia Ramsey / /; (August 6, 1990 – December 25, 1996) was an American child beauty pageant queen who was murdered in her home in Boulder, Colorado, in 1996. The six-year-old's body was found in the basement of the family home about eight hours after she was reported missing during a police search of her home. She had been struck on the head and strangled. The case remains unsolved, even after several grand jury hearings, and continues to generate public and media interest.
Colorado law enforcement agencies initially suspected JonBenét's parents and her brother. However, the family was partially exonerated in 2003 when DNA taken from the victim's clothes suggested they were not involved. Her parents would not be completely cleared until July 2008. In February 2009, the Boulder Police Department took the case back from the district attorney to reopen the investigation.
Media coverage of the case has often focused on JonBenét's participation in child beauty pageants, her parents' affluence and the unusual evidence in the case. Reports have also questioned the police's overall handling of the case. Several defamation suits have been filed against several media organizations by Ramsey family members and their friends over reporting of the murder.
Ramsey was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 6, 1990. When she was nine months old, the family relocated to Boulder, Colorado. Her first name was a portmanteau of her father's first and middle names, John Bennett; her middle name was the first name of her mother, the late Patricia "Patsy" Ramsey. JonBenét was enrolled by her mother in a variety of different beauty pageants in several states. Patsy Ramsey funded some of the contests that JonBenét participated in, as well as rock climbing and violin lessons. Her active role in pageants was highly scrutinized by media following the murder.
JonBenét is buried at St. James Episcopal Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia; next to her mother, who died of cancer in 2006, and her half-sister Elizabeth Pasch Ramsey (daughter of John Ramsey and his first wife), who died in a 1992 car accident at the age of 22 with her boyfriend Matthew Derrington.
According to the testimony of Patsy Ramsey, on December 26, 1996, she discovered her daughter was missing after finding on the kitchen staircase a two-and-a-half-page ransom letter demanding $118,000 for her safe return—almost the exact value of a bonus her husband had received earlier that year. Despite specific instructions in the ransom note that police and friends not be contacted, she telephoned the police and called family and friends. The local police conducted a cursory search of the house, but did not find any obvious signs of a break-in or forced entry. The note suggested that the ransom collection would be monitored and JonBenét would be returned as soon as the money was obtained. John Ramsey made arrangements for the availability of the ransom, which a friend, John Fernie, picked up that morning from a local bank.
In the afternoon of the same day, Boulder Police Detective Linda Arndt asked Fleet White, a friend of the Ramseys, to take John Ramsey and search the house for "anything unusual". John Ramsey and two of his friends started their search in the basement. After first searching the bathroom and "train room", the three of them went to a "wine cellar" room where Ramsey found his daughter's body covered in her special white blanket. She was also found with a nylon cord around her neck, her wrists tied above her head, and duct tape covering her mouth.
The police were later claimed by observers to have made several critical mistakes in the investigation, such as not sealing off the crime scene and allowing friends and family in and out of the house once a kidnapping was reported.
Critics of the investigation have since claimed that officers also did not sufficiently attempt to gather forensic evidence before or after JonBenét's body was found, possibly because they immediately suspected the Ramseys in the killing. Some officers holding these suspicions reported them to local media, who began reporting on January 1 that the assistant district attorney thought "it's not adding up"; the fact that the body of the girl was found in her own home was considered highly suspicious by the investigating officers. The results of the autopsy revealed that JonBenét was killed by strangulation and a skull fracture. A garrote made from a length of tweed cord and the broken handle of a paintbrush had been used to strangle her; her skull had suffered severe blunt trauma; there was no evidence of conventional rape, although sexual assault could not be ruled out. The official cause of death was asphyxiation due to strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma.
The bristle end of the paintbrush was found in a tub of Patsy Ramsey's art supplies, but the bottom third was never located despite extensive searching of the house by law enforcement in subsequent days. Experts noted that the construction of the garrote required a special knowledge of knots. Autopsy also revealed that JonBenét had eaten pineapple only a few hours before the murder. Photographs of the home, taken the day JonBenét's body was found, show a bowl of pineapple on the kitchen table with a spoon in it, and police reported finding JonBenet's nine-year-old brother Burke Ramsey's fingerprints on it. However, both Patsy and John claim not to remember putting this bowl on the table or feeding pineapple to JonBenét. (The Ramseys had always maintained that Burke had slept through the entire episode, until awakened several hours after the police arrived.) While it was reported that no footprints led to the house on snow-covered ground, other reporters found that snow around the doors of the house had been cleared away. Police reported no signs of forced entry, although a basement window that had been broken and left unsecured before Christmas, along with other open doors, were not reported to the public until a year later.
In December 2003, forensic investigators extracted enough material from a mixed blood sample found on JonBenét's underwear to establish a DNA profile. The DNA belongs to an unknown male. The DNA was submitted to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database containing more than 1.6 million DNA profiles, mainly from convicted felons. The sample has yet to find a match in the database, although it continues to be checked for partial matches on a weekly basis, as are all unmatched samples.
Later investigations also discovered that there were more than 100 burglaries in the Ramseys' neighborhood in the months before JonBenét's murder, and that 38 registered sex offenders were living within a two-mile (3 km) radius of the Ramseys' home—an area that encompasses half the population of the city of Boulder—but that none of the sex offenders had any involvement in the murder.
On August 16, 2006, 41-year-old John Mark Karr (now Alexis Reich), a former schoolteacher, confessed to the murder while being held on child pornography charges from Sonoma County, California. Authorities reportedly tracked him down using the Internet after he sent e-mails regarding the Ramsey case to Michael Tracey, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado. Once apprehended in Bangkok, Thailand, he confessed to being with JonBenét when she died, stating that her death was an accident. When asked if he was innocent, he responded, "No."
However, Karr's DNA did not match that found on JonBenét Ramsey's body. On August 28, 2006, prosecutors announced that no charges would be filed against him for the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. In early December 2006, Department of Homeland Security officials reported that federal investigators were continuing to explore whether Karr had been a possible accomplice in the killing.
No evidence has ever come to light that placed the then-married Alabama resident Karr near Boulder during the Christmas 1996 crime. Evidence linking Karr to the killing is highly circumstantial in nature. For instance, handwriting samples taken from Karr were said to match the ransom note. In particular, his way of writing the letters E, T, and M were described by the media as being very rare.
Letter from District Attorney: Ramsey family deemed innocent
On July 9, 2008, the Boulder District Attorney's office announced that as a result of newly developed DNA sampling and testing techniques, the Ramsey family members are no longer considered suspects in the case. In light of the new DNA evidence, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy gave a letter to John Ramsey the same day, officially apologizing to the Ramsey family:
This new scientific evidence convinces us...to state that we do not consider your immediate family, including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son, Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime.
... The match of Male DNA on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of the murder makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items. There is no innocent explanation for its incriminating presence at three sites on these two different items of clothing that JonBenét was wearing at the time of her murder. ... To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry. No innocent person should have to endure such an extensive trial in the court of public opinion, especially when public officials have not had sufficient evidence to initiate a trial in a court of law. ... We intend in the future to treat you as the victims of this crime, with the sympathy due you because of the horrific loss you suffered. ...I am aware that there will be those who will choose to continue to differ with our conclusion. But DNA is very often the most reliable forensic evidence we can hope to find and we rely on it often to bring to justice those who have committed crimes. I am very comfortable that our conclusion that this evidence has vindicated your family is based firmly on all of the evidence.
New District Attorney
In January 2009, Stan Garnett, the new Boulder County D.A., stated he planned to take a fresh look at the case. On February 2, 2009, Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner announced that Garnett was turning the case over to his agency, and that his team would resume investigating the homicide. "Some cases never get solved, but some do," Beckner said. "And you can't give up."
Case speculation by experts, media and the parents has supported different hypotheses. For many years, the local police supported the hypothesis that her mother Patsy Ramsey injured her child in a fit of rage after the girl had wet her bed on the same night, and then proceeded to kill her either in rage or to cover up the original injury. In November 1997, several handwriting experts determined that Patsy Ramsey more than likely wrote the ransom note. According to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report, "There are indications that the author of the ransom note is Patricia Ramsey," but they could not definitively prove this assertion.
Another hypothesis was that John Ramsey had been sexually abusing his daughter and murdered her as a cover. The Ramseys' son Burke, who was nine at the time of JonBenét's death, was also targeted by speculation, and asked to testify at the grand jury hearing. In 1999, the Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, told the parents of JonBenét Ramsey to "quit hiding behind their attorneys, quit hiding behind their PR firm." Police suspicions were initially concentrated almost exclusively on the members of the Ramsey family, although the girl's parents had no prior signs of aggression in the public record.
The Ramseys have consistently held that the crime was committed by an intruder. They hired John E. Douglas, former head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, to examine the case. Douglas detailed his assessment of the Ramsey case in a chapter of his 2001 book, The Cases That Haunt Us. While retained by the Ramsey family, he concluded that the crime was most probably a kidnapping gone wrong, and that Ramseys were not involved in the murder. Douglas's argument focused on the following points:
- (a) There was no physical evidence linking John and Patsy to the homicide, and physical evidence found near JonBenét's body suggested the presence of an unidentified person in the Ramsey home.
- (b) There was no plausible motive for the Ramseys to kill their daughter. Douglas regarded the bed-wetting hypothesis as so unprecedented as to verge on absurdity and furthermore inconsistent with Patsy's established behavior.
- (c) There was no evidence of physical abuse, neglect, sexual molestation, or serious personality disorders in the Ramsey household prior to the murder, some combination of which are associated with most cases of children killed by parents.
- (d) The behavior of John and Patsy Ramsey after the crime was consistent with the parents of other murdered children, and was inconsistent with known cases of parents who killed their children.
Noting that a large percentage of child homicides are committed by parents and family of the victim, Douglas did not fault the original investigators for closely scrutinizing the Ramsey family. Douglas did, however, criticize authorities in Boulder for what he described as a deeply flawed investigation (eg., not securing the crime scene) that was further hampered by political infighting and refusal to ask for outside help. At the time, Boulder police normally handled one or two homicides per year, and had little experience with anything resembling the Ramsey case. He cites several other cases in which FBI consultancy or hands-on investigation helped local authorities resolve puzzling homicides outside their usual experience. Douglas also concluded that it was unlikely that anyone would resolve the case. The most likely scenario based on the evidence, Douglas speculated, was that JonBenét was killed by a young, inexperienced criminal (eg, the possible digital penetration of the girl's vagina was consistent with other young sex offenders motivated by a naive curiosity about female anatomy) who was sexually obsessed with the child and/or who wanted to extort money from her wealthy family. Douglas dismissed as implausible suggestions that Patsy wrote the ransom note, further arguing that the ransom note was written before the crime. In Douglas's experience, it would be practically impossible for anyone to remain composed enough to write such a detailed letter in the immediate aftermath of a murder. Additionally supporting his hypothesis that the note was written before the murder, Douglas argued, was its being peppered with what appeared to be phrases borrowed from motion pictures like Ransom (1996) and Speed (1994) which, he speculated, inspired the perpetrator.
Lou Smit, a seasoned detective who came out of retirement to assist Boulder authorities with the case in early 1997, originally suspected the parents, but after assessing all the evidence that had been collected, also concluded that an intruder had committed the crime. In his book The Cases That Haunt Us, Douglas writes that he quibbled with a few of Smit's interpretations but agreed with the general thrust of Smit's investigation and conclusions. Douglas particularly praised Smit's discovery in autopsy photos of what appeared to be previously-overlooked evidence of a "stun gun" having been used to subdue JonBenét. While no longer an official investigator on the case, Smit continued to work on it until his death in 2010.
Stephen Singular, investigative journalist and author of the book Presumed Guilty: An Investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey Case, the Media and the Culture of Pornography, suggests the existence of a connection of the murder to the industry of child pornography. He refers to consultations with cyber-crime specialists who believe that JonBenét, due to her beauty pageant experience, was the perfect kind of child who could be dragged into the world of child pornography and was a natural candidate to attract attention and pedophiles.
With such contradictory evidence, a grand jury failed to indict the Ramseys or anyone else in the murder of JonBenét. Not long after the murder, the parents moved to a new home in Atlanta. Two of the lead investigators in the case resigned, one because he believed that the investigation had incompetently overlooked the intruder hypothesis, and the other because he believed that the investigation had failed to successfully prosecute the Ramseys. Even so, remaining investigators are still trying to identify a possible suspect. Patricia "Patsy" Ramsey died of ovarian cancer on June 24, 2006, at the age of 49.
Several defamation lawsuits have ensued since JonBenét's murder. L. Lin Wood was the plaintiff's lead attorney for John and Patsy Ramsey and their son Burke, and has prosecuted defamation claims on their behalf against St. Martin's Press, Time, Inc., The Fox News Channel, American Media, Inc., Star, The Globe, Court TV and The New York Post. John and Patsy Ramsey were also sued in two separate defamation lawsuits arising from the publication of their book, The Death of Innocence, brought by two individuals named in the book as having been investigated by Boulder police as suspects in JonBenét's murder. The Ramseys were defended in those lawsuits by Lin Wood and three other Atlanta attorneys, James C. Rawls, Eric P. Schroeder, and S. Derek Bauer, who obtained dismissal of both lawsuits including an in-depth decision by U.S. District Court Judge Julie Carnes that "abundant evidence" in the murder case pointed to an intruder having committed the crime.
In November 2006, Rod Westmoreland, a friend of JonBenét Ramsey's father, filed a defamation suit against Keith Greer, who posted a message on an Internet forum using the pseudonym "undertheradar". Greer had accused Westmoreland of participating in the kidnapping and murder. Greer has defended his statement.
In October 2010, the case was reopened. New interviews were conducted following a fresh inquiry by a committee which included state and federal investigators. Police were expected to use the latest DNA technology in their investigation.
It was announced January 27, 2013 that a grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict the parents in 1999 on charges of child abuse resulting in death, but the District Attorney refused to sign the indictment, leaving the impression that the grand jury investigation was inconclusive.
- Mary T. Lacy, District Attorney (2008-07-09). "Letter from DA to John Ramsey" (PDF). District Attorney's Office, Twentieth Judicial District, Boulder, Colorado. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "Boulder police take back Ramsey case", Colorado Daily, February 2, 2009
- "Murder of JonBenét Ramsey". Tru TV Crime Library. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "JonBenét: Anatomy of a Cold Case". Court TV. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- Hickey, Eric. Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime.
- "Searching: The Interrogation Tapes". 48 Hours (CBS News). October 1, 2002. Retrieved 2008-07-11. Unknown parameter
- "Murder of JonBenét Ramsey". Tru TV Crime Library. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "JonBenet: DNA Rules Out Parents". CBS News. December 16, 2004.
- Erin Moriarty, JonBenét: DNA Rules Out Parents, 26 March 2005.
- "No Forensic Evidence Currently Links John Karr to JonBenét Murder". Crime Library. August 17, 2006.
- "ฆาตกรก้องโลก ฆ่านางงามเด็ก 6 ขวบ". ไทยรัฐ. 18 สิงหาคม 2549.
- "No DNA match, no JonBenet charges". Cnn.com. 2006-08-28. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "Not the source of the DNA found". News.findlaw.com. 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "D.A.'s Motion to Quash Arrest Warrant". News.findlaw.com. 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- Mary T. Lacy, District Attorney (2008-07-09). "Ramsey Press Release". District Attorney's Office, Twentieth Judicial District, Boulder, Colorado. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "New DNA samples clear family in JonBenet Ramsey case". USA Today. 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2009-07-23.[dead link]
- "Tom Miller analysis". Acandyrose.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "Cina Wong analysis". Acandyrose.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "David Liebman analysis". Acandyrose.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "Patricia Ramsey's handwriting 'set off bells'". Today's News-Herald (Denver: Google News Archive Search). Sep 4, 1997. p. 5. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
- "The JonBenet Ramsey Investigation". Crime.about.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "Warning on JonBenet speculation". BBC News. 2006-08-17. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- Rocky Mountain News article[dead link]
- Taha, Nadia. "Lou Smit, Detective in JonBenet Ramsey Case, Is Dead at 75", The New York Times, August 13, 2010. Accessed August 14, 2010.
- "Interview with Stephen Singular". Colorado truTV Crime Library. 2000. Retrieved 2011-08-07.
- "Boulder cops back on JonBenet Ramsey case". CNN. February 2, 2009.
- R. Robin McDonald All Articles (2009-03-16). "Northern District of Georgia's New Chief Judge Reflects on Her Career". Law.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- Time Waster (2006-11-09). "Man Sues Over JonBenet Murder Claim". Thesmokinggun.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "JonBenet Ramsey Case Encyclopedia wiki / Legal Issues Surrounding JBR Case". Jonbenetramsey.pbwiki.com. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- "JonBenet Ramsey Case Encyclopedia wiki / undrtheradar biosketch". Jonbenetramsey.pbwiki.com. 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2011-06-22.
- Allen, Nick (October 5, 2010). "JonBenet Ramsey murder case reopened". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- "JonBenet Ramsey grand jury voted to indict parents in 1999, but DA refused to prosecute". The Daily Camera. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
- Exclusive interviews, one of the largest archives of JonBenét Ramsey coverage in the world— RockyMountainNews.com
- Complete Ramsey Case File from "Court TV"
- DenverPost's evidence list linking Patsy Ramsey
- JonBenet—Crime Library
- JonBenet Ramsey Case Documents— The Smoking Gun
- Crime Magazine: The Murder of JonBenét Ramsey
- The Mystery of JonBenét Ramsey by Joyce Carol Oates
- JonBenét Ramsey at Find A Grave
- Elizabeth Ramsey at Find A Grave
- Matthew Derrington at Find A Grave
- Patsy Ramsey at Find A Grave