Death of JonBenét Ramsey
|Born||JonBenét Patricia Ramsey
August 6, 1990
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||December 25 or 26, 1996
Boulder, Colorado, U.S.
|Cause of death||Asphyxiation due to strangulation
|Body discovered||Boulder, Colorado, U.S.|
|Resting place||St. James Episcopal Cemetery
Marietta, Georgia, U.S.
|Known for||Murder victim|
JonBenét Patricia Ramsey (/ /; August 6, 1990 – December 25 or 26, 1996) was a six-year-old American girl found dead in her family's home in Boulder, Colorado, on December 26, 1996. A lengthy ransom note was found in the house, and her father, John Bennett Ramsey, found the body in the basement of their house about eight hours after she was reported missing. She had a broken skull from a blow to the head, and had been strangled; a garrote was found tied around her neck. The official cause of death, as reported by the autopsy, was "asphyxiation due to strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma". The case generated nationwide public and media interest, in part due to the fact that her mother Patsy Ramsey, a former beauty queen, had entered JonBenét in a series of child beauty pageants. The case remains unsolved and of public interest as of September 2016[update], even after several grand jury hearings.
The Boulder police suspected JonBenét's death was caused accidentally, either by Patsy, or JonBenét's nine-year-old brother Burke, believing the ransom note and appearance of the body were staged by the parents to cover it up. The Ramseys gave several televised interviews, but resisted police questioning except on their own terms. In October 2013, unsealed court documents revealed that a 1999 grand jury had recommended charges against John and Patsy for child abuse resulting in death. However, the district attorney said there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges being filed. In 2003, trace DNA taken from the victim's clothes was found to belong to an unknown male, inducing the district attorney's successor in 2008 to send the Ramseys a letter of apology, declaring the family "completely cleared". In February 2009, the Boulder Police Department took the case back from the district attorney and reopened the investigation.
In addition to JonBenét's brief beauty pageant career, media coverage of the case has often focused on her parents' wealth and the unusual evidence found in the case. Media reports have also questioned the police's handling of the case. Ramsey family members and their friends have filed defamation suits against several media organizations.
- 1 Life
- 2 Parents
- 3 Evidence
- 4 Investigation
- 5 Theories and suspects
- 6 False confession
- 7 Defamation lawsuits
- 8 Publications
- 9 Video
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
JonBenét Ramsey was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the younger of the two children of Patricia Ann "Patsy" and John Bennett Ramsey. She has an older brother, Burke Ramsey (born 1987). Her first name is a portmanteau of her father's first and middle names. At the time of her death, JonBenét was enrolled in kindergarten at High Peaks Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado.
She was interred at St. James Episcopal Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. Her grave is next to that of her mother, who died of ovarian cancer in 2006, and that of her half-sister Elizabeth Pasch Ramsey, daughter of John Ramsey and his first wife, Lucinda Pasch.
JonBenét's active role in child beauty pageants and Patsy Ramsey's reported "pageant mother" behavior were closely scrutinized by the media after the murder. JonBenét had won the titles of America's Royale Miss, Little Miss Charlevoix, Little Miss Colorado, Colorado State All-Star Kids Cover Girl, and National Tiny Miss Beauty.
The family had moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1991, where Access Graphics' headquarters was located. It was there that Patsy Ramsey began entering her daughter in various child beauty pageants in several states. In the summer of 1997, the Ramseys left Boulder and moved to a new home in Atlanta. Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer on June 24, 2006, at the age of 49.
According to the testimony of Patsy Ramsey, given 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.
Forensic linguist James Fitzgerald commented on the three-page and 385-word ransom note and concluded, according to Daily Mail, that it was "clearly staged and had deliberate spelling mistakes." Misspellings and other mistakes were made to mask the fact that the writer was a native speaker of the English language. The note was unusually long, most ransom notes are 50 to 60 words. Many lines from the letter were taken from Speed, Dirty Harry and other films. Fitzgerald said that the note appeared to be written by a "maternal" person.
According to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report, "There are indications that the author of the ransom note is Patricia Ramsey." However, they could not definitively prove it.
Despite specific instructions in the ransom note that police and friends should not be contacted, Patsy Ramsey telephoned the police (shortly after 5:45 a.m.). Patsy also called family and friends.
Two police officers responded to the 911 call, arrived at the Ramsey home, and conducted a cursory search of the house but did not find any sign of a break-in or forced entry.[a] John Ramsey made arrangements to pay the ransom. A forensics team was dispatched to the house. Believing that the case was a kidnapping, only JonBenet's bedroom was cordoned off to prevent contamination of evidence. There was no process taken to prevent contamination of evidence in the rest of the house.
Friends and the family's minister arrived at the home to support the Ramsey family. Victim advocates also arrived at the scene. Friends and advocates picked up and cleaned surfaces in the kitchen, possibly destroying evidence.
Discovery of the body
In the afternoon, Boulder Police Detective Linda Arndt asked Fleet White, a friend of the Ramseys, and John Ramsey to search the house for "anything seemed amiss." Ramsey and Fleet started their search in the basement and found his daughter's body in a basement room covered in her special white blanket. There was a nylon cord around her neck; her wrists were tied above her head, and her mouth was covered by duct tape. Ramsey immediately picked the body up and took it upstairs. Arndt then moved her into the living room. Both moves disturbed and potentially contaminated evidence for the returning forensics team.
The results of the autopsy revealed that JonBenét had been killed by strangulation and a skull fracture. The official cause of death was "asphyxiation due to strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma". There was no evidence of conventional rape, although sexual assault could not be ruled out.
A garrote made from a length of nylon cord and the broken handle of a paintbrush was tied around JonBenét's neck and had apparently been used to strangle her. Part of the bristle end of the paintbrush was found in a tub containing Patsy Ramsey's art supplies, but the bottom third of it was never found despite extensive searching of the house by the police in subsequent days.
The autopsy also revealed that JonBenét had eaten pineapple only a few hours before her death. Photographs of the home taken on the day when JonBenét's body was found show a bowl of pineapple on the kitchen table with a spoon in it. Police reported that they found JonBenét's nine-year-old brother Burke Ramsey's fingerprints on this bowl. However, both Patsy and John Ramsey said they did not to remember putting the bowl on the table or feeding pineapple to JonBenét. The Ramseys have always maintained that Burke slept through the entire episode until he was awakened several hours after the police arrived.:w186–187
Mixed blood sample
In December 2003, forensic investigators extracted enough material from a mixed blood sample found on JonBenét's underwear to establish a DNA profile. That DNA belonged to an unknown male person. The DNA was submitted to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database containing more than 1.6 million DNA profiles, but the sample did not match any profile in the database.
Experts, media commentators, and the Ramseys have suggested various suspects in the case. Boulder police initially concentrated almost exclusively upon John and Patsy Ramsey. Although the police may have had the Ramseys under the "umbrella of suspicion", they and the prosecutors have followed leads for intruders partly due to the unidentified boot mark left in the basement room where JonBenét's body was found.
Complicating the resolution of the investigation [and applicable theory] were errors made in the initial investigation, including loss and contamination of evidence, lack of experienced and technical staff on the investigation, shared evidence with the Ramseys, and delay in formal interviews the the parents.[b] 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.
A grand jury was convened in 1999 based on the probable-cause standard to indict the Ramseys for culpability in the death of their daughter. The District Attorney's Office did not believe that they could meet the higher standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for a criminal conviction, and did not prosecute the Ramseys.
On February 2, 2009, Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner announced that Stan Garnett, the new Boulder County District Attorney, was turning the case over to his agency and that his team would resume investigating it. Garnett found that the statute of limitations was exceeded from the 1999 grand jury true bill, and did not pursue review of the case against the Ramseys.
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.
Theories and suspects
There are two types of theories about the death of JonBenét. One is the intruder theory which was pursued by the Boulder District Attorney's office,[d][e] with whom the Ramseys developed a relationship.[f]
Lou Smit, a detective who came out of retirement to assist the District Attorney's office with the case in early 1997, assessed the evidence and concluded that an intruder had committed the crime.[g] Smit's theory was supported by former FBI agent John E. Douglas, who had been hired by the Ramsey family.[h]
One of the individuals that former police investigator Lou Smit identified as a suspect under his intruder theory was Gary Howard Oliva, who was arrested for "two counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a child and one count of sexual exploitation of a child" charges in June 2016 according to Boulder's Daily Camera. Oliva, a registered sex offender, was identified as a suspect in an October 2002 episode of 48 Hours Investigates.
Stephen Singular, author of the book Presumed Guilty: An Investigation into the JonBenét Ramsey Case, the Media and the Culture of Pornography, suggested 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.
It was determined that here had been more than 100 burglaries in the Ramseys' neighborhood in the months before JonBenét's murder. In addition, 38 registered sex offenders were living within a two-mile (3 km) radius of the Ramseys' home.
Family member theory
The second is the theory that a family member was involved in her death. Boulder police initially concentrated almost exclusively upon John and Patsy Ramsey. According to Gregg McCrary, a retired profiler with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, "statistically, it is a 12-to-1 probability that it's a family member or a care giver" who is involved in the death of a child. From the police's perspective, they did not see evidence of a forced entry, saw evidence of staging, such as the ransom note, and did find the Ramsey's cooperative in helping them solve the death of their daughter.[i]
For many years, the Boulder police held to the position that Patsy Ramsey had injured JonBenét in a fit of rage after the girl had wet her bed—and that she then killed her either in a rage or to cover up the injury. The Ramseys' son Burke, who was nine years old at the time of JonBenét's death, was also considered a possible suspect in media reports. Burke was later asked to testify at a grand jury hearing.
A Colorado grand jury had voted in 1999 to indict the parents, John and Patricia Ramsey, for child abuse resulting in death and being accessories to a crime. However, Alex Hunter, who was the district attorney in 1999, refused to sign the indictment, saying that the evidence was insufficient. This left the impression that the grand jury investigation had been inconclusive. The indictment was not known publically until October 25, 2013, when previously sealed court documents were released.[j]
On July 9, 2008, the Boulder District Attorney's office announced that, as a result of newly developed DNA sampling and testing techniques (Touch DNA analysis), the Ramsey family members were no longer considered suspects in the case.[k] Former investigator for the Boulder County District Attorney's office Gordon Coombs claimed that: “We all shed DNA all the time within our skin cells. It can be deposited anywhere at any time for various reasons, reasons that are benign. [...] To clear somebody just on the premise of touch DNA, especially when you have a situation where the crime scene wasn’t secure at the beginning . . . really is a stretch.”
A two-part investigative series, The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, was broadcast on CBS on September 18 and 19, 2016, which included a detailed recreation of the Ramseys' house and interviews with forensic analysts and individuals who had a known relationship to the Ramsey family or were directly involved with the case; the investigative team asserted that Burke, age 9 at the time, hit his sister in the head with a heavy object, perhaps not intending to kill her, and that the ransom letter was an attempt to cover up the circumstances of JonBenet's death. The Ramsey family lawyer, L. Lin Wood, has threatened to sue CBS for libel (defamation) based on its conclusion that JonBenét was killed by Burke.
A 41-year-old elementary school teacher, John Mark Karr, was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 15, 2006 and falsely confessed to murdering JonBenét. He claimed that he had drugged her and sexually assaulted her but also claimed that her death was an accident. According to CNN, "Authorities also said they did not find any evidence linking [Karr] to the crime scene." He had provided only basic facts that were publicly known and failed to provide any convincing details. His claim of drugging JonBenét was also distrusted because no drugs were found in her body during the autopsy. DNA samples taken from Karr did not match DNA found on JonBenét's body.[l]
Several defamation lawsuits have ensued since JonBenét's murder. Lin Wood was the plaintiff's lead attorney for John and Patsy Ramsey and their son Burke. He has pursued 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 sued in two defamation lawsuits arising from the publication of their book, The Death of Innocence. These suits were brought by two persons named in the book who were said to have been investigated as suspects by Boulder police. 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. They obtained the 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 John Ramsey, filed a defamation suit against an anonymous web surfer who had posted two messages on Internet forums using the pseudonym "undertheradar" implicating Westmoreland in the murder.
- Carlton Smith (1997). Death of a little princess: the tragic story of the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks. ISBN 0312964331.
- Linda Edison McLean with foreword by Patsy Ramsey (1998). JonBenét's mother: the tragedy and the truth. Parsons, WV: McClain Print. Co. ISBN 0870125966.
- Eleanor Von Duyke and Dwight Wallington (1998). A little girl's dream? A JonBenét Ramsey Story. Austin, Texas: Windsor House. ISBN 1881636445.
- Cyril H. Wecht and Charles Bosworth, Jr. (1998). Who killed JonBenét Ramsey?. New York: Onyx Book. ISBN 0451408713.
- Lawrence Schiller (1999). Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenét Murder and the Grand Jury's Search for the Final Truth. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060191538.
- Stephen Singular (1999). Presumed guilty: an investigation into the JonBenét Ramsey case, the media, and the culture of pornography. Beverly Hills, California: New Millennium Press. ISBN 1893224007.
- John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker (2000). "The JonBenét Ramsey Murder". The Cases That Haunt Us. New York: Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-84600-2.
- Steve Thomas and Don Davis (2000). JonBenét: inside the Ramsey murder investigation. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312253265.
- John Ramsey and Patsy Ramsey (2001). The death of innocence: JonBenét's parents tell their story. New York: Onyx. ISBN 0451409736.
- Walter A. Davis (2003). An evening with JonBenét Ramsey. Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 1413411096.
- Don Gentile and David Wright, ed. (2003). JonBenet: the police files. Boca Raton, FL: American Media. ISBN 1932270035.
- A. James Kolar (2012). Foreign faction: who really kidnapped JonBenét? : a former lead investigator breaks six years of silence. Telluride, CO: Ventus Publishing. ISBN 0984763201.
- Paula Woodword (2016). We Have Your Daughter: The Unsolved Murder of JonBenét Ramsey Twenty Years Later. Prospecta Press. ISBN 1632260778.
- "City under siege (The news media's coverage and Boulder officials' secretive handling of the investigation into the murder of JonBenét Ramsey)". Nightline. January 31, 1997. LCCN 00568713. ABC.
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- It was later determined that had been some unlocked windows and an unlocked door that night. In addition, a basement window had been broken by John Ramsey when he was locked out of the house. Lou Smit, proponent of the intruder theory, believed that the intruder entered through this basement window. A suitcase was found on the floor almost directly underneath this window. Smit theorized the attacker(s) planned to use this suitcase to get either JonBenét alive as a kidnap victim, or her body, out of the house, but this proved impossible.
- A Boulder defense attorney, Lee Hill, commented that: "The public feels that the police have coddled the Ramseys because they are rich and influential in Boulder."
- Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa stated in September 2016 that "To date, the Boulder Police Department has processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence, including the analysis of over 200 DNA samples. [...] Our major crimes unit has received and reviewed or investigated over 20,000 tips, letters or emails. Our detectives have traveled to over 18 states and interviewed or spoken with more than 1,000 individuals."
- The initial District Attorney, Alex Hunter, pursued an investigation of convicted pedophiles in the Boulder area, yet also said that he would not clear the Ramseys. His interest the District Attorney's office taking the actions to investigate pedophiles indicated to former prosecutor Mr. Silverman that the District Attorney's office followed the intruder theory. Silverman also said, "Once you have conceded the possibility of an intruder, I don't see how any Ramsey could ever be successfully prosecuted."
- According to Gordon Coombes, Boulder County district attorney’s office investigator from 2008 to 2011, during the time that he worked in the office District Attorney Mary Lacy frequently held staff lunch sessions to prove the theory that JonBenét was killed by an intruder.
- The city's mayor Leslie L Durgin said, "I'm extremely concerned about the relationship between the district attorney's office and the Ramsey attorneys. The perception is that they are closer than we thought." Ann Louise Bardach, Vanity Fair author, wrote that there were weekly breakfast meetings between a Ramsey defense lawyer and Peter Hofstrom, the prosecutor's liaison to the Ramsey family.
- Lou Smit's theory was that someone broke into the Ramsey's home through the basement broken window. The intruder subdued JonBenét using a stun gun and took her down to the basement. He killed her and left a ransom note.
- In his book The Cases That Haunt Us, former FBI agent John E. Douglas (hired by the Ramsey family) writes that he quibbled with a few of Smit's interpretations but generally agreed with the 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.
- James Brooke of The New York Times said "The Ramseys have consistently maintained their innocence. But for four months after the murder, they declined to talk to the police. Instead, they mounted a defense team that sounds like a defense lawyer's Christmas carol: eight lawyers, four publicists, three private investigators, two handwriting analysts and one retired F.B.I. profiler."
- In September 2013, Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit to press DA Stan Garnett to release the grand jury's indictment. In mid-October, the judge ruled that the DA must show why the indictment should remain sealed. The Denver Post (a sister paper of the Daily Camera) published an editorial calling for the indictment to be unsealed.
- In light of the new DNA evidence, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy gave a letter to John Ramsey that same day, in which she officially apologized to the Ramsey family members:
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.
- Authorities had tracked Karr down by using the Internet after emails were sent regarding the case to Michael Tracey, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado. At the time of the arrest, Karr was being held on child pornography charges that originated in Sonoma County, California. Karr was subsequently released from the child pornography charges. While under investigation, the press coverage of Karr's false confession was described as a media frenzy.
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