On December 25th, 1996, 6-year-old pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey was murdered at her family home in Boulder, Colorado. The following day, she was reported missing by her parents. Then, eight hours later, her body was found in the basement of the house.
According to the testimony of Patsy Ramsey, she discovered her daughter was missing after finding a ransom note in the kitchen demanding $118,000 for her safe return. The note said JonBenét would be returned as soon as the money was paid.
JonBenét’s father, John Ramsey, made arrangements to pay the ransom and collect the money that morning from a local bank. The instructions were not to call the police or contact any friends, but at 5.45 pm they rang the police and also contacted friends and family.
When officers arrived, they believed JonBenét had been kidnapped from her bedroom and cornered off the area. They then suggested John Ramsey look around the house for anything unusual. In the basement of the house, he found his daughter’s body covered in a blanket and carried her upstairs in his arms. The police were later ridiculed for allowing John Ramsey to move the body from the scene of the crime.
A nylon cord had been tied around the young girl’s neck, her wrists were tied above her head, and her mouth was covered with duct tape. Later, an autopsy also revealed that JonBenét had been killed by strangulation and she had suffered a severe skull fracture.
Former Chief of Boulder police, Mark Beckner, explained during a Reddit chat: “The media attention and the intrigue of a good murder mystery attracts lots of people. Add a small beauty queen and it only intensifies the interest. If only 1% of the population is crazy, in our country alone that would mean there are about 3,600,000 crazy people out there wanting to give us their wacky ideas.”
The case had several grand jury hearings, yet still remains unsolved.
“The Brother Did It” Theory
Burke Ramsey was 9-years-old when his sister was murdered. In 2016, CBS released the mini docu-series ‘The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey’. The documentary claimed there was more evidence that Burke could have been involved.
Former FBI agent and the program’s producer Jim Clemente listened to the original 911 call – which was made public for the first time that year.
Clemente can be heard saying in the clip: “I think I hear a man say, ‘We’re not speaking to you.’ I think that’s John Ramsey’s voice. The tone is apparent, talking to a child.” He then overhears a woman’s voice, most likely Patsy, pleading, ‘What did you do? Help me, Jesus.’
Also during the 911 call, a second voice can be heard asking, ‘What did you find?’. Clemente concluded this voice may have belonged to a child. He said, “It sounds like a smaller voice. It doesn’t sound like a booming adult.” Investigator Laura Richards clarified that if this is Burke’s voice it could be “hugely significant” because “their account is that Burke was asleep at that time.”
Forensic expert Dr. Werner Spitz also stated that a Maglite flashlight found at the Ramsey residence was the murder weapon used to kill JonBenét. When asked if a child could cause a skull fracture with this weapon, he replied, “The skull of a 6-year-old – we call them eggshell skulls. It could be an adult, it could be a child. There was, in my view, no doubt that it was this flashlight or one exactly like it.”
This theory was backed by Judith Philips who had known the Ramsey family for more than ten years. She revealed in an interview with The Sun newspaper: “When Burke was born he was the absolute apple of Patsy’s eye. Then along came this little girl who stole all the attention. He could well have been very jealous.”
She added, “I agree with the theory Burke killed JonBenét but I don’t think he meant to do it. I think Patsy did everything in her power to protect her living child. I think she wrote the ransom note whilst John staged the scene in the basement. After calling the police Patsy began inviting friends over to the house and in the commotion John went missing for an hour and a half. It is my opinion he was disposing of evidence.”
Burke Sues CBS For $750 Million
Following the release of ‘The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey’, Burke Ramsey (then age 29-years-old) filed a lawsuit against CBS for a staggering $750 million to ‘redress the permanent damage to his reputation resulting from defendants.’ Reuters reported Burke was seeking $250 million in compensatory damages $500 million in punitive damages.
During a one-to-one interview with Dr. Phil, he spoke about the night in 1996 when the police arrived at his house. Burke said he did not get out of bed when the search was taking place.
Many viewers of the interview considered this odd behavior for a 9-year-old as they would expect a young boy to be alarmed if police were searching his home. This then fueled the speculation Burke wasn’t curious as to why they were in the house because he knew exactly why they were there.
Ramsey’s attorney Lin Wood publicly stated: “In May of 1999, the Boulder District Attorney and the Boulder Police Department publicly confirmed that Burke Ramsey was not a suspect or even a possible suspect. Any statement conveying that this young man was involved in the brutal murder of his sister – his life’s best friend – is unquestionable false and defamatory.”
Burke said during the interview with Dr. Phil that he suspected JonBenét was killed by a pedophile who stalked beauty pageants.
It was reported in 2019, that Burke had reportedly settled with CBS for an undisclosed amount of money. Wood stated: “I can only comment that the case has been amicably resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. It is now my professional and personal wish for this family that they no longer suffer the pain of false accusations in the future.” The settlement was also confirmed by a network spokesperson.
The Ramsey Family Cleared Of Any Wrongdoing
The media attention since the death of JonBenét was so persistent and damning that John and Patsy Ramsey both hired their own criminal lawyers, a private investigator, and a high-powered public relations specialist.
In 1997, People magazine used the case as their cover story and they wrote: “It would be unusual, to say the least, for kidnappers to kill their victim, stash the body in her home and leave a ransom note behind anyway.”
Former Boulder police chief Mark Beckner also revealed: “We know from the evidence she was hit in the head very hard with an unknown object, possibly a flashlight or similar type item. The blow knocked her into unconsciousness, which could have led someone to believe she was dead.”
He continued: “The strangulation came 45 minutes to two hours after the head strike, based on the swelling on the brain. While the head wound would have eventually killed her, the strangulation actually did kill her. The rest of the scene we believe was staged, including the vaginal trauma, to make it look like a kidnapping/assault gone bad.”
Other suspicious evidence included:
- The police later determined the ransom note was written on paper from a notebook in the Ramsey house. A practice note had already been written and after the final note was finished, the notepad was returned to the place they had been found.
- When the handwriting was analyzed by experts to determine if either parent had written the ransom note, Patsy wrote “$118,000” out fully in words as if purposefully trying to be different from the note. Beckner commented: “The handwriting experts noted several strange observations.”
- The only people known to be in the house the night of JonBenet’s death were JonBenét, Burke, Patsy, and John Ramsey. When the police conducted a cursory search of the house – just 3 minutes after the initial emergency call talk place – they did not find any sign of a break-in or forced entry.
- Nylon cord and the broken handle of a paintbrush had been tied around JonBenet’s neck apparently to strangle her. Part of the bristle end of the paintbrush was found in Patsy Ramsey’s art supplies.
- Due to their highly regarded status in the Boulder community, police were told not to interrogate the Ramseys. Beckner recalls, “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.”
The Ramsey family was eventually cleared of causing their daughter’s death. The district attorney at the time, Alex Hunter, declined to move forward with a prosecution, citing a lack of evidence.
A letter from the DA read: “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.”
Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006 at the age of 49. John Ramsey has since remarried and in 2004 ran unsuccessfully for the Michigan state House of Representatives.
Who is really responsible for the death of JonBenét Ramsey? We may never know. The case continues and is still under investigation – until there is a clear answer, the speculation will perhaps never end.