By Emily Duren
Not many cities can say they’re strangers to murder, but in 1996, Boulder, Colorado found itself as the exception. During a normal year, the Boulder Police Department worked a handful of homicides. But in 1996, zero. Well, almost.
On Dec. 26, 1996, the Boulder PD was called to 755 15th St., a brick Tudor house with ivy crawling up the front, and plastic candy canes lining the walkway. Inside were frantic parents John and Patsy Ramsey and their 9-year-old son, Burke, who was asleep. JonBenet, their 6-year-old daughter, had been kidnapped. Or so they thought.
The night before, on Christmas day, the Ramsey family had gone to a holiday party, and when they came home, Patsy said she put both of her children to bed (JonBenet was already asleep when they arrived.) It was an uneventful end to a completely normal Christmas. No different from what had played out inside millions of homes across America. But when Patsy went to wake JonBenet up the next morning, she found nothing but an empty bed… and a ransom note on a back staircase.
The note was addressed only to John Ramsey and was two and a half pages long and said that it was from a group of people from a “foreign faction.” The FBI says that most ransom notes are only a few paragraphs long. A two and a half page ransom note is something that had never happened before this case and has never happened since. They demanded $118,000, almost the exact amount of John’s Christmas bonus, for JonBenet’s return. The note went on to say that the Ramseys were being watched, and that if they contacted friends, family, or especially the police, JonBenet would be beheaded. They would be contacted between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. with further instructions.
The initial 911 call came in at 5:52 a.m. Police arrived at the Ramsey home at around 8:00 a.m. and set up recording equipment, assuming that they would be able to record the call from the kidnappers. Because detectives assumed JonBenet had been abducted, they secured only one part of the four-floor Ramsey mansion: her bedroom. This was the first in a series of big mistakes, which former Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner would admit to years later.
Apparently a search of the home was not immediately done by police— though some reports say a brief search was conducted— because they assumed JonBenet had been taken, as per the ransom note, and because John Ramsey said he had searched the home (including a brief search of the basement) and found no trace of his daughter. When 10:00 a.m. came and went, and the kidnappers didn’t call, detective Linda Arndt asked John, and his friend, Fleet White, whose home the Ramseys had been at the previous night, to search the basement again.
This time they went into the wine cellar, located in the very back room of the basement, which was seldom used by the Ramseys (most recently to hide Christmas presents), and found JonBenet’s body wrapped in a white blanket. There was duct tape over her mouth, and her hands were bound above her head. JonBenet’s skull was fractured— police believe with something similar to a flashlight—and then she was strangled one to two hours later with a garrote made from nylon cord and the broken handle of one of Patsy’s paintbrushes. JonBenet was also sexually assaulted with the paintbrush at some point. Though police theorized this may have been staged after the fact, her autopsy report would show evidence that she was being sexually abused prior to the night of her murder.
Everything that followed was an absolute disaster and complete loss of physical evidence. John carried JonBenet up the stairs and removed the duct tape from her mouth, placing it on the couch. Patsy then came in the room and saw JonBenet. She threw herself onto her body, disturbing any evidence left by the possible intruder. So we now have a body that’s been disturbed, a terribly secured crime scene, and friends and family who are walking around it willy nilly— Fleet White and his wife, another couple who are friends of the Ramseys, and their minister.
It’s also important to note that pineapple was found in JonBenet’s stomach, and there was a bowl of pineapple on the kitchen counter, even though both John and Patsy say they didn’t give JonBenet pineapple on Christmas night. Though this was considered important evidence, Boulder cops allowed it to be put it in the sink for unknown reasons, and any evidence that may have been on it was lost forever.
So, who did it? Well, that’s a good question. I’ll flat out tell you that I don’t have a clue. There are many theories out there that range from an intruder, to John’s financial advisor, to Fleet White, to someone in the Ramsey house, and even that JonBenet really grew up to be Katy Perry—I swear to God, search for it on YouTube. There has been a lot of speculation about who could have killed JonBenet over the year. Here are who I think are some of the most (though still not very) probable perpetrators:
It has been theorized over the years that Burke Ramsey may have killed JonBenet, and Patsy, desperate to protect him, covered it up.
In his book Foreign Faction–Who Really Kidnapped JonBenet? Former lead investigator A. James Kolar points the finger at Burke Ramsey, and shares some shocking evidence that I had never heard before, including information about one incident where Burke smeared feces on one of the bathroom walls of the Ramsey home. On the morning JonBenet’s body was discovered, a pair of soiled pajama bottoms that were believed to belong to Burke were found in JonBenet’s bedroom, as well as a box of candy, also smeared with feces. According to Kolar, and an AMA he posted to Reddit, investigators thought this was weird, but they never even collected the items. So, nobody knows if the DNA belongs to Burke.
As far as other evidence goes, two years prior to the murder, Burke hit JonBenet on the head with a golf club, even though this incident was later determined to be an accident. He was known to have anger problems, and when he was interviewed by a child psychologist after JonBenet’s murder, he acted very indifferent and emotionally detached when answering questions about his family.
One thing that stands out in particular is that when he was asked to draw a picture of his family, he drew himself, Patsy, and John, even though this was just mere days after JonBenet’s murder. The psychologist noted that most children whose siblings are murdered will continue to draw the deceased siblings for years after because the pain of acknowledging the loss is far too painful.
It’s also reported that he can be heard speaking in the background of the 911 call, even though he’s supposedly upstairs… asleep. Not to mention that Burke’s fingerprints were on the bowl of pineapple that JonBenet had eaten from shortly before she was killed. As I said earlier, John and Patsy were both adamant that they didn’t give JonBenet pineapple. However, both Burke and Patsy’s fingerprints were on the pineapple bowl. It doesn’t add up.
An Intruder: Let me just say that although the theory of a stranger breaking in and murdering JonBenet is possible (because let’s be honest, I don’t think we can rule anything out in this case), it isn’t the most probable scenario. First of all, the ransom note was unnecessarily long, and it was written on a notepad and Sharpie from the Ramsey home. A stranger wouldn’t have known the amount of John’s bonus, so that ransom demand would’ve been an awful big coincidence. Again, the pineapple business. If neither Burke nor Patsy made it, that means the intruder came in, took JonBenet out of her bed, took her downstairs, made her a snack, and sat in the kitchen with her while she ate. Then hit her, took her body downstairs, sat with her for 1-2 hours, strangled her, and staged a sexual assault, went back upstairs, wrote a ransom note, and then vanished into thin air.
We also have to remember that there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle, and nobody in the home said they heard JonBenet scream. So whoever killed her probably knew her, and is also probably the same person who had been abusing her. They also must have had intimate knowledge of the home, or at least the layout of the basement, to find the hidden wine cellar in the very back. So, that nearly puts the intruder theory to bed, or at the very least, narrows the suspect pool significantly. Those aren’t even my biggest problems here. The BIGGEST hole is: you’re leaving a ransom note for money, correct? Correct. Therefore, YOU DON’T KILL THE CHILD. Now the parents have no incentive to give you the money! However, there are some things that point to an intruder who knew JonBenet. Come on, if you’re a regular reader, you know I have to play Devil’s advocate. There was male DNA in JonBenet’s underwear that was never able to be matched to anyone. This is a GIGANTIC win for those who think there was an intruder.
There’s also the fact that many of the things used in the commission of the murder were from the Ramsey home. I know this contradicts what I just said, but hear me out. If you’re a random serial killer, you’re going to bring your own… toolkit, or whatever it is serial killers use. But if you’re someone who has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Ramsey home, you know what you do and don’t need. The less you bring with you, the less there is to risk leaving something behind. Because, and hear me out, if the Ramseys killed JonBenet, or if Burke killed her, and the Ramseys staged a cover up, they had hours to dispose of the weapons and notepad, yet everything was left behind. The notepad was left out in the open on the kitchen counter for the police to see. Their home was four floors, why not at least stash it in an upstairs closet if they’re the ones who wrote it? Just saying.
Patsy Ramsey: This is the theory that has been most popular over the years, especially with authorities. In 1999, a grand jury voted to indict the Ramseys on child abuse that led to JonBenet’s murder, but Boulder DA Alex Hunter wouldn’t sign the indictments due to what he believed to be a lack of evidence. The only thing that was somewhat fishy was that everyone in the Ramsey house had to undergo a handwriting analysis to be compared to the ransom note, and when it came to the $118,000 portion, Patsy wrote it out instead of using the numerals, possibly to be different from the letter and throw the police off her trail.
The “Patsy” theory for the murder, though, was always that after Patsy put JonBenet to bed, JonBenet wet the bed, Patsy was exhausted and angry, and they got in a fight in JonBenet’s bathroom, in which she sustained an accidental head injury, possibly by falling? The strangulation came later, when Patsy realized that JonBenet wasn’t yet dead, she staged the sexual assault, the rest of the scene, wrote the ransom note, and called 911. Personally, I think this is absolutely preposterous. Mostly because I can’t see a mother staging the sexual assault of her own child. I know you’re probably thinking that if she can commit murder, than that probably doesn’t seem too far fetched, but it does to me. I just can’t wrap my head around a mother doing that. A detached, cold-blooded killer, maybe. But not a mother.
Just to touch on each of the people in the Ramsey home that night, I don’t, never have, and never will believe that John Ramsey had anything to do with his daughter’s murder, nor did he have any knowledge of who did kill her, or take part in a coverup after the fact. Absolutely zero evidence points to him.
Patsy Ramsey died from ovarian cancer on June 24, 2006. Shortly after her death, a school teacher named John Mark Karr, who was living in Thailand at the time, came forward and said he murdered JonBenet, but his claim was quickly determined to have no merit. On July 9, 2008, both John and Patsy Ramsey were officially cleared of any involvement in JonBenet’s murder. John Ramsey has since remarried. Burke Ramsey is now 29-years-old and works as a software developer. No charges have ever been filed in the case.
This is a case that I can say with almost 100 % certainty I don’t think will ever be solved, all due to the errors made in the first few days of the investigation. The mere fact that such little evidence can produce so many viable theories and suspects is absolutely mind boggling to me. There’s only one thing I know for sure, though: the fact that a little girl can be brutally murdered in her own home and nobody has to pay the price for it will haunt me until the day I die. There is no justice for JonBenet.
There is currently a movie called Casting JonBenet being filmed in Boulder, Colorado.
**Correction: A previous version of this article claimed that “everything in the Ramsey home was used to kill JonBenet,” which is untrue.