The case of JonBenet Ramsey is another case that looks like it will remain unsolved, but we all desperately want to know who brutally murdered that young girl. As the decades pass, she would have been 30 this year, the answer look less and less likely. The search for her killer has taken several twists and turns over the years. There are numerous false confessions and DNA evidence found at the crime scene that made it look like somebody in the family could have done it, however, these things only created more questions.
The discovery of JonBenet’s body on the morning after Christmas in 1996 in the basement spare room of the family’s home in Boulder, Colorado, shocked the nation. But the events that unfolded after is what has really caused us to scratch our heads. While the timeline of events before the discovery are a bit muddied, but let’s go over what we think we know.
On December 23, 1996, a 911 call was made from their home. Nobody knows why, and on January 10th, it was reported that it was probably a mistake made by one of their drunk party guests.
On December 25, The Ramsey’s went to a Christmas party at a family friend’s house. JonBenet had gotten a bike that morning, and after they went to a Christmas party at Fleet White’s house. After they get home, JonBenet went to bed. There are some theories that she snuck back downstairs and fought with her brother over a snack of pineapple. They did find undigested tropical fruit in her stomach.
On December 26, JonBenet is missing. Patsy gets up at 5:30 AM to make coffee and finds a two-and-a-half page written ransom note on the back stairs that lead to the kitchen. The note said, “You will withdraw $118,000 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills.” Oddly, that was the exact amount John had received as his Christmas bonus. The note also said not to call the police, but that is exactly what Patsy did.
Officer Rick French was there before 6 AM and did a search of the house. He pauses momentarily in front of the door where JonBenet would later be found, but he did not open it. During the early afternoon, the first detective arrived on the scene, Linda Arndt. White had come over to console his friends. Arndt pulled White and John aside and asked them to do a “top to bottom” search of the home. This was when John opened the door to the basement’s spare room and found JonBenet’s body. Ironically, this had been where they had hid the Christmas presents.
It appeared as though she had been strangled and her neck and mouth were covered with duct tape. He picked her up and ran screaming upstairs. Arndt later moved the body closer to the tree upstairs. Since John had taken the body upstairs and the basement door had been left open, most of the evidence was tainted. I don’t think the father should have been asked to search the house to begin with. At 10:45 PM, the Boulder county coroner’s team removed her body from the home.
On December 28, the family went to the Boulder police station and willingly gave hair, blood, and handwriting samples. John’s two, living, older children John Andrew and Melinda, had been out of town at the time of the murder, so they were not suspects.
On December 29, the family flew to Atlanta, their hometown.
On December 31, they hold JonBenet’s funeral, and she is laid to rest in Marietta, Georgia next to Elizabeth, her older half-sister who had died in a car accident in 1992.
On January 1, 1997, John and Patsy gave a 45-minute long interview with CNN from Atlanta, where they were living with family. While back in Boulder, the police had been assuring everybody in the community that a murderer was not on the loose, Patsy said during the interview, “There is a killer on the loose… if I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep – keep your babies close to you, there’s someone out there.”
On January 2, a team of five detectives fly to Atlanta. The investigators were shocked that the Ramseys had agreed to do a TV interview when they had said to be too emotional to speak with the police.
On January 3, it is revealed that the ransom note had been written inside the house. The note had been written on a pad of paper from inside the home, which meant it was probably written after the murder. John and Patsy also returned to Boulder that day. Investigators were also sent to Charlevoix (char-lu-voi), Michigan, to search the Ramsey’s summer home.
On January 8, it’s announced that there could have been a “practice” ransom note. There was supposedly evidence that somebody who wrote the note had practiced it on a separate piece of paper.
On February 27, they question JonBenet’s half-brother, John Andrew, even though he had allegedly been out of town.
On March 7, a handwriting analysis eliminates John as a suspect, but not Patsy.
On March 8, they do another search of the Michigan home. They were looking for “unrehearsed” handwriting samples of Patsy’s to see if she may have written the note.
On April 3, a secondary DNA testing analysis was done by Maryland’s Cellmark laboratories.
On April 19, JonBenet’s parents become the prime suspects. The Boulder DA, Alex Hunter, said that “Obviously, the focus is on these people.”
On April 30, Patsy goes through a six-and-a-half hour interrogation. John was questions for two hours. These statements replace the ones they gave during their intuition questioning.
On May 2, Patsy and John talk to local media. John stumbled over his daughter’s name and addressed several rumors of the possibility that she had been molested, calling them the “most hurtful innuendos.”
On May 14, they say the DNA results had “no surprises,” but they don’t specify what that means.
On July 12, the family moved JonBenet’s bedroom furniture to Atlanta.
On July 14, the autopsy reports are released. The autopsy results had previously been sealed, but they are finally released and confirm “a deep ligature around the victim’s neck and another around the right wrist – evidence she was bound and strangled” and also say that “blood and abrasions were found in the girl’s vaginal area – and that she was truck on the head violently enough to cause bleeding and an 8.5-inch fracture to her skull.”
On January 15, 1998, the Ramseys refuse to do anymore interviews with the authorities until they allow them to review evidence. This request is rejected.
On January 29, Patsy and John submit the clothes they had been wearing. Two months after the police requested the parents to give them the clothes they had been wearing the night of the crime, the Ramseys turn in two shirts, a sweater, and a pair of pants.
On March 12, the investigators formally call for a grand jury investigation since 15 months had already passed since the murder.
Between June 10 and the 12, Burke, JonBenet’s brother, is questions. He was nine at the time of the crime and had been the only other person known to be in the house that night.
On August 6, Detective Steve Thomas resigns and calls the cased “crippled.” He wrote up an eight page resignation letter, saying that the case had been crippled because several elements of the case had be thoroughly compromised. Governor Roy Romer asks if he needs to step in, and he eventually does.
On August 20, it is reported the Burke’s voice was heard on the 911 call. The Ramseys had originally said that Burke was asleep the morning his sister went missing, and didn’t get up until the police showed up. However, in the 911 tapes that had been enhanced, they could hear Burke’s voice in the background.
On September 15, the grand jury finally starts to do their investigation, five months after being chosen.
On September 24, another detective quits. Homicide detective Lou Smit quits because he felt that there was too much focus on the parents and in his resignation letter, he states a “very dangerous killer is still out there.” This provided the Ramseys the fuel they needed to convince the police to change their focus.
On October 13, the grand jury hears the case and learns about the forensic evidence. They also tour the home nine days later.
On October 20, John went back to Colorado to face Stephen Miles in a civil case after two stories in the National Enquirer had been published stating that John thought Miles had killed JonBenet.
On December 3, nearly two years after the killing, DNA evidence is requested from five Ramsey family members. While they aren’t suspects, investigators wanted to try to identify who the DNA in the house belonged to.
On January 28, 1999, a teddy bear becomes the center of attention. Investigators appealed to an online community to learn more information about a Santa Claus teddy bear that had been found in her bedroom. They were hoping that if they could find the manufacturer and where it had been sold, they could connect more dots.
On March 18, the first detective resigns from the case. Arndt chooses to resign due to all of the criticism.
On May 19, Burke, now 12, is secretly questioned by the grand jury and is declared as only a witness and not a suspect.
On September 13, Detective Arndt speaks with Good Morning America and said that she knows who killed JonBenet, but won’t say who.
On October 13, the DA declares that there is not enough sufficient evidence to charge anyone with the murder.
On March 17, 2000, the Ramseys publish a book about the murder called The Death of Innocence.
On May 24, Patsy and John held a press conference and announced that a lie detector test confirmed that they were innocent in the death of JonBenet. However, the FBI did not perform the test and it is not acceptable to investigators.
On Jun 24, 2006, Patsy died of ovarian cancer. She was a former pageant queen herself. She had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 1993, and was only 49 when she died. She buried next to her daughter.
On September 12, 2016, Burke does an interview with Dr. Phil and breaks his 20 year silence. Twice during the interview he said, “It probably was some pedophile in the pageant audience.”
With the timeline of the past 24 years uncovered, let’s look further into some of these details.
When JonBenet was found, she was under a blanket with her mouth taped shut and her hands tied together with a cord. There was also signs of sexual assault. However, as was evident in the timeline recap, the detectives did a very poor job in preserving the evidence and the crime scene, and the fact that they allowed John Ramsey to disrupt the crime scene by removing the body from the basement is just appalling.
They did not find any signs of an intruder, and that’s why the suspicion fell to the parents. The police found the ransom note to be suspicious for two reason, the amount matched John’s bonus exactly, and it had been written on paper found in the Ramsey’s home. It was also rather wordy.
The public also found it odd that John and Patsy failed to cooperate with the investigation. People also decided to judge the parents for the fact that they allowed her to take part in beauty pageants, which required her to wear lots of makeup, but I don’t think that’s important. People always judge pageant parents.
The grand jury had indicted JonBenet’s parents on two counts of child abuse, but nothing was ever done about it, and the public didn’t find out about this until 2013. There are two possible reasons why they though the parents had something to do with it. The first is they though Burke had killed JonBenet in a fit of rage. They believed that Burke and JonBenet had gone downstairs for a midnight snack and JonBenet took a piece of pineapple from his plate. He then picked up a flashlight at hit her in the head.
The second theory is that JonBenet was a bed-wetter, and that night Patsy had gotten up to clean up another accident and lost her cool and slammed her daughter into something hard, like a bathtub. DNA evidence has rules out the family, but people still like to blame them. I get why, especially with the weirdness of the note and how uncooperative they seemed to be. On top of that, Patsy’s call to 911 that morning as a bit suspect. Instead of saying, “My daughter has been kidnapped,” she said, “We have a kidnapping.” This type of passive language has been linked to lying. She also didn’t say JonBenet’s name until a few sentences into the call. She mentioned the kidnapping and the note, but not that it was her daughter. This might not mean anything, but one would assume that a mother calling to report her daughter missing is going to say “My six year old daughter is missing,” right off the bat. To beat it all, she was the one who ended the 911 call. This isn’t typical. Usually, a person will stay on the line until the police get there or they know that the police are going to be there soon. Patsy didn’t stay on the line to provide more details or hear that the police were on their way, she hung up so abruptly that the operator asked if she was still there.
The best piece of evidence was that there was a broken basement window and footprint on a suitcase under the window. There is a chance that this is how the intruder got in. However, they found no footprints in the fresh snow outside and the window had lots of spider webs that had not been disturbed. If the window had been broken that night, the webs should have been disturbed. John even said that he had broken the window before the murder, but where did the footprint come from?
That suitcase is another weird thing. The Ramsey’s said that it wasn’t theirs and they had no clue how it got in their basement. The suitcase was examined by police, and it contained a semen-encrusted blanket along with a Dr. Seuss book. Also, besides the tape, strangulation, and trauma, they found a strange mark on JonBenet’s back. There were two small dots that looked similar to a stun gun.
While the DNA found in JonBenet’s underwear didn’t match anybody in the family, it also couldn’t be matched to anybody in the police database. A DNA specialist argued that there was a chance it could have come from the factory where the underwear was made. Besides this odd bit of DNA, the crime scene was completely contaminated because the Ramsey’s and their friends traipsed through the house all day long, and the police never stopped them.
The family wasn’t the only suspect. There were a few other suspects that all seem very plausible. The first was a man who played Santa Claus who asked his wife to mix his ashes into a vial of glitter than JonBenet had given him. Bill McReynolds would often dress up as Santa for Christmas parties, and it is believed that JonBenet had given him a glass jar of glitter one year, which asked to take with him into heart surgery. Besides the creepy behavior, there isn’t a lot of evidence that links him as the killer.
Then there is Gary Oliva, a known pedophile who lived near JonBenet. He called a friend the night of the murder, upset, saying that he had hurt a little girl. Oddly enough, he was found to have the same stun gun marks on his body that JonBenet had. His friend, Michael Vail, called the police to tell them he believed Oliva to be the guilty party, but they didn’t do much with the information. In fact, Oliva didn’t become a suspect until 2000 when he was picked up on drug charges and they found a magazine cutout of JonBenet in his backpack. He was released, though. Vail also said that he found it unsettling how the knots used to fashion the garrote that strangled JonBenet were similar to those used when Oliva tried to choke his mother using a telephone cord. DNA supposedly cleared him, but he was charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a child for possessing child pornography.
He also wrote a letter to Vail, confessing to the killing. In part of the letter, he said, “I never loved anyone like I did JonBenet and yet I let her slip and her head based in half and I watched her die. It was an accident. Please believe me. She was not like the other kids.” Other, more disturbing, things were said in the letter as well. Nothing has come of this, as far as I know.
Then there is the creepy schoolteacher, John Mark Karr. He reached out to a professor who was making a documentary about JonBenet and said that he had been the one who had killed her after sexually abusing her. Police proved that Karr wasn’t in Boulder at the time of the murder. All he wanted was the fame.
And so, 24 years after the horrific death of JonBenet Ramsey, we don’t know much more than we did then. As forensic technology continues to improve, there may be a chance that it picks up on something that previously had been missed. Even JonBenet’s half-brother believes the killer will be brought to justice.