It is hard to believe that it has already been 20 years since 6-year-old beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in her Colorado home. To this day, many questions still swirl around the little girl’s death, and the case remains unsolved.
There are many who believe JonBenet was killed by one or both of her parents, with her death staged so that it would look like a kidnapping. Others can’t imagine that JonBenet’s parents would be involved in something so horrific, and are convinced that it had to have been an intruder who broke into the family’s home, slaughtered the little girl, and left her body behind. Many other theories abound. Some point to a housekeeper, and some people suspect JonBenet’s brother.
There are many who wonder if an ill-treated crime scene may prevent authorities from ever determining JonBenet’s killer. Many criticize the family, Patsy Ramsey in particular, for allowing the little girl to participate in the sexualized world of children’s beauty pageants. Could a pedophile or a pervert have been infatuated with the little girl, and caused her demise? Others wonder if the Ramseys’ seeming lack of cooperation with and defensive attitude toward police is basically an admission of guilt.
This past fall, as the twenty-year anniversary of JonBenet’s death approached, television networks scurried to once again sensationalize one of the country’s most well-known cold cases with four documentaries and a Lifetime movie. Sadly, even with most of the evidence now out in the open, JonBenet’s death still remains a mystery.
15 Christmas, 1996
Christmas Day of 1996 probably started like many other holidays for the Ramsey family. JonBenet and her brother Burke probably woke up early and opened presents. Later, the family went to have Christmas dinner with friends. When the family returned home that evening, JonBenet was already asleep. Her parents, John and Patsy, put her to bed, not knowing that it would be the last time they saw their little girl alive.
The following morning, Patsy Ramsey went downstairs and claims to have found a ransom note declaring that JonBenet had been taken and was being held captive. Mrs. Ramsey called 911 at 5:52 A.M. to report that her daughter was missing. Police searched the Ramsey’s home, but found no evidence of a break-in, leading many people to believe the person who supposedly abducted JonBenet had access to the house – or lived there.
Later that day, the Ramseys and police would learn that JonBenet had not, in fact, been abducted, but instead was murdered. It is thought that it was John Ramsey himself who found his daughter’s body in the basement of their home.
14 The Autopsy
The Boulder County Coroner’s Office declared the cause of JonBenet’s death to have been “asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma.”
JonBenet’s body was found with a white cord or rope tied around her neck, with a stick (thought to have been a paintbrush) attached to it, garrote-style. The rope was also secured around one of her wrists. The autopsy report states that there were some abrasions, bruises, and scratches on her body, as well as signs of possible sexual assault. The autopsy report also explains there was an extensive area of hemorrhaging in the scalp which accompanied a large skull fracture.
In 2015, Mark Beckner, the former Boulder County police chief who worked the Ramsey case, participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) and revealed his interpretation of what happened. The belief is that JonBenet was hit in the head with an unknown object and knocked unconscious. Based on the swelling in her brain, she was strangled somewhere from 45 minutes to two hours afterwards.
13 The Ransom Note
The ransom note that Patsy Ramsey is said to have found was a remarkable two and a half pages long. The wording in the note was strange, and demanded $118,000 by the following day, in exchange for JonBenet’s safe return. Strangely enough, $118,000 is the exact same amount that Jon Ramsey received as a recent bonus from work.
Some involved in the case have speculated that Patsy may have written the note herself. Investigators conducted handwriting analyses of both John and Patsy Ramsey. Patsy, in fact, submitted her handwriting for examination five different times. While the handwriting analyses were eventually deemed inconclusive the investigation did determine, however, that the ransom note was written with Patsy Ramsey’s pen on a piece of her stationery.
The ransom note has raised several questions, which still remain unanswered, all these years later. Why was the note so long? Why was it written on the Ramsey’s stationery? Why would someone write a ransom note if they planned to kill JonBenet, or she had already been killed?
12 The Evidence
There are some pieces of circumstantial evidence that would seem to aim guilt at the Ramseys. The ransom note was written on paper belonging to the Ramseys. There is even specualation that a “rough draft” of the ransom note was found in the house as well.
There were fibers detected on the duct tape that was used to cover JonBenet’s mouth and/or nose. Those fibers were found to be consistent with what was found on Patsy’s clothing.
There were also no clear signs of forced entry into the home, which led investigators to believe that the crime was committed by someone who knew the home or the family very well. Or perhaps… a family member?
While the Ramseys may appear guilty to some, early tests on DNA samples found at the crime scene revealed that those samples were from a male who was unrelated to the Ramseys. The DNA testing was so thorough and the profile that was uncovered was so strong, that it could not be matched to anyone who had been near the scene or handled JonBenet’s body.
11 Unsecured Crime Scene? Bungled investigation?
There have been claims that the crime scene at the Ramseys’ house was not properly preserved and that important evidence could have been disturbed. Interview transcripts and reports reveal that there were several individuals – police officers, neighbors, friends – at the house while the investigation was just getting underway.
In addition, it is believed that when John Ramsey stumbled upon JonBenet’s body in the basement, he saw that her mouth was covered with duct tape. In a panic, he allegedly removed the duct tape, which could have messed up the autopsy report. Also, some reports claim that JonBenet’s body was removed from the basement and brought upstairs to the living room, which is where the coroner first viewed and examined her.
Another unusual fact about the investigation is that the Ramseys initially refused to give formal interviews to police. (The Ramseys’ lawyers claim that the Ramseys were, in fact, questioned in their home on December 26, 1996.) For the police to proceed with further interrogations, the Ramseys and their lawyers demanded that the couple be interviewed together, with the lawyers choosing which officers would interview them. The police department rejected those demands, and the Ramseys were not formally interviewed until months later.
10 The Ramseys Go Public
While the Ramseys seemed slow to cooperate with police, they were quick to appear on CNN. John and Patsy Ramsey were interviewed by the network just five days after their daughter’s death. In the interview, the Ramseys warned the people of Boulder that there was a killer on the loose, and told residents to keep their children safe. They also announced that they were putting together their own investigative team and offering a $50,000 reward for information that would lead authorities to JonBenet’s killer. Months later they would increase the reward to $100,000.
In 2000, the Ramseys appeared on CNN again, in a live interview with Larry King. In the interview, the Ramseys rehashed the events of December 26, 1996, and gave their speculations as to what happened with JonBenet. They discussed their book, The Death of Innocence, which was published that year, and they took questions from callers. The Ramseys stated they believed the killer was still on the loose.
9 Was It Her Parents?
While Patsy Ramsey may have appeared to be a pleasant suburban housewife on the outside, some speculate that she was the one responsible for JonBenet’s death. A theory that made the rounds was that, after Patsy had to clean up JonBenet’s bed after a nighttime bedwetting accident, she went into a rage and smashed the little girl’s head into a hard surface. The garrote that was found around JonBenet’s neck was made up of a rope and a stick; the stick was actually a paintbrush from Patsy’s stash of art supplies. And throughout the case, many speculators criticized Patsy for involving JonBenet in the world of beauty pageants at such an age.
When presented with the details surrounding the discovery of JonBenet’s body, it seems a little eerie that, when asked by investigators to look around the house, John Ramsey immediately went to the basement, to a rather unused area of the house, and almost immediately located the girl.
8 Was Her Brother Involved?
Another theory involving the Ramsey family centers around JonBenet’s brother, Burke, who was 9 years old at the time of JonBenet’s death. Allegedly, Burke accidentally killed his sister in a fit of rage, and his parents used the kidnapping plot as an attempt to cover it up and protect their son.
In September 2016, Burke Ramsey, now 29, appeared in an interview with Dr. Phil in an attempt to clear the air. He defended his mother. Not long after that, CBS aired a documentary called The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey, which presented some interesting information that hinted that Burke Ramsey could have been responsible for his sister’s death.
The CBS documentary showcased the theory that JonBenet had taken part of Burke’s late-night snack, and out of anger, he hit her in the head with a flashlight. In JonBenet’s autopsy report, undigested pineapple was found in her stomach. The size of the fracture on her head would have been consistent with a flashlight that was found on the kitchen counter in crime scene photos. After the documentary aired, the attorney for the Ramsey family threatened CBS with a defamation lawsuit.
7 Could It Have Been An Intruder?
A broken basement window was found during the investigation. However, John Ramsey told investigators that he had broken the window himself prior to JonBenet’s death to get into the house once when he locked himself out, but he couldn’t remember exactly when.
Throughout the case, members of the Ramsey family maintained their innocence. In interviews and television appearances, they warned of a killer on the loose. They offered a reward for information that would lead investigators to their daughter’s killer.
Neighbors and friends of the Ramsey family were shocked to learn of the tragedy. Many voiced their disbelief that John or Patsy would have had anything to do with their daughter’s murder.
The Ramseys had been active members of the Boulder social scene, and often entertained in their spacious home. There was concern that so many people had access to the home – housekeepers, gardeners, caterers – and that it would be easy for an intruder to get in.
6 Other Suspects
Throughout the investigation, police considered other possible suspects in addition to the Ramseys. In 2000, a sex offender named Gary Oliva was arrested for drug charges in Boulder. Upon his arrest, police found a magazine photo of JonBenet and a stun gun in his backpack. There were some conspiracy theories that said JonBenet had been stunned with a stun gun prior to her death.
A private investigator hired by the Ramsey family claimed that the killer was Michael Helgoth, a then 26-year-old electrician who was somehow tied to a property dispute with the Ramseys. Helgoth committed suicide in 1997, two days after press conference announcing that the Boulder authorities were focusing their efforts on in on a new suspect. According to DNA evidence, Helgoth has been clearned.
Although she didn’t fit the description of the killer (based on DNA evidence, authorities were looking for a male) some theories claim that Linda Hoffman-Pugh, the Ramseys’ housekeeper, was in desperate need of extra money and had maybe attempted the kidnapping as a way to trick her employers into giving her the much-needed cash.
5 The Case Goes To Grand Jury
A grand jury convened in September of 1998 to view evidence, hear witnesses, and hopefully suggest that the court bring charges against a killer. Although Burke Ramsey was questioned by jurors, John and Patsy Ramsey were not. There had been speculation that perhaps John and Patsy Ramsey would be charged with JonBenet’s murder, but after a year of studying the evidence, the jury disbanded.
In 2013, the court would release papers revealing that the grand jury had actually agreed to indict the Ramseys on two counts of child abuse which resulted in JonBenet’s death. While the charges didn’t come out and accuse the couple of murder, they alleged that the Ramseys had placed JonBenet in a dangerous situation which led to her death.
4 The Ramseys Are Cleared
In 2003, seven years after JonBenet’s death, male DNA sample was extracted from evidence and forwarded to the FBI. Previous DNA samples had already shown that the sample was a male who was unrelated to the Ramseys. With the DNA sample being added to the national FBI database, investigators hoped that they would finally be able to find JonBenet’s killer.
In 2008, the Boulder District Attorney, Mary Lacy, offered an apology to the Ramseys. Based on the evidence, she felt confident that the Ramseys were not involved with the case, and were no longer considered to be under any suspicion.
Many involved with the case were surprised that the Ramseys were publicly exonerated; they were cleared of guilt without actually having a guilty party named in the case. The hope is that, along with the vindication of the Raseys, better DNA evidence will eventually help with the prosecution of the true perpetrator of the crime – if he or she is ever found.
3 A Confession
In 2006, former school teacher John Mark Karr was arrested as a suspect in the JonBenet case. He was living in Thailand at the time, on the run from child pornography charges in the U.S. He reached out to a University of Colorado Boulder professor who was working on a documentary about JonBenet’s case. When Karr’s interest reached disturbing heights, the professor alerted authorities. Karr later confessed to killing JonBenet, saying that he was with her when she died and even going so far as to provide diary entries that were supposedly from the scene of the crime. He claimed that JonBenet’s death was an accident, part of a demented sex game gone wrong.
Karr insisted that he was guilty of the crime, but his former wife told reporters that she was with him in Alabama for Christmas in 1996. The case against Karr was eventually dropped after DNA failed to tie him to the crime scene. According to a Fox News report from 2010, Karr is now living a new identity (and possibly a new gender altogether) and has been under investigation for starting a cult centered around young girls.
2 What Does Katy Perry Have To Do With This?
Of all of the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of JonBenet Ramsey, one of the most outrageous is the claim that quirky pop singer Katy Perry is really JonBenet. In a 2014 YouTube video, a man claimed that the kidnapping/murder case was all a hoax. He points out that JonBenet’s parents look similar to Perry’s parents, and other YouTube conspiracy theorists have supported the idea, pointing out that Katy Perry and JonBenet have similar facial features.
Supposedly, the singer went undercover after JonBenet’s death in 1996 and didn’t make an appearance in society again until she climbed her way to fame as a singer with the hit song “I Kissed a Girl” in 2008. According to the YouTuber, JonBenet didn’t really die, but she was sacrificed for fame – in name only – and reborn as Katy Perry.
1 The Ramseys Today
Throughout the murder investigation, John and Patsy Ramsey maintained their innocence. They were cleared of suspicion in 2008 and were never charged in the case.
Patsy Ramsey died in 2006, at the age of 49, after battling ovarian cancer. She is buried in Georgia, next to JonBenet.
Not long after Patsy’s death, John was rumored to have dated Beth Holloway. If that name seems to ring a bell, it’s because Beth Holloway is the mother of Natalee Holloway, the teen who went missing in Aruba. In 2011, John married a fashion designer named Jan Rousseaux.
Burke Ramsey was just nine years old when his sister was killed. He graduated from Purdue University in 2010 with a computer degree. In the fall of 2016, he filed a lawsuit against CBS, accusing the network of slander during a documentary about the murder that alleged he was responsible for his sister’s death.
JonBenet Ramsey would have turned 27 this year.
Sources: People, CNN, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Rolling Stone, LA Times, ABC News, CBS News, Denver Post, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune