Nearly 20 years after 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in her home in Boulder, Colo. in 1996, bizarre factors surrounding the unsolved case continue to raise questions and grab headlines.
The discovery of the body
JonBenét’s body was found the day after Christmas in the basement of the Ramseys’ home, roughly 8 hours after her parents, Patsy and John Ramsey, reported her missing. Anyone else wondering why mom and dad did not check their own basement before calling the cops? Investigators initially noted there were no signs of a break-in, adding to suspicions against the family.
The crime scene was compromised
A big reason why any and all leads turned up to be dead ends? Police didn’t seal off the crime scene, allowing family and friends to walk around the house after the crime was reported. Former Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner told Reddit (via ABC News) that since the crime occurred on Christmas Day, there were fewer people available to get to the scene.
The Ramseys lived in a shady neighborhood
The Ramsey family’s mansion reportedly wasn’t located in the nicest neighborhood, with reports of more than 100 burglaries in the area in the weeks and months before JonBenét’s death. The community also had a seemingly high concentration of potential creeps, with 38 registered sex offenders living within two miles of the family’s house at the time of the murder.
The ransom note
Patsy claimed to have found a two-and-a-half-page handwritten ransom note, written on paper from a notebook in the family’s home, demanding the bizarrely precise sum of $118,000 for her daughter’s return. That amount was almost exactly what John earned in a bonus that year. In a Reddit interview, Beckner said experts had never before encountered a ransom note with such strange content. Authorities analyzed samples of Patsy and John’s handwriting. While John was ruled out, Patsy’s sample was deemed inconclusive.
It gets weirder: experts from CBS’ The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey reported that multiple lines from the ransom note were actually lifted from movies, including Dirty Harry (1971) and Speed (1994). Experts tested the time it would take to write the ransom note, and it took every test-taker at least 20 minutes to complete—without having to think about what to write. A forensic linguistics expert said the language in the note was “maternalistic” and that it seemed like the author deliberately made certain errors to make it seem like the writer’s native language wasn’t English.
Tabloids named JonBenét’s 9-year-old brother a suspect
In an interview with Barbara Walters, John talked about trying to shield his 9-year-old son, Burke, from tabloid coverage that implicated the family—and even the boy—in JonBenét’s death. “Friends would ask us, ‘What can we do to help?’ We said, ‘Next time you go in the supermarket, call the manager over when you see our child’s photo on the front cover, and ask him to remove it.’ A lot of them did that,” John said (via The Denver Post).
The alleged kidnapping and sexual assault may have been staged
In his Reddit interview segment, Beckner said the cause of JonBenét’s death was strangulation, but she was also hit on the head close to an hour before her asphyxiation, rendering her unconscious. The strangulation allegedly occurred about an hour after the initial hit. Beckner claims the perpetrator(s) then staged the scene, including the ransom note and alleged sexual assault, to make it look like a botched kidnapping instead of just a murder.
The cause of death
Police originally reported that some abrasions on JonBenét’s back were likely from a stun gun, something Kolar denies, explaining that the size and space between the abrasions don’t match up the type of stun gun that the intruder allegedly used, but do match part of a toy train found in the basement near not far from her body.
On The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey, Criminologist Werner Spitz gave a somewhat disturbing demonstration to show how a metal flashlight—which was found in the home—could have been used to kill a 6-year-old child. Using wigs on fake skulls, Spitz even showed that a boy Burke’s age could cause a fatal blunt force injury like the one JonBenét suffered.
Why the intruder theory may not hold water
Detective Jim Kolar worked on the JonBenét case and detailed the investigation in his book, Foreign Faction: Who Really Killed JonBenét Ramsey?. In the book (via The Daily Beast), Kolar claims there was a tiny sample of male DNA found on JonBenét’s leggings and underwear that didn’t match anyone in her family, nor any of the 160 other possible suspects that police looked into. This led the prosecution to believe an intruder committed the murder; not anyone in the Ramsey family.
While the initial police reports claimed there were no signs of forced entry, a damaged basement window was later investigated as a possible entry point. Kolar reportedly grew frustrated with the investigation’s intruder theory because of one small, but potentially crucial, piece of evidence. According to The Daily Beast, there was a “small triangle of cobwebs” in the window from which the supposed intruder entered the home that went completely undisturbed during the abduction. Ostensibly, if someone broke into the home through the window, the cobwebs would have been at least a little mussed. Kolar also claims that a shard of glass from the broken window was found resting on the window sill and that, too, likely would have been brushed away with the cobwebs by an entering intruder.
There is unidentified DNA evidence
Kolar claims, via the Westword, that DNA from two males and one female was found under JonBenét’s fingernails. Unfortunately, the DNA evidence was “too tiny and badly degraded” to determine whether its source was skin, tissue, or blood, but what investigators do know is that it didn’t match the DNA evidence from the unknown male found on JonBenét’s underwear and leggings.
“DNA can be very helpful in any criminal investigation, but it needs to be looked at in the context of all the other evidence,” Kolar said. “If you look at all the trace samples involved in this, if you follow the DNA evidence solely, then we should be looking for six perpetrators, not one.”
Dr. Henry Lee, the same DNA expert who testified in the O.J. Simpson trial, told The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey that DNA found in JonBenét’s underwear may not be from an intruder or from members of her family. He explained that some DNA may be from saliva from someone who manufactured or packaged the underwear or from the store where it was purchased—employees working there, customers sifting through it, etc. The only thing this really tells us is that the Ramseys may not have washed before wearing.
JonBenét may have been unhealthy or abused
Kolar claims records show JonBenét visited her pediatrician 27 times within the last three years of her life. Her doctor reportedly told police the quantity of visits was not “excessive” and that he had seen no evidence or suspicion of sexual abuse. However, Kolar claims that when he presented JonBenét’s autopsy report and photos to pathologists and physicians, they agreed that she likely suffered from some sort of sexual assault before her death.
The Ramseys’ lawyer disagreed, telling The Daily Beast, “The Ramseys had no knowledge of any such abuse. John and Patsy Ramsey thought that this was another example of the Boulder police department’s prejudice in trying to make accusations against the family.”
Burke had behavioral problems
Family friends told The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey that Burke attacked JonBenét with a golf club more than a year before she was killed. In a video of a police interrogation of Burke, he appears cheerful and unaffected and flailed an invisible weapon around to show how she may have been killed. The program also alleged Burke had “scatological” issues, often spreading feces around the house, including in JonBenét’s bedroom.
A grand jury wanted to indict JonBenét’s parents, but prosecutors did not
CNN reports that in 1996, a grand jury sought to indict Patsy and John on identical charges of child abuse resulting in death and being accessories to a crime. In court documents released three years later, the jury claimed the parents did “permit a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child’s life or health which resulted in the death of JonBenét Ramsey” and did “render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of murder in the first degree and child abuse resulting in death.”
District attorneys did not pursue the aforementioned charges due to insufficient evidence and because no one could identify who “the person being assisted” was, reported CNN. The Ramsey’s attorney called the indictments “nonsensical,” saying they “reveal nothing about the evidence reviewed by the grand jury and are clearly the result of a confused and compromised process. The Ramsey Family and the public are entitled to the benefit of the full and complete record, not just a historical footnote. Fairness dictates that result.”
Some press leaks may have been fake
Reporter Paula Woodward worked on the JonBenét case since it broke, and she provided some interesting revelations, notably that most other revelations were false. “Not a single leak was true,” she said on The Killing Of JonBenét: Truth Uncovered. “There was no snow around the house. No handwriting expert has ever concluded that Patsy wrote the [ransom] notes. John didn’t leave the home that evening, nor was any porn found.”
The false confession
Nearly 10 years after the case first made headlines, the tragedy was in the news yet again in 2006 when John Mark Karr, a teacher living in Thailand, claimed he was guilty of JonBenét’s murder—and that it was an accident resulting from a bizarre sexual encounter. He also claimed that he had drugged his victim.
Here’s where it gets even creepier: none of that happened. DNA tests proved Karr was nowhere near the crime scene, and no traces of drugs were found in JonBenét’s system. In fact, Beckner says authorities found photographic proof that Karr was in Georgia at the time of the murder, making his story impossible.
There are still a lot of suspects
Detective Lou Smit worked on the case until his death in 2010 and kept a spreadsheet of all the suspects in the case, which is estimated to contain between 50 and 60 persons of interest. His daughter explained on The Killing Of JonBenét: Truth Uncovered, “Lou was working this case up until the day he died…He was very concerned that it was going to die with him. He started doing a lot of the investigation on his own…But his frustration there was that he had absolutely no investigative powers at all.”
Burke couldn’t stop smiling in his Dr. Phil interview
Straight shooting talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw interviewed JonBenét’s brother, Burke, in September 2016. “I think the JonBenét Ramsey case is the biggest unsolved murder mystery of our generation,” McGraw told FOX News, “and the missing link is Burke Ramsey, because in 20 years he has never spoken publicly and also he was interrogated three times,” adding that Burke’s personality is “very unique.”
Unique, indeed. Though Burke was relatively forthcoming in his interview on Dr. Phil, his demeanor rubbed audiences the wrong way. Even during the interviews most heartbreaking moments, Burke couldn’t stop grinning.
Dr. Phil said Burke’s strange demeanor may not be that unusual, noting that Patsy reacted similarly shortly after JonBenét’s murder. “Patsy faced similar criticism during the weeks and months after her daughter’s death,” McGraw said, explaining that everyone grieves differently. “I spent some time with him, and I have to tell you this is a really nice, young man. I can tell you [his smiling is] a matter of anxiety. It’s just a matter of being socially uncomfortable…It’s nothing weird. It’s nothing creepy…I think for him it’s just kind of a nervous smile…Even with that nervousness he wanted to come forward and tell his story because he knew he was going to be pushed to the forefront.” Burke “does not want her to be forgotten,” McGraw said. “He wants her killer to be found.”
Burke talks to JonBenét
Burke told Dr. Phil that he has spoken to JonBenét since her death, noting that he believes she and their mother, Patsy, are together again. “[Our conversations are] like, ‘Hey, thanks for looking out for me…Hope you’re having fun up there, because I’m taking some test,'” he said (via People).
As for whether he thinks the crime will be solved in his lifetime, Burke says that he “keeps the hope alive [that it] will. I don’t know, but you gotta never give up.”
John Ramsey blames himself
JonBenét’s father holds himself responsible for his daughter’s death, telling Dr. Phil (via E! Online) that he thinks his daughter was murdered to punish him. “I sadly, and regretfully believe that, yes,” John said.
Just days before the murder, John’s company, Access Graphics, was featured in a high-profile article touting its record-breaking billion-dollar sales mark. John said he regrets publicizing that information and drawing attention to his family.
“In retrospect, I could have done two things differently,” he said. “One is to be sure that we lived in a very secure house. We thought we lived in a very safe community. It was an old house, had lots of windows and doors.” The second thing? “It’s a good idea to be as anonymous as you can,” John said. “Don’t let your head rise up above the crowd, because there are people that will target you.”
John insisted his appearance on Dr. Phil would be his last media interview about his daughter’s case.
The Ramseys are suing CBS
The Ramseys are reportedly suing CBS, the same network that gave Burke Ramsey an outlet to assert his innocence with Dr. Phil. Newsweek reports that the Ramsey family attorney, L. Lin Wood, claims that The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, which also aired on the network, was a “false and unprofessional television attack” for alleging that Burke may be the culprit in the still-unsolved murder.
“I will be filing a lawsuit on behalf of Burke Ramsey,” Wood said. “CBS’s false and unprofessional attacks on this young man are disgusting and revolting.” Wood also alleged that the network is made up of “corporate profit-mongers” and claimed that the documentary was chock full of “lies, misrepresentations, distortions and omissions,” but declined to specify exactly what those were.
For their part, CBS told Reuters, “CBS stands by the broadcast and will do so in court.”
Nearly 20 years later, DNA evidence was called into question
In October 2016. the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. together with 9NEWS reported crucial points about DNA in the case that were previously unreleased to the public. “The DNA profile referred to as Unknown Male 1—first identified during testing on the panties—may not be the DNA of a single person at all, but, rather, a composite of genetic material from possibly three individuals,” the Camera said. “As a result, it may be worthless as evidence.” That revelation means the aforementioned intruder theory may be more flawed than previously suspected.
Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy was allegedly informed of the results by Bode Technology in March 2008 but ignored its findings when she released a three-page letter to the public that exonerated the Ramsey family based on prior DNA evidence.
Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said he was “troubled” by the new information. “This is an important development. This is new information,” Owens told the Camera. “[Lacy] knew, based on your investigation, that this DNA wasn’t necessarily from one person and that it, in fact, was potentially accumulated DNA. She knew it at the time, and why she used this evidence to clear the Ramsey family…is something I can’t explain. And she should explain.”
Former Boulder police detective Steve Thomas side-eyed Lacy’s dedication to Patricia’s innocence, telling the Camera, “I know of no other case in which a sitting district attorney or prosecutor attended the funeral of a person whom she knew a grand jury had voted to criminally indict, and traveled across the country to do so, as Mary Lacy did in the case of Patsy Ramsey. I can’t get my arms around that one. I can assure you that many in law enforcement were also distressed by it.”
The Ramsey family doesn’t want to look into it any further
Despite Burke telling Dr. Phil that he wants to find his sister’s killer, the family doesn’t seem interested in the updated DNA information from Bode Technology.
Ramsey family lawyer Lin Wood reportedly didn’t review the lab results, but told the Daily Camera, “I have absolute and total confidence in the integrity of former District Attorney Mary Lacy…until someone impugns her integrity…I continue to believe, as I have said before, that this is a DNA case and that the best chance for solving the case will be a hit and match on the DNA in the future. I hope that day comes.”
When asked for comment, John told the Camera, via email, “I think we have said all that can be said and I need to get back to my job!”
A conspiracy theory claims Katy Perry is JonBenét
A bizarre YouTube conspiracy theory claims JonBenét was not actually killed, but grew up to become…Katy Perry.
“All of these people are liars, man,” YouTuber Dave Johnson says in the unbelievable clip. “Nobody died, nobody got hurt. That sacrifice was in name only, and that was to get something, and that something was to become a star. JonBenét became Katy Perry, and that’s a fact.”
Johnson adds, “You know, the eyebrows don’t change much on a person. You’re born with your eyebrows. They’re very close, very close indeed, aren’t they?…As you know, this whole entertainment industry is just a charade—you really don’t know the truth.”
Of course, there are some problems with this theory. For starters, Perry is six years older than JonBenet would be today, and Perry’s own eyebrows have changed significantly within a matter of days depending on what her makeup artist felt like doing.