The Murder of JonBenét Ramsey

Apr 30, 2009 - by J. J. Maloney - 0 Comments

May 7, 1999 Updated 8/30/06;  07/20/08; 1/30/13 and 10/25/13

JonBenet Ramsey

by J. J. Maloney & J. Patrick O'Connor

Related Story: Solving the JonBenet Case by Ryan Ross. (04/14/03)

Editor's Note:

The Boulder Daily Camera reported on January 27, 2013 that the Boulder Grand Jury convened in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey voted in 1999 to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death in connection with the events of Christmas night 1996 at the Ramsey home in Boulder. Former Boulder First Assistant D.A. Bill Wise confirmed the grand jury's vote. The Daily Camera quotes him saying, "It names both of them, John and Patsy Ramsey."

The indictment on child abuse resulting in death, when charged as "knowingly or recklessy," is a Class II felony in Colorado that carries a sentence of four to 48 years. The statute of limitations on that charge in Colorado is three years from the date of the crime. The vote for the indictment was in October of 1999, over two months before the statute of limitations would have taken effect.

Then D.A. Alex Hunter refused to sign the indictment, presumably because he did not believe there was sufficient evidence to win a courtroom conviction. There is no doubt that the completely botched crime scene would have enabled the defense to put up strong resistance to any allegations advanced by the prosecution.

On the other hand, in refusing to sign the indictment, Hunter did not follow the Colorado statute governing grand jury practices. The statute stipulates that "every indictment shall be signed"  by the foreman of the grand jury and the prosecuting attorney. As University of Colorado Law School Professor Mimi Wesson told the Daily Camera, the proper legal procedure would have been for Hunter to sign the indictment -- also know as a true bill -- file it with the court and then move in open court to dismiss the charges. "That would be the more transparent and responsible course, in my opinon," she said.

Rather than follow the dictates of the statute pertaining to grand jury matters, Hunter kept it secret that indicments had been handed down. Instead of going for transparency, as advocated by Professor Wesson, Hunter elected to keep the deep suspicion the grand jurors had for JonBenet's parents from the public. Upon disbanding the grand jury, which had met for the previous 18 months, Hunter held a news conference on October 13, 1999 where he issued this statement: "I and my prosecution task force believe we do not have sufficient evidence to warrant a filing of charges against anyone who has been investigated at this time."

"We don't know who did what," one of the grand jurors interviewed by the Daily Camera said, "but we felt the adults in the house may have done something that they certainly could have prevented, or they could have helped her, and they didn't."

After 28 years as Boulder's district attorney, Hunter retired in 2001. When it came out that the grand jury had voted to indict the Ramseys, he refused to comment on the revelation.

Stan Garnett, who became Boulder D.A. in 2009, said shortly after taking office that he was returning the Ramsey case, which his predecessor, Mary Lacy, had taken over from the Boulder Police Department, back to the police. "The Ramsey case is one of the cold cases we would take great satisifaction in solving and filing and pursuing in court," he said.

On October 25, 2013, fourteen years after the Boulder Grand Jury voted to indict both John and Patsy Ramsey in the death of their daughter, a Colorado judge released four pages of the sealed indictments. The two-count indictment against both were identical. For purposes of brevity, only the indictment charging John Ramsey will be quoted. The first count read:

"On or about December 25, and December 26, 1996 in Boulder, County Colorado, John Bennet Ramsey did unlawfully, knowingly and feloniiously render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay, 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."

The documents released do not reveal who this person mentioned in the indictment is suspected of being. There were no signs of forced entry at the Ramseys' home or footprints in the snow outside the house.

The other count of the indictment read:

"On or about December 25, and December 26, 1996 in Boulder County, Colorado, John Bennet Ramsey did knowingly, recklessly and feloniously permit a chikd 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 Jon Benet Ramsey."

Two days before releasing the sealed grand jury documents, Judge Robert Lowenbach wrote in his order that "It appears that the district attorney, presumably acting at the direction of the grand jury, prepared a series of possible charges regarding John Ramsey and Patricia Ramsey based on the fact that the child had died and that there was evidence that a sexual assault of the child occurred."

In 2008 then Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy cleared the Ramseys and their son, Burke, of any involvement in the murder based on DNA recoevered from JonBenet's clothes.

The JonBenet case remains open.

Previous Update

On July 9, 2008, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy stated that DNA tests conducted by Bode Technology Group revealed that skin cells left behind on JonBenet Ramsey's long underwear point to a killer other than the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, or her brother, Burke. Mrs. Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006 at age 49.

"To the extent that we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry," Lacy wrote in an exoneration letter to John Ramsey, who now has remarried and lives in Michigan. "No innocent person should have to endure such an extensive trial in the court of public opinion."

Early in the investigation into the 6-year-old pageant star's brutal murder on Christmas night in 1996, Lacy said that Boulder police discovered male DNA in a drop of blood on JonBenet's underwear that did not match any members of JonBenet's immediate family. The tests conducted by Bode Technology Group, Lacy said, revealed the same DNA that was found previously in the drop of blood was present in three places on JonBenet's long underwear.

Lacy stated that Boulder investigators now hope they'll eventually find a DNA match in the ever-expanding national DNA databank, a sentiment echoed by John Ramsey. "I think the people that are in charge of the investigation are focused on that, and that gives me a lot of comfort," Mr. Ramsey said in an interview with a Denver TV station. "Certainly we are grateful that they acknowledged that we, based on that, certainly could not have been involved."

Even if a DNA match is eventually made, it does not mean that the DNA from this contaminated crime scene will reveal it to be that of JonBenet's killer, although it possibly could. For now, all that is known, is that it is not the DNA of John, Burke, or the late Patsy Ramsey. In the meantime, the JonBenet case will continue unsolved and will remain one of the most botched crime investigations in the annals of U.S. law enforcement.


The brutal murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey on Christmas night in 1996 shocked America to its core. Just as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder seven decades earlier had seared the nation's consciousness, this murder – of a beautiful and talented child in a wealthy Boulder, Colo., home – renewed every parent's worst nightmare: No child was truly safe, not even tucked in at home on Christmas night.

JonBenet's murder – particularly as the days went by and no arrests were forthcoming – quickly became a national obsession, featured day after day on network news, television tabloid programs, talk radio, newspapers and magazines. Her image flitted across television screens innumerable times, often showing her in a fancy red cowgirl outfit, singing "I want to be a cowboy sweetheart," or dancing across the stage in a glittering Las Vegas showgirl outfit, complete with heavy makeup. Her unusual first name became so well known that like Cher and Madonna she no longer had need of a last name.

The public's shock at the murder soon began to share equal time with its growing dismay at the Boulder police's investigation, a dismay fed by a steady stream of leaks from the Boulder County District Attorney's office about the inept police investigation being conducted. For one thing it became known that the police had badly botched the initial investigation by failing to seal off the crime scene. For another it appeared the police were treating the primary suspects – JonBenet's parents – with kid gloves by not only acquiescing to their refusal to be interviewed at police headquarters, but also to being interviewed separately. Fueled with such information, the media, especially the tabloid television and talk radio shows, were showing no such restraint toward the glamorous child's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. Some in the media began to point the finger directly at her father. Others implied it was her mother who had garroted the girl. Some speculated the crime had to have been committed by both parents. The tabloids even raised the possibility that her brother Burke, who was just shy of 10-years-old at the time, murdered JonBenet. 

Astoundingly, this highest of high-profile murder case continues unsolved. A grand jury met for over a year, only to disband in October of 1999 without handing down an indictment or even issuing a report, an option that was open to it. Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner admitted that the case files have been put in storage, although he said some more "forensic testing" was going on. The then newly elected Boulder district attorney, Mary Keenan, promised to look into the case. Nothing seemed to come of it. In April of 2003 she issued a statement saying she concurred with a federal court in Georgia's contemporaneous finding that JonBenet was most likely murdered by an intruder. Two months later Keenan shifted responsibility for the case away from the Boulder Police Department to the district attorney's office, and she hired Tom Bennett as lead investigator of the case, directing him to focus his probe on the premise that an intruder killed JonBenet.

During the intervening three years, the case all but dropped from public view. The death of Patsy Ramsey – of ovarian cancer at age 49 – on June 24, 2006, briefly brought the case back into the spotlight. And then on Aug. 16, 2006, the long dormant case rocketed back into banner headlines across the world when a 41-year-old, child-sex-offender by the name of John Mark Karr was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, at the request of the Boulder District Attorney's office. D. A. Mary Keenan, who changed her last name to Lacy in 2005, began investigating Karr four months previously when a University of Colorado journalism professor, Michael Tracey, informed her about some disturbing emails he had recently received from an unknown sender who during the last four years had sent him hundreds of emails about the JonBenet case. (Over the years Tracey had produced three documentaries about the case, each supporting the intruder theory.) Lacy's office was able to trace the emails to Karr in Bangkok. After four months of looking into Karr's checkered background, Lacy decided to go for the arrest. It was a move calculated to prevent Karr's flight. Returning him by extradition to U.S. soil would allow the D.A.'s office to continue its investigation of him in a normal manner.

What Lacy could not have known was how willing Karr was to admit to JonBenet's murder, although he called her death "an accident." Karr's "confession" to the media in Bangkok was of the Catch-22 variety: It demonstrated – through its factual inaccuracies – his probable non-involvement in JonBenet's death. He reportedly said that he picked JonBenet up at school, took her back to her home, drugged her and sexually assaulted her. On Christmas Day, of course, there was no school; her autopsy revealed no drugs, and no evidence of rape, although chronic sexual abuse was noted. JonBenet's death was no accident: She died of asphyxia by garrote strangulation and severe head trauma. Karr's ex-wife further darkened the hope that JonBenet's murderer was finally coming to justice when she told authorities after Karr's arrest that she was with Karr in Alabama on Christmas Day 1996. The couple divorced in 2001, the same year Karr was arrested for child pornography. By court order, Karr was barred from visiting his own three children without supervision.

The case against Karr collapsed within days of his extradition to Boulder. His DNA sample did not match the DNA evidence recovered from JonBenet's underwear at the murder scene, D.A. Lacy ruefully revealed on Aug. 28 when she filed a motion requesting a judge to dismiss the arrest warrant against Karr. Lacy also admitted that her office was unable to establish that Karr had ever been to Boulder. After the whirlwind of publicity generated by Karr's arrest and subsequent exoneration, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens said, "Unfortunately, the hysterics surrounding John Mark Karr served only to distract Boulder officials from doing their job which should be solving the murder of JonBenet Ramsey." The Karr episode, in the end, will have served no other purpose than to demonstrate anew how unsolvable this case remains for the Boulder District Attorney's office.

A New Type of PR: The Ramseys Fight Back

The JonBenet case – with no new developments for years – quietly left center stage in 2003 when D.A. Lacy informed the media that she had hired an investigator to pursue the intruder theory: that someone other than a member of the Ramsey household killed JonBenet. Prior to that announcement the Ramseys had taken to the offensive to advance the intruder theory. At the heart of that offensive was a sophisticated, and expensive, public relations campaign, including publishing a book, The Death of Innocence, (that exonerates them and their son, Burke, while advancing various speculations regarding the killer or killers), promoting their web site ( that offers a $100,000 reward for "information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of her killer," and staging various interviews and news conferences in their on-going parry with Boulder authorities. The Ramseys were quite liberal in naming possible suspects, mentioning dozens of close friends, former business colleagues, a trusted household worker and even the man who played Santa Claus at Ramsey Christmas parties for the last three years of JonBenet's life. Santa's wife was also hotly advanced by the Ramseys as the mastermind behind the murder.

Modern public relations has come a long way since the days of "no comment." Today the buzz in corporate PR circles is to take the initiative, to bring the attack to the attacker. They call it "hard ball." The attorney the Ramseys eventually hired to represent them, Lin Wood, believes very much in going on the offensive, of getting right in the face of the opposition. Wood is the attorney who successfully defended Richard Jewell, the FBI suspect in the Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Wood didn't just get the FBI to drop its investigation of his client like a hot potato; his scorched-earth tactics on behalf of Jewell turned that case into a public relations nightmare for the FBI.

In retaining Wood, the Ramseys hired a fierce defender. They showed that they had had it with taking their lumps and soldiering on. The kid gloves came off: They wanted any lingering suspicion of their involvement in their daughter's death squashed once and for all.

On Aug. 31, 2000, Patsy Ramsey stepped up the volume of the rhetoric by boldly taking on the Boulder law-enforcement community in a top, front-page headline in USA Today that blared: "Patsy Ramsey issues challenge: If you think I did it, let's have a trial and get it over with."

In an exclusive interview she and her husband gave the newspaper, reporter Kevin Johnson wrote that "she said that after four years of being under police suspicion, she and her husband, John, are weary, frustrated and desperate for some normalcy in their lives." The newspaper reported that "the Ramseys said being the focus of a murder mystery that still gets worldwide attention has drained their finances and let them and their son, Burke, 13, into a cocoonlike existence, without TV or newspapers in their home."

The Ramseys gave that interview following a day and a half of questioning in Atlanta by prosecutors from the Boulder District Attorney's office. The Ramseys told USA Today that "it was clear from the authorities questions that Patsy Ramsey is the main suspect," adding that they had spent "millions" on attorneys and investigators. The long-awaited interviews, the first by the Boulder authorities with the Ramseys since 1998, produced blasts of vitriol from both camps. The Ramseys' attorney, Lin Wood, squared off that night with Michael Kane, who led the 13-month grand jury investigation in Boulder and who was in charge of the Ramsey interviews, in a heated exchange on "Larry King Live" on CNN. Wood kept challenging Kane to bring formal charges against the Ramseys or to drop the case. Kane, properly, refused to go for the bait, saying charges would be brought only when the D.A.'s office believed it had a case that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The interviews with the Ramseys resulted almost by default, after the Ramseys had reneged on an offer during the spring of 2000 to voluntarily submit to polygraph exams. On April 11, the Boulder Police Department had accepted John and Patsy Ramsey's public offer to take polygraph exams regarding the death of their daughter. The department agreed to the conditions set forth by John Ramsey in a March 23 television interview:

  • The exam be conducted by an examiner independent from the Boulder Police Department.
  • The exam be conducted in Atlanta.
  • The results of the exam be made public.

Boulder police arranged to have FBI specialists conduct the examination in Atlanta. After consulting with others in law enforcement, the Boulder police selected FBI polygraphers, saying they were chosen specifically for their international reputation in criminal polygraphs and their independence from the Boulder Police Department. Other factors that weighed heavily in selecting the FBI, the Boulder police said, were the specialist training received by FBI examiners, the quality control implemented in their examinations and supervisory oversight that is provided for every exam.

To the Ramseys, the idea of polygraph exams held a distinct allure. Although they didn't want the FBI to administer the tests, they knew that the exams held great potency for establishing their innocence. If each of them could pass an independently administered polygraph exam, they would deliver a knockout punch not only in the court of public opinion but also most likely to any Colorado prosecutor down the road.

During subsequent discussions, Ramsey attorney Wood told Boulder police that the Ramseys were reluctant to take an exam administered by the FBI because they believed the previous involvement of the FBI and the FBI laboratories in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation prevented the FBI from being "independent" examiners.

As a compromise to the Ramseys' concerns, the FBI agreed to assign an examiner who had no prior knowledge or involvement in the Ramsey case, and the Boulder Police Department agreed not to be involved in selecting the specific FBI examiners.

A stalemate ensued when the offered concessions did not satisfy Ramsey concerns with the FBI involvement. The Boulder Police Department was unwilling to compromise further. The polygraphs of the Ramseys were dead in their tracks.

"Obviously, we're disappointed that the Ramseys have declined to take the polygraph exams, after very publicly saying they would," Chief Beckner said. "However, our offer still stands, should the Ramseys decide to change their position."

When the Ramseys realized they were taking a public relations bath by copping out of the polygraph exams, they regrouped. During the next month, from May 6 through 17, they underwent "a series" of polygraph exams administered by nationally prominent polygraphers of their choosing.

At a news conference later that month, Wood presented the results of the Ramseys' polygraph exams, and offered to allow the Boulder Police and D.A.'s office to interview the polygraphers. Wood told the reporters that when the first batch of exams proved "inconclusive" they hired different polygraphers to conduct the second round. This time, Wood said, they passed, meaning each Ramsey, in separate exams, was found truthful to the basic questions concerning JonBenet's death, i.e., each denied having any involvement in her death, and Patsy denied having written the ransom letter. Patsy Ramsey told the media present that she "felt great about the results."

Boulder Police Chief Beckner called the whole polygraph episode part of "an ongoing publicity campaign."

And Colorado Gov. Bill Owens wasn't buying much of the Ramseys' claim of innocence either. In March 2000 he told reporters "there is very good reason, based on the evidence, for the Ramseys to be under the umbrella of suspicion."

In September when the Ramseys were invited to appear before some journalism students at the Newseum in Arlington, Va., Patsy Ramsey used the occasion to repeat Gov. Owens' remark before asking the students "Why wasn't the media all over Gov. Owens? Even if we are guilty, he shouldn't be the Justice Department."

A short time later, when Owens was told of her remark, he had a spokesperson say for him, "The governor finds it hard to believe anyone would even care what the Ramseys would have to say anymore."

Public confidence in the Ramseys' innocence remains low. But so does the public's confidence in the ability of the Boulder authorities to bring the Ramseys, or anyone else involved in JonBenet's death, to trial.

Public confidence in the grand jury investigation was undermined when Steve Thomas, a key Boulder city detective in the case, resigned from the Boulder Police Department after he discovered "the detectives who know this case better than anyone were advised by the district attorney's office that we would not be participating as grand jury advisory witnesses."

Thomas's letter revealed a deep chasm between the Boulder Police Department and the county prosecutor's office. This chasm, plus the extreme reluctance of the Ramseys to cooperate in the investigation, have worked together to shield the murderer – although, from reading Thomas's letter, one gets the impression the police suspect one of the parents. (To read the entire letter, click here). Subsequently, Thomas authored his own in-depth book on the case, JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation.

Thomas Names Patsy Ramsey as Murderer

Thomas's book, which became a bestseller when it was released in hardback in April 2000 (a paperback edition was released in November 2000), left no doubt about whom he believes killed JonBenet, known as Joni'B to her mother and father. On page 12 he writes that he believes the murderer to be "her panicked mother, Patsy Ramsey, and that her father, John Ramsey, opted to protect his wife in the investigation that followed." In chapter 30 of the book, Thomas recounts his theory of the case:

"In my hypothesis, an approaching fortieth birthday, the busy holiday season, an exhausting Christmas Day, a couple of glasses of wine, and an argument with JonBenet had left Patsy frazzled. Her beautiful daughter, whom she frequently dressed almost as a twin, had rebelled against wearing the same outfit as her mother [to the Whites' Christmas Day party].

"When they came home, John Ramsey helped Burke put together a Christmas toy. JonBenet, who had not eaten much at the Whites' party, was hungry. Her mother let her have some pineapple, and then the kids were put to bed. John Ramsey read to his little girl. Then he went to bed. Patsy stayed up to prepare for the trip to Michigan the next morning, a trip she admittedly did not particularly want to make.

"Later JonBenet awakened after wetting her bed, as indicated by the plastic sheets, the urine stains, the pull-up diaper package hanging halfway out of a cabinet, and the balled-up turtleneck found in the bathroom. I concluded that the little girl had worn the red turtleneck to bed, as her mother originally said, and that it was stripped off when it got wet.

"As I told [Lou] Smit [an investigator hired by the D.A.'s office], I never believed the child was sexually abused for the gratification of the offender but that the vaginal trauma was some sort of corporal punishment. The dark fibers found in her public region could have come from the violent wiping of a wet child. Patsy probably yanked out the diaper package in cleaning up JonBenet.

"Patsy would not be the first mother to lose control in such a situation. One of the doctors we consulted cited toileting issues as a textbook example of causing a parental rage. So, in my hypothesis, there was some sort of explosive encounter in the child's bathroom sometime prior to one o'clock in the morning, the time suggested by the digestion rate of the pineapple found in the child's stomach [during the autopsy]. I believe JonBenet was slammed against a hard surface, such as the edge of a tub, inflicting a mortal head wound. She was unconscious, but her heart was still beating. Patsy would not have known that JonBenet was still alive, because the child already appeared to be dead. The massive head trauma would have eventually killed her.

"It was the critical moment in which she had to either call for help or find an alternative explanation for her daughter's death. It was accidental in the sense that the situation had developed without motive or premeditation. She could have called for help but chose not to. An emergency room doctor probably would have questioned the "accident" and called the police. Still, little would have happened to Patsy in Boulder. But I believe panic overtook her.

"John and Burke continued to sleep while Patsy moved the body of JonBenet down to the basement and hid her in the little room.

"As I pictured the scene, her dilemma was that police would assume the obvious if a 6-year-old child was found dead in a private home without any satisfactory explanation. Patsy needed a diversion and planned the way she thought a kidnapping should look."

Thomas theorized that Patsy then went upstairs to the kitchen to write the ransom note, using one of her own writing tablets and a felt-tipped pen that she kept there on a counter. She "flipped to the middle of the tablet, and started a ransom note, drafting one that ended on page 25. For some reason she discarded that one and ripped pages 17-25 from the tablet. Police never found those pages. On page 26, she began the 'Mr. & Mrs. I,' then also abandoned that false start. At some point she drafted the long ransom note. By doing so, she created the government's best piece of evidence."

Thomas wrote that she "then faced the major problem of what to do with the body" and that leaving it in "the distant almost inaccessible basement room was the best option.

"As I envisioned it, Patsy returned to the basement, a woman caught up in panic, where she could have seen – perhaps by detecting a faint heartbeat or a sound or a slight movement – that although completely unconscious, JonBenet was not dead. Others might argue that Patsy did not know the child was still alive. In my hypothesis, she took the next step, looking for the closest available items in her desperation. Only feet away was her paint tote. She grabbed a paintbrush and broke it to fashion the garrote with some cord. Then she looped the cord around the girl's neck.

"In my scenario, she choked JonBenet from behind, with a grip on the broken paintbrush handle, pulling the ligature. JonBenet, still unconscious, would never have felt it…

"Then the staging continued to make it look more like a kidnapping. Patsy tied the girl's wrists, in front, not in back, for otherwise the arms would have not have been in that overhead position. But with a 15-inch length of cord between the wrists and the knot tied loosely over the clothing, there was no way such a binding would have restrained a live child. It was a symbolic act to make it appear the child had been bound.

The Smoking Gun

As part of her staging, Thomas wrote that Patsy put a strip of duct tape over JonBenet's mouth. "There was bloody mucus under the tape, and a perfect set of the child's lip prints, which did not indicate a tongue impression or resistance," indicating that JonBenet had not been alive when the tape was affixed to her mouth. The ransom note and the staging of the body took so much of the night that Patsy did not have time to change the clothes she wore to the Whites' Christmas Day party. To Thomas, Patsy's not changing her clothes was the smoking gun. He knew she was wearing the same clothes because a picture taken at the Whites' dinner party on Christmas night showed her wearing a red turtleneck sweater and black pants. A Boulder police officer had noted in his report that when he arrived at the Ramsey home on December 26 in response to the kidnapping emergency that Patsy was wearing a red turtleneck and black pants.

"This woman, to whom looking good appeared always so important that she had a closet full of designer clothes, had attended a party, come home late, put her children to bed, gone to sleep herself, arose early to fly across the country, put on fresh makeup and fixed her hair, and then put on the same clothes she had worn the previous night? Not likely, in my opinion," Thomas wrote.

A Harbinger

The first indication that all was not well at the Ramsey household took place three days before JonBenet's murder. At 6:48 p.m., Dec. 23, 1996, a 911 call was placed from the Ramsey home. The call was terminated before an emergency dispatcher could speak to the caller. Six minutes later the police called the Ramsey home, but got a voice-mail message, so a police officer was dispatched to the house. No police report was filed, so one must presume the officer was told that the call was in error, and was satisfied with the explanation. At the time of that call, the Ramseys were having their annual Christmas party, complete with a Santa who passed out presents to neighborhood children. With so many people in attendance, anyone could have inadvertently dialed 911 – but in retrospect, self-styled experts on the case conclude too easily that JonBenet made the call.

Two days later, all four Ramseys went to the home of Fleet White Jr. and Priscilla White for Christmas dinner. Ramsey and White, a retired oil executive, were best friends. The White's 6-year-old daughter was JonBenet's best friend. Both families were prominent in Boulder.

The Ramsey Family

As families go, it could be argued that the Ramseys, on that night, were first among equals. John Ramsey had founded Access Graphics, a billion-dollar-a-year computer distributor that had been purchased by Lockheed, with him still running it. Police said his financial records showed that as of May 1, 1996, he had a net worth of $6.2 million. He had a jet pilot's license and his own two planes. Patricia "Patsy" Ramsey is a former Miss West Virginia (as is her sister). Burke, who was two weeks shy of 10 years old the night his sister was murdered, is often described as well mannered and quiet. JonBenet, of course, was a captivating child who would command attention wherever she was – yet, following her death, was widely praised as a down-to-earth and caring girl. The previous month she'd been placed on an honor roll at her school for winning an "I Caught You Being Good" award.

At the time of that Christmas dinner, things were beginning to look up for the Ramseys. For all their wealth, they'd had their share of misfortune. Patsy had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1994, and for a time had been bald because of chemotherapy. Some measure of her as a person can be found in the fact that this former beauty queen, while bald, volunteered at Burke's school and was willing to take her wig off. The National Enquirer would later run a photo that showed JonBenet touching her mother's nearly bald head.

In January of 1992, John Ramsey's daughter, Elizabeth Ramsey (from a previous marriage) was killed in a car wreck.

So, as the Ramseys sat down to dinner at Fleet White's house on Christmas, they were privileged in many ways, but had also known their share of adversity.

The Ramseys arrived home about 10 that night and her father put JonBenet to bed.

The Murder

Shortly after 5:45 a.m., Dec. 26, Patsy Ramsey called the police to say JonBenet was missing and that a ransom note had been left. Despite the fact that the ransom note said that JonBenet would be "beheaded" if the Ramseys called the police or the FBI, Patsy Ramsey did not inform the police dispatcher of this threat. She also proceeded to call and summon to her home two couples and the family's minister despite the kidnapper's warning that "If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies."

Within seven minutes, police officers Karl Veitch and Rick French arrived in police cars at the 15-room Ramsey home located at 755 15th Street. A cursory search of the house was made, including the basement. By the time Det. Linda Arndt arrived at 8 a.m., Fleet and Priscilla White, John Fernie and his wife, Barbara (also close friends of the Ramseys), and the minister were all at the Ramsey residence

Police quickly determined there were no obvious signs of a break-in; in particular, there were no footprints in the snow surrounding the house and no signs of a forced entry anywhere in the 6,500-square foot house that sat on half an acre in the prestigious University Hill section of Boulder. The temperature that morning was 9 degrees. A light dusting of snow had fallen and frost had formed during the night and it lay on top of an earlier crusty snow in spotty patches on the grass outside the house. One of the early Boulder police officers at the scene noted that when he walked on the driveway and sidewalks, his steps left no visible footprints.

Patsy Ramsey told Det. Arndt she had gone downstairs at 5:45 a.m. to make coffee. She went down a back spiral stairway, as she normally did, and at the bottom of the steps she found three pages of paper laid across a stair step.

The note said:

"Mr. Ramsey,

"Listen Carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We do respect your bussiness (sic) but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our posession (sic). She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.

"You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attache to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a (sic) earlier delivery pick-up of your daughter.

"Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to outsmart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back. You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities. Don't try to grow a brain John. You are not the only fat cat around so don't think that killing will be difficult. Don't underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!



John Ramsey called a bank to make arrangements to have $118,000 available, although it was not picked up – despite the portion of the note saying that, if he picked the money up early, he could have his daughter back early.

At about 1 p.m., when no call had been received from a kidnapper, Det. Arndt asked John Ramsey, Fleet White and Fernie to go through the house to "check for any sign of JonBenet, or anything that might have been left or taken that belonged to JonBenet."

A search warrant affidavit tells the story adequately:

"John Ramsey immediately went to the basement of the house, followed by Fleet White and John Fernie. Within a few minutes, Fleet came running upstairs, grabbed the telephone in the back office located on the first floor, and yelled for someone to call for an ambulance.

"Detective Arndt ran to the front of the house, where the door leading to the basement was located. Det. Arndt saw John Ramsey run up the basement stairs. John Ramsey was carrying a young girl in his arms. Both arms of the girl were raised above her head. There appeared to be a string hanging from the girl's right wrist. The girl's lips were blue; she appeared to have livor mortis on her back side of her body; she had rigor mortis; she was not breathing. JonBenet was dressed in a light colored long-sleeved turtleneck and light-colored pants (similar to pajama bottoms). John Ramsey placed the girl onto the floor, inside the front door. The girl was identified by John Ramsey as being JonBenet. JonBenet was not breathing; her body was cool to the touch; she had a white cloth strung around her neck similar to the cloth string around her wrist; there was a red circular mark in the front of her neck about the size of a quarter, at the base of her throat; she had an odor of decay to her, she had dried mucous from one of her nostrils.

Based on Det. Arndt's experience, JonBenet appeared to be dead, and appeared to have been dead for a period of time. John Ramsey told Det. Arndt that he had found JonBenet in the wine cellar in the basement, underneath a blanket, with her wrists tied above her head and a piece of tape covering her mouth. John Ramsey had removed the tape from her mouth before he carried JonBenet upstairs to the first floor.

There was a piece of cord loosely tied around JonBenet's right wrist, but there was no indication her wrists had ever actually been bound. This caused some investigators to theorize the cord was placed on her wrist after death. There were miniscule spots of blood in the crotch of her panties, but not on her skin. And there were dark fibers on her skin, in the vaginal area, that caused police to believe her body had been wiped down with a cloth.


Fingers of suspicion were pointed quickly in the direction of John Ramsey. The foregoing search warrant affidavit was filed the same day JonBenet's body was found, and the resulting search warrant was the instrument by which her body was removed from the house (normally a body would be removed with consent). In addition to the body, the police wanted to search for fibers, note pads and felt tip pens, and any other evidence that might lead to solving the crime. That they wanted to search for note pads indicates the police immediately suspected a member of the family wrote the note.

Historically, when a murder occurs in the home – absent clear evidence of an intruder – the police focus on the family members, and they're usually right. That suspicion was quickly bolstered when police discovered a writing tablet in the Ramsey house that not only was the source of the ransom note, but contained the beginnings of a "practice note" similar to the one given police by Patsy Ramsey.

Within hours of finding JonBenet's body, John Ramsey had contacted local attorney and close friend Mike Bynum for assistance. By the end of the next day Ramsey had retained G. Bryan Morgan, of Haddon Morgan & Foreman, the foremost criminal defense firm in Colorado to represent him, and Patrick Burke, a former assistant state attorney general to represent Patsy. Burke had successfully defended Richard Scutari, who in 1987 was charged, along with three other white supremacists, with violating the civil rights of Denver talk-show host Alan Berg by murdering him. The law firm of Haddon Morgan & Foreman also represented President Clinton, from 1981 forward, as was revealed in the Whitewater investigation. Members of the law firm are also politically powerful in Colorado. The police investigators were stunned by how quickly John Ramsey had moved to retain separate defense counsel for both his wife and himself. With the law firm came private investigators who, without notifying the Boulder police, began conducting their own investigation of the crime on Dec. 27 by interviewing both the Whites and the Fernies. The results of these interviews were not shared with the police.

The perception that things had deteriorated quickly between the Ramseys and the police was fed by a leak that police had asked the coroner to hold JonBenet's body until the parents agreed to be formally interrogated by police. Det. Thomas steadfastly denies there was any such demand.

John Ramsey's attorney, Hal Haddon, later wrote to the prosecutor that: "Boulder police refused to release JonBenet's body for burial unless the Ramseys agreed to come to the police station and submit to a hostile interrogation.''

Ramsey and his attorneys have cited this incident as the turning point that led to an adversarial relationship between the Ramseys and the Boulder police. This is somewhat belied, however, by Ramsey's statement on CNN five days after JonBenet's murder:

Mrs. Ramsey, how do you stand it that your daughter is dead and you are a possible suspect? How do you cope with it?

John Ramsey interjected this response.

Mr. Ramsey: Well, it's - you know at first we were shocked, and then outraged, and then we understood statistically that it's a sad state of affairs...that that's apparently the majority of cases like this in our country family members or parents are ultimately involved so we accepted being suspects. But what concerned us and certainly still does concern us, at least up until yesterday, is that any time spent looking at us is time that's wasted, and that in part, is why we brought in an investigative team to immediately look in other know there are other directions being looked at (sic).

Understanding that the police needed to eliminate them as suspects before going on to other possibilities, the Ramseys still refused to cooperate.

The Ramsey had agreed, early on, to provide handwriting samples, and did cooperate initially (on Dec. 26th and 27th), but they refused to go to police headquarters for questioning. From the first stages of the investigation they wanted to be questioned together, rather than separately – something police refused to agree to. Later, the Ramseys would insist that police submit their questions in writing (also anathema to investigators, since it allows a suspect to carefully craft a reply, and avoids spontaneous follow-up questions), and finally the Ramseys demanded that they be given all police investigative reports concerning the statements by and behavior of the Ramseys prior to questioning – which, remarkably, the District Attorney's office did.

While initially vowing they would do everything in their power to cooperate with police so the killer of JonBenet could be caught, the Ramseys erected barriers that would stifle the investigation to this day. They made arrangements to move back to Atlanta, Ga., which would preclude their professed determination to spend the rest of their lives catching the killer, smacking heavily of O.J. Simpson's vow that he, too, would devote the rest of his life to solving his ex-wife's murder. And, like Simpson, they offered a reward for information leading to the killer of JonBenet.

When police flew to Atlanta, to interview the grown son and daughter of John Ramsey by a previous marriage, John Ramsey hired an Atlanta attorney to represent his son and daughter as well as his ex-wife.

However, in fairness to the Ramseys, once they had hired criminal lawyers to represent each of them, everything that followed became standard procedure. No good criminal lawyer is going to permit the police to interrogate his or her client. That is normally not in the client's best interest (particularly if they are guilty). And any criminal lawyer would like to see the police investigative file, which is normally not possible until after someone is charged.

Complicating the situation is the fact that while police could not interrogate the Ramseys, the couple went on CNN, Jan. 1, 1997, to discuss the case. In short, they had decided to present their version of events to influence public opinion. Early on, they had hired a Washington "crisis management expert" to deal with the media.

Some statements the Ramsey made on CNN, and in a later interview with handpicked local media people, are particularly interesting.


"Q. There has been some question as to why you hired a defense attorney.

"A. (Mr. Ramsey) Well, we were fortunate from almost the moment that we found the note to be surrounded by friends, our minister, our family doctor, a personal friend of mine who is also an attorney, and we relied on their guidance almost from that moment on and my friend suggested that it would be foolish not to have knowledgeable counsel to help both us and with the investigation."

(One friend who did not share those feelings was Fleet White – who reportedly told John Ramsey, at one point, that the next time he saw him he hoped it would be in a courtroom. During the early stages of the investigation, White wrote a series of open letters to the people of Boulder, calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed in the JonBenet case, because he felt the prosecutor's office was compromised and that the Boulder police were getting a bum rap from the Ramseys and the prosecutor's office (the letters from Fleet and Priscilla White can be found here). In fact, the friendship between John Ramsey and Fleet White began to disintegrate only days after the murder. White had gone to Atlanta, where JonBenet was buried, to attend the funeral and serve as a pallbearer. When White learned the Ramseys would be staying in Atlanta for a few days to visit with relatives, rather than returning to Boulder to help police, he reportedly was furious.)

"Q. John, you subsequently read the (ransom) note. Was there anything in there that struck you in any sense?

"A. Well, no. I mean, I read it very fast. I was out of my mind. And it said "Don't call the police." You know, that type of thing. And I told Patsy, call the police immediately. And I think I ran through the house a bit."


"A. (Mrs. Ramsey) We went to check our son.

"A. (Mr. Ramsey) Checked our son's room. Sometimes she sleeps in there. And we just were -"

As for his actions when the police asked him to go through the house, looking to see if anything was out of place or unusual:

"A. (Mr. Ramsey) Look for clues, asking us to do that, give us something more to do to occupy our mind, and so we started in the basement, and - and we were just looking, and we - one room in the basement that - when I opened the door - there were no windows in that room, and I turned the light on, and I - that was her."

Most people focus on the fact that Det. Arndt was wrong for having non-police search the house, resulting in destruction of the crime scene when Ramsey pulled the tape from JonBenet's mouth and then carried her upstairs. First, this "wine room" is the same room where, earlier in the day, Ramsey reportedly told a policeman the door had been painted shut. There have also been published reports to the effect that Fleet White has said Ramsey tried to discourage him from looking in that room. Thomas reports in his book that White did look into the wine room but did not see JonBenet's body because it was too dark inside and he didn't know that the two light switches were outside the room.

Turning away from those conjectures, however, Ramsey's actions immediately upon finding JonBenet are worth assessing. Her condition was such that she was obviously dead – up to having an odor of decay about her. Why not call the police down to the basement – as most people would? Most parents would immediately check for signs of life. If he was subliminally distressed that she was laying on the basement floor, then why take her upstairs and lay her on the foyer floor? Why not on the sofa? These are subtle, but important points. In fact, Det. Arndt seemed to be distressed at where JonBenet was laying, and she picked the body up and moved it by the Christmas tree (further contaminating the body insofar as fibers, etc., were concerned).

Before the body was found, Arndt also noticed something that seemed strange to her: JonBenet's parents had isolated themselves from each other. Patsy stayed in the sunroom, while John paced the dining room and den. Normally, during periods of high stress involving a child, police find that the parents cling to each other. Later when John Ramsey began walking up the stairs carrying JonBenet's body and Fleet White had shouted for someone to call an ambulance, Priscilla White and Barbara Fernie hurried toward the sound, but Patsy did not move from the couch.

Experienced interrogators learn to watch for certain revealing elements – such as a husband using dissociative terms when discussing his missing wife – i.e., "she and I", rather than "we."

The awkwardness of Ramsey's last statement in the CNN interview, on finding JonBenet, has this telltale element to it: "…when I opened the door – there were no windows in that room, and I turned the light on, and I – that was her." It's almost as though he couldn't bring himself to say "…and I saw JonBenet."

Q. Do you take some comfort in believing that JonBenet Ramsey is in a better place.

A. (Mr. Ramsey) Yes. That's the one thing we want people dealing with us to know, to believe that, we know that in our heart.

A. (Mrs. Ramsey) She'll never have to know the loss of a child. She will never have to know cancer or death of a child.

This entire attitude, however, is not only a rationalization, but devoid of rage. This appeal to the public, to consider JonBenet as somehow being better off dead, trivializes the brutal manner in which she was murdered.

In May of 1997 the Ramseys talked to selected members of the Colorado media:

Q. Patsy, if you could, what would you say to JonBenet right now?

Mrs. Ramsey: I'd talk to JonBenet and I'd tell her that I love her and I will be seeing her real soon. It won't be long.

Whatever the medical facts were, it seems in May of 1997, Patsy Ramsey believed she would not live long.

A Striking Coincidence

In the months that followed, troubling details began to emerge. The $118,000 demanded in the ransom note happened to be startling similar to the $118,117.50 bonus John Ramsey was awarded for 1995 from Access Graphics, which was paid to Ramsey in February 1996. When police asked the Ramseys to take a polygraph test, they refused. The Ramsey "crisis management expert," Patrick Korten, said at the time, "Our experts tell us that, given the emotional state of the parents at this stage, polygraph tests would produce absolutely nothing useful or worthwhile.''

On April 23, 1997, the police furnished the Ramseys with police reports detailing the Ramseys' statements and behavior on Dec. 26, 1996. The Ramseys had set this as a condition to their agreeing to be interviewed and the D.A.'s office acquiesed, and a week later the Ramseys submitted to separate questioning by police.

The police quickly eliminated John Ramsey as author of the ransom note, but after a series of handwriting samples from Patsy Ramsey (five altogether), the police refused to eliminate her as the possible author of the note. Early on, Boulder authorities first declared that Boulder residents needn't worry about a killer being on the loose, and finally said publicly that the Ramseys were "under an umbrella of suspicion." By that summer, the Hunter sought the help of the nation's foremost linguistics expert, Don Foster, a Vassar College professor. Hunter sent Foster a copy of the ransom note and writing samples from various suspects. Det. Thomas wrote that Foster told him that Hunter "was particularly interested in Santa Bill [McReynolds] and his wife, Janet McReynolds, and when the professor reported, 'They didn't write that ransom note,' Hunter seemed to lose interest." Thomas said that after studying all the writing samples that Foster told him "I believe I am going to conclude the ransom note was the work of a single individual: Patsy Ramsey."

Foster explained to Thomas that his linguistics analysis work is based on "much more than one letter looking like another. Even the slightest things, such as the use of periods or the space before the start of a paragraph, could create a distinctive linguistic fingerprint."

"We can't falsify who we are," Foster told Thomas. "Sentence structure, word usage, and identifying features can be a signature."

In March of 1998, Foster traveled to Boulder for a special briefing to the Boulder police investigators and representatives of the D.A.'s office on his findings. By now he was convinced he knew who the author was. "In my opinion, it is not possible that any individual except Patsy Ramsey wrote the ransom note," adding that she had been unassisted in writing it.

In his book, Thomas recounts what Foster told the investigators:

"He explained that language is infinitely diverse and that no two people use it in quite the same way. They do not have the same vocabulary, use identical spelling and punctuation, construct sentences in the same manner, read the same books, or express the same beliefs and ideas. Ingrained and unconscious habits are virtually impossible to conceal, even it a writer tries to disguise his identity, he said. 'Individuals are prisoners of their own language.

"Foster dissected the ransom note, explained that the wording contained intelligent and sometimes clever usage of language, and said the text suggested someone who was trying to deceive.

"The documents he studied from Patsy Ramsey, in his opinion, formed 'a precise and unequivocal match' with the ransom note. He read a list of 'unique matches' with the note that included such things as her penchant for inventing private acronyms, spelling habits, indentation, alliterative phrasing, metaphors, grammar, vocabulary, frequent use of exclamation points, and even the format of her handwriting on the page."

Foster had studied Patsy Ramsey's writing samples from both before and after the murder of her daughter. According to Thomas he noted to the investigators that "Not only did certain letters change, but her entire writing style seemed to have been transformed after the homicide. There were new ways of indenting, spelling, and writing out long numbers that contrasted with her earlier examples, and she was the only suspect who altered her usual preferences when supplying writing samples to the police."

These findings alone, considering they were coming from the top-most authority in the nation in textual analysis – the same expert who had unmasked the anonymous author of the sensational best-seller Primary Colors and that the FBI had used to identify Theodore Kacznski as the Unabomber – would have been more than enough evidence for the Boulder Grand Jury to return an indictment against Patsy Ramsey, but the Boulder District Attorney's office chose not to permit Foster to testify before the grand jury.

Other Suspects

While spokespersons for the Ramseys have contended that the Boulder police failed to investigate anyone but the Ramseys, that is untrue. There was a wide-ranging investigation.

1. All present and former employees of Access Graphics (and their spouses) – which had 360 employees in July 1997 – were asked to give handwriting samples.

2. People who had been in the Ramsey house on Dec. 23 were questioned and investigated.

3. The man who had played Santa on that day (for the third year running), 67-year-old Bill McReynolds, a retired University of Colorado journalism professor, provided handwriting, blood and hair samples to police.

4. His wife Janet, 64, who'd been a film and drama critic for the Boulder Daily Camera for 10 years, also gave handwriting, hair and blood samples after police learned she had written an award-winning play in 1976 about a young girl who was tortured and sexually abused for months, before being murdered in a basement. It was based on a true story from Indiana. (Coincidentally, on Dec. 26, 1974, a 9-year-old daughter of the McReynolds was abducted and forced to watch as another young girl was molested. The two girls were then released and no one was ever arrested.)

The McReynolds told police that they both went to bed at 8 p.m. the night JonBenet was murdered.

McReynolds, who had allowed his Santa-like beard to grow for years, eventually shaved it off and he and his wife moved to the East Coast.

5. Then there's Randy Simons, the 46-year-old professional photographer who was a veteran of the beauty pageant circuit. In October 1998, Simons was arrested while walking nude down a rural road in Colorado. When a deputy sheriff walked up to Simons, before the deputy said a word, Simons blurted, "I didn't kill JonBenet." Simons had taken some of the best known pictures of JonBenet, and told authorities he felt his career as a photographer was ruined because he had been questioned in connection with her death.

In fact, Det. Thomas, in his resignation letter, said: "I criss-crossed the country, conducting interviews and investigation, pursuing pedophiles and drifters, chasing and discarding leads."

The Autopsy

A bombshell in the case was the autopsy report, finally released to the public following a lawsuit by the national and local media. (For the full autopsy report, click here).

The major findings of the autopsy, however, were that she died of ligature strangulation, with a furrow surrounding her neck, and cranial damage – including an 8-inch long skull fracture, with a piece of skull nearly an inch square broken loose. However, there was no laceration of the scalp, as would be expected if she was struck with a flashlight or a golf club (as had been speculated). The wound would be more likely the result of her head being bashed against a toilet, a skink or a bathtub. It was determined that the strangulation was accomplished by the murderer using part of the handle on one of Patsy's paint brushes to tighten the cord around JonBenet's throat to choke her to death. There were also abrasions on her back and legs consistent with her having been dragged (see autopsy report).

There were also indications of chronic sexual abuse. The Ramseys heatedly dispute the possibility of this, as does the family doctor. However, there was not only chronic inflammation of the vaginal tract, but a 1-cm by 1-cm opening in her hymen. There were traces of blood in the vaginal area and in the crotch of her panties. Thomas reports in his book that a panel of pediatric experts from around the country concluded that the trauma to her hymen and chronic vaginal inflammation were "evidence of both acute injury and chronic sexual abuse."

One expert widely quoted is Dr. Cyril Wecht, coroner for Allegheny County, Pa.: "There's absolutely no question she was abused," Wecht said. "There's blood, and contusions (in the vagina,) and the hymen has been torn."

As these revelations became public, the standing of the Ramsey family in Boulder began to plummet.

Mysterious reward posters began appearing around town, offering $100,000 reward for the "murderer John Ramsey." Ramsey friends decried the posters. That same month, someone named James Michael Thompson was arrested for stealing two log pages from the Boulder morgue, including an entry on JonBenet. Thompson was later arrested for arson, after shoving burning papers through the mail slot in the Ramsey's front door.

A photo lab employee and a private investigator were charged with selling coroner photos of JonBenet to the Globe tabloid. When local supermarkets boycotted the Globe issue that carried the photos, a suburban newspaper offered to give away copies of the Globe for free.

The Boulder Daily Camera sued reporter Alli Krupski, the lead reporter in the JonBenet case, saying she had surreptitiously removed all of her files from the newsroom. The newspaper demanded $15,000 damages and wanted the reporter jailed. A judge ordered Krupski to furnish the newspaper with a copy of her files.

The strange turns of the Ramsey case began early – as early as February 1997, when National Enquirer reporter David Duffy, 58, was found dead in his Boulder hotel room. Duffy was covering the JonBenet murder. Even though Duffy's death was ruled to be from natural causes, there are persistent rumors of foul play.

In June, 1997, a veteran police sergeant, Larry Mason, sued Commander John Eller and the Boulder Police Department, alleging he had wrongfully been suspended, and falsely accused of leaking information to the media in early January, during a fact-finding trip to Georgia. John Ramsey's lawyer, in fact, had notified police that someone from Ramsey's legal team had released the information Mason was accused of leaking. The city ultimately agreed to pay Mason and his wife $10,000.

The Ramseys as Prime Suspects

Since the murder of JonBenet, the widespread belief has been that John or Patsy Ramsey is the killer. These suspicions ratcheted up 19 months later when word came of the enhancement of the original 911 call on Dec. 26, 1996.

The Ramseys had always maintained that Burke Ramsey slept through the entire grisly episode, until John Ramsey and Fleet White awakened him, several hours after the police arrived at the Ramsey residence. That was why the police allowed Burke to be taken away from the Ramsey house – to Fleet White's house – in mid-morning, after being "awakened." It's been reported that Burke walked past all the police, and assembled people, without asking what was going on. As he left, he took with him one of his Christmas presents, a Nintendo game. On the way to Fleet White's house, Burke talked about his Nintendo game.

However, when Patsy Ramsey called 911 at 5:51 a.m., Dec. 26, 1996, she failed to hang the phone up immediately.

The tape of that call had been sent to a California sound laboratory for enhancement. Patsy Ramsey is said to be heard saying, "Help me, Jesus, help me, Jesus." Then she fumbled with the phone, trying to hang it up.

Prior to the phone being hung up, a voice in the background, described as Burke Ramsey's, is said to be heard, followed by John Ramsey saying, "We weren't speaking to you."

Burke Ramsey: "But what did you find?"

When the details of the phone conversation were published, Hal Haddon, attorney for John Ramsey, said: "This vicious leak is one more example of the pattern of official misconduct which has characterized this investigation for the past 19 months. Police sources leak what they claim is critical evidence and spin it against the Ramseys. The Ramseys are helpless to reply because they do not have access to the evidence."

The Ramseys, however, have had more access to confidential investigative information than any other murder suspects who come to mind.

Following the autopsy of JonBenet, which revealed she had suffered chronic vaginal trauma, the Boulder police conducted a widespread search of John Ramsey's computers – at home and at work – looking for evidence of pornography. They found none. The police found nothing in John Ramsey's background that would support a predilection to child molestation. It is a generally held psychological assumption that men who find adult women sexually attractive are not sexually attracted to little girls. On that basis, John Ramsey is not a compelling suspect in terms of him having molested his daughter. In fact, a woman surfaced during the investigation who claimed to have had an affair with John Ramsey in 1993-94 – the period during which Patsy Ramsey was first battling ovarian cancer and, presumably, was not sexually active. Like many charges leveled against John Ramsey, this one was patently false, although Ramsey does admit to having an affair during his first marriage.

The picture that forms of Patsy Ramsey is that of a devoted mother – to her son and her daughter, although JonBenet was first among equals. There is something very mentally healthy about a former beauty queen such as Patsy Ramsey allowing herself to be photographed bald, with JonBenet tentatively rubbing her head. As Patsy Ramsey once said, JonBenet was not only her daughter, but her best friend. The assertion carries credibility. What seems most obvious is that she was living through her daughter – that dazzling little girl who was going to go all the way – to realize the dreams the mother once had but failed to realize (Miss America). It could be argued that Patsy, because of her cancer, was in depression, and that the depression was worsened by Christmas (an extraordinarily depressing day for many people). But it is difficult to envision Patsy Ramsey killing JonBenet in the vile manner in which she was murdered.

If John Ramsey had murdered JonBenet, logic dictates that Patsy Ramsey would not – could not – bring herself to cover up for him. And, had Patsy Ramsey killed JonBenet, John Ramsey would not trust her to be around Burke. Yet, shortly after JonBenet's death, Patsy and Burke went to Michigan, alone.

The Intruder Theory

The Ramseys have vigorously promoted the theory that an intruder murdered JonBenet. The first fact mitigating against this possibility is the alleged absence of footprints in the snow around the house. Plus there was no sign of a forced entry. The third fact pointing at the family is the ransom note. The person who breaks into a house to kidnap a child is apprehensive – fearful lest any sound wake the parents. Such intruders tend to come prepared – complete with a ransom note if they intend to leave one (most kidnappers prefer the telephone or send a ransom note through the mails).

Then there are the intimate details of the note:

1. Demanding the odd amount of $118,000, the approximate sum of money Ramsey had received as a bonus the previous February.

2. The phrase "Use that good southern common sense of yours" – this latter being an allusion to the Ramseys being from Atlanta, rather than Boulder.

The most telling aspect of the ransom note, however, is the fact it was written in the Ramsey house, using Ramsey writing utensils – complete with a separate "practice note." It is inconceivable that a sexual predator broke into the house, dragged JonBenet to the cellar, abused her and killed her, then calmly went upstairs, looked for writing utensils, wrote a practice note and then a final note, before leaving. To counter the aspect of the killer taking so much time to write the ransom note, the Ramseys contend the killer broke into the locked house while the family was attending the Christmas Day party at the Whites and had all the time necessary to write the long ransom note. They say he entered the house through an unlatched window in the basement, a window John Ramsey had forced open a year or so earlier when he had been locked out of the house; Ramsey said he had never gotten around to repairing the latches. Police, however, noted that the unlatched, but tightly closed window showed no visible signs of having been opened recently because spider webs were still attached to its base when police checked it the day JonBenet's body was discovered.

The spiral staircase where the ransom note was left was a back stairway, going down from the bedroom area. As Patsy Ramsey said, this was her usual route when going down to the kitchen in the morning. But how would an intruder know that?

Finally, there was no call from the kidnappers. If the culprit isn't after ransom, why leave the note? If a culprit is after ransom, why leave the body?

Then there is the scream. When Andrew Louis "Lou" Smit, 61, resigned as head investigator for the prosecutor's office, to declare the Ramseys innocent, he based his theory on a scream.

A neighbor of the Ramseys reported being awakened around midnight, the night JonBenet was killed, and hearing a piercing scream. The Ramseys, of course, said they heard nothing unusual that night, so a series of tests were conducted in the house. The conclusion was that a person screaming in the basement could be heard more easily outside of the house than on the third level, where the bedrooms were.

An intruder would have no way of knowing the acoustical niceties of the house – he would assume everyone in the neighborhood heard a piercing scream and he'd run like mad.

Was the killer an intruder - a murderous pederast who snuck into the Ramsey house on Christmas afternoon as the Ramseys and their team of investigators and lawyers say? If so, he would be the boldest of such killers, oblivious to personal danger. Such a killer would almost have to be sexually thrilled by risk-taking, and such risk-takers are easily caught (Kenneth Bianchi, when he boldly murdered two girls in Bellingham, Wash., or Ted Bundy when he invaded a college dormitory in Florida.) Killers who become risk-takers subliminally want to be caught.

Smit, one of the outside investigators Hunter's office hired, steadfastly maintained that an intruder killed JonBenet. He said the killer immobilized her with a stun gun while she was in her bed and then sexually abused and killed her. Smit said that pictures taken of JonBenet's body at her autopsy show the presence of several stun-gun marks on her body. The Ramseys eagerly embraced this theory and advance it at every opportunity. For various reasons, mainly the time lapse involved and the public-relations battering the Ramseys would heap upon the "insensitive" Boulder police, neither the police nor the district attorney's office ever sought a court order to exhume JonBenet's body to check for stun-gun marks. It is most certainly now too late.

Even the stun-gun theory found its way back to John Ramsey. Police found a promotional video about stun guns in John Ramsey's home office. Ramsey said he never watched it and that the video was in Spanish, a language he does not speak.

FBI Knocks Down Intruder Theory

As part of the Boulder police's investigation, they accepted an invitation from the FBI to put on a full presentation of the case to the FBI's Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit based at Quantico, Va. As Thomas recounts in his book, over 20 CASKU team members, including hair and fiber experts, attended the August 1997 briefing. Police investigators reviewed the autopsy results, and crime scene photos. In turn, CASKU agents reported that of the more than 1,700 murdered children they had studied since the 1960s, there was only one case in which the victim was a female under the age of 12, who had been murdered in her home by strangulation, with sexual assault and a ransom note present: JonBenet Ramsey. The agents told the Boulder investigators that while it might be possible that someone broke into the house that day, it was not very probable. The staging of the crime, the evidence presented to them by the Boulder police, and the totality of the case pointed in one direction: This was not the act of an intruder.

Thomas wrote that the FBI team said the crime "did not fit an act of sex or revenge or one in which money was the motivation. Taken alone, they said, each piece of evidence might be argued, but together, enough pebbles become a block of evidentiary granite."

Thomas reported that "CASKU observed that they had never seen anything like the Ramsey ransom note. Kidnapping demands are usually terse, such as 'We have your kid. A million dollars. Will call you.' From a kidnapper's point of view, the fewer words, the less police have to go on."

The FBI, according to Thomas, "believed that the note was written in the house, after the murder, and indicated panic. Ransom notes are normally written prior to the crime, usually proofread, and not written by hand, in order to disguise the authorship."

Thomas said the FBI deemed the entire crime "criminally unsophisticated," citing the child being left on the premises, the oddness of the $118,000 demand in relation to the multi-million dollar net worth of the Ramsey, and the concept of a ransom delivery where one would be "scanned for electronic devices." Kidnappers prefer isolated drops for the ransom delivery, not wanting to chance a face-to-face meeting.

CASKU profilers also observed that placing JonBenet's body in the basement indicated the involvement of a parent, rather than an intruder. A parent would not want to place the body outside in the frigid night. They also stated, according to Thomas, that the ligatures "indicated staging rather than control, and the garrote was used from behind so the killer could avoid eye contact, typical of someone who cares for the victim." Thomas said the profilers had the gut feeling that "no one intended to kill the child." This would mean that the severe blow to the head was done in a thoughtless rage and that all the subsequent assault on JonBenet and the writing of the ransom note was staged to cover up the unintentional murder.

Whoever killed JonBenet didn't fear getting caught. Thomas said that FBI profilers conjectured that the crime "was committed by someone who had a high degree of comfort inside the home. The murderer spent a good deal of time with the victim, bashing in her head, dragging her down two stories to the basement, wiping down her vaginal area, taping her mouth, tying up her wrists, garroting her, carefully, even lovingly, placing a white blanket over her, calmly writing what the Boulder police called the War And Peace of ransom notes, and then placing that ransom note just where Patsy Ramsey would be most likely to find it when she came down the backstairs in the morning.

Burke Ramsey

JonBenet sometimes slept in Burke's room, by John Ramsey's admission. Burke was overshadowed by his younger sister. It was JonBenet, after all, who was the star, the center of his mother's universe. And, although John Ramsey may have had a special affection for his son (as many fathers do), John Ramsey traveled a great deal and was often only home on weekends. One can only guess at the resentment Burke may have felt.

Another factor to consider is that John or Patsy Ramsey could easily carry the 45-pound JonBenet – they wouldn't have to drag her. The 8-inch skull fracture indicates she fell or was thrown against a curved surface (not a sharp surface, or it would have lacerated the skull). In the summer of 1994, Burke accidentally hit JonBenet in the left cheek with a golf club he was swinging, an injury severe enough for Patsy Ramsey to take her daughter to a plastic surgeon, who did not feel surgery was warranted.

The National Enquirer reported, On Sept. 1, 1998, that Burke told Dr. Suzanne Bernhard, a Boulder child psychologist, that he was "getting on with my life." He reportedly said this on Jan. 8, 1997 – 13 days after JonBenet died.

A Weak D.A.

While widespread allegations of political manipulation by former District Atty. Alex Hunter are warranted as an explanation for inaction in the JonBenet case, the truth may be simpler: Hunter has a long record of being a weak prosecutor who rarely goes to trial, and often infuriates the police because of the lenient sentences he is willing to plea bargain down to. The Boulder police suspected for some time that Hunter was hoping to work out a plea bargain in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case. That, of course, is based on the police belief that Patsy Ramsey committed the crime and that her husband conspired with her to cover-up the murder.

In addition to having a reputation in many quarters as being lazy and weak, Alex Hunter is that rare breed – a district attorney who is a true 1960s liberal. When Hunter first ran for the D.A.'s office in 1972, he vowed he would pursue rehabilitation rather than punishment. After six terms as prosecuting attorney, Hunter still believes strongly in rehabilitation, even for the most serious offenders. After 28 years as prosecutor, Hunter has never put a defendant on death row.

His actions as prosecutor have often caused criticism to rain down on him.

1981: In a highly publicized case, Hunter charged Christopher Courtney with second-degree murder after Courtney shot two people dead at the Longmont Civic Center. When the first trial ended in a mistrial, Hunter reduced the charge to criminally negligent homicide and Courtney walked away with a two-year sentence in the county jail. That generated cries of dismay from the mayor and city council.

1982: Kirk Long resigned as undersheriff. Long penned a letter at that time that sounds chillingly reminiscent of that written in 1998 by Det. Steve Thomas. The letter said, in part: "We in America have a legal system that is designed to be adversarial. It is apparent to me that the only adversary relationships within the legal system of the 20th Judicial District are the relationships between law enforcement agencies and the office of the District Attorney. The ignoring of compelling physical evidence, the artificial bolstering of conviction statistics through plea bargaining, deferred prosecutions, and deferred sentences speaks loudly of incompetence and political maneuvering. The essence of my belief is that the citizens of Boulder County do not have an advocate in the judicial system."

1985: In a foot-dragging case reminiscent of the Ramsey investigation, it took Hunter more than two years to charge Mike Grainger with a crime, even though Grainger's obese wife was found laying in bed with a massive head wound, and there was no evidence of an intruder. Grainger got three years.

1992: The Rape Crisis Team, part of the Mental Health Center of Boulder County, penned a report, "Sexual Assault in Boulder County: The Crimes and Their Consequences." The report showed that, in 1990, of 60 cases involving children, 42 abusers avoided serving any time at all, three went to a halfway house, 13 served county jail time (half of those with work-release) and only one was sentenced to state prison.

1986: In his last major case, Hunter was named special prosecutor in neighboring Adams County to try the sheriff there, Bert Johnson. The sheriff was charged with extortion, embezzlement and sexual misconduct. Hunter offered to dismiss all charges if Johnson would resign from office, but the judge rejected the deal. Hunter lost the case at trial. He decided never to try another case.

Hunter, who did not seek re-election in 2000, made a lot of enemies over the years, but they were never able to do him in politically. Ordinarily, in a case such as JonBenet's, the danger to a prosecutor perceived as shirking his duty comes from the parents. In the Ramsey case everything is twisted. The parents – who have considerable power – have showered praise on the "professionalism" of Hunter's office and scorn on the Boulder Police Department. According to Det. Thomas, Hunter and his staff are the only reason the Ramseys have avoided indictment.


As things stand, it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever be charged or prosecuted for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey - unless someone were to come forward and confess.

Time is on the Ramseys side. When the grand jury failed to indict them, they passed their gravest test. In the Ramseys' book, The Death of Innocence, they describe in great detail the fear they had of the grand jury and how they expected an indictment against both of them. They were so sure they would be indicted that they returned to Boulder in the days before the grand jury was mandated to finish its deliberations. They wanted desperately to avoid the ignominy of being arrested in Atlanta and forced to spend several days in the Fulton County Jail before being extradited to Colorado. Both had a deep revulsion to the image of their being arrested and handcuffed. Above all, they did not want to be handcuffed. They wanted to be able to just turn themselves in to the district attorney's office and have bond posted immediately for their release.

Current D.A. Lacy, who worked for Hunter for 13 years and is considered his protégé, never convened a new grand jury to look into the case. In 2003 she in effect exonerated the Ramseys by hiring an investigator to pursue the intruder theory. Under Lacy, in all likelihood, no one will ever be called to answer for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

[Editor's Note: This article was last updated on August 30, 2006. It will be updated again from time-to-time as developments in the case warrant.]

Related Story: Solving the JonBenet Case by Ryan Ross. (04/14/03)

Click here to view the autopsy report and other documents related to the JonBenet Ramsey case.


Books published about the JonBenét Ramsey murder case:

Douglas, John E. and Mark Olshaker. The Cases That Haunt Us: From Jack the Ripper to JonBenét Ramsey, the FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Sheds Light on the Mysteries That Won't Go Away

Hodges, Andrew G. A Mother Gone Bad: The Hidden Confession of JonBenét's Killer

Hodges, Andrew G. Who Will Speak for JonBenét? A New Investigator Reads Between the Lines

McLean, Linda Edison. JonBenét's Mother: The Tragedy and the Truth!

Ramsey, John and Patsy Ramsey. Death of Innocence: The Untold Story of JonBenét's Murder and How Its Exploitation Compromised the Pursuit of Truth (hardback)

Ramsey, John and Patsy Ramsey. Death of Innocence (paperback)

Rubacher, Richard. JonBenét Knows Evil Love

Schiller, Lawrence. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder (hardback)

Schiller, Lawrence. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (paperback)

Singular, Stephen. Presumed Guilty: An Investigation into the JonBenét Ramsey Case, the Media, and the Culture of Pornography

Smith, Carlton. Death of a Little Princess: The Tragic Story of the Murder of JonBenét Ramsey

Stobie, Jane Gray. JonBenét's Gift: A Miracle for the Millennium

Thomas, Steve with Don Davis. JonBenét: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation From a Leading Detective on the Case (hardback)

Thomas, Steve with Don Davis. JonBenét (paperback)

Von Duyke, Eleanor and Dwight Wallington. A Little Girl's Dream? A JonBenét Ramsey Story

Wecht, Cyril H. and Charles Bosworth, Jr. Who Killed JonBenét? A Leading Forensic Expert Uncovers the Shocking Facts

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