True Crime at Christmas Time: The Unsolved Case of JonBenét Ramsey


Image Source: Vanity Fair

Analise Bruno, Editor-in-Chief

For true crime fans everywhere, many know that this time of year can not pass without acknowledging perhaps one of the most infamous and well-known unsolved murders- that of JonBenét Ramsey. The six-year-old beauty queen was found dead in her family home after missing Christmas night. After all these years, many have stepped forward claiming to either know or be her murderer, though DNA evidence has been inconclusive. The unanswered question of what happened to JonBenét, however, remains a topic of debate and great speculation. While you may have your suspicions, it’s still important to revisit this story and its many new perspectives that may influence your point of view in understanding what truly went astray in the picture-perfect Ramsey family that led to the death of a little girl. 

It was December 26, 1999, in snowy Boulder, Colorado when Patsy and John Ramsey awoke from their bed at around 5 am to begin packing for a trip. However, as Mrs.Ramsey reached the bottom of her staircase, she noticed there lay a note in allegedly unfamiliar handwriting. The paper was a ransom note that demanded the amount of $118,000 in exchange for their youngest daughter, JonBenét. Immediately the couple found that the bed of their daughter was cold and empty, with not a trace of her being left behind. Only being six years old, Patsy Ramsey immediately called the police, along with a few friends….

A main point of contention in the case was evidence tampering. It was John Ramsey, the father, who found JonBenét’s body in a small room in their basement, bound with rope and tape, after doing a second check through the house alongside police. However, rather than leave her body in place for a formal investigation, out of alleged “shock” John picked up his daughters’ body and brought it upstairs. This was a critical error in the case because so much cross-contamination occurred that it made recovering the crime scene completely intact impossible. This was coupled with the fact that Patsy Ramsey, as previously mentioned, invited friends over to help her while she was panicking. These people touched, moved, and tampered with the scene further. 

There are a lot of plot holes, in this case, many of which seem to be directly set up by the Ramsey family themselves, and hence, they were initially the prime suspects. The autopsy report showed that Jon died from asphyxiation due to strangulation with a cord, an unusually cruel method that carries with it an unclear motive for two financially secure parents, who seemingly adored their pageant star of a daughter. Nonetheless, this did not stop a Colorado jury from indicting the Ramseys on child endangerment and obstruction of murder charge (honestly, I kind of have to agree with the second one). The prosecutor, however, did not feel there was sufficient evidence, and the indictment was never signed, but does that prove their innocence?

Well, for the past 20 years, investigators have centered on 2 main theories of who the potential killer could be. The intruder theory, implying that someone broke into the Ramsey household and deliberately hurt JonBenét, has much physical evidence to support it. For starters, in the room where JonBenét was found, a window was broken, a sign of forced entry. Then, when reviewing the area where her body was found investigators noticed a boot print on the floor that did not match any of the shoes in the family household. It was also noted that the Ramsey house was carpeted, making it super simple for someone who has taken JonBenét from her room without waking anyone. John Karr is one of the most known suspects arrested for admitting to the crime, though the DNA retrieved did not match, nor was there any official confirmation that he was in Boulder that night at all. Once a large loophole in this theory, however, is the fact that des[ite the light dusting of snow that occurred outside, no footprints appeared, which brings to light the question of how someone could have gotten in. 

The other theory, of course, is more family-oriented. If it wasn’t deliberate, maybe it was an accident, but still, there is an alarming amount of evidence that supports it. First, the ransom note was what first made police suspicious of the Ramseys, particularly because it seemed staged. The ransom note asked for the exact amount of money John had gotten for a bonus that year, and further, the pad of paper from which the letter was written had a few signs of practice. Essentially, on other pages, a few random scribbles and words were jotted down that also appeared in the letter- which points to the idea that “someone” may have been practicing to write the note. In fact, each of the Ramsey’s was subpoenaed for a handwriting sample where both John and Burke showed no similarities, though Patsy’s was never officially cleared. The responding 911 operator also indicated that Patsy’s call seemed almost “rehearsed”; she explained that her sentences were often fragmented as if she was following a script, or looking for answers from someone else near her. However, the most haunting piece of evidence comes again from her autopsy report yet again. The coroner noted one key thing: the marks on JonBenét’s body were likely created by pins. Not just any pins, though, ones that belonged to her brother Burke’s new train set. Though a child, her brother did remain a suspect for a good period. Ultimately, based on inconclusive DNA evidence, the Ramsey family was exonerated in 2008, and although documentaries and exposé’s have come forward with new theories of their possible role in the murder, legally no action can be taken. 

In 2010, the case was reopened by Colorado district attorneys who discovered that the DNA recovered may belong to two people instead of one, further adding to the speculations surrounding the case. Six years later, her brother, Burke, filed a defamation lawsuit against CBS for their film surrounding the murder of JonBenét that essentially painted him as the killer. As of today, the murder remains unsolved, but still open with the intent of someday obtaining justice for the lovely JonBenét as more modern DNA testing is developed.