JonBenét Patricia Ramsey was a young child beauty pageant contestant who was murdered in 1996, at the age of six.
JonBenét was born on August 6, 1990, in Atlanta Georgia. She was named after her parents, John Bennett Ramsey, a businessman, and Patricia "Patsy" Ramsey, a socialite and the Miss West Virginia of 1977, and also had an older brother, Burke Ramsey, and a half-sister from her father's first marriage, Elizabeth Ramsey, who died when JonBenét was two years old. When she was nine months old, the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where Mr. Ramsey had started a computer company in 1991. JonBenét attended the High Peaks Elementary School and was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church of Boulder. She was also a frequent competitor in children's beauty pageants (some later argued that this was one of the main reasons why the case became so famous), winning her first one, the Colorado State All-Star pageant of 1994, at the age of four.
Case HistoryEarly in the morning of December 26, 1996, around 5:00 a.m., Patricia Ramsey woke up, discovered that JonBenét was missing and found a two-and-a-half-page-long hand-written ransom note addressed to Mr. Ramsey claiming that their daughter had been kidnapped by "a group of individuals representing a small foreign faction". It demanded a ransom of $118 000, with very specific instructions about the size of the bills and how they were to be delivered, and was signed "S.B.T.C.". Mrs. Ramsey called the police, who came and searched the house and found no obvious signs of forced entry, and also some friends of the family. In the meantime, the Ramseys made preparations to pay the ransom. In the afternoon of the same day, the body of JonBenét Ramsey was found in the house's wine cellar by Mr. Ramsey and a family friend, Fleet White. Her own white blanket was wrapped around her torso, her hands were bound with a wire, there was a ligature around her neck and her mouth was taped over with black duct tape. Mr. Ramsey quickly picked her up, loosened her bonds and carried her into the living room, but she was already long since dead. The postmortem examination and autopsy of the body revealed that Ramsey had been strangled twice with a nylon cord, which had been tied to a piece of a paintbrush from the house, presumably for leverage. The brush had belonged to Mrs. Ramsey and had been in the basement. There were also clear signs of blunt force trauma to the head, possible signs of sexual assault, and electrical burns on the cheek, suggesting that she may also have been tasered. The cause of death was ruled as asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma.
The murder of JonBenét Ramsey quickly became a media sensation and several theories circulated. One was that Mr. Ramsey had molested his daughter and killed her to cover it up. Another was that Mrs. Ramsey had killed her in a fit of rage after finding that she had wet her bed (she was a frequent bedwetter and even had to wear diapers, in spite of her age) and covered it up as a home invasion. The police made it clear early that they were focusing on the parents rather "some mad kidnapper". One story that was aired was that there were no footprints in the snow near the open basement window, though an investigator rebutted it by remarking that there were other entrances where there was no snow that could have been used to enter without leaving footprints. When videos of JonBenét taking part in pageants were shown in the news on television, they sparked an outrage from people, who found them inappropriate for children that young. The Ramseys asserted that competing in pageants was JonBenét's own choice and that it wasn't very different from other types of performances by children. On New Year's Day of 1997, the day after JonBenét's burial in Atlanta, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey made a personal appearance on CNN. Though they defended themselves, they were painted out as the guilty ones. The story continued running in the media while the investigation continued and led nowhere. The police were later criticized for the way they handled the investigation, such as neglecting to seal off the crime scene from civilians.The case eventually went cold. The Ramseys spent the following years defending themselves, filing lawsuits against newspapers for the way they were portrayed by them and also writing a book about their daughter's murder and their life after it titled The Death of Innocence. In December of 2003, the investigators found a mixed blood sample on JonBenét's underwear large enough to establish a DNA profile. It belonged to an unknown male. The Ramsey family was investigated again and was cleared by the new evidence. A number of local sex offenders were also investigated but were also cleared. In June of 2006, Patricia Ramsey passed away from ovarian cancer. Later the same year, a former school teacher named John Mark Karr was arrested for JonBenét's murder after confessing to it, claiming it to have been an accident. His confession had several contradictions to the evidence; he claimed to have abducted her while she was on her way to school even though school was not in session at the time and to have drugged her even though the autopsy showed no traces of drugs in JonBenét's system. He was eventually cleared by the DNA evidence and the charges against him were dropped. In 2008, the Ramsey family was completely cleared by new "touch DNA" technology.
In October of 2010, the case was reopened, and new interviews were conducted following an inquiry by a committee that included both state and federal investigators. The police were expected to use the latest DNA technology in the investigation. On January 27, 2013, it was announced that a grand jury had found sufficient evidence to indict JonBenét's parents in 1999 on charges of child abuse resulting in death, but the District Attorney had refused to sign the indictment, leaving off the impression that the investigation conducted by the grand jury was judged as inconclusive. In September, Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit in order to pressure DA Stan Garnett to release the indictment. During October, the judge ruled that Garnett must show why the indictment should remain sealed. The Denver Post, which is a sister paper of the Daily Camera, published an editorial that called for the indictment to be unsealed. On October 25, court documents that were sealed in 1999 were released; they revealed that a 1999 grand jury had indicted the Ramsey parents for child abuse resulting in death and being an accessory to a crime, including murder. The papers also alleged that both parents intended to prevent or delay the arrest of the alleged killer. However, the indictments released did not specify who killed JonBenét. This release of new information thrust the case back into nationwide media coverage. To date (November 2013), the case is ongoing.
- John Bennett Ramsey:
- Victim's father
- Cleared in 2003 and 2008 by DNA evidence
- Patricia "Patsy" Ramsey:
- Victim's mother
- Former beauty queen of West Virginia
- Was believed by handwriting experts to have written the ransom notes
- Died of ovarian cancer in 2006
- Cleared in 2003 and 2008 by DNA evidence
- John Mark Karr:
- Currently named "Alexis Reich"
- Former substitute teacher
- Arrested for possession of child pornography in California in 2001. The charges were dropped when the computer on which it was allegedly stored was lost.
- Confessed to killing Ramsey, but the confession was flawed and inconsistent with the evidence
- Cleared by DNA evidence in 2006
- Arrested again for domestic violence in 2007
- Has undergone hormone replacement treatment and currently lives as a woman
According to John Douglas in The Cases That Haunt Us, the killer of JonBenét Ramsey was a white male, relatively young, who held a personal grudge against John Ramsey and sought to attack him personally by attacking his daughter. He broke into the house carrying the stun gun, the duct tape and the cord, planning to incapacitate her and molest her. The ransom note was probably a spur of the moment idea that occurred to him after he entered the house. He would have been bold and foolhardy enough to sneak into the house and lie in wait and too unsophisticated to know how difficult a child abduction is. The molestation may have been a kind of sexual experimentation. Because teenagers tend to fold quickly during questioning by investigators, he may not even have been investigated as a suspect.
On Criminal Minds
- Season Three
- "Children of the Dark" - The JonBenét case was mentioned in when the BAU investigated a series of fatal home invasions in Denver, Colorado. During the briefing, Hotch says that it was hard for the investigators to ask the FBI for assistance since a couple of agents publicly criticized the local police, which "took on a life of its own" when the piece was published statewide.
- Season Four
- "A Shade of Gray" - While the case was not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, it appears to have been an inspiration for Danny Murphy - Both cases involved a younger sibling killed by their older brother (possibly in JonBenét's case) in a fit of rage, and both murders (possibly in JonBenét's case) involving toy sets of large vehicles (trains in JonBenét's case, planes in Murphy's). However, it should be noted that while Burke Ramsey testified before a grand jury, he was never considered or treated as a suspect in his sister's murder.
- In one of his online rants, future Columbine killer Eric Harris talked about her. He said her murder was bound to happen due to putting a four year old in beauty pageants, called her a slut and speculated that her father was the murderer.
- A man named James Selby claimed responsibility for JonBenét's murder and additionally to the murder of Danielle van Dam (whom David Westerfield was convicted and sentenced to death for). Selby was a registered sex offender active in five different states. He committed suicide by hanging himself on November 22, 2004 while awaiting sentencing.
- TruTV Crime Library articles about the Ramsey case
- Biography.com about Ramsey
- The Cases That Haunt Us (2000)
- 101 Crimes of the Century (2008)