|Born||JonBenét Patricia Ramsey
August 6, 1990
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
|Died||December 25, 1996 (aged 6)
Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.
|Resting place||Saint James Episcopal Cemetery
Marietta, Georgia, U.S.A.
|Parents||Patsy and John Ramsey|
JonBenét Patricia Ramsey (August 6, 1990 – December 25, 1996) was an American child whose murder at age 6 attracted extensive media coverage. Such coverage often focused on her participation in child beauty pageants, her parents' affluence and various unusual aspects of the case as well as questions regarding police handling of the case. She was found dead in the basement of her parents' home in Boulder, Colorado, nearly eight hours after she was reported missing. The case is notable in both its longevity and the media interest it has generated. After several grand jury hearings, the case is still unsolved. In February 2009, the Boulder Police Department took the case back from the district attorney and re-opened the investigation.
JonBenét Ramsey was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but the family relocated when she was nine months old. Her first name is a blend of her father's first and middle names, John Bennett; her middle name is the first name of her mother, the late Patricia "Patsy" Ramsey. JonBenét was enrolled by her mother in a variety of different beauty pageants in several states. Patricia Ramsey funded some of the contests in which JonBenét participated, rock climbing, violin lessons and other activities.
According to the testimony of Patsy Ramsey, on December 26, 1996, she discovered her daughter missing after finding a two and a half-page ransom note on the kitchen staircase, demanding $118,000 for the safe return of her daughter, which was almost the exact value of a bonus her husband received earlier that year. Despite specific instructions in the ransom note that police and friends not be contacted, she telephoned the police and called family and friends. The local police conducted a cursory search of the house but did not find any obvious signs of a break-in or forced entry. The note suggested that the ransom collection would be monitored and JonBenét would be returned as soon as the money was obtained. John Ramsey made arrangements for the availability of the ransom, which a friend, John Fernie, picked up that morning from a local bank.
In the afternoon of the same day, Boulder Police Detective Linda Arndt asked Fleet White, a friend of the Ramseys, to take John Ramsey and search the house for "anything unusual." John Ramsey and two of his friends started their search in the basement. After first searching the bathroom and "train room", the two went to a "wine cellar" room where Ramsey found his daughter's body covered in a white blanket.She was also found with a nylon cord around her neck, her wrists tied above her head, and duct tape covering her mouth.
The police were later claimed by observers to have made several critical mistakes in the investigation, such as not sealing off the crime scene and allowing friends and family in and out of the house once a kidnapping was reported.
Critics of the investigation have since claimed that officers also did not sufficiently attempt to gather forensic evidence before or after JonBenét's body was found, possibly because they immediately suspected the Ramseys in the killing. Some officers holding these suspicions reported them to local media, who began reporting on January 1 that the assistant district attorney thought "it's not adding up"; the fact that the body of the girl was found in her own home was considered highly suspicious by the investigating officers. The results of the autopsy revealed that JonBenét was killed by strangulation and a skull fracture. A garrote made from a length of tweed cord and the broken handle of a paintbrush had been used to strangle her; her skull had suffered severe blunt trauma; there was no evidence of conventional rape, although sexual assault could not be ruled out. The official cause of death was asphyxiation due to strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma.
The bristle end of the paint brush was found in a tub of Patsy Ramsey's art supplies, but the bottom third was never located despite extensive searching of the house by law enforcement in subsequent days. Experts noted that the construction of the garrote required a special knowledge of knots. Autopsy also revealed that the child had eaten pineapple only a few hours before the murder. Photographs of the home, taken the day JonBenét's body was found, show a bowl of pineapple on the kitchen table with a spoon in it, and police reported finding Patsy's and JonBenet's nine year old brother Burke Ramsey's fingerprints on it. However, neither Patsy nor John claim to remember putting this bowl on the table or feeding pineapple to JonBenét. (The Ramseys had always maintained that Burke had slept through the entire episode, until awakened several hours after the police arrived.) While it was reported that no footprints led to the house on snow-covered ground, other reporters found that snow around the doors of the house was cleared away. Police reported no signs of forced entry, although a basement window that had been broken and left unsecured before Christmas, along with other open doors, were not reported to the public until a year later.
In December 2003, forensic investigators extracted enough material from a mixed blood sample found on JonBenét's underwear to establish a DNA profile. The DNA belongs to an unknown male. The DNA was submitted to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database containing more than 1.6 million DNA profiles, mainly from convicted felons. The sample has yet to find a match in the database, although it continues to be checked for partial matches on a weekly basis.
Later investigations also discovered that there were more than 100 burglaries in the Ramseys' neighborhood in the months before JonBenét's murder, and that 38 registered sex offenders were living within a two-mile (3 km) radius of the Ramseys' home—an area that encompasses half the population of the city of Boulder—but that none of the sex offenders had any involvement in the murder.
On August 16, 2006, 41-year-old John Mark Karr, a former schoolteacher, confessed to the murder while being held on child pornography charges from Sonoma County, California. Authorities reportedly tracked him down using the Internet after he sent e-mails regarding the Ramsey case to Michael Tracey, a journalism professor at the University of Colorado. Once apprehended, he confessed to being with JonBenét when she died, stating that her death was an accident. When asked if he was innocent, he responded, "No."
However, Karr's DNA did not match that found on JonBenét Ramsey's body. On August 28, 2006, prosecutors announced that no charges would be filed against him for the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. In early December 2006, Department of Homeland Security officials reported that federal investigators were continuing to explore whether Karr had been a possible accomplice in the killing.
No evidence has ever come to light that placed the then-married Alabama resident Karr near Boulder during the Christmas 1996 crime. Evidence linking Karr to the killing is highly circumstantial in nature. For instance, handwriting samples taken from Karr were said to match the ransom note. In particular, his technique for writing the letters E, T and M were described by the media as being very rare.
Brought in on the case in the aftermath, economist and crisis consultant Randall Bell notes in his book Strategy 360:
|“||We might never know if the Ramsey parents were involved in their daughter's murder because of the negligent contamination of the crime scene. Likewise, if John and Patsy Ramsey were not involved, they have suffered irreparable harm from this investigation.||”|
On July 9, 2008, the Boulder District Attorney's office announced that as a result of newly developed DNA sampling and testing techniques, the Ramsey family members are no longer considered suspects in the case. In light of the new DNA evidence, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy gave a letter to John Ramsey the same day, officially apologizing to the Ramsey family:
"This new scientific evidence convinces us...to state that we do not consider your immediate family, including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son, Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime.
... The match of Male DNA on two separate items of clothing worn by the victim at the time of the murder makes it clear to us that an unknown male handled these items. There is no innocent explanation for its incriminating presence at three sites on these two different items of clothing that JonBenét was wearing at the time of her murder. ... 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. No innocent person should have to endure such an extensive trial in the court of public opinion, especially when public officials have not had sufficient evidence to initiate a trial in a court of law. ... We intend in the future to treat you as the victims of this crime, with the sympathy due you because of the horrific loss you suffered. ... I am aware that there will be those who will choose to continue to differ with our conclusion. But DNA is very often the most reliable forensic evidence we can hope to find and we rely on it often to bring to justice those who have committed crimes. I am very comfortable that our conclusion that this evidence has vindicated your family is based firmly on all of the evidence, ..." 
In January 2009 Stan Garnett, the new Boulder County D.A., stated he planned to take a fresh look at the case. On February 2, 2009, Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner announced that Garnett was turning the case over to his agency, and that his team would resume investigating the homicide. "Some cases never get solved, but some do," Beckner said. "And you can't give up."
Case speculation by experts, media and the parents has supported different hypotheses. For a long time, the local police supported the hypothesis that her mother Patricia Ramsey injured her child in a fit of rage after the girl had wet her bed on the same night, and then proceeded to kill her either in rage or to cover up the original injury. According to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report, "There are indications that the author of the ransom note is Patricia Ramsey," but they could not definitely prove this assertion.
Another hypothesis was that John Ramsey had been sexually abusing his daughter and murdered her as a cover. The Ramseys' son Burke, who was nine at the time of JonBenét's death, was also targeted by speculation, and asked to testify at the grand jury hearing. In 1999, the Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, told the parents of JonBenét Ramsey to "quit hiding behind their attorneys, quit hiding behind their PR firm." Police suspicions were initially concentrated almost exclusively on the members of the Ramsey family, although the girl's parents had no prior signs of aggression in the public record.
The Ramseys have consistently held that the crime was committed by an intruder. They hired John E. Douglas, former head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, to examine the case. While retained by the Ramsey family, he concluded that the Ramseys were not involved in the murder. He also concluded that it was unlikely that anyone would resolve the case. He detailed his arguments in his 2001 book, The Cases That Haunt Us. Lou Smit, a seasoned detective who came out of retirement to assist Boulder authorities with the case in early 1997, originally suspected the parents, but after assessing all the evidence that had been collected, also concluded that an intruder had committed the crime. While no longer an official investigator on the case, Smit continues to work on it.
With such contradictory evidence, a grand jury failed to indict the Ramseys or anyone else in the murder of JonBenét. Not long after the murder, the parents moved to a new home in Atlanta. Two of the lead investigators in the case resigned, one because he believed that the investigation had incompetently overlooked the intruder hypothesis, and the other because he believed that the investigation had failed to successfully prosecute the Ramseys. Even so, remaining investigators are still trying to identify a possible suspect.
Several defamation lawsuits have ensued since JonBenét's murder. Lin Wood was the plaintiff's attorney for John and Patsy Ramsey and their son Burke, and has prosecuted defamation claims on their behalf against St. Martin's Press, Time, Inc., The Fox News Channel, American Media, Inc., Star, The Globe, Court TV and The New York Post. John and Patsy Ramsey were also sued in two separate defamation lawsuits arising from the publication of their book, The Death of Innocence, brought by two individuals named in the book as having been investigated by Boulder police as suspects in JonBenét's murder. The Ramseys were defended in those lawsuits by Lin Wood and three other Atlanta attorneys, James C. Rawls, Eric P. Schroeder, and S. Derek Bauer, who obtained dismissal of both lawsuits including an in-depth decision by U.S. District Court Judge Julie Carnes that the evidence in the murder case overwhelmingly pointed to an intruder having committed the crime.
In November 2006, Rod Westmoreland, a friend of JonBenét Ramsey's father, filed a defamation suit against Keith Greer, who posted a message on an Internet forum using the pseudonym "undertheradar". Greer had accused Westmoreland of participating in the kidnapping and murder. Greer has defended his statement.