The Murder of Jon Benet Ramsey’s still plays on the minds of many Americans as the killer was never reprimanded and the case was never solved. The former child beauty queen, aged 6, was found dead in her family’s basement a day after Christmas 1996, the story soon made headlines because of the young age of JonBenet and the curiosity of her death. JonBenet was encouraged to compete in many beauty pageants by her mother Patsy who was once Miss West Virginia Pageant. The study of the JonBenet murder case and its facts are still important to this day because all who followed the case in 1996 still want to see justice for the life of this innocent child. This case has become a precedent for police on how not to handle a crime scene as it was infamous in its mishandling of the scene and evidence which is a major contributing factor of why this case has never been solved.
What do we know about the John Benet case?
On the 25th of December 1996 JonBenet goes to bed and this is that last time her parents claim to have seen her alive. Then at 5:30am the next morning Patsy, Jon Benet’s mother said she woke up to make coffee and found on the staircase a 2 and a half page ransom note that says that Jon Benet has been kidnapped. The note requested 118,000 in cash for her safe return home and makes several other threats. The Ramsey’s state that they then immediately called the police. Linda Arndt was the first detective on the scene arriving just after 8am and she begins going through the processes in place for a kidnapping. Linda Arndt was reportedly the only detective at the Ramsey’s house for much of the day and has been widely criticized in the press for botching the investigation. At 1:01 p.m., Arndt instructed John Ramsey and his friend Fleet White to search the house again even though it had already been gone through by officers earlier in the morning. According to ABC News, Arndt said she told them not to touch anything. John Ramsey found JonBenet’s body in the spare room of the basement. JonBenet was found with her wrists bound and duct tape over her mouth, she had been strangled with a garrotte later found to be fashioned from string and a paintbrush from the Ramsey’s residence. Then at 10:45pm that night JonBenet’s body is removed from the scene by the Boulder Country Coroner Staff.
The cause of death
After examination, the cause of JonBenet’s death was officially listed as asphyxiation by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma, per a death certificate obtained by the Associated Press. It is also believed that she was sexually assaulted.
The key evidence
- 911 call. The call that Pasty made to 911 the morning she discovered the ransom note and that JonBenet was missing is a key piece of evidence in the JonBenet Murder case as it is when Pasty asks for the police to come to the house. Many analysis (a) of this call conclude that Patsy’s language was unusual, as she used words that distanced herself from the situation such as “I am the mother” instead of “I am her mother” and many have speculated that it is strange that she hung up after saying what she wanted to say when most people view being on the phone to 911 as a lifeline and only hang up when help arrives.
- Ransom note. The Ransom note the Ramsey’s claim to have found on their staircase is another key piece of evidence as it would’ve been written by either the perpetrator of the crime or someone who knows who the that person is. The Ransom note to this day is one of the most unusual pieces of evidence in the case as it was discovered that it was written from a pad of paper and with a pen from the Ramsey Residence, also dubbed unusual by the Generation WHY podcast is the length of the 2 and a half page Ransom letter that would’ve taken approximately 20 mins to write, meaning that if the perpetrator was an intruder they would have to risk 20mins of being inside the house to write this letter. The language in the letter, analysed by Mark McClish, contradicts what it is stating for example “We are a foreign faction” meaning a group of people yet the letter contains the wrong pronouns for group with the usage of I “I will call you…”.
Anyone familiar with the case has their own theory about who killed Jon Benet, here are the top three theories.
The Intruder theory believed by many but investigated and pursued specifically by Private Investigator Lu Smit is based on the finding of a small piece of packing material found in the basement room near JonBenet body that he believes was dragged in by an intruder who got into the house through a basement window. This theory is also believed because the male DNA found underneath JonBenet fingernails doesn’t match DNA samples taken from John Ramsey. Smit also believes that the intruder used a baseball bat that was found near the boulder home which has fibres from the crime scene to beat JonBenet. Smit Theories that the killer broke in while the family were out at friends for dinner and then spent time inside the house, got familiar with the layout and in this time wrote the ransom note on the Ramsey’s stationery.
The theory that Jon Benet’s older brother Burke, who would’ve been 9 at the time, killed his sister in a moment of anger and that Patsy and John Covered it up to protect their son is a theory believed by many. Popular CBS series The Case of JonBenet Ramsey re-creates and investigates the JonBenet Ramsey case with this theory. CBS shows viewers that 9-year-old Burke could have carried out the skull injuries inflicted on JonBenet by demonstrating with a boy of similar strength to Burke, a test skull and similar weapon that Burke had to strength and capability to commit the crime. Autopsy results show that JonBenet last food item was pineapple – not disclosed by Ramsey’s – and that pineapple was Burkes favourite food, Investigators had found that Burke had covered JonBenet walls and Christmas presents with faeces showing his dislike for her and a claim was made that a year and a half before JonBenet died Burke had hit her with a golf club. In CBS’s Documentary series, their theory is based on these facts and they claim that on the night Jon Benet was killed she stole a piece of pineapple from Burke. The theory goes on to even insinuate that and in a moment of sibling anger Burke lashed out a bludgeoned JonBenet with a hefty family torch and then that the parents fabricated a ransom note and moved the body to draw suspicion away from Burke.
Another popular theory is that Patsy, Jon Benet’s mother, killed her accidentally in a fit of rage after discovering JonBenet had wet the bed then went on to cover it up with the ransom note and 911 call. This theory, believed by the Boulder Police department and investigators who were first on the scene, is based on the belief that Patsy was the author of the ransom note. Handwriting experts found similarities in the handwriting and believed that the ransom note was written by a woman. The police department was accused by the public and the Ramsey’s of centring their investigation solely on the belief that the ransom note was fabricated and the fact that the ransom note was written with Patsy’s Stationary and pen. The police department attempted to get the Ramsey’s indicted but this came up empty. In 2008 the police publically cleared Patsy and John of any wrongdoing.
The Media’s Effect
The media hindered the investigation as it presented facts and bias to the public which in turn lead to compromising the case and creating unnecessary pressure on the Boulder Police Department. Supermarket tabloid The Globe published stolen crime scene photos and many reports made themselves prevalent in the Ramsey’s lives in a bid to gain more information and publish it. The media sensationalised the case and exposed every detail available, each outlet with its own bias and perspective on who the killer was, influencing the public. Bob Grant, Adams County D.A. and an advisor to Boulder D.A. Hunter commented “Thanks to an overabundance of tabloid journalism and the legitimate press too, everybody’s got an opinion. Everybody thinks they know whodunit and how.” The media also pointed out the flaws within the case and the mishandling of the crime scene on the part of the police department which in turn undermined the department.
The media also exploited Jon Benet’s pageantry videos where she is seen dancing near provocatively and in make-up suited to a woman three times her age. These videos inadvertently oversexualized the 6-year-old and reinforced the bad reputation of Patsy and John which created a nationwide bias against the Ramsey’s.
The media has made it hard for the people of America to get past the tragedy as they keep being reminded of it. With a recent interview on Dr Phil with, now grown up Burke and event more recent documentaries such as Lifetime’s Who Killed JonBenét?, 16 years after the miniseries Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder on CBS, American’s keep being reminded of the case and the obsession continues. The media can still pump out this regurgitated information, because the strange story still fascinates humanity and we want answers and better yet justice for her death.
The case of JonBenet was and still is relevant to New Zealanders as the case was broadcast on Television in New Zealand back in 1996 and articles about the case are still being published in recent times in New Zealand media such as Stuff, NZ Herald and Woman’s Day. There has also been a documentary about the JonBenet case that was released this year, January 2017, on New Zealand Netflix that re-ignites New Zealanders’ curiosity about the JonBenet case and as a result the aforementioned media outlets have released an abundance of articles to satisfy this curiosity. This case may also interest New Zealanders because of the theory of child abuse as New Zealand, unfortunately, has a high amount of child abuse resulting in death cases with statistics showing that on average one child in New Zealand is Killed every five weeks. Statistics show that during the year 1 July 2016 – 30 June 2017 there were reported 14,802 substantiated findings of abuse (including emotional, physical, sexual abuse & neglect).
Overall this case has left questions such as “Why was the crime scene so mishandled?”, “Why was the Ransom note so strange?” and most importantly “Will it ever be solved?”. These questions are left because of the bias that was presented by the media right at the start of the case and the mishandled crime scene by the Boulder Police Department the day of the homicide. The bias is that the family killed JonBenet. This bias lead to a public judgement of the Ramsey parents and I also believe lead to a narrow-minded investigation of the case that avoided pursuing other avenues. Investigating the JonBenet case, gathering the evidence and considering the theories has left me baffled. There is no clear explanation for her death and the strange factors around it complicate the issue further. The JonBenet case has left the nation and perhaps the globe more questions than answers such as this reinforce the tragedy of the death of young JonBenet.