At six years-old, JonBenét Ramsey was a child beauty pageant queen living in Boulder, Colorado with her parents, John and Patsy, as well as her nine year-old brother Burke. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just her shining smile and big blonde hair that would set her apart — although, ironically, these are the very features that are immortalised in countless newspapers. Instead, JonBenét was the victim of sick and twisted murder that remains unsolved to this day.
Th daughter of a successful (and very wealthy) businessman and former beauty queen, JonBenét was no stranger to the glamourous parties often hosted by her parents and their large social circle. After one such party on Christmas night of 1996, Patsy carried her sleeping daughter up the stairs to bed at approximately 09:00 pm. At 05:00 am the next morning, on her way to the kitchen, Patsy found a note that said that JonBenét was being held for a ransom of $118,000. The letter warned that if the money was not delivered, she would be beheaded.
Patsy called for John and once the police had been notified, they were at the house within seven minutes. Shockingly, the house was not treated as a crime scene until much later in the day — friends and family were allowed to walk in and out, possibly contaminating the scene. More surprisingly, the full house wasn’t even searched until the early afternoon — in fact, it wasn’t even the police who discovered the horrors in the basement.
While searching the house with his two friends, John Ramsey upon entering the basement discovered the restrained dead body of JonBenét.
The high profile nature of this case meant that media attention was intense — none were more scrutinised than the child’s parents who were only officially eliminated as suspects in 2008. The current theory stands that an intruder, with possible paedophilic motives, was responsible for her death, and while this has become a widely accepted working theory, there are several pieces of evidence that simply don’t add up. Here we discuss just four of the clues that have us scratching our heads.
The ransom note
There are a few reasons why this ransom note can be considered somewhat odd. First of all, it was nearly two and a half pages long. In a Reddit AMA, former Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner who headed JonBenét’s murder investigation, said that experts had never heard of a ransom note of this length. It is quite bizarre to consider someone in a highly tense situation (like in the middle of a kidnapping) would take the time to write such a lengthy letter. The note was written on paper taken from a notebook in the family home, so it had to have been written at the scene.
The ransom note, as stated, demanded a $118,000 ransom — this was the exact amount the John Ramsey received as a bonus from work. The killer was either close enough to the family to know these fine details or this was a clever cover-up attempt.
Handwriting samples provided by John and Patsy provided were later found to bear no similarity to that in the ransom note. However, Patsy did come under scrutiny early on the investigation for supposedly changing her handwriting to be more cursive in style after the murder.
The location of her body
JonBenét’s body was found in the basement of the family home — there was a nylon cord tied around her neck, her wrists were bound above her head and there was duct tape over her mouth.
Alone, the location of her body, dumped in the basement isn’t (aside from the obvious reasons) wholly unusual. However, taken together with the ransom note, this does start to appear questionable. Why would someone claim to have kidnapped JonBenét and demand ransom only for her to be already dead inside the home she was supposedly removed from?
At the time, the Assistant District Attorney was overheard as saying: “It was very unusual for a kidnap victim’s body to be found at home — it’s not adding up.”
One theory states that the ransom note was written before JonBenét was even dead — perhaps while she was still stunned (read on for details about a stun gun’s potential use) or unconscious from the blow to her head. According to this theory, she awoke and identified the killer as being someone she recognised — turning kidnapper into killer. However, it does seem out of place that the perpetrator would still not make an effort to move her body away from the scene of death which is a typical characteristic of a premeditated crime as this seems to be.
Her cause of death
Examination of JonBenét’s body during autopsy revealed further information about what had happened. In her autopsy report her cause of death is cited as being ligature strangulation — not surprising considering that she had been found with nylon chord around her neck. She had also received a blow to the head, possibly from a large torch or baseball bat, about an hour before she was strangled. You can download her full autopsy report here: JonBenét Ramsey autopsy report.
Is this a sign of a botched kidnapping or was it simply designed to look that way?
A later review of the autopsy photographs revealed something missed in the initial examination: marks on JonBenét’s chin that closely match the electrodes of a stun gun. The use of a stun gun on her would not have been lethal but would have certainly rendered her unconscious.
The pineapple in her stomach
Another interesting, and unusual find, that came to light during the autopsy was the undigested remnants of pineapple in JonBenét’s stomach suggesting she’d eaten shortly before her death. Both Patsy and John deny giving her this fruit. One theory stands that she was lured into her kitchen with the promise of food — possibly by someone she already knew — before being attacked.
Most incriminatingly, the fingerprints of Burke (JonBenét’s brother) were found on a bowl of pineapple discovered in the kitchen after the murder. While Burke was the subject of brief police scrutiny, the young boy was never seriously considered as a suspect and was often shielded from this by his parents.
Your turn: What do you think really happened? Do you believe JonBenét Ramsey was killed by a member of her family or by an intruder? Let us know your views in the comments below.