An extraordinary piece of evidence in the JonBenét Ramsey murder case that has been continuously scrutinised by investigators is the ransom note. It was this very note that, according to Patsy Ramsey, first alerted her to the fact that JonBenét was missing. The note was allegedly found at the bottom of the stairs and stated that the writer had kidnapped the young girl and was demanding a ransom for her return. JonBenét’s body was found in the basement of the house just hours later (if you didn’t know about this aspect of the case, why not give our previous article a read?)
There are many reasons why this letter, just like the pineapple, doesn’t seem to fit or make sense in the context of the prevailing and “final” narrative – not least of which because of the fact that it is nearly unheard of to find the victim’s body at the location from which they were purportedly kidnapped. If we look deeper, the other abnormalities become clear and the validity of this piece of evidence comes to be called into further question.
The contents of the note
The letter starts with an abrupt “listen carefully” before the writer (or writers) identify themselves as representing a “small foreign faction”. Then, over 2.5 pages, the writer states that they have JonBenét and stipulates their demands. They demand a $118,000 ransom to be paid in exchange for getting their daughter back. In the letter, very strict instructions were given to the Ramseys that they were not to alert the authorities.
You can read the full letter by clicking here.
What immediately stands out is the length of the ransom note. Typically these letters are no more than a few lines long – enough to get the point and the demands across. A letter of this length would have taken significantly longer than necessary to write – 21 minutes according to recreations done by experts, putting the supposed kidnapper at serious risk of being caught. Likewise, analysis of the contents of the letter and the language used shows that the same message could easily have been delivered over a few lines. In other words, much of the information in the letter was rather irrelevant and has been interpreted as the writer trying to “sell” the scenario to the investigators. For example, instead of what was said in the ransom note, “we have your daughter in our posession [sic]”, a kidnapper in a tense, highly pressurised situation would be expected to simply state “we have your daughter”.
Another unusual feature of the letter was the spelling errors. Of course, these might be expected in a letter written by a self-proclaimed foreign faction but they seem rather irregular, according to some experts. For example, the writer spells the word “business” as “bussiness” but manages to spell the words “deviation” and “attaché” (including the accent) without fault. To some, this hints at the letter being a hoax.
The letter was signed S.B.T.C. What this stands for is still a mystery as no obvious groups that use these initials have been identified. If this was the work of this mysterious group, was there a reason the writer started out referring to “we” before slipping to “I” later in the note?
The physical evidence
The letter was discovered as having been written on a notepad found within the Ramsey house. Perhaps unusually, it was found that by looking for writing impressions, it was drafted on pages from the middle of the pad, not the front page, as might be expected.
Closer examination of the pad reveals writing impressions that indicate that a practice letter was written – yet these additional sheets were never located.
The pen used was, likewise, already in the Ramsey house. Forensic analysis showed that the pen used was a pre-November 1992 water-based ink Sharpie, just like the ones kept in an orange container on the kitchen counter. The precise pen type is known because the Secret Service, perhaps surprisingly, has a huge database of pen inks – typically used to combat document forgery.
Not only did the kidnapper leave the notepad behind, they also, rather considerately, returned the pen to its container.
Fingerprints found on the note have never been matched to any of the Ramsey family, or anyone else for that matter.
Handwriting analysis of the letter has been inconclusive in terms of identifying a suspect. The premise of handwriting analysis is based on the fact that no two individuals have the same handwriting. This is based on variables and patterns observed in handwriting such as pen lifts, letter form, pressure applied and shading. A handwriting expert will use historical documents from the suspect as well as one that is requested as a part of the investigation to compare to the document in question.
As we have already discussed, the pen used to write the ransom note in this case was a broad, fibre-tipped pen. This type of pen makes handwriting analysis more challenging due to the fact that the tip distorts the finer details that make handwriting unique.
One of the questions that has arisen about the note with regard to handwriting is whether the writer was trying to disguise, or mask their real handwriting. While no consensus about this has been reached, there is evidence that they did. Karen Iannetta, a handwriting expert, says that this is evident by the fact that the writing appears to exhibit a slow and hesitant pressure pattern, as well as abnormalities in the shapes of the letters.
John and Patsy both submitted handwriting samples to investigators. John was ruled out as having written the letter but Patsy was not. The results from her handwriting were inconclusive and while she could not be proved to have written the letter, she equally was not eliminated as the writer.
Who wrote the letter?
First, and possibly quite significantly, the writer is thought to be a woman. This is based on some of the caring, and borderline nurturing language used in the letter, including phrases like “I advise you to be rested”. In fact, experts found at least 6 examples of what they term “maternalistic” language.
The writer was an adult, over thirty and a well-educated, native English speaker, despite the spelling errors. It is likely that they knew the Ramseys, their children, their business and their home well (if we discount any member of the Ramsey family as the writer).
Based on the language used and information provided, experts believe that the individual was attentive to their presentation and behaviour, despite being in a high pressure situation – this is also clear by the fact that the writer penned a practice note.
Your turn: Who do you think wrote the ransom note? Do you believe JonBenét’s murder was a kidnapping gone wrong or simply staged to look like one?