The JonBenét Ramsey Case: Spotlight on the Ransom Note

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.

 

The handwriting


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?

Comments

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Tyler says:

    The length of time that it took to practice and write the note can be explained with the intruder theory. The intruder would have been hiding away in the home for many hours waiting for the Ramsey’s first to return from the party at the White’s house, and then after they returned, to go to sleep, before he sprung into action. That waiting time would have allowed him the leisure to write a note. Also, the length of time that it took to practice and write the note undermines the notion that Mrs. Ramsey wrote it. Under the scenario that she was the killer, Mrs. Ramsey was working quickly to create a staged crime scene before her husband and son awoke. Given those time constraints, and presumably a desire to provide as little handwriting to the police as possible for purposes of future analysis, she arguably would not have written such a long note.

    • Michael says:

      Ok, so why were there no alarms raised by neighbors dogs? Dogs will bark at something unusual or someone that shouldn’t be in the area. Not one neighbor reported anything unusual like that.

  • Carly says:

    True. Patsy didn’t write that note. Why would she put so much detail in a note. However, the writing is similar and it does reflect a woman’s hand-writing. Parts of the letter show some real connection to knowing John Ramsey. Could this have been a woman killer. Perhaps jealous of John or Jonbenet herself? This is no doubt an evil evil killer. Jonbenet was strangled first then hit on head very hard and sexually molested. The hatred for her and her family is real. It is someone wanted their money, but wanted to hurt them even more and killing the daughter surpassed that impulse than the money.

  • steve says:

    A few points on this letter I noticed. The first notion to say that there are more than one person involved is a big effort to cover up that there is only one person involved. They work hard in saying we are a group of individuals. Usually a group of individuals would want more money than just a $118k. Split that between the individuals and the amount is small depending on how many. This is for sure the work of one person and that person trying to make it seem there are many.

    In the article here they say that the person was trying to disguise the writing. I don’t believe so. Certain letters are exact in every word. Especially the letters that end a word. The letter y i noticed. If someone was to try and change their writing i would assume they would change their first letter and their last letter the most. However these are exact in every word. So i would not say they are trying to disguise. The letters look identical.

    As for the person being female. I see a male writing this letter. Y is not finished with flow. It is hard and straight. Them saying you should be rested is just jiberish talk as the person is writing from the mind. It is not used as in to be soft on the person but just writing what is in their mind. Seems like the person is way too cool to be writing this. Possibly written before anything has been done. It is not agitated or nervous thoughts. This letter was written with a calm mind and spent a little time on it.

    Lots of thinking in this writing but not smart. Seems like very basic knowledge. Not educated. Even thought they used the word attache. Just not highly educated and a basic writer. This is not business writing either. Too many long sentences written and showing thought. Not concise is what i am saying. In english class we are taught to be more to the point and concise. This person writes what is on the mind and puts their points out using longer sentences.

    The end of the letter is interesting. Like this person is trying to play with the mind. Brain wash a bit. Saying the persons name John a few times as in trying to strike fear. Kind of like an interrogation. Very interesting part.

    The knowledge of the family is decent. They chose the back stairs to put the letter. When they could have used the front stairs. I saw this on CNN. They knew of his bonus for $118k. The also know that they lived in Atlanta (southern) but did not know he was not southern at all and he was from arkansas or something. So there is some information they have of him. But not all info. So someone not too close it seems but close enough for general knowledge and that has seen his paystub.

    Listen carefully is another one that stuck out in my mind. You cannot listen to a letter but you can read it. Listen carefully seems to come from a small towner. A person who lives in a small town. Small town talk. Common language without being wise.

    A couple rants in the letter. If you do this then she dies etc. And at the end of the letter using his name in a rant and telling him not to get wise.

    The very end part is like encouragement. It is up to you etc etc.

    My conclusion is: the person knows the family close enough. Has been in the house before. Knows the room to go into. Knows where to put the letter. Knows a bit of info on John. Did not kill before this letter was written. Maybe had a plan before the letter was written. But in the act had to cancel the plan and just ended up killing when trying to kidnap. I don’t know all the details but something to this sort. This person is a male and not highly educated. Someone they have met before and possibly had this person in their house. It is definitely not the parents and the investigators wasted too much energy on them when they should have spent their time on other people. Anyhow interesting case but i think it is more simple than we think.

  • Mika says:

    I believe it could be a male, maybe in his 30s or 40s who worked with John Bennett Ramsey. The downward stroke of the tail of the letter “y” is straight, which make it seem like a number (7). Typically when people write letters like numbers, they are good with math. Mr. Ramsey worked at Access Graphics, a business computer systems company. This person could be an engineer or someone comfortable with math. I also think that the person is right hand dominant, but wrote the letter with his left hand, since the stroke of many of the letters comes from the right and proceeds to the left, but each letter seems painfully composed.

    At first the note addresses Dear Mr. Ramsey, but not Dear Mrs. Ramsey, or dear Ramsey family. That shows an immediate connection to John Ramsey. Then, toward the end of the letter, the letter writer starts getting personal and somewhat sarcastic by saying, “grow a brain, John.” Then, “It’s up to you now, John.” I think that there was professional jealousy and vindictiveness involved coming from someone who worked with John Ramsey — I think perhaps an associate, or someone who felt professionally betrayed by John Ramsey.

    I think he was trying to impersonate what most people think of as a terrorist and had some difficulty staying in character — could he have been secret service or CIA? The CIA do bad things to people all the time.

    In any event, after their party was over the perp stayed somewhere in the house. He could even have left and come back and gone into the basement. While the family was sleeping, he went up to the little girl’s room and may very well have used the stun gun on her. This was a very hateful and deeply vindictive person who was probably intellectually above average, but in the realm of things like math and computers which he probably related to much more easily.

    That’s my observation, for now.

  • Sarah says:

    Did anyone check the jealous mothers or families of pageants?

  • what were the results of the polygraph exams?

  • Don says:

    To me the phrase “don’t grow a brain john” exactly fits something the sassy Patsy would say
    Was this ever asked of any of their friends? The printing sure resembles Patsy’
    Burke did it and she micro managed the coverup staging likely to prevent him from being
    institutionalized

  • AlexArabella says:

    In the note it doesn’t start mentioning John until the very end showing some previous connections. This also means that despite it possibly being a group of members this person who wrote the ransom note might not have as much connection to the alleged group but possibly only have a very strong grudge against him. Also the note strongly signifies that despite writing from the viewpoint of the group this person himself/herself had previously met John and known him. Also the note didn’t have to be necessarily written by a woman seeing that many men have handwriting close to the handwriting of the ransom note too. Another thing was mentioning the Southern Sense. This could mean that despite John’s business sometimes being abroad this person lived close to him, had known him even if only as acquaintances personally. Lastly for the note it took me about 10 minutes to write meaning that even if the note had been practiced and rushed they still would have to take more than 5 minutes to write it. Being torn from the Ramsey’s own notepad could signify that they let the “intruder” in and had previously torn the paper, or possibly could have been someone in the house at the time or going with the intruder theory had broken in risked detection by tearing the paper/ writing on the paper they already tore/ placing the paper they wrote on and had previously torn near the staircase. Also since the forensics report came back inconclusive for the handwriting report this doesn’t exclude her. Also her writing out $118,000.00 instead of writing the number puts her under even more suspicion. Not excluding her but also not saying she did it. Anyway she could have been blackmailed into writing the note, written it herself with no intention of harming her daughter, and then there could also be the thought of being jealous of her daughter because of her being a beauty queen when she wasn’t beautiful anymore and demanding that the money be paid out of jealousy. At the end of the note it also says VICTORY! SBTC. Many of you probably already know that S.B.T.C stands for small business and technology council. Coincidently there was a plaque in the basement stating the same thing. The victory part could also indicate that John might have had a business rival in which they fought over who could make the most money or something other of the sort. Lastly (again I know) if it was an intruder how did they get JonBenet to eat the pineapple without her screaming or saying something unless she knew that person. (she was six after all) Next, that person had to kill her within the next 20 min or else the pinapple would have been digested. Also the phrase don’t grow a brain John shows that this person might have had or has a relationship that had ended badly or is currently not on the best of terms with at that moment. Be back with more observations later.

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