The mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey captivated America in 1996. An unusually long ransom note was left in the Ramsey home, requesting $118,000… but it was too late to broker any deal. The child beauty queen was swiftly discovered in the basement of the house, brutally murdered. Suspicions were heaped upon the parents of JonBenét Ramsey, but the evidence was inconclusive. The case remains cold, and Ramsey’s killer remains free.
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The Ramsey Family
JohnBenet’s father John Ramsey was a successful businessman. He ran Access Graphics, a computer system company that was eventually absorbed by Lockheed Martin. This required the Ramseys to move from Atlanta, Georgia to Boulder, Colorado. In Boulder, John’s wife Patsy Ramsey was eager to display her beautiful, blonde daughter JonBenét in a series of local competitions. Patsey was a pageant queen herself, the former Miss West Virginia. But the exploitative nature of child beauty pageants has cast Patsy’s pastime in a creepy light — and points to the mother herself as a possible suspect.
The last member of the Ramsey family is JonBenét’s older brother Burke. At the time of her death, Burke was just eight years old. But this hasn’t stopped speculation that perhaps he killed his own sister in a gruesome accident, which was then covered up by his parents. When it comes to the death of JonBenét Ramsey, everyone is a suspect.
The suspects in the cold case of JonBenét Ramsey are divided into two camps: the family theory and the intruder theory. The family theory derives from the unusual dynamic of the Ramsey household, plus suspicions arising from the unusual ransom note and the household murder weapon. The intruder theory, on the other hand, is backed up by an unidentified footprint near Jonbenét’s body, droplets of male blood on her underwear, and a broken window in the basement.
John Ramsey, upon discovering JonBenét dead in the basement, carried his daughter’s body up the stairs, thus contaminating the crime scene. In the process of moving JonBenét, John Ramsey removed the tape from her mouth and covered her in a blanket — against the orders of police. Rumors of possible child abuse swirled after John Ramsey’s suspicious behavior, but both of JonBenét’s parents were exonerated by the FBI in 2008 after new DNA evidence came to light.
In addition to shepherding her daughter JonBenét through the grueling child beauty pageant process, Patsy Ramsey was a main suspect in the case for several other reasons. The random note was written on her own stationery with her own pen, implying at the very least that the note was recorded inside the Ramey’s house. No fingerprints were found on it, besides Patsy’s. A paintbrush from her art kit has been identified as a murder weapon. All of this seemed to pin the crime directly on Patsy.
The theory was that after Patsy snapped after cleaning up JonBenét’s bed that night — JonBenét was a chronic bedwetter — and slammed her own daughter’s head on some hard surface, like a bathtub. However, several handwriting experts rejected the notion that the detailed ransom note could have come from the hand of Patsy. The science of handwriting, though, is heavily disputed. It took new DNA evidence in 2008 to finally clear Patsy Ramsey’s name. And there will be no more questioning this unconventional mother; Patsy Ramsey passed away in 2006 of ovarian cancer.
As JonBenét’s older brother, Burke Ramsey could have had the force to overpower the little girl. If Burke had killed his little sister, perhaps by accident with a baseball bat or a flashlight, it could explain why his parents frantically rushed to stage a kidnapping gone awry. Throughout the intense media coverage of the murder, the Ramseys kept Burke out of the spotlight. But in 2016, 20 years later, Burke broke his silence publicly on Dr. Phil. This controversial interview, rather than clearing his name, actually put Burke under the microscope again with an excessive critique of his demeanor. Watch below.
The Intruder Theory
In 2000, Gary Oliva was arrested in the Boulder area on drug charges. On him, he had a magazine cutout of JonBenét Ramsey. This grown man had a fixation with not only JonBenét Ramsey, but other children too; Oliva was a known sex offender. Had he been the intruder in the Ramsey house on Christmas in 1996, it would confirm the sexual assault of JonBenét Ramsey and explain the droplet of blood on her underwear. But DNA evidence cleared his name. After his release, the pedophile continued to torment the Boulder community and was arrested again on two counts of sexual exploitation of a child for possessing child pornography.
John Mark Karr, a former schoolteacher, set off a media frenzy in 2006 when he confessed to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey while living in Thailand. However, it soon became clear that he was just another pedophile obsessed with the pageant darling. His disturbing confession read like a vivid fantasy of killing JonBenét based entirely based on public records. There was no evidence that Karr was near Boulder, Colorado at the time and his blood did not match the blood found on JonBenét. He was released and now resides in the Pacific Northwest.
As the town Santa, Bill McReynolds certainly makes for a fascinating suspect. He was a family friend of the Ramseys with an obvious attachment to the 6-year-old. He called JonBenét his “special friend” and prized a vial of gold glitter that she’d gifted him. This glitter was presumably mixed into his ashes after he died in 2002. However, McReynolds was never formally accused of the crime. But his role in the sensationalized story colors the eerie world of the Ramsey home at Christmastime.
The Legacy of JonBenét
As if child beauty pageant photos aren’t creepy enough, the sad story of JonBenét Ramsey has forever altered the way we view the practice. And as the case is constantly reexamined — with no definite leads — the national obsession over JonBenét Ramsey has crystalized into a mythic murder mystery. This complicated legacy is examined in Casting JonBenét, an unconventional Netflix documentary that premiered in 2017. Taking a highly conceptual approach to the true-crime narrative, Casting JonBenét filters through different actors as a means of reenacting the fateful murder. With no final ending, this filmic deconstruction does more than most to reflect our national obsession with the Ramsey case.