American child beauty pageant queen went missing, with a ransom note left behind but was later found dead in the basement of her own house.
JonBenet Patricia Ramsey, aged six, was a child beauty pageant queen from Boulder, Colorado. She was found dead on the night of December 25-26, 1996, in the basement of the house where they lived. A lengthy ransom note was found in the house, and her father, John Ramsey, found JonBenet’s body in the basement of their house about eight hours after she was reported missing. She sustained a broken skull from a blow to the head and had been strangled. Her death was identified as a homicide. The case went viral at the time as her mother, Patsy Ramsey was herself a former beauty queen. The case still remains an open investigation.
The police suspected JonBenét’s death was caused either by Patsy or JonBenét’s nine-year-old brother Burke, and believed the ransom note and appearance of the body were staged by the parents to cover it up but later in 1998, both the police and District Attorney said that Burke was not a suspect.
According to the testimony of Patsy Ramsey given on December 26, 1996, she realized that her daughter was missing after finding on the kitchen staircase a two-and-a-half-page ransom letter demanding $118,000 for her safe return—almost the exact value of a bonus her husband had received earlier that year. The ransom note was unusually long and the police were told by the FBI that it was also very unusual for a ransom note to be written at the crime scene. It was considered staged and included an unusual use of exclamation marks and acronyms and did not have any fingerprints.
The ransom note and a practice draft were written with a pen and pad of paper from the Ramsey home. There were indications (backed up by a handwriting expert) that the author of the ransom note was Patricia Ramsey, however, they could not definitively prove it.
The only people known to be in the house on the night of JonBenét’s death were the victim and her immediate family: Burke, Patsy and John Ramsey. Despite specific instructions in the ransom note that police and friends should not be contacted, Patsy Ramsey telephoned the police at 5:52 am as well as family and friends.
Two police officers responded to the 911 call and arrived at the Ramsey home within three minutes. They conducted a cursory search of the house but did not find any sign of a break-in or forced entry. John Ramsey made arrangements to pay the ransom.A forensics team was dispatched to the house. Believing that the case was a kidnapping, only JonBenét’s bedroom was cordoned off to prevent contamination of evidence. There was no process taken to prevent contamination of evidence in the rest of the house. Friends and advocates picked up and cleaned surfaces in the kitchen, possibly destroying evidence.
At 1 p.m., investigators searched the house to see if they could find if “anything seemed amiss”. Ramsey and White started their search in the basement, and John found his daughter’s body in one of the rooms of the basement. Duct tape covered JonBenét’s mouth, a nylon cord was found around her wrists and neck, and her torso was covered by a white blanket. Ramsey immediately picked the body up and took it upstairs and then into the living room. Each time that she was moved potential evidence was contaminated or disturbed for the returning forensics team. Patsy stated that JonBenét was not wearing the clothing that she was wearing when she put her daughter to bed, as she was now dressed in white leggings and a shirt.
John, Patsy, and Burke Ramsey provided handwriting, blood, and hair samples to the police. John and Patsy participated in a preliminary interview for more than two hours and Burke Ramsey was also interviewed within the first couple of weeks following JonBenét’s death.
The results of the autopsy revealed that JonBenét had been killed by strangulation and a skull fracture. The autopsy also revealed “vegetable or fruit material which may represent pineapple” which JonBenét had eaten a few hours before her death. Photographs of the home taken on the day when JonBenét’s body was found show a bowl of pineapple on the kitchen table with a spoon in it. However, both Patsy and John Ramsey said they did not remember putting the bowl on the table or feeding pineapple to JonBenét. Police reported that they found JonBenét’s nine-year-old brother Burke Ramsey’s fingerprints on the bowl although it was always maintained that Burke slept through the entire episode until he was awakened several hours after the police arrived.
In December 2003, forensic investigators extracted enough material from a mixed blood sample found on JonBenét’s underwear to establish a DNA profile. That DNA belonged to an unknown male person. In October 2016, new forensic analysis uncovered that the original DNA actually contains genetic markers from two individuals other than the victim, JonBenét.
There are two types of theories about the death of JonBenét.
The prosecutors followed leads for intruders partly due to the unidentified boot mark left in the basement room where JonBenét’s body was found. The theory was that someone broke into the Ramseys’ home through the broken basement window. The intruder subdued JonBenét using a stun gun and took her down to the basement. JonBenét was killed and a ransom note was left. But this theory was supported by a private investigator hired by the Ramseys to prove their innocence as well as an FBI agent. It was determined that there had been more than 100 burglaries in the Ramseys’ neighborhood in the months before JonBenét’s murder and 38 registered sex offenders living within a two-mile radius of the Ramseys’ home.
The second group of theories is that a family member was involved in her death. Police initially concentrated almost exclusively upon John and Patsy Ramsey. From the police’s perspective, they did not see evidence of a forced entry, but rather evidence of staging, such as the ransom note, and did not find the Ramseys cooperative in helping them solve the death of their daughter. The Ramseys had stated that their reluctance was due to their fear that there would not be a full investigation for intruders and that they would be hastily selected as the key suspects in the case. One theory is that Patsy struck JonBenét in a fit of rage after a bed-wetting episode, and then strangled her to cover up what had happened after mistakenly thinking she was already dead. However, she did not have a known history of uncontrolled anger while JonBenétès brother refused ever having had any form of abuse earlier on. Another theory by a group of experts who evaluated the evidence, theorized that Burke hit his sister in the head with a heavy object, perhaps not intending to kill her. It suggested that the ransom letter was an attempt to cover up the circumstances of JonBenet’s death, but the Channel was threatened for false accusation based on its conclusion.
It was later determined that had been some unlocked windows and an unlocked door that night. In addition, a basement window was previously broken by John Ramsey when he was locked out of the house. A proponent of the intruder theory, believed that the intruder entered through this basement window. A suitcase was found on the floor almost directly underneath this window Perhaps the attacker(s) planned to use this suitcase to get either JonBenét alive as a kidnap victim, or her body, out of the house, but this proved impossible.
A journalist from The New York Times said “The Ramseys have consistently maintained their innocence. But for four months after the murder, they declined to talk to the police. Instead, they mounted a defense team that sounds like a defense lawyer’s Christmas carol: eight lawyers, four publicists, three private investigators, two handwriting analysts and one retired F.B.I. profiler.”