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True crime. Casually done.

JonBenét Ramsey – Murder of a Six Year Old Beauty Queen

Written by Kevin Jennings

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              Whenever I write a script for one of Simon’s cold reads, I always try to remember to tell people to get in the comments at some point throughout the episode. However, today is different. Of course I still want you all to feed the analytic gods, but at the same time because of the heavily contested nature of every single detail about this case, I don’t wanna fucking hear it from you. That’s right, we’re opening by getting aggressive with the audience.

              The same qualities that make the murder of JonBenét Ramsey one of the most popular and notorious cold cases in American history are the same qualities that lead to some of the most toxic comment sections I have ever seen; and when someone who plays League of Legends has the balls to refer to another group of people as toxic, you know there’s a problem.

              I had just turned 14 years old when JonBenét was killed, but from what I remember the media had laid out a very clear narrative at the time. The narrative seemed to be that, for reasons unknown, JonBenét Ramsey was murdered by her parents, and that there was absolutely no doubt that this was the case. To be fair, when I was 14 I also worked part time bagging groceries, and if any more nuanced discussion existed in the news it may have been erased from my memory by the sensationalist headlines of the trash they sold in the checkout aisles like The National Enquirer and Weekly World News.

              Despite so many people being convinced of who the guilty party or parties was, no arrest has ever been made in this case. And despite there being 4 TV movies, a Netflix documentary, a Dr. Phil interview, 15 books, and countless hours of internet content surrounding it, there are very few actual facts about this case. It seems that virtually every detail about this case, no matter how seemingly meaningless it may be, remains a matter of heated debate among experts.

              This exceptional amount of doubt regarding the details of the case has resulted in four main theories, each of which is both unprovable and irrefutable, and naturally the main theories have countless offshoots as well. We are going to look at every variation of the possible facts as they apply to every possible theory. For this reason, I welcome you to today’s extra long Casual Criminalist which will serve as part 1 of our 8 part series on the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.

Okay, not really. I could write that much about this case, because there is just so much that can be covered, but I don’t think Simon is interested in an 8 part episode. To give you an idea just how much material there is about this case, here is an official photo released by the Boulder Police Department on the room dedicated to files on JonBenét Ramsey.

If for some reason you all would actually want such a deep dive feel free to GET IN THE COMMENTS. Otherwise, sit back, relax, and enjoy this tale of murder, jealousy, deception, international terrorists, contaminated crime scenes, at least six defamation lawsuits (both on behalf of and against the Ramsey family), and most importantly, pineapple.

The Life of John Bennett Ramsey

            We’re just going to hit the highlights here for the sake of brevity. John was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1943. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1966. That same year he married Lucinda Pasch and joined the US Navy where he served in the Civil Engineering Corp. After serving three years in the Philippines, he served in the Atlanta reserves for eight years. During this time, he also earned his master’s degree in business administration and had three children with Lucinda, a son and two daughters.

              In 1978, at the age of 35, he decided it was time to trade in for a younger model. He divorced Lucinda and two years later married the 23 year old Patsy Paugh. In 1987 they had their first child together, Burke. Two years later, their daughter JonBenét was born.

              The same year his daughter was born, he had formed the company Advanced Product Group. It would later be one of three companies to merge to form Access Graphics, a computer company that would become a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. As president and CEO of Access Graphics, it’s fair to say that John was doing pretty well for himself.

              In 1991, John and his new family moved to Boulder, Colorado for his work. The following year, his eldest daughter Elizabeth and her boyfriend died in a car accident. She was 22.

              Most reports indicate that John had a pretty hands-off style of parenting, which is to say that he was rarely home and always working. This gave Patsy plenty of time to play favourites and live vicariously through her daughter.

The Life of JonBenét Ramsey

            Born on August 6, 1990, JonBenét was Patsy’s pride and joy. More importantly, unlike Patsy’s first child, JonBenét was a girl. That meant she got to carry on the family tradition of competing in beauty pageants. Both Patsy and her sister had won the crown of Miss West Virginia, and she wanted JonBenét to follow in her footsteps as a way to reclaim her former glory.

              That probably sounds extremely cynical, but let’s be real here: child beauty pageants are fucking weird and creepy. It’s hard to imagine a child would come up with the idea of competing in one of these pageants on their own. Even if they did, if my five year old daughter came up to me and said “I’d like to try on bathing suits and evening wear and have my physical appearance judged by grown adults”, the answer would be “Hell no, now go to your room while I disconnect the internet and dig a moat.” I know there are parts of the country, predominantly in the south, where beauty pageants are a much bigger thing culturally and stuff like this is considered more normal, but I feel like my response would be appropriate, maybe even an underreaction.

              There’s obviously still the possibility that while pageants were Patsy’s idea that JonBenét really enjoyed them as a bonding experience with her mother, but it seems more likely that Patsy was pressuring her into them. Both her father and her oldest half-brother, John Andrew Ramsey, described her as a tomboy who liked running around outside and playing with her brother. While seemingly incongruous with the idea of a beauty queen, people can like two different things, so this is hardly damning.

              The much stronger evidence comes from JonBenét herself. One of Patsy’s friends from Atlanta and her daughter, who was the same age as Burke, came to visit. There was a special display case made to house JonBenét’s pageant trophies, and when the daughter asked about them JonBenét replied, “They’re not really mine. They’re more my mom’s trophies.”Whether she enjoyed the pageants or not, she was good at winning them. JonBenét had won seven beauty pageants by the time she was six years old.

              Every parent has a favourite child, and it seems clear from evidence like home videos that JonBenét was the favourite child of Patsy. Maybe it was because she could relive her dreams of pageant glory through her daughter, or maybe it was because Burke was…well, in the immortal words of Hank Hill, “That boy ain’t right.” But we’ll get to him later.

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The Original Timeline

              This is the original sequence of events as given by the family, with some details added from the officers on the scene. On Christmas morning, 1996, the Ramsey family woke up to open their Christmas presents. JonBenét and Patsy both got bicycles, and JonBenét also got a large dollhouse and one of those custom dolls that is supposed to look like you, but she didn’t think it looked like her at all. Honestly, that’s probably for the best. My sister got one of those dolls for Christmas one year that looked exactly like her, and it was so creepy that she’s still terrified of it. Burke’s main Christmas presents included an electric toy train and a Nintendo 64. The family had tons of money, so they surely got plenty of other small presents, one of which we’ll mention later, but these were their marquis gifts.

              It’s was an abnormally warm December with temperatures in the mid 50s the whole week of Christmas. There had been about half a foot of snow nine days earlier, but with the temperature above freezing every day since then, much of it had melted. JonBenét immediately wanted to ride around on her new bike, so John cleared a little of the snow that remained off the lawn so that she could take her new present for a spin before getting ready for the party.

              The family spent the rest of the day at a Christmas party at a friend’s house. It was some boring rich people party, so what happened isn’t very important or interesting. All that really matters is that JonBenét was eating crab legs, and no pineapple was served at the party.  

              When they left that night, JonBenét was exhausted and fell asleep in the car. At home, John carried the sleeping girl to her bedroom and put her on the bed in her clothes from the party. The family had to be up early the next morning to take John’s private plane to Michigan to see his other children, so they all went to sleep.

              The next morning, Patsy woke up at around 5:30 am. She went downstairs to make some coffee, and found a two and a half page, handwritten ransom note laid out on the stairs. We’ll talk about exactly what the note said later, cause there’s quite a lot there. She only read the first three sentences, up to the point where the note mentioned having their daughter. She understandably started freaking out, then she ran to JonBenét’s room to check on her. She wasn’t there, so at 5:52 am she called 911 to report the kidnapping. We’ll talk about that call later as well, because it’s a whole thing.

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              Patsy then immediately called all her friends and invited them over. Even without having read the note, you’d think she would know that both calling the police and calling everyone else she knows is generally against the rules in these situations, but whatever. John woke up from all the commotion and read the full ransom novel. Burke is said to have slept through the entire ordeal. Would that even be possible with his mother making a hysterical 911 call and all the guests showing up shortly after? Well they lived in a 5-bed, 8-bath, 11,376 square foot home, so yeah probably.

              Three minutes after the 911 call, two officers arrived on the scene. They took the ransom note at face value and believed it was a kidnapping. They cordoned off JonBenét’s room and searched the rest of the home for signs of a break in. While the Ramsey’s house did have an alarm system, it was rarely ever actually turned on, and the doors weren’t always all locked, although John insisted he had made sure they were all locked the night before.  The police made their way to the basement to search for a point of ingress.

              At one point the door to Burke’s room was opened and an officer shone his flashlight inside, but Burke remained in bed. One of the officers came across a door in the basement that was secured by a wooden latch. Since he was looking for how the kidnapper would have gotten in or out, the closed latch indicated that this door would not have been used, so he went back upstairs without bothering to open it.

              Boulder was an extremely safe place to live. Some sources cite it as the sort of small town where everybody knew everybody else. This is completely inaccurate as it had a population of nearly 100,000 people, but I guess if you’ve only ever lived somewhere like New York City or LA you might think that 100,000 people is that small and report it as such. Regardless, the police department was not prepared to handle this case.

The city averaged one murder per year, and in 1996 JonBenét Ramsey was the only murder. I’m not going to say they were incompetent, though many like to, but they certainly lacked experience in murder investigations. They also appeared to be short staffed, possibly because it was the day after Christmas and everyone that could was taking time off.

Friends, advocates, and the family minister all arrived on the scene to show support for the family and contaminate the entire crime scene while John made preparations for the ransom payment. They were greeted by Patsy in full makeup and wearing the same dress she had on the night before. Detective Linda Arndt arrived on the scene at 8 am in preparation for a call from the kidnappers. The ransom note had said they would call between 8 and 10 am to arrange the pickup. She was the only detective at the scene.

It was noted that for much of the morning, John and Patsy remained in different rooms, not interacting with each other. Patsy was mostly entertaining the guests while John remained alone in the kitchen, doing things like going through the mail and allegedly joking with some of the police officers. People respond to stress, trauma, and grief in different ways, so while this behaviour may seem unusual to many of us, it alone is not proof of anything.

As time passed, so too did the 10 am deadline, but not a word was spoken by anyone. It was as if the Ramsey’s weren’t concerned with the deadline because they were never expecting a call. By 10:30, Linda was the only police officer remaining in the Ramsey house. She’s received a lot of criticism from a lot of people for her handling of the crime scene, but I think that’s an unfair characterization of events.

She was the only officer in a house full of people that was not suspected of being a crime scene other than JonBenét’s room, and I honestly think she did the best she could in that situation. Should the whole house have been a crime scene? Yes. Should all of the nonfamily been immediately thrown out on their asses? Also yes. Did Linda repeatedly call for backup yet remain the only officer at the house for hours on end because everyone else was “in a meeting”? Yes, and that’s why I find it hard to criticize her for what happened next.

For 90 minutes, John disappeared. When he returned, he seemed overly agitated. In the hopes of both calming him down and getting him out of her hair since she had more than enough people to try to deal with on her own, at 1 pm Linda suggested he and a family friend search the house from top to bottom to make sure nothing was amiss. This was intended to just be busy work, as she falsely believed that the house had already been properly searched by the officers that were there before her.

Upon being given this instruction, John and his friend immediately went into the basement. John opened the latch that the officer had ignored, and entered the dark wine cellar. Without even turning on the light, he knelt down and picked up the deceased body of his daughter. His friend screamed for an ambulance as he removed the duct tape from her mouth and carried her upstairs.

JonBenét’s mouth had been covered in duct tape, her hands were tied above her head, and her body was covered in a white blanket. Around her neck was a deep strangulation wound caused by a homemade garrote, still dug deep into her neck. When John reached the top of the basement stairs, Detective Linda ordered him to put her body down.

The two of them knelt down next to the girl, their faces inches apart. In Linda’s words from a 1999 interview with ABC, “We had a nonverbal exchange that I will never forget. And he asked if she’s dead and I said ‘yes she’s dead’. And I told him to go back to the room and to dial 911. And as we looked at each other, I remember…tucking my gun right next to me and consciously counting ‘I’ve got 18 bullets’…Cause I didn’t know if we’d all be alive when people showed up.”

John went to the other room then returned with a blanket and asked if he can cover her up, but didn’t wait for an answer. Obviously this shouldn’t be allowed, but Linda was alone in a house full of people, at least one of whom she was damn sure is a murderer. It’s hard to fault her for trying to disallow this, just as it would be hard to fault an innocent John for wanting to cover up his daughter in the house full of people.

So that is the original timeline that was presented, but again, many aspects of this are up for debate either because of potentially contradictory evidence or inconsistent statements to the police or the press. Speaking of evidence, it’s high time we start to examine some!

The Ransom Note

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              The ransom note is utterly ridiculous. Like two men falling from an air vent, it’s the sort of thing that could be best explained by Willem Dafoe’s character from Boondock Saints. Who leaves a two and a half page ransom note, especially a handwritten one? Ransom notes should be 2-3 sentences long and made from cut up magazines, everyone knows that. Nothing in the note is credible at all, and it is clearly the result of someone who watched too many movies and was trying to sound like a big screen villain instead of a real life kidnapper.

              I could just say it’s a fake ransom note and leave it at that, but because there is so little actual evidence in this case, what with the entire crime scene being contaminated, that won’t suffice.  The note plays a large role in all of the various theories about this case, so I want to make sure you fully understand its contents when trying to decide which theory you subscribe to. 

              “Mr. Ramsey,”

              A bit formal for a ransom note, but whatever.

              “Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction.”

              No you’re not. If you were from a small anything faction, you would not identify yourself as such; it’s like the 3X murders all over again. Also, no foreign faction identifies themselves as “foreign”, because to them they aren’t foreign; they’re Canadian or Armenian or whatever. Even when living abroad, people rarely personally identify as being foreign. It’s an utterly bizarre opening that calls everything else immediately into question.

              “We respect your bussiness [sic] but not the country that it serves.”

               On the note before the word respect you can see either the word “do” or the letters” don” crossed out. This indicates that originally the author was going to say that they don’t respect his business. While the change is peculiar, the need to show some sort of respect towards the person whose daughter you kidnapped is even weirder.

              “At this time we have your daughter in our posession [sic].”

              This is the second spelling mistake in as many sentences. The author seemed to be trying to establish the writer as foreign or poorly literate, something that is not helped by the length of this letter. The rest of the letter is also free of these mistakes, so either they forget their plan or felt that they had already established what they needed to and that no one would notice how glaringly out of place these lone errors were.

              “She is safe and unharmed, and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.”

              This is clearly a lie since we now know she’s dead, but it is also needlessly theatrical.

              “You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills.”

              Dude lives in a palace and his company just publically posted earnings of $1 billion for the year. I understand that money is not all his, unless he’s extraordinarily corrupt, but if the author knows his name he must also have some idea what he is worth. Even if they had no idea who the dude was and they were chosen at random, their house is fucking enormous. Who would go through the trouble of kidnapping a child from someone that is clearly loaded for just $118,000? And what is with those notes about the denominations? It’s utter nonsense.

What is not nonsense is that John “coincidentally” had just received his Christmas bonus of $118,117.50. That is a very specific number that very few people would have known. Either this foreign faction is very considerate and only wanted to take his bonus rather than financially crippling him (since they respect his business so much), or this number was intentionally chosen as misdirection to make it seem like it was someone from his company that was aware of his bonus amount.

“Make sure you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank.”

You mean I can’t fit that much money in my wallet? The word attaché, complete with accent of the e, is a bizarre choice. This could either be an attempt to make the person seem foreign or the work of a wealthy person that is so out of touch with reality that they don’t understand most people don’t commonly use words like “attaché”.

This also feels like a reference to the movie Ruthless People. In the film, a kidnapper gives instructions opening with “listen very carefully”, similar to this note. They also specify a make and model number for the briefcase to be used and instructions on the denominations of the bills. This is all unrealistic for an actual ransom scenario despite what movies would have the author believe, but their fondness for cinema is going to become even more obvious later.

“The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be well rested.”

You’re a kidnapper, why the fuck do you care if they’re well rested or not? Also, the note was left in the middle of the night while they were asleep. Would they not already be well rested when they saw it? This is also very similar to a line from the film Dirty Harry.

“If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a earlier delivery pick-up of your daughter.”

The not indicates they are somehow being monitored, but even if Patsy had not read the whole note before inviting the entire town over, John had read it before anyone arrived. You’d think they’d be concerned that they violated the terms of the ransom note that alleged they were being monitored, but they were not. The author also crosses out the word “delivery” with regards to JonBenét and changes it to “pick-up”. It’s almost as if the author is having difficulty remembering which side of the note they’re supposed to be on. That, or the realized after writing it that no kidnapper would actually deliver their daughter thus exposing themselves, then would just leave her somewhere to be picked up after they got the money.

“Any deviation on my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for a proper burial.”

If someone’s child is kidnapped, that is incentive enough for them to pay the ransom. The threat of denying her remains is another baffling inclusion in this letter. Nobody was thinking, “I was going to go to the police instead of paying because I’ll roll the dice with my daughter’s life, but if she can’t have a good, Christian burial I guess now I have to listen.”

“The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation such as Police, F.B.I., etc will result in your daughter being beheaded.”

Once again the author is trying to indicate this is a group of people. The specific threat of beheading seems to be another attempt to legitimize them as a foreign faction, as America is not one of the countries known for beheadings. It may also be a reference to the movie Nick of Time in which a kidnapper threatens to cut off a girl’s head.

The much more important detail here is that the initialism FBI is written with periods after each letter. This is extremely uncommon, and even runs counter to the modern AP style guide.

“If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies.”

Once again, this is straight out of the movies. The repeated cadence of “if you do X, she dies” is directly from Ruthless People, and the comment about killing her if they talk to a dog comes from Dirty Harry.

“You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to out smart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back.”

First of all, you aren’t familiar with anything besides Hollywood movies portrayal of law enforcement. But more importantly, you’re saying there’s a chance? Why on Earth would you only give a 99% chance of killing JonBenét if they try to outsmart you? Maybe the increase from 99% to 100% in the following line sounded more theatrical to the author, but what ransom note is going to propose “We have your daughter, and we’re almost positive our plan is going to work”?

“You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities.”

Oops, probably shouldn’t have called so many people. Also, this is 1996; there’s no CCTV to hack into. Are you saying you’re parked outside watching? Can we come say hi?

“Don’t try to grow a brain John.”

Literally a quote from the movie Speed. It’s such a bizarre phrase that it’s hard to imagine the author wouldn’t realize someone would immediately notice that. Despite the formal introduction, it seems that the kidnappers are now on a first name basis with John.

“You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!”

The use of the phrase “fat cat” is often cited as being out of place for a foreign faction, though I’m less sure of that. Regardless, despite being in Colorado they seem to know that John is from the south originally. It seems unlikely they could know that detail about him and not understand that $118,000 was a drop in the bucket compared to what he had in the bank.

Finally, the letter was signed “Victory! S.B.T.C”

Needless to say, ransom notes generally don’t include signatures the way a formal letter would. It’s kind of hard to anonymously claim a ransom when you’ve signed your name on the evidence. No relevant organization with those initials has ever been identified, and any guesses as to the meaning are generally both baseless and ludicrous.

While the initial officers on the scene took the ransom note at face value, the first investigator to look at it immediately identified it as a red herring. I mean, just listen to that nonsense. The alleged kidnapped kept switching between using “I” and “we”, indicating they could not keep track of whether or not they were supposed to be a group of people. However, even if the message itself was meaningless, the note as a piece of evidence absolutely was not.

Not only was this a long, handwritten note, the culprit didn’t even bring the note with them. The paper was found to come from a notepad belonging to Patsy, and the pen used was a pen from inside the house. Remarkably, both items were returned to where they came from in the house. This is a possible sign of habitual behaviour, whereas a kidnapper is unlikely to really give a shit about leaving the house in order. I mean, they left a ransom note, so obviously you would know somebody had been in the house.

The only fingerprints found on the note belonged to Patsy, John, and the police officers involved. By itself this doesn’t mean much, as an intruder could have worn gloves the entire time they were in the house, but it’s still part of broader context. Because the note was known to have been written inside the house, the length is a pretty big deal. Police estimate it would have taken approximate 21.5 minutes to write all that.

Days later, the police would also find what was referred to as a “practice ransom note”. This practice note only contained the words “Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey”, but it was torn off the pad and thrown away, along with the page beneath it where some of the ink ran through the page. This implies that the original letter was going to be drafted addressing both parents before the author reconsidered and wrote it directly to John instead.

Because whoever left the note was considerate enough to write so much, there was a very large sample to be used for handwriting analysis. While expert testimony from handwriting analysts is generally allowed in court, it is still heavily criticized as being subjective and “junk science”. Subjective or not, the results of this analysis were rather interesting.

Based on the comparisons of the ransom note and other writing samples, experts were able to rule out both John and Burke as the possible author. They also ruled out anyone outside the family that was involved in the case. The one person that was not ruled out was Patsy. She was not labeled as a definitive match for the handwriting, but there were over 200 similarities found between the ransom note and her writing samples. Among them were her affinity for exclamation points and using periods in initialisms. Much more damning were the letters themselves.

Here is a particularly interesting example of some of the similarities:

              Patsy’s sample is clearly written with a finer tipped pen, so the shapes of the letters aren’t going to be amazing matches here, although in many of the other examples they are. What is unusual is the grouping of letters in the words. In both examples, the initial E is linked to the letter L, then the next E is separate. The next group of four letters are all written linked into each other, with the final three letters being isolated.

              There are a lot of examples of letters linked together by both Patsy’s writing and the ransom note in addition to the general shape of the letters, but this one really jumps out as being specific to her writing. I reiterate that Patsy’s writing was not declared as a match and was simply not ruled out, but if she was not the author it seems likely that the true author was familiar with Patsy’s handwriting and was trying to make it appear as if she wrote it.

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The 911 Call

              I know that was a long section, Simon, so don’t worry; we don’t need to analyze every single word that was spoken to the 911 operator. Instead, think of it like jazz where you have to listen to the words that weren’t said to the operator.

              Patsy called 911 at 5:52 am. When the operator picked up, Patsy immediately gave her address and said they have a kidnapping. So far so good, as we were all taught back then to immediately give your location and the nature of the problem if you call 911. The operator calmly tried to get information while Patsy sounded frantic.

              When asked about her daughter, Patsy says that she is 6 years old and blonde. At no point does she ever speak JonBenét’s name which seems really odd, but in a genuine state of panic it could be hard to organize your thoughts and what details and most important to offer the police.

              The operator asked if the ransom note says who took JonBenét. Patsy first says “no”, then “I don’t know”, then mentions the note again before saying “SBTC. Victory.” This final bit is often mentioned as an inconsistency in her story, though I’m less convinced. She stated to police that she had only read the first two sentences of the ransom note before calling 911, but then answers who signed it. This could easily be explained by the fact that she was holding the note and simply looked at the very end for a signature.

              The common refutation of this idea is that she says the last two lines in the opposite order they appear on the note, which many take to believe she was reciting it from memory and got it backwards. I’d counter that by saying that she read the SBTC and, unable to make sense of it, read the previous line as well since it was only a single word. I’m not proclaiming Patsy’s innocence, I just find this argument to be extremely unconvincing.

              The operator informed Patsy that an officer was on the way and took her name while Patsy went through what sounds like a bit of histrionics, repeating please and hurry over and over again. The operator repeats that someone is on the way and asks Patsy to take a deep breath, at which point she again says “hurry hurry hurry” and hangs up the phone…or so she thought.

              What followed is difficult to make out. The audio has been run through noise cancelation filters and amplified to try to make it clearer. Even from the raw audio, Patsy can clearly be heard saying something in the background, though it is hard to decipher what. There appears to be three different voices: Patsy, an adult male, and a child. Since no one else was supposed to be in the house, and indeed no one was when the police arrived three minutes later, it stands to reason that the other two voices heard are John and Burke, assuming what’s heard really is voices.

There’s some dispute that it may be artifacts from the editing process performed on the recording, as what we can hear appears to be on analog tape and may even be a copy of a copy. It’s also important to remember that background noise can come from both sides of the call, so it may be background noise from the 911 call center. Even if we assume they are voices, the exact dialogue is still very difficult to make out.

              There are a couple different proposals as to what is being said. If you want to try to listen for yourself, I recommend pausing to try to find the audio without subtitles to listen first, as once you know what is allegedly there, you will hear it every time whether it’s clear or not. Here is the transcript of what is believed to be said after Patsy put down the phone, thinking it was hung up:

              John: “We’re not talking to you.”

              Patsy: “What did you do? What did you do?” or “What did you do? Help me, Jesus!”

              Burke: “What did you find?” or “Are they gonna arrest me?”

              It is at that point that the 911 call actually disconnects. One other quick thing about this phone call: at the very beginning of the call, the first thing Patsy says is, “We need an….police.” Especially with the pause in her sentence, it sounds a lot like she was about to say “We need an ambulance” for JonBenét before she remembered it was supposed to be a kidnapping. Is it possible she was saying she needed an ambulance on instinct because that’s normally what you call 911 for? Sure, anything is possible in this case, that’s why it’s still unsolved. The only thing that seems like it shouldn’t be possible is the one thing we know for a fact, the brutal way in which JonBenét was murdered.

https://flic.kr/p/qNhJJR

The Autopsy of JonBenét

              I know, I know, Simon, “CSI not Saw”. Don’t worry, I won’t make you look at the photos.

When JonBenét was brought up from the basement, there was the deep ligature mark around her neck with the cord from the garotte still attached. Strangulation was the official cause of death, but it was not her only injury. Though there appeared to be no sign of it by looking at her, JonBenét had also suffered an 8 inch long skull fracture as a result of severe, blunt force trauma. That’s approximately the length of her entire head.

The initial report believed that the skull fracture took place roughly 1.5-2 hours before she was strangled to death, though it would have been fatal if left untreated. Other evidence suggests the fracture may have occurred after she was already dead.

Scratch marks on her neck indicate that she may have been struggling to loosen the garrote around her neck as she suffocated, and DNA was found under her fingernails years later.

JonBenét was wearing a white, long-sleeve shirt with a silver star embroidered on it, a pair of long johns, and panties. The long johns and panties were both stained with blood and urine. Next to her body was a Barbie nightgown which had her blood on it.

There was evidence of vaginal injury, and of chronic inflammation that could be indicative of long term abuse, though such abuse is not established fact and is a matter of contention among medical professionals. There wasn’t anything indicating penile insertion, but some other form of sexual abuse was definitely a possibility. There was no semen found, but the pathologist recorded that her vaginal area had been wiped with a cloth.

              Two peculiar sets of injuries were two pairs of circular marks, one set on her neck and one on her back. The injuries seemed to be of identical size, and both sets were the exact same distance apart.

              It was also noted that the ropes tied around JonBenét’s wrists were loose, and would not have been useful in actually binding her. It is widely believed that she was tied up posthumously as part of the staging of a crime scene.

              The autopsy also noted that the last thing she had eaten, within the last couple hours before she died, was pineapple.

The DNA Evidence

              There were a few samples of DNA taken from JonBenét Ramsey. There were samples found on other side of her long johns and her panties. These were very small samples and for years could not be tested. There was also the DNA found under her fingernails, as well as some DNA found on the garrote. It is extremely important to note that in all of these instances, the DNA found was touch DNA. There was no foreign blood, saliva, urine, or semen found.

              Touch DNA is just DNA from shed skin cells, and it is an extremely tricky thing. It is very easily transferred from one person or surface to another, and it is difficult to rely on as there are too many innocent explanations for the appearance of touch DNA, regardless of where it is found.

              Despite the potentially useless nature of this kind of DNA, when advancements were made and these samples were able to be tested, it was discovered that the DNA belonged to a person known as “unidentified male”. The DNA was not a match for anyone in the Ramsey family nor for anyone that was known to them, and it was not in the FBI database.

              Based on this information, in 2008, 2 years after Patsy died from ovarian cancer, Boulder district attorney Mary Lacy publicly exonerated the Ramsey family. This was seen as extremely premature by many DNA experts, but it is also not legally binding in any way.

              Research has improved even more since then, and there are now two sets of different DNA besides JonBenét’s found in her panties. It was also revealed that not only did the DNA found on the garrote and under her fingernails not match the DNA from her clothing, the samples from neither location matched each other.

              The story of this DNA isn’t over, either. Coincidentally, the same day that I pitched this episode to Simon, John announced that he wanted the DNA evidence to be sent for private testing rather than being controlled by the Boulder police department. Whether he’s guilty or innocent, further testing is a no lose situation for him. If he’s innocent, of course he wants to do anything to find his daughter’s killer, no matter how futile it may seem. If guilty, he knows that identifying the DNA can point suspicion elsewhere, and if somehow any of it was identified as him well so what? It’s all touch DNA and they live together, so there’s endless non-suspicious reasons his DNA could have wound up on her clothes or household items.

https://flic.kr/p/7Jetb

Remaining Evidence

              Just a few loose ends to tie up here before we tackle the different theories. First is the garrote. The garrote was fashioned using nylon rope and one of Patsy’s paintbrushes. The paintbrush was broken into three pieces. The middle third was used for the garrote, the portion with the bristles was placed back in the tray in the cellar with her other paintbrushes, and the third piece was never found.

              The nylon rope used for the garrote was the same used to tie JonBenét up. We already mentioned that her bindings were too loose to be effective, but this is also taken by psychologists as a sign that whoever did this to stage the scene was someone that cared about JonBenét; a random attacker would just quickly tie knots without any regard for the wellbeing of the victim.

              Speaking of the knots, there were three different knots used. There is disagreement on how complex these different knots were and who would be able to tie them. It is believed that both John and Patsy would know how to tie various knots because they owned at least one boat (of course they did; fucking rich people) and loved sailing. John also would have certainly learned various knots while in the Navy, and may have even learned how to make a garrote during hand-to-hand training as it is a simple and effective weapon that can quickly be made with materials a person might have on hand.

              There is speculation that Burke may have been able to tie the knots as well because it was mentioned he was in scouts, usually falsely reported as Boy Scouts. At 9 years old, he only would have been a Cub Scout, which is much more arts and crafts than actual survival skills. What they learned would of course be up to the parents in charge, but my personal opinion based on my experience as a scout is that at his age he probably would have known how to tie a square knot, but not the two others. Not only were the two other knots probably too sophisticated, but teaching slipknots is generally avoided at such a young age as they would serve little if any use but could prove extremely dangerous.

              The duct tape that had been covering JonBenét’s mouth also appeared to have been placed there after her death. There were no signs on the tape that it had been struggled against in any way, which would certainly be present if she were alive and unable to breathe.

              As for where the duct tape and the nylon came from, well that’s an interesting question. There was no roll of duct tape anywhere in the house, nor any source for the nylon rope. Some people speculate that they could have been purchased at a nearby store and then discarded in a neighbour’s trash can. While they were able to tie a purchase back to that store, only the prices were listed and not the items. Both the tape and the rope would have cost $1.99 each, and Patsy had purchased two items each costing $1.99 a week prior to the murder. There are two obvious issues with this scenario. The first is that purchasing them a week earlier indicates a level of premeditation that does not seem to make sense if any of the Ramsey’s were involved. The other problem is that I’m sure half the items in the store cost $1.99.

              The one final piece of material evidence for this case is the broken window in the basement. Though it was somehow missed during the initial sweep of the basement, there was a window with a broken pane. Curiously, John volunteered the fact that he had broken the window months earlier when he had locked himself out of the house, and it was never fixed because he assumed Patsy would call someone to have it taken care of. The window appeared to be covered in cobwebs that had not been disturbed, but it was later shown that it might technically be possible to have entered the house utilizing the broken window without disturbing the cobwebs.

              There was also a large, Samsonite suitcase pushed flush against the wall underneath the window that could have been used as a stool to help an intruder escape back out the window. The Ramsey family insisted that this suitcase was out of place and would never have been there normally.

The Early Investigation

              The Ramseys lawyered up immediately. That’s fine. Even if you’re innocent, never say a damn word without a lawyer present. What is curious to most is that they had separate lawyers. I guess this is actually recommended rather than being as suspicious as it is normally portrayed, but most of us would be lucky to afford one lawyer so the luxury of having separate lawyers would never even come up as an option. Also, most of us probably aren’t worried that both we and our spouse are going to be murder suspects, so I guess that’s another reason that this would be unfamiliar to us.

              Much to the dismay of the police, they flew back to Atlanta. From Atlanta, a week after the murder, they conducted their first TV interview. This also annoyed the police as they had not been cooperating with requests for official interrogations.

              There is a lot of analysis of this interview, though I don’t find much of the dialogue to be terribly substantive. The only particularly interesting comment is that John says, “We will find you. I have that as a sole mission for the rest of my life.” This statement holds the implication that he does not expect to actually ever find a killer. It could just be a poor choice of words, but I promise you the rest of the critiquing of word choice is far more nitpicky than this.

              The bigger take away from this interview is their demeanor and nonverbal communication. First of all, Patsy allegedly appears to be on something. Her daughter was murdered and became an international news story overnight, and now she’s doing a TV interview. Even without the pressure of the interview, if she needed to pop some Xanax to get through such an emotionally devastating time, I don’t think anyone’s going to fault her for that. More importantly, her displays of grief and emotion, especially when she begins crying and needs to compose herself, seem genuine, as is the opinion of many experts.

              On the other hand, John’s emotions are analyzed as being fake or deceptive. There are certainly reasons for this besides guilt. There’s a certain level of sociopathy that is generally required to become president and CEO of a billion dollar company, so he could be innocent and just trying to fake what seems like appropriate emotion. Alternatively, this was his second daughter to die in four years. That level of trauma could leave a person completely emotionally dead inside. Or, he could just be guilty as Hell; nothing’s off the table.

              When the Ramseys finally agreed to talk to police, four months after the murder, it was going to take some concessions on the part of the police department. Most importantly, and most bewilderingly, the Ramseys were to be provided with copies of the initial statements they had made when talking to the police beforehand. This is basically unheard of. The only logical reason a person would want those statements is to ensure that they kept their story straight, and that is not something the police want to actively facilitate if that story could be a lie.

              There was already evidence of the Ramseys changing their story as well, not to mention their story not lining up with the facts. One notable change was that when police first arrived, Patsy said that she came downstairs, found the ransom note then ran upstairs to see if JonBenét was in her room. That story quickly changed to her saying she saw JonBenét was not in her room, ran downstairs, and found the ransom note.

              Even if she was already knew JonBenét was dead, this change doesn’t make any sense from a tactical standpoint, as the order of those two things doesn’t really matter. What makes even less sense is to believe someone would forget the order those things happened in. I know we love to talk about how memory is shit, and it is. If you saw someone eating a bowl of cereal, they probably couldn’t tell you whether they grabbed the cereal or the bowl from the cabinets first even though it happened minutes earlier. But this scenario is very different.

              Our brains are wired to remember trauma as a survival tool. It has become markedly less important the more advanced society gets, but our brains haven’t adapted. You can probably remember every truly terrifying or embarrassing thing that has happened throughout your life with unnecessary detail, and those memories randomly enter your brain far more often than you would like. With something as powerfully traumatic as this would be, you would absolutely remember whether you saw your daughter was missing then found a ransom note or found a ransom note then found that your daughter really was missing. You might disagree, and you may even be thinking something along the lines of her trying to repress the memories, but there’s a lot of debate over whether repressed memories even exist or not. I’m standing my ground that she couldn’t possibly forget the order of those two things, but like I said, nearly every single detail of this case is heavily contested.

              [Optional outro if two-part episode: Most heavily contested of all are the various theories as to the true identity of the killer. Was it one or both of the parents? Was it the brother? Was there truly a home invader? You’ll have to come back next time to see exactly how all of these theories play out]

              But now the time has finally come. We have enough relevant details to finally examine the four main theories while understanding why none of them fit the facts of the case perfectly enough.

John Did It

            The Ramseys arrived home after their party. Despite his claim of carrying the sleeping JonBenét directly to her bed, it was not JonBenét but rather Patsy that was exhausted and immediately went to bed, not bothering to wash off her makeup or change out of her clothes from the party. John gave his kids a late night snack of some pineapple and sent them both to their rooms.

              One of the big problems for what would have to happen next is that there is no apparent motive. If we accept that the chronic inflammation meant that JonBenét was indeed being sexually abused and that her father was the perpetrator, we can speculate how things might have gone wrong in this particular instance. However, there were no signs of a struggle in JonBenét’s room which makes it less likely that this was simply an incident of abuse gone wrong. Without her somehow fighting back, the motive for murder because murkier. A habitual abuser of his own daughter would most likely prefer to keep her alive for continued abuse, rather than suddenly and violently murdering her.

 Even if this began as abuse that went wrong, the skull fracture was so severe that it almost certainly could not have been something as simple as her slipping and banging her head on the floor. Were something like that actually enough for the head injury, it still doesn’t explain the absolutely brutal act that led to her death by asphyxiation. It is genuinely bothersome that, even were John a predator, the motivation not only for murder but such a brutal murder doesn’t make sense. This is bothersome because so many of the other details would make sense.

              Regardless of his motive, with JonBenét now dead, John had to set about staging the scene. He wrote the ridiculous ransom note, trying to disguise the writing as his conveniently named wife, Patsy. The logic here could be that even if she somehow was suspected, she was innocent so there would be no evidence to tie her to the crime. Alternatively, he may have just wanted to make sure the writing didn’t look like his and either nothing else mattered, or hers was the only handwriting he could imitate without it looking too unnatural. It didn’t really matter, because in this scenario there was never supposed to be a body and thus the ransom note would appear more genuine.

              Though John had volunteered that he broke the window months earlier, he actually broke it that night. It was intended to be staged as the point of entry for the kidnappers, but he was running out of time and needed to get to bed before his wife woke up. He also couldn’t risk crawling through the window and getting covered in dirt and cobwebs, then going back to bed in such a state.

              With JonBenét’s body staged and hidden in the wine cellar, he returned to bed. All that was left was for Patsy to wake up, find the note, and come running to him. Then he’d send her and Burke to go stay somewhere safe for the day while he prepared for the ransom on his own, just like the note said. This would leave him all day to get rid of the body. After all, the note very clearly said not to call the police and that they would call tomorrow between 8 and 10 am to arrange the exchange.

              He was giving himself an entire day of solitude to dispose of the body, withdraw the $118,000 that was definitely still liquid and not tied up in investments, and creating a reasonable excuse for not going to the police that day; he was just following the kidnapper’s instructions. It would have been a nearly perfect plan, except for two fatal flaws.

              The first is that if a person wakes up to find a note left overnight that references “tomorrow” in it, there’s a reasonable chance they will assume that tomorrow from the vantage point of the author is in fact today. The other flaw was that he didn’t realize Patsy would want her fucking baby back and couldn’t be bothered to read John’s spec script for Netflix before calling the police. She also couldn’t be bothered to even consult with him, which would have given him a chance to hash out the whole “tomorrow” debate and try to convince her not to call the cops.

              As soon as Patsy called 911, John realized he was fucked. He had been trying to stage the kidnapping, and a big part of that was breaking the window and undoing the latch to provide a plausible point of entry. However, he had never crawled through it so there were still the undisturbed cobwebs, and he certainly couldn’t do it now with the police on their way. This window was a dead giveaway that he had been staging, so now he had to attempt to undo the staging. He closed the window, and made up the story about breaking it months earlier.

              It came out quite a while later that he had gone down to the basement alone at one point and he said he had closed the window and noticed the suitcase against the wall, also left there as part of the staging, but he didn’t mention either of these things to police at the time. If someone allegedly broke into your home and kidnapped your child, and you just found a possible point of entry, how did you just not think to mention that to the police?

              John would later claim that the window being open didn’t strike him as unusual at first, as they would often leave the basement window open to let cold air in because the basement got too hot. There is a world where that could make sense, but it is not a world in which he broke the window four months earlier; a broken window is just as effective at letting in cold air as an open window.

              The rest of the story played out pretty much the way we described earlier. At one point while the officers were in the house, John attempted to change his flight plans. They had intended to fly to Michigan to see the rest of his family that day, but he instead wanted to have his private plane take them to Atlanta that day. He was immediately informed by the police, “Um, why? And also, no.” His alleged reasoning for this flight was that he had an important business meeting, but this doesn’t really make any sense.

If he had a business meeting, that would already have been part of his plans; he wouldn’t need to change his flight to accommodate it. It is also highly unlikely that he would suddenly agree to a previously unscheduled meeting that very day, the same day his daughter was found murdered. Speculation is that his reason for trying to fly to Atlanta that day is because it was where all his lawyer friends lived, and he knew he absolutely needed one.

A lot of suspicious details suddenly make sense based on this theory, but there are a few problems. The first is the lack of motive. If he had been chronically abusing JonBenét, why suddenly turn to murder? And why in such a brutal fashion? The timing, just hours before they were supposed to be flying to Michigan, and the sloppy nature make premeditation seem unlikely, but what could have happened to trigger such a violent outburst all of the sudden? Even if he was some vicious sociopath, the brutality and personal nature of the murder doesn’t align with the care that was given to her body during the staging.

The bindings on her hands were loose, and she was wrapped in a blanket. It would be one thing if she was just choked to death by hand, but those actions indicates a level of affection for JonBenét that doesn’t seem like it could exist in a person who would make an improvised weapon to strangle her with enough force to leave the deep ligature marks found around her neck.

There’s also the matter of the evidence, and in some cases the lack of evidence. In order to believe that John, or in fact any member of the Ramsey family, committed this murder, we have to believe that they are simultaneously both the dumbest and most brilliant criminals ever. The ransom note is idiotic to say the least, and to leave the start of a first draft where it could be found is beyond sloppy. Conversely, there was no roll of duct tape or nylon rope anywhere in the house other than on JonBenét’s body. How could someone both be capable enough to remove such evidence without being seen while also doing so many blatantly stupid things? It would be possible to argue that John simply ran out of time and didn’t get to finish all the staging, but that ransom note is just such a huge deal. The note casts so much suspicion on the family for being obvious bullshit, and a person clever enough to properly stage the crime scene couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to not realize how incriminating that note was.

One of the best explanations for how an intelligent person could leave that note is that perhaps the wealthy are so out of touch with reality that they believe things in movies are like real life for ordinary people, but this seems a bit unlikely. Even if it’s true, John made his millions after college and, while hard to ascertain, it doesn’t appear that he grew up extremely wealthy. Based on his father’s career he very well could have had an upper-middle class upbringing, but there’s no indication he came from “disconnected from reality” levels of wealth.

              In the book The Death of Innocence written by the Ramsey family, John wrote, “The police theory has been, as far as I know, that either Patsy or I woke up in the middle of the night, struck JonBenét in a violent rage, and then staged everything to look like a kidnapping. I’ve often told friends that if I were trying to stage this, as the police contend, I could have done a much more convincing job.” It is unclear whether or not this book was the inspiration for O.J. Simpsons’s If I Did It.

Patsy Did It

The family returned home from their party, and Patsy was a bit stressed out. She had a whiny six year old that hadn’t eaten much food, and still had to get ready for a trip early the next morning. It was a trip she later admitted she didn’t really want to take, which could increase her levels of stress. She prepared a bowl of pineapple for JonBenét so that she could eat something and go to bed, then stayed up to finish preparing for the flight the next morning.

              This is not confirmed, but there is heavy speculation that JonBenét wet the bed that night based on some of the evidence such as a plastic sheet on her bed, the urine stains on her clothes, and a diaper package hanging halfway out of a cabinet. It is believed that this incident, combined with all the other stress of the day, caused Patsy to lash out in anger. While brutal murder is not normally the result, toileting issues are a major cause of parental rage.

              Immediately, I find this motive suspect. I understand being over stressed and that a soiled child is hardly pleasant, but she’s also six. Bed wetting is going to happen sometimes, and it’s not pleasant for the child involved either so it’s not like it was done on purpose out of spite. Also, even if JonBenét was having chronic bedwetting issues as some have suggested, this seems like the least of Patsy’s concerns. There is evidence and testimony that Burke had much larger toileting issues, and was prone to smearing his feces around, particularly on JonBenét’s things. While you could argue the prolonged stress of this situation could have just finally gotten to Patsy, it seems less likely that the younger child accidentally wetting her bed would be the one to finally receive the outburst.

              Regardless, according to this theory there was some sort of outburst of anger from Patsy in JonBenét’s bathroom. She was shoved hard and her head came into contact with a hard surface, like the edge of the bathtub, inflicting the skull fracture. JonBenét collapsed to the ground, and Patsy believed she was dead.

              Though a call to 911 could have potentially saved her life at this point, Patsy both believed she was already dead and was afraid of the investigation into her that would follow as a result, even though the injury had been an accident. She carried her daughter to the most remote part of the house in the hopes of staging a kidnapping gone wrong.

              Patsy grabbed the closest thing she could find, one of her paintbrushes, and broke it to use as the handle for the garrote. She tightened it firmly around JonBenét’s neck and choked her from behind to create the ligature marks. Though still alive, JonBenét had suffered too much trauma to her head and could not wake up during her final moments.

              She continued her staging, writing the ransom note and laying it somewhere where she knew John would find it. However, time had gotten away from her, and she heard John moving around upstairs. Since she had not made it back to their bed yet, she had to act quickly. She grabbed the note, screamed, and dialed 911. John came downstairs, completely unaware of what had happened. After calling 911, Patsy immediately invited as many people over as she could in a deliberate act to contaminate the crime scene and hinder any potential investigation.

              John immediately recognized the ransom note as having been written by his wife, and remained distanced from her all morning. He was suspicious of her, but did not yet know exactly what she had done. Later in the morning when he disappeared for 90 minutes, he may have found her body. When he returned, he was shaken and appeared agitated, having both discovered his daughter’s body and understood that his wife was the murderer.

              He now had to wrestle with the decision of turning in his wife or lying to defend her. There was also the fear that he could fall under suspicion as well if his wife was revealed as the killer, so he decided to remain silent. When Detective Linda told him to search the house, he immediately went to retrieve the body, knowing that he couldn’t stay composed trying to conceal the body, though choosing to remain by his wife’s side.

              Once again, this theory explains a great number of things while failing to address others. While it may not be the most convincing, Patsy would have a clearer motive than John in this situation. It may seem unlikely that Patsy would fly off the handle because her young daughter wet the bed, but we don’t know what her exact mental state would have been at the moment before she found out, and the ongoing stress of alleged chronic bedwetting as well as Burke’s fecal adventures could have finally worn her down. It feels like a little bit of a stretch, but less of one than John’s motive.

              This theory also gives a better explanation of why Patsy was still in her clothes from the night before and had her full makeup on: she never went to sleep. It is also more probable that the ransom note was written by Patsy than by someone trying to disguise their handwriting as hers, as the writing is just too similar (but again, not definitely hers). It explains why in the 911 call it sounds like she starts to call for an ambulance, but then stops and corrects herself, instead asking for police.

              There is one simple fact that throws a lot of doubt on this particular theory: Patsy called 911. Ignoring how utterly ridiculous the contents of the ransom note were, it is made abundantly clear throughout that they are absolutely not supposed to call the police. If Patsy was the author of the note, and particularly if she intended John to find it, it is puzzling that she would ignore her own instructions and immediately call the police.

              Maybe, in the moment she heard John moving around upstairs, the full gravity of what had happened and what a horrible note she had written finally sunk in. Maybe she realized that John would immediately recognize the handwriting as her own, and she needed to take control of the situation. She had no idea what John would do when he saw the note and knew that Patsy was the one that wrote it, so she couldn’t risk being left alone with him. She needed the police there as soon as possible in an attempt to force John onto her side.

              This theory also doesn’t explain the potential defense wounds on JonBenét’s neck, as well as some of the other details. Like I said, none of the theories fit perfectly. Also like I said, there are many, many variations of the theories that either John or Patsy did it, and there are also theories that either both of them killed her or one of them did and the other tried to help cover it up. We can’t cover every iteration of every theory, but at least you have a baseline understand of the main premises of each of these theories.

              There is one detail that hasn’t been addressed by either of these theories, however, and that is Burke. Burke, who allegedly was asleep in bed throughout the entire ordeal. Burke, who it was stated in later interviews by the family was woken up by Patsy running into his room shouting “Where’s my baby?” before calling the police, but allegedly never left his room. Burke, who was allegedly jealous enough of his sister to smear his feces on a box of candy she had gotten for Christmas.

Burke Did It

              It is frequently reported that Burke was jealous of JonBenét, and this would not be unexpected as she rather clearly appeared to be Patsy’s favourite, and John was too busy working to be there much. It is also reported that he was frequently guilty of fecal smearing and other little presents such as garments soiled with feces deposited in JonBenét’s room or, in one instance, “feces the size of a grapefruit” left in JonBenét’s bed, according to one of the Ramsey’s housekeepers.

              This should not be discounted, but the two are not necessarily related, either. There are at least eight different psychological disorders of which fecal smearing can be a symptom, and Burke is definitely a bit off so he is almost certainly suffering with at least one of those. We’re not gonna guess at his diagnosis, but like I said, “That boy ain’t right”, so this may have been a symptom of one such disorder rather than a symptom of his jealous towards his sister. Before we jump into the theory of how or why Burke did it, here are two important crime scene photos that you need to look at.

              The family returned home from their Christmas party. The parents went to bed and either the kids stayed up to play with their toys, or snuck back downstairs after being put to bed. Burke decided to make himself a snack, so he grabbed a can of cubed pineapple from the pantry and make his favourite snack: pineapples in milk, along with a glass of sweet tea.

              It is clear that the Ramseys committed at least one crime, and that is allowing their child to frequently have pineapples in milk. This is the children’s equivalent of a cement mixer (Irish cream with lime juice) and if you don’t understand why that would be gross, be sure to let your friends watch you drink it so they can enjoy your reaction.

              You’ll note from the crime scene photo that the bowl of pineapples is still mostly full. Maybe Burke’s eyes were too big for his stomach and he couldn’t finish it, so he left it there. For this theory, however, his snack was interrupted. Pineapple was a favourite food of JonBenét as well. Patsy’s favourite child ran into the kitchen and stole a piece of pineapple out of the bowl.

              Burke was irate. He made this snack all by himself and his sister thought she had the right to just run in and steal it? Not on his watch. Since he was also still a child, he had both no sense of proportionate response and no sense of his own strength, especially relative to the size of JonBenét. He grabbed the flashlight off the kitchen counter and brought it down on his sister’s skull with all his might in retaliation for her snack swindling.

              If you didn’t recognize it from the photo, that is not some plastic piece of shit flashlight, that is a Maglite. Maglites are those powerful, heavy duty flashlights with a lot of weight to them. They are the flashlights that police officers carry with them and sometimes use in lieu of Billy clubs. The blow from such a heavy object swung with such force immediately sent JonBenét’s body to the ground.

              Burke grabbed a loose piece of train track from the other room to prod his sister. Testing showed that the metal connectors from an identical piece of train track left very similar marks to those on JonBenét’s neck and back, and the pairs of marks it left were almost exactly the same distance apart as the marks found on her. An obvious criticism would be that they should be exactly the same distance not almost exactly, but it could be affected by the curvature of her body or the loose train tracks from the floor having been stepped on and being slightly bent.

              Burke prodded his sister multiple times without her showing any signs of life. Perhaps he, realizing the severity of his attack, got his parents. Perhaps they came downstairs on their own. One way or another, the Ramseys came downstairs and saw their daughter on the floor, assuming she was dead. They sent Burke to his room and ordered him to stay inside no matter what.

              They knew that Burke hadn’t meant to kill JonBenét, and he was a child so he wasn’t going to to go to jail. But they already knew he was an odd kid, and after this incident surely he would be taken away to some psychiatric facility. I mean, he was just a kid that didn’t realize his own strength so in reality this probably would not happen, but the Ramseys had just lost one of their children, and they weren’t prepared to lose the other. They spent the rest of the night trying to stage the kidnapping together.

              Patsy wrote the ransom note while John carried his daughter to the basement to simulate the kidnapping gone wrong. He wrapped the garrote around JonBenét’s neck and tightened it, but suddenly everything went even more to shit. JonBenét opened her eyes and began grabbing at the cord.

What the Hell was he supposed to do? He thought she was dead. If he knew she was alive, they could have just claimed the kids were roughhousing and she fell. Now that she was alive, if they called 911 he would not only have to explain how she received such a massive skull fracture, but why JonBenét was saying she woke up with a cord around her neck, a neck that now had ligature marks. Out of self preservation, John had no choice but to finish the job.

When Patsy made the 911 call, Burke heard her screaming and couldn’t help but disobey his parents’ orders, coming downstairs. It is at this point that the conversation that can allegedly be heard at the end of the phone call took place. Had he hid in his room after striking his sister and the Ramseys found JonBenét on their own, the exchange of “What did you do?” followed by “What did you find?” makes a whole ton of sense. Burke is rushed back to his room before the police arrive and it is demanded that he stay there.

This theory has, by far, the most believable motive of any of the Ramsey family members. Siblings fight all the time, and the idea that Burke could be angry enough over a piece of stolen pineapple to whack his sister with whatever happened to be around is pretty believable. The narrative can be constructed to fit most of the evidence pretty well, too. However, the more closely the narrative is crafted to the evidence, the more dubious it becomes.

If we have to explain the potential defensive wounds on JonBenét by John continuing to strangle her after she woke up, that’s a really tough pill to swallow. He was staging her murder so as not to have to lose both of his children, but if she was alive, why not save the favourite child and throw the weird one under the bus?

Burke’s motivation makes sense here, but the parents’ motivation, while at least someone believe, feels much more like fiction than reality. It’s not impossible they felt this was necessary instead of calling 911, and maybe they thought they could exploit their wealth and status in the community to get people to believe the lie. Or maybe it was a snap decision that they immediately regretted, but it was too late to try to walk it back after the 911 call was made.

An interesting note about the flashlight, however, is that the family claimed it wasn’t theirs. Of all of the pieces of evidence to try to contest, why focus so heavily on the flashlight? If your answer is “because it was the murder weapon”, well that only makes it stranger. Most people own a flashlight; that’s not weird or suspicious. Even if it was discovered to be the source of the skull fracture, so what?

The Ramseys claimed that an intruder did this. If an intruder made themselves at home and used their pen and paper to take their time writing a long ransom note, what would stop them from using something from inside the house as a weapon? Denying that the Maglite belonged to them so adamantly doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. There’s also the possibility that it really wasn’t theirs. The flashlight could have belonged to a police officer that left it there, or it could have been left by an intruder.

And of course, we need to talk more about the pineapple. When Burke was finally interviewed by police as a child, it was…strange. He’s a little strange to begin with, but this was different. It’s as if either he had been heavily coached, or he had picked up on his own from listening in on his parents’ conversations that pineapple was a sign of guilt.

When interrogated, he was asked about snacks that his sister enjoyed. He goes out of his way to only mention non-pineapple snacks. Even when the question is restricted explicitly to fruit, he has a very long pause before finally admitting, “Maybe pineapple. Maybe.” He was also shown the crime scene photo above and asked to describe it. Burke said it looked like their dining room table. He confirmed the gingerbread house in the picture is one he and JonBenét had made together. When he was asked what’s in the bowl, the one with the pineapple, he looks at for a long time before saying, “oh…” and going on to describe the glass with the tea bag in it instead.

This is very suspicious, but does not necessarily point to Burke’s guilt. Even if he was not involved, he may have been coached not to mention the pineapple. Remember, in the original timeline of events, JonBenét fell asleep in the car and John carried her to bed immediately. If she ate pineapple at the house that night, it means the story was a lie. The Ramseys would go on to contradict their story multiple times, but pineapple remained a major point of contention as an early indicator they were lying, as well as providing the clearest motive for any of the family members to attack JonBenét.

While we’re talking about Burke, there is one other thing we need to mention, and that is his interview with Dr. Phil in 2016. Burke is very heavily criticized for this interview and a lot of people say that he seems guilty as sin as a result, but I have to disagree.

One of the key elements of the interview that people find unsettling is Burke’s smile. He has this giant, weird smile the entire interview. I’d love to be able to ask Jen to let you all see his big, stupid grin, but if we use even one frame from Dr. Phil his team will copyright claim this video before it’s even finished uploading. Jokes on them, it’s already demonetized anyway.

But as for Burke’s smile, fidgeting, and other seemingly odd behaviour, my personal opinion is to let it go. To start, he’s probably neurodivergent in some way. Second, it’s an extremely uncomfortable situation for someone to be in, especially someone who is not used to doing interviews. Also, his life basically ended at nine years old. He was already just the brother of JonBenét before that, with her clearly being the favourite child. Ever since the day she was murdered, he has been seen as nothing but the brother of JonBenét, the killer of JonBenét, or the son of the killer of JonBenét. Tabloid paparazzi made the family’s lives a media circus for years. Oh yeah, and this interview aired the same day as a CBS documentary that flat out accused Burke of murder. Given all of this, I think we can give him a pass for being socially awkward with Dr. Phil. That doesn’t absolve him of suspicion, it just means the interview is proof of nothing. Oh, and CBS settled Burke’s $750 million defamation lawsuit over that movie for an undisclosed amount.

So now we’ve covered all three family members. I’m not going to say that all three scenarios are equally likely, but none of them is so ironclad that the other two don’t cast enough reasonable doubt to prevent a conviction. But now it’s time to look at the fourth theory, the theory that Boulder police allegedly weren’t interested in pursuing. What if it really wasn’t a family member that did this?

An Intruder Did It

            All three theories we’ve looked at so far share one major detail in common. JonBenét’s skull was fractured by accident, making her appear dead, and then she was strangled to death with the garrote. This was the finding from the original autopsy, but what if it’s wrong? What if she was choked first, and the blow to the head didn’t happen until she was already dead? Like I said, literally every detail in this case is contested, and this isn’t just baseless speculation, either.

              A skull fracture the size of JonBenét’s would be expected to be accompanied by major brain hemorrhaging, but no such hemorrhaging was reported in the autopsy. However, tiny hemorrhages were observed in her eyes, which is what you would expect when a person is strangled while still alive. This would seem to indicate that by the time of the skull fracture, JonBenét’s heart had already stopped beating.

              This is an extremely important distinction, because while it does not rule out a family member, it makes it dramatically less likely. An accidental blow to the head, or even an intentional one that is more severe than intended, followed by the staging of the crime would make sense for a family member. I mean, it’s still fucking weird, but this whole case is weird so it would be highly plausible. However, if JonBenét was strangled to death and the blow to the head came after, it paints a very different picture.

              Garrotes are normally used as a control device, particularly during sexual assaults. JonBenét’s hair was tangled in the knots of the garrote, and the marks on her neck indicated she was trying to fight back. While not impossible, this sort of murder, without any accidental blow to the head preceding it, is extremely unlikely for a family member.

              According to former Colorado Springs District Attorney Bob Russel, “Parents don’t kill in that manner. They bash. They throw the child down. They hit them on the head. And they do things of that nature.”

              Then there’s the matter of just how terrible a job the Ramseys would have done had they been trying to stage the crime. Forget the physical staging of the crime for a moment, which was admittedly terrible, and look at the actions of the Ramseys. First, we’re going to have to assume that, even if he struck JonBenét with the Maglite, nine year old Burke was not capable of doing the rest by himself.

              That means if it was someone from the family, either Patsy or John had to be involved. If Patsy was involved, why would she call 911 before she had a chance to remove the body from the house, especially after writing in the note so many times not to call them at all? If John was involved, why would he insist to the police that he had locked all the doors the night before? They were trying to determine a possible point of entry, so why not give them one?

              For the Ramseys to have been involved, they would have to have been extraordinarily stupid. John had a master’s degree and was president and CEO of a tech company. Patsy had a degree in journalism and had dreamed of pursuing a career as a serious journalist before getting knocked up and becoming a millionaire homemaker. It seems almost impossible to believe that either of them could be so profoundly stupid as to fuck up their staging on the most basic level. Or maybe they’re brilliant and playing some sort of insane game of 4D chess that I can’t even comprehend, but that seems even less likely.

              If the blow to the head did not come first, both the method of killing and what would be a terrible attempt at staging point away from the Ramseys as being suspects. That’s all well and good, and perhaps enough for reasonable doubt, but is there actually any evidence pointing towards it being someone else?

              For starters, there’s that absurd ransom note again. Given the length of the note and how calm and collected the author appeared to be, some believe it is unlikely that the note was written after the murder. A family member would have been extremely panicked, and even an experienced killer would be too pumped full of adrenaline to be capable of sitting still long enough to write something so verbose.

              The note allegedly would have taken over 20 minutes to write though, so where would the killer have found the time? Are we expected to believe that they broke into the house, pulled up a chair to write this all down while the family slept, then committed the murder? Not necessarily. The killer could have been there all along.

              Even if the doors were all locked that night after the party, an intruder could have entered the home while they were at the party. With so many windows and doors on the first floor, as well as potentially accessible balconies, there are a myriad of possible points of entry. And the doors may have all been locked that night, but as we said it is alleged that this was not always the case, and their alarm was frequently left off.

              The killer could have spent hours in the house before the Ramseys returned home. This would have been ample time to study and try to copy Patsy’s writing (or it could have been someone known to the family who was already familiar with her writing), and also time to find the receipt from John’s $118,000 deposit for his bonus. By copying Patsy’s handwriting and including John’s oddly specific bonus amount, as well as making the ransom note longwinded and silly, the intruder would have been able to construct a piece of evidence that would implicate both of the Ramseys. The house was also decorated with a number of movie posters, so they could have deliberately included many a movie homage to try to further cast suspicion on the family.

              In this scenario, the intruder could have hidden inside the guest bedroom, located directly next to JonBenét’s bedroom. The window had a perfect view of the driveway to see when the Ramseys were coming home from the party, and it also was obstructed by a tree making it difficult for any nosy neighbours or passersby to see that someone was at the window.

              The bathroom for the guest bedroom had two drawers that were partially open, very seemingly out of place for a house that was regularly attended to by housekeepers. Furthermore, there was a length of climbing rope found in the room as well. The origins of this rope have not been determined, but allegedly it does not belong to the Ramseys. It is possible, as put forth by John, that it could have belonged to his son John Andrew from his previous marriage. The guest room was frequently used by John Andrew who enjoyed backpacking and such, but the rope still remains an unknown.

              There’s also the matter of the DNA. We mentioned before that the DNA of ”unidentified male” was found on JonBenét’s clothing. Specifically, the DNA was on either side of the waist band of her long johns, as well as mixed into two drops of her blood found in her panties. The bleeding is believed to be the result of sexual assault, so this touch DNA could conceivably be from someone pulling down her long johns and then other stuff.

              Finally, there is the matter of the marks on JonBenét’s back and neck. It has been put forth that these were caused by a stun gun, specifically the Air Taser. This particular assertion has been the subject of a lot of debate. Air Taser claimed that their taser could not leave the sort of marks found on JonBenét, and for there to be two sets of perfectly uniform marks on a squirming child would be impossible.

              Regardless of what the company’s PR department has to say, everyone should know that the term “stun gun” is a misnomer, as tasers do not literally stun a person. They make the person’s muscles convulse, and normally it elicits a whole lot of screaming. The argument was that when used on a six year old girl, it would make them faint rather than the effects we see on adults who are tased. Fortunately, this theory has never been tested because good luck getting that experiment by the ethics board, but that means there’s also no evidence to rule out such an assertion.

              So if it was an intruder, who could have done such a thing? Well, there are many theories. It could have been a family friend, someone that knew the Ramseys well. There were no signs of struggle in JonBenét’s room, so if there wasn’t a taser it would make sense that the killer was someone she knew.

              Another theory is that it was some pervert that saw her in pageants and became obsessed with her, or even a pageant judge. There were in fact two separate convicted pedophiles who confessed to her murder. One was proven to be a false confession, likely from someone seeking notoriety. The other man confessed on multiple occasions, most recently from prison in 2019. He has been on the Boulder police’s radar since at least 2000, but they seem unconvinced by his confessions.

              With or without the taser, the intruder theory is far from impossible. Someone sneaking in while the family was out, writing a fake ransom note to frame the parents, then sexually assaulting and murdering JonBenét doesn’t sound that ridiculous. In fact, there’s one man for whom it was the leading theory.

Detective Lou Smit

            If the ransom note sounds like it belongs in a movie, Lou Smit is the detective from that movie. Lou Smit had been a detective in a different county in Colorado, but three months into the investigation into JonBenét’s murder, the district attorney pulled him out of retirement to work the case. He boasted a career of over 200 murder investigations with a 100% conviction rate. Lou Smit was the guy, just not the guy Boulder wanted.

              I imagine Simon already made a comment about this, but to be clear, a 100% conviction rate for over 200 cases is fucking unbelievable. I don’t mean that like “wow, that’s so incredibly amazing”, I mean I don’t believe it. It does not seem possible to boast such an impressive record while conducting all of your investigations in a completely above board manner. He was involved in several high profile cases, so maybe he really was just that good, but the record seems a bit suspicious. However, remember that this was not some private investigator hired by the Ramseys to clear their names, dude was pulled out of retirement by the DA to get a conviction.

              Lou was the first investigator to take the intruder theory seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he went on to to declare “the Ramseys did not do it” in his resignation letter in 1998. He was the person that proposed the marks on JonBenét were made by the Air Taser and that the ransom note had to be written before the murder took place.

              The Boulder police were not fans of this line of reasoning, which is ultimately what led to Lou’s resignation from the case after working it for 18 months. He felt that the Boulder PD had immediately determined the Ramseys were guilty and tunnel visioned in on them as the only suspects, ignoring a substantial amount of evidence that he felt pointed to the fact there really was an intruder. Lou is not the only person to criticize the police for seeming to focus their investigation solely on the Ramseys, just the only one to do so from the inside.

Wrap Up

              You did it, Simon! You finally made it to the end of the script. As long as this was, there are so many more things I wish we had time to discuss today. There’s the matter of how many bikes there were at Christmas, the pedophile’s phone call to his childhood friend the day of JonBenét’s murder saying “I hurt a little girl”, John Andrew’s jizz rag that was inside the Samsonite briefcase in the basement, whether or not JonBenét was even abused by an adult or if she and Burke were playing doctor, the debate over whether the pineapple was canned or fresh, and so much more.

              As for who I think did it, I have no fucking idea. Unless there’s a lot more evidence that has been kept secret, I think all four options both are likely enough and have enough flaws that it would be impossible to get a conviction in the face of reasonable doubt; that’s probably why no one’s ever been charged with the murder.

              If I had to rank them from least to most likely, I’d probably say John, Patsy, Intruder, Burke, but that order has changed multiple times from when I first started researching this. That’s one of the things that makes this case so unusual; even people who are absolutely sure they knew who did it can find themselves changing their mind when a new variation of a theory is proposed. I look forward to seeing how you’d rank them, Simon, and by all means everyone else can GET IN THE COMMENTS with their opinions, or just to congratulate Simon for managing to sit through 34 pages of child murder. 

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