CRIME TIME: WHO KILLED JONBENET RAMSEY?




Everyone seems to say this about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann but, honestly, I think the death of JonBenet Ramsey is the one mystery I need solved before I die. I'll be so mad if I'm lying on my deathbed, at the grand age of 99, surrounded by my 14 cats, and I still don't know what happened to that poor girl.


THE FACTS

JonBenet Ramsey was a child beauty queen found dead in her home when she was just 6 years old. She lived in Boulder, Colorado with her parents, John and Patsy, and her older brother, Burke. The family was very wealthy as John was a successful computer services company executive. Patsy was a stay-at-home mum and a former pageant star, just like her daughter.

On the morning of 26th December 1996, Patsy woke up to find JonBenet missing and a 3-page ransom note on the stairs demanding $118,000 in exchange for her return. If the money wasn't paid, she would be beheaded. Of course, Patsy immediately phoned the police who arrived within minutes. Unfortunately, she also phoned almost everyone she knew so the house was soon swarming with police, friends and family. JonBenet's bedroom was the only part of the house cordoned off and some visitors even started cleaning the kitchen which, as a criminology student, physically pains me because OH MY GOD STOP DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE.

1pm rolled around and the family still hadn't heard from the kidnappers so the police asked John Ramsey to check the house again for anything out of the ordinary. This is when he found the dead body of his daughter JonBenet in the basement. There was duct tape over her mouth and nylon cord wrapped around her neck and wrists. The autopsy determined that JonBenet had died of asphyxiation due to strangulation but she also had a fractured skull. There was no evidence of rape but they couldn't completely rule out sexual assault.


THE THEORIES

It goes without saying that this is all very suspicious. Why would kidnappers leave a ransom note demanding a large sum of money, only for them to immediately kill JonBenet and leave her body in her house? Well, there's two main theories about who killed JonBenet: the family theory and the intruder theory. Let's start with the family theory.

It's not surprising that the police initially suspected JonBenet's parents to be responsible for her death. For a start, the ransom note was written on stationary from the Ramseys' house and there was evidence that a draft letter had been written first. That means that the supposed kidnappers would have had to spend a significant amount of time inside the house, writing a ridiculously long ransom note (which was about 3 pages of weird rambling), even drafting it out first. It seems such an unnecessary risk to take when they could've written the note first and spent a lot less time in the Ramseys' house. There's one particular detail in the note that people find very odd and seems to link directly to the Ramseys: the $118,000. It seems like a weird number doesn't it? Why not ask for a nice, round $100,000 or $200,000? But, $118,000 was the exact amount John Ramsey received as a Christmas bonus that year (I told you they were rich) so it's possible that that number happened to be in John and Patsy's heads when they were hurriedly forging the note. There's also some weird language choices in the letter including the 'kidnappers' describing themselves as a 'small foreign faction' which seems very strange because people don't tend to describe themselves as 'foreign'. These factors, along with JonBenet's body being found in the house and no sign of forced entry, led police at the time to believe that the note was fake and the Ramseys were responsible for her death.

But why would the Ramseys kill their own daughter? One theory is that JonBenet was a bedwetter, which made Patsy angry, and on this occasion Patsy struck JonBenet over the head and killed her. This just doesn't sit right with me though. Neither parent was known to be violent or aggressive, and JonBenet's brother Burke said that their parents never laid a finger on them: 'we didn't get spanked, nothing of the sort, nothing close...let alone killing your child'. Speaking of Burke, he seems to be a far more likely suspect to me. Unlike his parents, Burke was prone to fits of rage and suffered with mental health issues. The housekeeper even reported that she once found Burke smearing faeces all over his sister's room. Nice. Police also found a bowl of pineapple on the kitchen counter which had both Burke and JonBenet's fingerprints on it, and JonBenet had undigested pineapple in her stomach at the time of her death. However, the Ramseys deny feeding either of their children the pineapple. This leads some people to believe that JonBenet stole some of her brother's pineapple, making him lash out and hit her a little too hard. JonBenet didn't die immediately so John and Patsy then strangled her to finish the job, staged the fake kidnapping, and lied about the pineapple. This theory seems even more likely when you watch this straight-up, creep-fest of an interview with Burke Ramsey from 2016. Smiling while talking about your murdered little sister is normal, right? But, all the Ramseys were excluded as suspects after a DNA sample was found on JonBenet's underwear that didn't match anyone in the family and was determined to have come from an 'unknown male'.

This DNA evidence appears to give a lot more credence to the 'intruder theory'. But, the problem with being a child beauty queen is that you end up with a lot of 'fans' which means there's an endless list of creepy, adult men who were obsessed with JonBenet and could have been involved in her murder. Bill McReynolds was one of these. He had dressed up at Santa Claus at several of the Ramseys' Christmas parties and felt he had a special bond with JonBenet. One Christmas, she had given him a pot of gold glitter which he then took with him into heart surgery and even asked his wife to have it mixed with his ashes when he died. You know, normal stuff. It's likely that he was originally questioned because he had been in the Ramseys' house just days before JonBenet's death but the fact that McReynold's own daughter had been kidnapped 22 years earlier and his wife had written a play about a young girl who was molested and murdered in her basement was definitely suspicious. However, neither McReynolds or his wife were ever considered serious suspects because there was no evidence tying them to the scene. 

Next up is Gary Oliva. He was a registered sex offender who lived near the Ramseys and was found with a picture of JonBenet in his wallet when being arrested for unrelated drug charges. But, the most damning piece of evidence against Oliva is the phone call he made to a friend the night JonBenet was found dead. Michael Vail, a friend from high school, claims that Oliva told him 'I hurt a little girl' and when he asked for more details, all he said was that in happened in Boulder, Colorado. More recently, Oliva has written more letters to Vail, actually confessing to accidentally killing JonBenet. However, Boulder police don't seem that keen on Oliva as a suspect, most likely due to him not being a match to the DNA found on JonBenet's underwear. But, if it makes you feel any better, he's currently behind bars on child pornography charges.

Our final creep is John Mark Karr. In a series of emails to an undercover journalist, the 41 year old elementary school teacher confessed to drugging, sexually assaulting, and accidentally killing JonBenet. He was arrested in Thailand in 2006, where he had fled to escape child pornography charges, but it was quickly discovered that his confession was false. There were no drugs found in JonBenet's system, the DNA on her clothes did not match Karr, and it was proven that he wasn't even in Colorado when JonBenet was killed. So, basically just a gross guy who wanted to take credit for the horrific murder of a little girl.

Obviously, JonBenet Ramsey's murder is a heavy subject to say the least, so I wanted to end on a slightly cheerier note by giving a nod to the conspiracy theorists who believe that not only is JonBenet still alive, but she is actually Katy Perry. This theory seems to stem from a 2014 video by Dave Johnson (who also believes that the earth is flat) which claims that JonBenet's death is a 'myth' and that she grew up to become Katy Perry. I'll be honest, this one probably isn't true.


THE CONCLUSION

I think we can all agree that there was no kidnapping. The ransom note was strangely worded, unusually long, and was written inside the house which would be an incredibly risky move. And, of course, JonBenet was found dead inside the house before the 'kidnappers' even had a chance to collect their ransom. So the question is who killed JonBenet and staged the kidnapping, the family or an intruder? The lack of evidence of a break-in and the strangely specific $118,000 ransom makes me think the Ramseys were involved in their daughter's death. I could definitely see JonBenet's brother, Burke, lashing out and hitting her with John and Patsy helping to cover it up. However, there wasn't any DNA evidence that the Ramseys were involved in JonBenet's death. There's no shortage of suspects outside of the family but the sheer number of them, as well as several false confessions, seemed to just cause confusion rather than helping to solve the case. Pretty much all of the suspects considered were ruled out thanks to not matching the mysterious DNA found on JonBenet's underwear. However, in 2016 famous forensic scientist Dr Henry Lee concluded that this DNA most likely came from the factory the underwear was made in, not from JonBenet's killer, because DNA was also found in packages of unopened underwear from the same factory. This revelation basically takes us back to square one because any of the suspects exonerated due to not being a DNA match may not be innocent after all.

So, what do you think happened?

Thanks for reading, Lucy x

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