On the morning of 26 December 1996 at about 5.45 am, Patsy Ramsey discovered a two-and-a-half page ransom note on her doorstep telling her that her six-year-old daughter, JonBenet Patricia Ramsey, was being held hostage, and would only be returned safely for the specific sum of $118,000. The letter warned that if the kidnappers caught them “talking to a stray dog, she dies”.
In spite of the warning, a call was made to 911, logged by the dispatcher at 5.52 am, and the police arrived at the house seven minutes later. Further calls were made to family friends, the Whites and the Fernies, who arrived at the house five minutes later.
Contrary to normal protocol, the house was not sealed off and the family friends and a pastor who arrived soon after were allowed to walk in and out of the house.
A team of victims’ advocates, trained to assist the family in traumatic situations, began wiping down the kitchen possibly removing vital evidence. The house was searched by detectives, Mr Fleet White and John Ramsey, father of JonBenet, revealing nothing. John also began making preparations to assemble the ransom amount. By 1.00 pm there was no progress and to give the two men something to do to occupy their minds, Detective Linda Arndt told Fleet White and John Ramsey to search the house for anything amiss.
The two men entered the wine cellar in the basement and immediately discovered JonBenet’s body covered in a blanket. She had black duct tape covering her mouth, a cord around her neck that was attached to a wooden garrote and her hands were bound. Ramsey pulled the duct tape from her mouth, carried her body upstairs and placed her on the floor, at which point Arndt picked the body up again and placed it near the Christmas tree in the living room. JonBenet was checked for signs of life while backup was requested. The forensics team returned and this time the house was sealed and secured.
Born: 11th December 1964 - John Mark KarrThe Victim: 6th August 1990 - JonBenet Patricia Ramsey born 26th December 1996 - JonBenet found deadArrested: 16th August 2006 - Karr arrested in Thailand 20th August 2006 - Karr arrived at Los Angeles International Airport 24th August 2006 - Karr arrived in Colorado, arrested and put into jail 28th August 2006 - Charges against Karr dropped
The case of the murder of JonBenet Patricia Ramsey, 6, never went to trial, as the man arreseted, John Mark Karr, confessed to everything.
Clues in the autopsy
The autopsy was conducted by the Office of the Boulder County Coroner. JonBenet’s underwear was stained with urine and she had ligature marks on her neck from the garrote, which was a piece of white cord tightened by winding a broken paintbrush. She had also suffered trauma to the head resulting in a fractured skull and a brain haemorrhage. It is unknown which came first, the strangulation or the blow to the head. There was no evidence of rape or sexual abuse, however, there were abrasions around her vaginal area consistent with being scraped or wiped roughly. There were also abrasions on her body consistent with being dragged on the floor. Traces of digested pineapple were present in her small intestine.Meanwhile, the Ramseys moved swiftly to hire their own legal representation, after a search warrant affidavit for the Ramsey house was filed. A partner of the foremost criminal defence firm in Colorado was retained to represent John and a former assistant state attorney general to represent Patsy. This was founded on their belief that the Boulder police immediately saw them as the prime suspects, even though it is standard procedure to concentrate on immediate family in murder cases. The fact that kidnap victims’ bodies are rarely found in their home was also unusual.The hostility steadily mounted against the Ramseys, fed by the media coverage. Besides hiring legal representation, they refused to go to police headquarters for questioning. They wanted to be questioned together rather than separately but the police refused. The Ramseys would later insist that police submit their questions in writing. Once more the police refused, as this would allow the suspects to carefully craft a reply and would avoid spontaneous follow-up questions. The Ramseys also demanded that they be given all police investigative reports concerning the statements by and behaviour of the couple prior to questioning.The ransom note was the first point of interest, especially as Patsy was initially suspected to have written it. It was written using pen and paper in the Ramsey home, meaning that the alleged kidnapper-murderer would have had to take the time to draft and write a two-and-a-half page ransom note, one of the longest in history, and even replace the pen and pad neatly where they had found it. Normally, ransom notes are terse and pre-prepared and are usually not written by hand. The $118,000 ransom figure demanded also corresponded exactly to the bonus John Ramsey received in 1996.
The language used in the note showed a decidedly feminine touch, for example, “The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested”. Moreover, the writer of the note started out addressing the note to “Mr Ramsey” but in the latter stages addressed him as “John”. Finally, the writer attempted to disguise their identity by misspelling simple words like “bussiness” and “posession”. However there was incongruence in the writing with more difficult words spelled correctly, such as “deviation” and putting the accent on the ‘e’ in “attaché”.However, there was a vast difference of opinion between handwriting experts who analysed the ransom note. Those favourable to Patsy largely decided that the evidence could not support the conclusion that she had written the note, although most of them did not rule her out at its writer. In contrast, some of the ‘experts’ who came to the opposite conclusion, that Patsy did write the note, turned out to have questionable qualifications. The reliable experts were hampered in that they did not have access to the original ransom note, relying instead on facsimiles. Prevailing opinion in the field of graphology is that studying the originals reveals nuances and subtleties, such as pen pressure, that copies will lack.The best evidence in favour of the ‘intruder theory’ are the fact that neither the duct tape nor the rope used on JonBenet were found in the house or linked to the Ramseys. Also, a Caucasian “pubic or auxiliary” hair was found on JonBenet’s body, which did not match the Ramseys nor has its owner ever been found. Fibres and hairs found on the body and the duct tape did not match anything found in the house. There was debris and a shoeprint in the basement where the murder likely took place, the shoeprint not matching anything that the Ramseys wore.The pineapple found in JonBenet’s small intestine is cited as evidence against a stranger intruder, which points more towards either the Ramseys or an acquaintance intruder. The Ramseys had asserted that JonBenet was asleep by the time they returned from the Christmas party at the Whites the night before, which was at about 10 pm; they then put her to bed without feeding her anything. Although transit of ingesta is unreliable and varies from person to person, it is said that JonBenet ate the pineapple an hour and a half to two hours before her death.Further evidence against the stranger intruder is the lack of signs of struggle, both in the house and on the body. Normally, a body shows signs of distress when being strangled or asphyxiated, such as protrusion of tongue and skin cells under the fingernails when fighting for life. No such signs were found on the body. The duct tape had a perfect set of lip prints with no signs of tongue resistance, indicating it was placed after death or unconsciousness. This leads to the belief that the blow to the head came first.Some partial and degraded traces of DNA were collected from JonBenet’s underwear and fingernails. It was later determined to be male DNA, however, due to the damage and fragmentation in the samples collected, it was impossible to trace its origins. Indeed, the presence of DNA may be innocuous, as demonstrated by investigators who tested new underwear bought from a department store and who also found trace DNA, possibly from contamination at the plant.The incompetence of the Boulder Police Department contributed significantly to the uncertainty surrounding the case. Firstly, during initial searches of the house, detectives managed to miss the wine cellar where JonBenet’s body lay; earlier discovery of the body would have resulted in a more accurate timeframe of her death. Some accounts report that John Ramsey dissuaded police from investigating the wine cellar, saying that the door was painted shut but these accounts are unverified. An experienced unit would have brought dogs in to locate the body almost immediately.The failure to seal off and secure the crime scene was fatal, as was the mishandling of the body. People were allowed to walk in and out of the house at will, which at the worst could have led to removal of evidence and at the very least, contaminated the forensic integrity of the crime scene. The finding and removal of the body by two men untrained in forensics meant that no photographs of the scene were accurate and any resulting conclusions drawn from fibres, hair and DNA evidence should have been treated with caution.
The Key Figures
Victim:JonBenet Patricia Ramsey, 6Accused:John Mark Karr, born 1964 (acquitted in 2009)Police:Boulder Police Department:Detective Linda ArndtOfficer Karl VeitchOfficer Rick FrenchProsecutor:Mary Lacy - Boulder County District Attorney
"Finally got em" but did they?
After nearly ten years of lawsuits and investigations and media appearances by the Ramseys and all associated with the case, Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer on 24 June 2006. Two months later, on 16 August 2006, John Mark Karr was arrested in Thailand for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, following a four-year exchange of emails with a journalism professor at the University of Colorado. He was extradited to the United States to face the murder charges.Karr gave a long and detailed confession of how he committed the crime and actually tied up many loose ends that had puzzled investigators. In particular, he claimed he had actually been in the house for many hours before actually taking JonBenet from her bed, therefore he had plenty of time to draft and write a ransom note. Karr, also arrested on child pornography charges, claimed that he was in love with JonBenet and had asphyxiated her for sexual reasons, in the process accidentally killing her. He then hit her on the head to make sure she was dead, so that she would not wake up brain-injured. Karr also claimed to have previously met and befriended her, although he was cagey as to the exact nature of this meeting, thus explaining why there had been no signs of a struggle.
The charges against Karr were dropped after it was determined that the DNA recovered from JonBenet’s underwear did not match that of Karr. Moreover, there were many inconsistencies between his exhaustive account of what had happened and the physical evidence at hand. It was implausible for the girl to have sustained her injuries if what Karr said happened actually did take place.After the charges were dropped in the Ramsey case, Karr was extradited to the state of California to face child pornography charges. He was released once again due to the investigators losing his computer that would have provided the evidence needed.The murder of JonBenet Patricia Ramsey remains unsolved.