20 Years Later, The JonBenet Ramsey Murder Remains Unsolved. Why?

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You may have heard or seen the name JonBenét Ramsey floating around recently, and are probably wondering why. The former child beauty queen made headlines in 1996 after she was found murdered in her home a day after Christmas.

This was a tragic incident that gripped the nation, and unfortunately, JonBenét's death is still unsolved. The main suspects were always her family members — either one of her parents or Burke, her brother. As most of us are probably too young to remember the details, here's a short explanation on what we know about what happened to the young pageant star.

She was a 6-year-old child beauty queen.

JonBenét Ramsey lived with her family in Boulder, Colorado. Her father, John, was a computer services company executive, and her mother, Patricia (Patsy), was a stay-at-home mom. She had one older brother, Burke, and an older half-brother, John.

JonBenét was an active participant in child beauty pageants, winning the titles of America's Royale Miss, Little Miss Charlevoix, Little Miss Colorado, Colorado State All-Star Kids Cover Girl, and National Tiny Miss Beauty, People reports.

The day after Christmas, JonBenet mysteriously went missing.

On the morning of December 26, 1996, JonBenét's mother found a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her daughter's safe return. The note said that the kidnappers would monitor the collection of the money and that JonBenét would be returned as soon as it was paid. Patsy called the police, who did a search of the house but couldn't find any signs that someone had broken in.

Interestingly, $118,000 was the exact amount that John received as a bonus that year from his company.

After Patsy called the police JonBenét's body was eventually found in the home's basement eight hours later.

Hours later, JonBenet’s father, John Ramsey, discovered the body of the former “Little Miss Colorado” in a basement room. She had been hit on the head and strangled with a crude garrote. She also showed signs of sexual assault.

Patsy and John said that Burke slept through the entire thing and only woke up when police arrived. Police also determined that the ransom note was written with a pen and paper from the Ramsey's house and also found what appeared to be a rough draft of the note in the house.

Moreover, the investigators revealed six extra seconds of audio from the 911 call that appeared to suggest her family was involved. Using modern technology, they said they uncovered the voices of three people having a conversation after Mrs. Ramsey thought she had hung up after calling the police 20 years ago.  

Investigators believe they can hear Mr. Ramsey's voice saying 'we're not speaking to you,' before Mrs. Ramsey allegedly asks: 'What did you do? Help me, Jesus.'

They claim JonBenet's brother Burke can then be heard asking 'what did you find?' - even though his parents have always claimed he was asleep at the time.

A number of irreversible actions took place in the hours, days and months immediately following JonBenet’s murder.

For example, Boulder police Detective Linda Arndt, the first investigator to arrive at the Ramseys’ home, initially failed to treat it as a crime scene.

On the morning of Dec. 26, a steady stream of neighbors, friends, and police officers walked freely through the house until the afternoon, when John Ramsey, searching without a police escort, discovered JonBenet’s body. 

Ramsey tore off a strip of duct tape covering her mouth and carried her upstairs. Only then did the police secure the house — but the crime scene had been compromised. 

"Boulder police and prosecutors at the time lacked the manpower and skill for such a case," said Boulder County Dist. Atty. Stan Garnett. The Boulder County district attorney’s office hadn’t tried a homicide case for years. On top of that, relations between the police and prosecutors were poor, limiting their effectiveness.

Police didn’t formally interview JonBenet’s parents until four months after her death.

Arndt reportedly gave Patsy Ramsey’s lawyer a photocopy of the handwritten ransom note around the same time that Patsy was being asked to provide handwriting samples by other officers. 

The Ramseys were also allowed to view police reports and the paintbrush and nylon cord used to strangle their daughter, even though it was not common to share evidence with potential suspects, the New York Times reported in a look back at the case one year later.

A grand jury did not begin its investigation until September 1998, nearly two years after the slaying.

After 13 months of work, the jury voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey for child abuse resulting in her death, but then-Dist. Atty. Alex Hunter didn’t believe there was enough evidence to warrant filing charges. The grand jury’s indictment was not released until 2013 after a local reporter sued to obtain the document. 

Boulder police processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence and interviewed more than 1,000 people in connection with the case, according to a video statement made by police Chief Greg Testa in September. Still, the evidence has been insufficient and inconclusive.

In 2006, a former school teacher, John Mark Karr, confessed out-of-the-blue to the 1996 strangulation of JonBenét in graphic, sexual detail.

Karr was arrested in Thailand where he’d been living on the lamb after facing child pornography charges in the U.S. The now 51-year-old initially brought himself into the mess by reaching out to a University of Colorado Boulder professor named Michael Tracey over email in regards to a documentary Tracey was making on the case. Once those e-mails took a disturbing turn – revealing the grown man's sexual fascination with JonBenét – Tracey reported Karr to the police who arrested him in Bangkok as a possible suspect. He was immediately flown to Boulder for questioning but was ultimately cleared after his DNA failed to match the profile of an unknown male found on the waistband of JonBenét’s pajamas. 

Karr's demented confession involved a series of diary entries allegedly written from the scene of the crime. In one dramatic account, Karr recalls strangling JonBenét in a "love game" gone wrong. "Close your pretty eyes, sweetheart," reads the excerpt, in which Karr repeatedly refers to himself as "Daxis." "Daxis loves you so much. Oh God, I love you, JonBenét. And my lover's eyes are slowly closing …"

Karr's alleged involvement broke international headlines, and his earnest insistence on having killed her was enough to set off a media fiasco. However, he was ultimately dismissed as a suspect altogether and written off as a pedophile who was after notoriety and fame. Officials also failed to verify that he was ever in Boulder. According to a 2010 report by The Daily Beast, the one-time suspect is now living a new identity – and a new gender – in the Pacific Northwest.

So who killed little JonBenet?

Boulder police hired handwriting experts to compare the note to samples from the girl’s parents, and the experts cleared John Ramsey as the author. Though they doubted Patsy Ramsey was the author, they could not definitively eliminate her. 

DNA collected from various pieces of evidence, including the underpants JonBenet was wearing at the time of her death, were tested multiple times. The testing has led nowhere. In 2008, more sophisticated testing showed DNA on JonBenet’s pajamas to be from an unidentified male, leading then-Dist. Atty. Mary Lacy to publicly exonerate John and Patsy Ramsey. 

The entire Ramsey family — including JonBenet’s brother, Burke — was cleared by Lacy’s public exoneration in 2008, though some armchair investigators still speculate they may have been involved. The parents insisted on their innocence, and Patsy Ramsey died in 2006 of ovarian cancer.

Several other suspects, including a homeless sex offender and a former college professor who played Santa Claus who had contact with JonBenet days before her death, were investigated early on in the case. But they have not been considered suspects by authorities for many years. 

Now police and prosecutors say they will conduct a new round of DNA testing with more sensitive technology than what was previously available. But even with a match, there’s still so much to explain about the case, such as the ransom note.

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