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Who killed JonBenét? : My take on the Case

I was only 10 years old when JonBenét was murdered, and it's wild to think about what she might have done with her life if she had lived.  It's important to remember that she was more than just a video clip, and more than a picture in a magazine... she was a real human being.    

I had only the vaguest understanding of the case, until March 2013, when I was tutoring a kid in a public library and I happened upon the 600 page case file that is "Perfect Murder Perfect Town."  So eventually I finished reading that, and my take on the case is based on that book (which seems super legit, as far as I can tell), as well as evidence gleaned from legitimate newspapers, CNN, and recorded interviews with people who were there and lived it.

It was easy enough to avoid the ocean of misinformation out there.  Anytime somebody claims to know exactly who the killer is, they are generally off their rocker. 

I do not know who killed JonBenét, but I believe her half brother John Andrew Ramsey might know the person who did, even if he doesn't realize it.  I have an obsessive personality (which totally helps you write novels) and I couldn't help but try and sift through the evidence to gain a clearer understanding of what happened on December 26th, 1996. 

I have, at times, given myself headaches and nightmares while trying to figure this out, and below is the core of what I've learned.  This essay pretty much assumes you are already familiar with the case, but if you're not, here is a solid documentary about it.  I've read up on a lot of true crime cases, but I've never seen one like this.  The JonBenét case is a maze of clues and red herrings.  Most cases are not nearly this complex.  

My metaphor for this case, is: You need 1,000 pieces to complete a jigsaw puzzle, but when you open the box there are 3,000 pieces inside. 

A lot of new articles and documentaries were produced in the Fall of 2016, as the 20th anniversary of this crime approached.  One of the most important things I learned from this new material, is: I heard from DNA experts that have very different opinions about the reliability of this case's DNA evidence.  DNA is a very attractive tool, and it can certainly be the silver bullet in any given crime, as it can prove identity so conclusively.  The difference in opinions that I've seen between experts in the same field is certainly frustrating.  The fact that the crime scene was so contaminated is the heart of this problem, so at this point I have been thinking of the case this way: If it turns out that DNA can't help us in this case, can it still be solved?  I believe it can be. 

Why I believe the Ramsey family is innocent:

The Ramsey family's behavior in the days, weeks, months, and years since the night of the crime is the single biggest reason I believe they are innocent.  Now I know some people would say, "They didn't cooperate with the police, they did everything they could to control the narrative, etc.", but here's the thing.  Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey willingly stayed in the spotlight after Jonbenét was killed, as they tried to encourage more investigation into the intruder theory.   They didn't disappear like they could have.

I saw the compelling CBS documentary "The Case of: Jonbenét Ramsey" when it first aired in the Fall of 2016.  Even as a longtime believer in the intruder theory, I have to admit that the panel of experts in that documentary presented a very plausible case for why Burke Ramsey is the most likely killer, with his parents playing the role of cover up artists.  The idea of a kid killing their sibling in a flash of rage is not hard to believe, as terrible as that is.  But here's the thing...

If you know your son is guilty of killing your daughter, and you know you are guilty of covering it up... why would you continue to do interviews with Larry King, Barbara Walters, Anderson Cooper etc., and why would you write a book or two about the situation?  I have heard people explain this behavior by saying that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey wanted to use those interviews to convince everyone of their innocence, but after they got past the scrutiny of the grand jury probe, after D.A. Alex Hunter declined to charge them... why would they need to? Wouldn't the Ramseys just fade into the shadows if they know they have something to hide?  Wouldn't they disappear into the woodwork, never to be heard from again?

If you know you are guilty of something, and you continue to talk about it again and again, as the Ramseys did, willingly, in public, you are giving yourself so many opportunities to mess up and say that one wrong thing and reveal yourself.  Why would anyone do that?  Is it possible that's exactly what the Ramseys did, even though it was foolish / insane?  Sure, it's possible... but it's so incredibly unlikely.  It would go against any sense of self preservation.  It's also worth noting that the family had zero documented cases of abuse.  I have heard some investigators assert that JonBenét suffered sexual abuse prior to her killing, but like the reliability of the DNA evidence, the "prior abuse" angle is a point that I have seen experts completely disagree on, so, I'm certainly not going to say I know what the truth is on that topic.

In my opinion, the Burke theory has eclipsed older theories that revolved around Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey being the killers.  However, even though the Burke theory is way more plausible, it still asks the parents to turn on a dime and make this gigantic emotional and mental leap.  Just imagine it.  John and / or Patsy walks into the kitchen to find JonBenét dead / dying on the floor, and Burke is standing there, possibly with the flashlight in his hand.  So... instead of making any attempt to get medical attention for their daughter, John and Patsy very quickly decide to forsake her, stage an elaborate cover up for Burke, and also manage to never turn on each other over the next 10 years (Patsy died in 2006).  This is a Herculean feat that requires John and Patsy to go against all of their previously observed behavior.  Their family had no known history of abuse.  There is nothing to suggest they would be so willing to desecrate their own daughter's still warm dead body and stash it in a windowless concrete pit of a room in their basement, and then also turn into Hollywood horror writers and dream up that ransom note.    
Another one of the new shows that was produced in the Fall of 2016 was the 3-part interview that Burke Ramsey did with Dr. Phil.  Again, why would Burke agree to come out from his safe spot in the background, after 20 years, if he knows he is the killer?  To play some mind game or something?  Just for money?  At the risk of life in prison?  I doubt it.  Why would he go on TV and give himself the chance to mess up and say something that reveals his guilt?  It's also interesting to note that Burke is in the process of suing CBS and that panel of experts over that "The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey" documentary, in which he is so strongly implicated as his sister's killer.

The piece of evidence that really makes Burke look bad, is the footage from the interview he did with the child psychologist.  He comes off as a cold, callous person.  He doesn't seem bothered by the fact that his sister is dead, and he describes his own theory about how she died without seeming to be upset.  Kids process death very differently than adults do, and, of course, the younger someone is, the less likely they are to have developed a strong sense of empathy.  I think that's what we are really seeing from Burke in those tapes.

Why People would really like the Ramseys to be the killers: 

There are 2 groups of people that would really like it if the Ramseys could just be the killers in this case.  Let's talk about the public first.  If you are a casual consumer of this story, or if you were someone living in Colorado at the time, or if you were someone who had young kids at the time, you'd like to be able to write this case off as the work of a screwed up family.  You want to attribute the crime and the family's downfall to some serious flaws in their DNA, or something.  You want to be able to say "that could never happen to me and my family because we aren't evil like these people."  There is also the joy some people would get from seeing a very wealthy family cause their own destruction. 

The Boulder police want the Ramseys to be the killers because that makes their job much easier.  If you read up on true crime you will see plenty of instances when police, prosecutors, judges etc. really just wanted to speed everything along and get a conviction, and were perfectly willing to ignore huge flaws within a collection of evidence.  This is the kind of lazy / reckless behavior that can necessitate DNA exoneration 10, 20, 30 years later.  There is definitely a certain percentage of people on the prosecuting side who just want to win a case no matter what, whether the defendant in front of them is actually guilty or not.  These are people who want to compulsively fill jails and are much more concerned with their own careers than they are with actual justice.  

Among the many mistakes the Boulder police made, there are two I want to mention in particular, right now. The Boulder police brass refused the help of the FBI, even though the Boulder police had next to zero experience with homicides, and they made that decision, because they put their egos above the case.  It wasn't enough to just solve the case, they had to solve it on their own.  They wanted to solve it their way.  There's a great lesson to be learned here, and it's this: Never let your ego get in the way of making the objectively correct decision.  When you place that much importance on stroking your own ego, it blinds you to the truth and compromises your ability to assess a given situation.  The Boulder police should have accepted the FBI's help right away.         

The Ramseys are right there in front of us from the start.  We know who they are, we know what they look like, we know where they live, and so for both of these groups, the public and the police, it's just so much easier, and so much less frightening, if we don't have to go searching for a mysterious, shadowy figure.  However, in my opinion, they don't need to look very far to find that shadowy figure.  That real killer.     

Key Facts:

(1) The murder is committed on Christmas night (and / or very early the next morning).

(2) The Ramseys were at a Christmas party that day and so an intruder would have had a huge window of opportunity to sneak into the house, look around, write a note that he has probably been practicing for weeks or months, and then find a hiding spot when he hears or sees them driving up.  

(3) The amount of the ransom matches John Ramsey’s bonus from that year; $118,000

(4) Almost every detail in the ransom note (besides the $118,000) can be interpreted in multiple ways and potentially mean various things, so these other details are mostly useless to the investigation.  You can’t make heads or tails of them.  The killer(s) could be writing the note in such a way as to throw people off his trail, or maybe he isn’t, or maybe it’s a mix.  We can’t know for sure.  Even if you had the killer alone in a room, and you asked him about the note, you could never know if he was actually telling you the truth.  The tone of the note reads like someone's out of control revenge fantasy.  A creative writing assignment gone wrong.          

(5) The killer(s) had JonBenét and could have left the house with her, and then ransomed her, whether she was dead or alive.  However, the killer doesn't seem to be in any rush to leave the Ramsey house, and he certainly doesn't take JonBenét with him.  This leads me to believe that the motivation for this crime was obsession with this little girl, or jealousy towards Mr. Ramsey, and not purely to get money.  
I believe this killer was also obsessed with the idea of committing the crime in the victim's own home.  He probably got a thrill from being somewhere he wasn't supposed to be.  He is right under the family's nose the entire time and he has probably been fantasizing about this moment for weeks or months.         

(6) The items they found at Helgoth’s residence make you wonder if he was involved.  They find stun guns, a hat with SBTC written on it, a pair of Hi-Tec boots, and the gun used to kill Helgoth.  The mysterious forensics of his death make you wonder if it was really a suicide at all.  The timing of Helgoth's death is suspicious in relation to Alex Hunter’s tough talking press conference.  It sure looks like Helgoth was killed because he knew too much.  Maybe he was an accomplice.  Maybe JonBenét was going to be brought back to his place.     

Signs that the Killer was very close to the Ramseys:

(1) He seems to know that the Ramseys will be going out for a while on Christmas day.   

(2) He seems to know there won’t be a dog to run into when he sneaks into the Ramsey house.  The Ramseys had a dog, but it was actually across the street at the neighbor's at the time.  The neighbor was going to take care of the dog since the Ramseys were leaving for their trip on the 26th.   

(3) He seems to know that an alarm system won’t be a problem when he sneaks in.  The Ramseys had an alarm system for that house, but in various interviews Mr. Ramsey mentions that they weren't in the habit of actually setting it.  It's also well known that the Ramseys weren't good about locking their doors and windows.  An intruder could have just walked in through an unlocked door.     

(4) He seems to know the Ramseys will come back home on Christmas night and aren’t going on vacation yet.  The Ramseys could have left the Whites' party and gone directly to the airport, or something, but the killer seems to know that isn't the case. 

(5) If the killer knows all of these things, it explains why he demonstrates little to no fear of being caught in the act.  If the killer didn’t know these things, then committing the crime was much, much riskier, and I don’t think the killer would be willing to take that much risk.

Things to learn from the JonBenét case:

(1) Don’t leave easy entry points to your house.  In other words, fix the broken basement window as soon as possible, and don't give out spare keys to half the neighborhood.   

(2) Lock the crime scene down immediately so you can avoid contaminating the evidence.

(3) If you’re going to search the house, search the entire house.  The first police officer on the scene that morning neglected to open the door to the "Wine Cellar."  Seven hours later, that's where they found JonBenét.  If he finds JonBenét at 6am, the crime scene has a much better chance of remaining intact.

(4) Never ask civilians to search a crime scene.

(5) Let the evidence tell you where to go and who to suspect.  Don’t try to make the evidence fit into the preconceived theories you might come up with at the very beginning of a case. 

(6) Don’t let your ego get in the way of making the objectively correct decision.



I, like many people, find this case very haunting.  They had so much evidence, and yet, they were never able to solve the crime.  So far.  The killer essentially walked out of that house, and disappeared into thin air.  Nothing haunts us like unrealized potential, and a kid losing their life is the pinnacle of that sentiment.  JonBenét wasn't just a picture in a magazine, or a video clip on your TV screen... she was a real life flesh and bone human being.   

Where to Look: I have never heard of anyone investigating the college campus (University of Colorado) that is a mere seven tenths of a mile away from the Ramsey house.  John Andrew Ramsey was attending that school at the time.  Someone he knew at school could be the killer.  The things the killer seemed to know about the Ramsey family could have been learned anecdotally, through conversations with John Andrew.  Unfortunately, after John Andrew was cleared as a suspect, he disappeared from the case.  I have barely found any information on him.  
Update: John Andrew has recently become very involved in trying to solve this case.     

I have no idea what kind of entry system that school's dorms had at the time, but if there was any kind of record of who was coming and going, that would have been great to know.  If someone came back to a dorm in the very early morning on December 26th, that could be a huge clue.

Of course college students come back to their dorms at all sorts of hours, normally, but this was during Winter break.  That campus probably would have been a ghost town.  Anybody coming back in the very early morning would have stuck out that day.  

It's also entirely possible that he attended this college, but lived off campus.  The vast majority of criminals commit crimes in the town where they live.   

The FBI profilers believe that this crime was the suspect's first kill, based on, among other things, the sloppiness of the crime scene.  If this is the suspect's first kill, that would fit with the idea that he is a young college student.   

I have long pondered the possibility that the killer had a different ending in mind.  Maybe he never planned to kill JonBenét at all.  Maybe he was so obsessed with the first 80-90% of his fantasy that he never came up with an idea about how to conclude the scenario.  Or, maybe he did have an idea about how the situation would end, but things went differently than he expected, in the heat of the moment.        

Why did the killer ask for $118,000?  I believe it is purely a taunt.  It is a way of saying: "I'm so close to you that I know this number... but you don't know who I am." 

Feel free to check out the other material on this site. 

I've written 4 books and the first chapter from my debut novel is on the homepage.       

I also have a short story called "Screen Name" for sale on Amazon.  It is a brisk 20 pages and includes samples from my books at the end. 

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