January 7th, 2011
11:59 PM ET

Reporter’s Notebook: Reflections on the JonBenet Ramsey case

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/crime/2010/10/15/ac.ramsey.murder.panel.cnn.640×360.jpg caption="The murder of John and Patsy Ramsey's daughter JonBenet was primarily a local news item at the start, during that cold winter in 1996" width=300 height=169]

Editor's note: As part of AC360°'s month long cold cases series, Tom Foreman reports on the investigation into the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

Tom Foreman
AC360° Correspondent

(CNN) - Although many people don’t seem to recall it now, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey became a national sensation through a collision of events - not because of the story in and of itself.

It was primarily a local news item at the start, during that cold winter in 1996. So small, that just days after the killing on Christmas, even though I was based in Denver for ABC News, I was dispatched to Las Vegas for a New Year’s story about construction.

“Don’t you think we ought to look into this murder up in Boulder?” my producer asked our bosses on the phone from New York. “No. Go to Vegas.”

Then John and Patsy Ramsey appeared on CNN talking about a “killer on the loose.” Between tears, Patsy said, “I don’t know if it’s a she or a he, but if I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep…keep your babies close to you. There’s someone out there.”

The holidays are traditionally slow news times and the distraught parents - wealthy, attractive, and crushed by a Christmas calamity - were tailor made for public interest. The mystery was tantalizing. Then the pageant pictures came out, and the news hurricane roared to life.

My bosses from New York called me on the Vegas Strip in a panic. “Get to Boulder as fast as you can!”

The story would dominate my professional life for the next year and then some. As the on-air face for an excellent team of investigators, producers, photojournalists, analysts and endless secret sources, there was a time at which I likely knew more about the Ramsey murder case than almost anyone not actually connected to the investigation. And like a lot of folks who were watching closely, I initially thought an arrest would quickly follow.

The field of potential suspects seemed small. While the then-chief of police spoke repeatedly about not rushing to judgment and seemed to dismiss every hint that the Ramseys themselves might be responsible, sources close to the investigation told us over and over that they most strongly suspected someone either in the family or close to it.

Look at the evidence, they told us: No sign of forced entry. No footprints in the snow. The supposed ransom note (remember, this was initially believed to be a kidnapping) was written on a pad of paper from inside the house. The handwriting, some analysts believed, looked like Patsy’s. The stick used to tighten the rope that strangled the girl came from a broken paintbrush, from Patsy’s hobby kit. The body was found hidden in a little used basement room that was so hidden from view even police overlooked it during earlier searches.

We kept 24-hour watch on the family so as not to miss the moment of arrest. We tracked down every stray fact and every long-lost contact with a cleaning person, a construction worker, a disgruntled employee. We looked for records of vagrant sex offenders. We talked to people all over the country who might have even a shred of knowledge about anyone in the family

But days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and the trail which had seemed scorching hot, grew icy cold. And now the evidence suggests, even to seasoned legal analysts, that an arrest will never come. The case is growing so cold that even if someone came forward with a confession (like some dying inmate picked up in some other distant state for another crime), he would essentially have to prove his own guilt. Memories of those closest to the crime have faded. Evidence has grown old. Many of those who were there at the start have moved on to other towns, other jobs. Some, such as Patsy Ramsey, have died.

The police have always been criticized for their handling of the case, and have always defended their own conduct. The district attorney’s office said two years ago that new DNA testing methods cleared the family of suspicion. They had maintained their innocence all along.

And the investigation goes on, filled with endless questions and seemingly no real answers. All we really know is what I said many times at the end of my reports back in that sad winter: A little girl was killed in her own home on Christmas. And no one has ever spent a day in jail for her death.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment • Tom Foreman
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Fran King

    Oh, Yes – I truly believe Patsy committed the murder, she had a guilty look on her face from the start.
    (IF) the brother did it, Patsy was showing she knew on her face more than John.

    January 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  2. Rich

    My biggest question...why write a "ransom" note and leave the "ransom" there? (the body)
    It makes no sense. When the bad guy gets home and calls..."the money are else..." or else what?

    January 8, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  3. Donna

    The evidence seemed to show more of an inside job than that of a stranger. I will always feel that it had to do with the family until proof otherwise comes forward.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  4. Cam

    The brother was all of 9 when this murder happened. I don't think he had anything to do with it. I don't think any of the family members had anything to do with the murder. There was a basement window broken and who is to say it wasn't an intruder. I believe this family has suffered enough and still there are questions. This house wasn't a small house and I think someone could like roam around in it for a while if the family was all asleep on Christmas night. Just so sad that someone murdered that child and the media destroyed the family.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  5. Darryl

    Someone once said there is no such thing as a perfect crime. Well????

    January 8, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  6. Lisa

    What makes me so sick about all of this is how obvious it is that a member of the family killed this child. The evidence was so blatant and as always happens with the wealthy criminals, the police ignore what's right in front of them. It was the brother or Patsy, and one of them has died. Are the police waiting for the brother to die, then they can finally solve the case without fear of retribution. Shame on the Boulder police and shame on the family, as they know exactly who killed this little girl. Only in America does justice get ignored.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  7. Natty

    I'm sorry to say to those of you who really believe that the Ramsey's (John & Patsy) were not responsible, are in deep denial. In every case of parents killing their kids there is an attempt to claim kidnapping. Why would a killer write a ransom note and leave the body in the house? C'mon people! And yes, the exact amount of his bonus was the ransom request. Also, wasn't it actually John Ramsey who went into the basement & came upstairs with the body? They probably planned to move the body at some point, but realized it was too late. You can name ANY other case where a parent killed their child and, in EVERY one, a bogus claim of kidnapping or some such thing is made by the parent. They have to explain the absence of their chidren, right? Not to mention the whole "pageant" thing, and the way too grown looking pictures, is just sick in my opinion. What about the news that investigators found some kind of child porn on a computer of John Ramsey's or something like that? Like I said, they were some real sickos, and for those of you who think the child pageant scene is cute and harmless – you're way sick too!

    January 8, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  8. StephRose

    Well,dont like to judge however its too weird that none seem notice that a daughter getting all that attention may breed a jealous rage in a sibling. I think many mothers would at least try to keep the remaining child from being named a cold – blooded killer. IF that is what happened. The methods suggested spontanaeity & juevenile to me. Yes it all smacks of 'cover up' & too many higher ups couldnt ignore the facts. The only way for this crime to 'go away' was to let time fade its memory! Truth will eventually unravel some day.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  9. Gomer

    For you clowns who think someone in the family did it: can you read English? DNA has exonnerated anyone in the family.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  10. Geela

    The one thing about Patsy that made me suspicious was the fact that in an interview, she referred to Jon Benet in the following terms: "I loved THAT CHILD". She didn't call her a daughter or her baby. Very cold and impersonal reference. My kids are grown; but, they are still my son & daughter; and sometimes my big babies. It's a mother's way of showing her love through language.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  11. tewjr

    I can't believe how many people jump to such quick conclusions based on random headlines. If you've done any reading at all on the subject, you will find that there was lots of room for people outside the family to have done this crime. There were no footprints in the snow because there were only patches of snow around the house–there were lots of areas of open ground, too. There was also a window broken in on the basement level, where the killer probably got in. The amount of the bonus was listed in several different places in the house where it could easily have been viewed. Quit jumping to conclusions about something you don't know anything about at all.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  12. Lisa

    I understand why everybody posting here keeps insisting it was someone in the family. They seem the perfect target. I mean, especially the no footprints in the snow business. How does one get around that? But they have cleared the family using DNA. Period. The end. And for those pointing the finger at Patsy, how do you suppose she left semen behind? Was she really a man all along and they've kept that information quiet this whole time?

    January 8, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  13. mary

    I distinctly remember watching the Today show a few days after the murder and watching Al Roker say hello to a guy dressed as Santa on the plaza. The Santa guy immediately started pouring out how he knew the Ramsey's and he's been to their house recently. The hairs on my neck went straight up. Who tries to get on TV to make that kind of statement? Sorry, but I felt like they guy who had played Santa at their house was the one most likely to be able to lure a little girl out of her bedroom. Sorry Santa.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  14. Sheila

    I agree with the commenters who point to the brother, and the parents did their best to cover for him. It could have been for reasons as simple as her playing with his new toy, we don't know. But once her death became known, the stage was set to point the finger outside of the family. The Ramseys weren't criminals, so they did a poor job of hiding the crime. But the inept police made it easy to hide what should have been easy to see.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  15. Tyquando

    Either Patsy did it, or her son accidentally did and she was protecting him. The two surviving members of that family know who did it and they got away with it. I guess you can get away with murder.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  16. ro

    I agree with Lynn.I have always had a sense that th ebrother did it and the parents were covering it up!Who ever did it was a sick person!It just seems the way the dad Happened to be th eone finding her body and the handwritten note just too obvious!So many questions!But How sick!

    January 8, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  17. David, Atlanta GA

    Its always disturbing when we hear of a crime against a child. As humans one of the emotions we feel is that to exact retribution for this horrible act. The fact in this case is that we as the public in our drive for a juicy story catapulted this family into the limelight. Everyone riveted to this story had their opinion. The problem with opinion is, it's like fingerprints there all different and unique. Much of the opinion the public had was driven by the media. Whether guilty or innocent its up to our justice system to decide. All we should keep in mind are the facts. The only fact we have as you said in the end is "a little girl was killed in her house on Christmas".

    January 8, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  18. Sarah Bellum

    There is no question that Patsy Ramsey killed the little girl. JonBenet had a bed-wetting problem which made Patsy furious. She wanted her to be this perfect little angel and dressed her to look like a little street walker in very expensive hand-made costumes. On the night of the murder, JonBenet wet the bed and that infuriated Patsy. She snapped and killed JonBenet and then staged the whole scene. The husband is either very stupid or chose to go along to protect the rest of the family. I thought she would surely confess on her death bed but I guess she was too arrogant.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  19. Pittendreigh

    My initial feeling was that it was the wife or son, but I no longer believe this. Investigators were able to extract enough material from a mixed blood sample found on JonBenét's underwear to establish a DNA profile, which belongs to an unknown male. The DNA did not match the father or son. The killer is out there, and is not one of the previous suspects.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  20. shauna

    I would not rush to judge anyone.. it is proven that we do not have all of the evidence.. all of you spouting about Karma and Patsy, the brother whoever, answering to God, well you will also answer for judging.. We have no proof and can you imagine being blamed for something this horrible?? ? IF it was the parent or sibling.. and if you believe in the Lord and hereafter, then you know that while they may get away with the murder while they walk this earth, the second He takes them their eternit y will be spent paying for the crime...

    January 8, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  21. Terry

    I followed this case closely and always believed that it was Patsy, who in a rage over JonBenet wetting the bed, struck her so hard that she accidentally killed her. All signs point to someone inside the house. Think about it - if it were a "stranger" who broke in and killed the child, why would they even bother to leave a so-called "ransom note"? The note was to point cops to look OUTSIDE of the family, IMO.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  22. Maddy

    I suspect whoever did this new the in's and out's of that house. It was too neatly orchestrated. The ransom note for the the exact amount of John's recent bonus at work, written on a paper from a pad in the house, the stick from Patti's paint brush, no prints in the snow, etc.
    Until proven otherwise, I think it was an inside job.
    If it was her brother, he will carry this guilt every day of his life and I suspect it will eventually lead to his own personal destruction.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  23. maxine

    I always thought it was an accident that they tried to cover up, but that old man across the street, that played Santa and wrote the short story that paralled JonBenet's death sticks in my mind also.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  24. t j

    Let it rest don't bring it up again

    January 8, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  25. Barbara

    I listened to the comments of the wife of the santa clause. She said something that was a give away. I wonder why nobody checked his DNA?

    January 8, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  26. Duke

    Elisa Baker wrote the note and did the ugly deed.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  27. Robin Bray

    In so many cases like this. The child's body is kept close to home by the family member who killed them until they can find a place to put it later. Note the current Anthony case. It seems there is a psychological attachment as if the child is not really dead and that all will be well. In this case the body was found before it could be moved. An outside killer would not do this.

    The oddest fact of this case is a ransom note asking for the exact same amount of money as the father's recent raise. How many people would know of your exact raise amount?

    January 8, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  28. John

    It wasn't a murder, it was an accident. The brother killed her. The crime occurred when Patsy covered up for him.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  29. JanetNTx

    No way was this a family member. A few years after this murder, A&E or Discovery (I can't remember which one) ran a story about a man who committed suicide within a couple of weeks of this little girl's murder. He had a vendetta against Mr. Ramsey to the tune of $110,000 (the amount asked for in the ransom note), and had an arrest for sexual misconduct with a child. Since he was dead, I guess that ended the story. Wish someone would check on this again.
    In the meantime, I am so sorry for Patsy and John Ramsey. His pain lives on.

    January 8, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  30. Bill

    What I remember is the story made national news because JonBenet was a child who was in these ridiculous beauty pageants where they dress little girls up like models, bury them in make-up and sexualize them. Plus, the Ramsey's were white and upper income.Put this all together and you have a real murder mystery.

    Plus, this whole beauty pageant aspect was new to most people, I had never heard if it. I still think its creepy.

    January 8, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  31. Dawn Castle

    Poor little baby girl! Kids have to deal with what they are given at birth. I have always had the feeling this family knew "whodunit" but had to protect someone. Dad seemed to grieve so much, the pain was always in his face and eyes. The story will always be a mystery.

    January 8, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  32. marianna68

    Would be great to see this kind of attention given to every single child who is murdered/missing in this country.

    January 8, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  33. walter a davis

    There were four crimes here. (1) The premature sexualization of a child by her parents for their pleasure. I.e., child beauty pageants. Psychology teaches that sexual abuse of a child is a trauma that never ends. (2) The murder of this child. (3) The actions of the Ramsey's attorney, Lin Wood, to intimidate authorities with the threat of law suits in order to prevent their charging his clients. (4) The actions of the recently deposed D.A. of Boulder, Mary Lacy, to "exonerate" the parents on the basis of conjectures that did not withstand scrutiny. (She exonerated them 3 different times.) The new Boulder DA has reopened the case and has said that No ONE has been cleared.
    Those who wish to engage in rigorous thinking about this subject should read my book An Evening with Jonbenet Ramsey.

    January 8, 2011 at 7:09 am |
  34. Alex Day

    The Ramseys created their own mess. Their ARROGANCE in dealing with the officials created all the suspicion toward them. Every law enforcement official will tell you that family is ALWAYS looked at first. Why didn't they behave they way Polly Klass' family did and be 100% forth coming during the initial crisis?! Mr. Klass said to come on and take a good look and then move on.

    I, too, believed Burke was the culprit for many years and that the Ramseys were doing all their DISTRACTING BEHAVIORS to take suspicion away from their son. So now the touch DNA has cleared even Burke.

    Instead of spending millions on keeping the public and law enforcement at bay, why didn't the Ramseys pay for a private investigator? What have they done to find the killer? Most likely the same amount of effort has been applied that OJ has to finding his ex's killer! None.

    Why weren't the Ramsey brought up on obstruction charges? Anyone else with not as much money would have been.

    The Ramseys made their own mess. Leave it with them.

    January 8, 2011 at 6:49 am |
  35. Mike

    And the #1 JonBenet Question is:
    Why on Earth are we STILL talking about this?

    January 8, 2011 at 6:45 am |
  36. peggy koval

    John Ramsey knows the answer to all of the questions. If the little brother was involved, sooner or later he will do something else that will reveal his twisted little wealthy mind.

    January 8, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  37. Sherri

    I wonder if we will ever get the truth about this. I too have wondered about the son. And who leaves a ransom note when they have already killed the victim? And then leaves the victim IN the house? That does not make any sense. Too many things are goofy here and the police made many mistakes. Yes, it HAD to be an inside job. Will we EVER know what really happened?

    January 8, 2011 at 5:58 am |
  38. Alan Howard

    I have read 2 books on this case, including the one written by the parents, and I am convinced they had nothing to do with it. When you look at the sheer brutality of the murder, you realize this act was perpetrated by a vicious sex fiend. Never has anyone brought up a past incident in either parents' lives that would indicate they would be capable of committing such a horrible indignity on their own child. Whoever murdered JonBenet had serious psychological problems and almost certainly committed other crimes of a similary type before he entered the Ramsays' home. Also, the parents were cooperative with the police until they finally realized the police were looking at them as the killers and no one else was even being considered. Finally, it is ludicrous to suggest the son, who was about ten at the time, could have been the killer. There's no way, in my mind, that a ten year old could have raped and garroted a victim.

    January 8, 2011 at 5:07 am |
  39. Andrew Davis

    Don't let us all forget that John Mark Carr got busted in Thailand or was it the Philopines (?) & confessed to this killing, just so that he'd be sent back to the good ol USofA & not have to spend any time in an eastern Asian prison for child prostitute sex charges of which he was initially arrested for. Yet DNA would ultimately clear him of the Jonnbenet murder, & he was never sent back to face those child sex charges in Asia. We'll sadly never know who did this, unless we get a death bed confession. We can only pray that Jonnbenet is RIP with god. IF Patsy wasn't involved in anyway, we can all know she's now with her daughter in god's presence for all of eternity!

    January 8, 2011 at 4:58 am |
  40. Giles

    A couple things weren't noted in the article:

    Marks on the body that could be from a stun gun.

    The fact that the ransom demand closely approximated a year's salary for the father.

    There's a very interesting section in "cases that haunt us" on this crime. Left me leaning towards a Not Guilty verdict for the parents.

    January 8, 2011 at 4:28 am |
  41. Coralie

    I remember seeing this horrible event on the tv. It is so sad that a beautiful child had to die on Christmas. I also think the Police messed the case up. They didn't secure the scene properly.
    I also often wonder why their son wasn't wasn't questioned. It appeared that they were protecting him. Also if the Ramsey's were supposedly cleared. An there is no else, why didn't the police look into their son.
    I think their son was so over jealous of his little sister. For the fact she was pretty, winning all these pagent awards. In my opinion the brother wasn't getting as much attention as the sister. An he probally intended to scare his sister an only hurt her. But it didn't work out this way. An he accidently killed his sister. An the family covered it up and lied to protect their son. This is only a theory and my opinion on what may have happened.
    The son wasn't invesitagted on anything. It's a shame this child had to die so young. An there is no one responsable for her death.

    January 8, 2011 at 4:14 am |
  42. Carol Bobb

    It just said DNA evidence cleared ALL MEMBERS of the family. ALL. This case was so poorly handled that someone got away with murder. Can you imagine losing a child, having police so sure you did it they aren't even looking for the real killer.

    January 8, 2011 at 3:55 am |
  43. Mary Jo

    The first time I heard details of this crime, I suspected the killer was that bizaar man who played Santa Claus at JonBenet's party the previous day. Remember him? He was the one with the wife who authored a book about a similar crime prior to the Ramsey murder. He had access to the house - knew the layout - lived nearby - saw the check - took the tablet paper home to write the note. I believe investigators quickly determined he was guilty but, both then and now, realize what impact that arrest would have on the public. The headline - "Santa kills small child on Christmas Day".

    January 8, 2011 at 3:46 am |
  44. john athon

    Nancy Grace practically convicted both parents of the murder. now that dna has been found that was from an unknown person- I believe the father should sue nancy grace for slander and put her in bankrupcy for what she did to him and his wife.

    January 8, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  45. Bill

    I have never forgotten about the Ramsey case. What has really annoyed me is how critical and abusive lots of talk shows and news netwroks were towards Aruba about their seeming lack of investigative zeal in the Natalee Holloway case. I did not see the same passion and outcry over JonBenet. Maybe Colorado law could use some help from outside the US!

    January 8, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  46. Doug

    No footprints in the snow ? someone in that house killed that little girl.. There is no other explanation, unless the person could fly !

    January 8, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  47. Chris

    If I recall correctly, the family was at a neighbor's home for a portion of Christmas Eve and a door was left unlocked and/or the alarm was turned off. We're talking about a college town where the most infamous crime BEFORE JonBenet was the annual Halloween Mall Crawl. An intruder may have had hours alone in the home to nose around, ruffle through drawers, fine-tune their plan, write a note, and lay in wait for the family to return. Hide until the parents went to sleep. It was a big house with front and back staircases. I'll give the family the benefit of the doubt. My gut feeling always wanted to follow the Santa who'd visited and whose wife once wrote a play about how murder victims choose the people who will kill them.

    January 8, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  48. Bryan

    Still believe it was Patsy...probably an accident turned into a staging. God rest their souls..

    January 8, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  49. Brandon

    "The district attorney’s office said two years ago that new DNA testing methods cleared the family of suspicion. "

    That seems awfully vague, and excuse me for losing some faith in the Boulder Police Dept.

    Anyone who's followed this case at all knows the Ramsey's were involved in one way or another.

    January 8, 2011 at 2:20 am |
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