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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. Paul

    I wasn't there, so I have no idea what really happened. But I've always suspected that Patsy's hands were very dirty. The ransom note used the term "use your good Southern common sense," a term that she often used. Knowing the amount of John's bonus. Add to that the idea that a person could break in, go all over the house, sit down and write a ransom note in a cool and collected manner and leave unnoticed...it just doesn't add up.

    Also, the insistence that Burke slept through the whole thing, although on the 911 tape he can clearly be heard asking what was going on and being told to go back to bed by his parents, that what was happening was no concern of his.

    The fact that John and Patsy seemed so arrogant and full of themselves did them no favor. And the fact that they were "pimping" their child in the vulgar pageant scene- a pedophile's dream came true- doesn't help either.

    January 8, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  2. bill

    Finally Lynn got it right...it is so obvious but the cops probably destroyed any evidence by now..There is no doubt this was a coverup for the brother

    January 8, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  3. Tina Marshall

    I think the son committed the crime and the family covered the evidence. I also think he was jealous of his sister, because she was the favorite child. Someone that lived in the house committed this crime. Did the police do a DNA on the son or just the parents? Never too late check the son out.

    January 8, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  4. Duane

    Hey AC, i have a question there was a interview with Patsy, where she used the words, John had no clue, in reference to the money being asked for in the note.....It seems to me that she is part of it, things that was used in this case....What about the female officer who said she was looking at a murder, what can she say now...Thank you.. I will always think that Patsy has had something with it...just by her body lanuage...

    January 8, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  5. sylvie

    Jonbebet is dead, Patsy is dead,at this point in time,only they now can rest in Peace together knowing who did this horrible thing.

    January 8, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  6. Chris

    Read _The Cases That Haunt Us_ by John Douglas and Mark Oshaker. I thought like many of you that the Ramseys were involved until I read this book. The Ramseys did not kill their child. This is the conclusion by a trained FBI profiler who has never been wrong on a case, ever.

    January 8, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  7. Ven

    Without a doubt, the family was involved – though probably not in a prescriptive sense...this wasn't meant to happen...so much shady stuff going on, that they knew was wrong, even to themselves....but how do you 'fess up' to that? you don't, you justify it, rationalize it, ask God to forgive you for it, and try to move forward hoping no one will ever find out. Sad, criminal, but at some you have to move on knowing that one day the details will surface....sad

    January 8, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  8. marc

    Lynn, sage thoughful take on this matter. I think you have solved it.

    January 8, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  9. teresa

    For some reason, I cannot shake the feeling over all these years, that John Ramsey is guilty. There is something deceptive in his demeaner. Always has been. He often looks like he "just has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar." I think this man is a pervert. The video on DNA... he has trouble choosing proper words (due to fear and trying to hide the truth); if you watch the eye on the left in the interview, you can see fear. He is so focused on protecting himself, he cannot put a decent sentence together. I think the man is very weak; and weak men usually have some form of perversion in the which can come out sexually. His wife probably had no sex with him since 1993 due to the ovarian cancer so that might have added to him raping his very pretty daughter whom both of them made into a sex object the way they paraded her around. The poor child, she probably was mis-used for years. Incestuous behavior by both parents, emotional incest and physical incest is my strong guess. I hope to God, that the truth will come out.

    January 8, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  10. R. J Grandinetti

    absolutely right lynn....that is the only reasonable answer to this case...it makes perfect sense...unfortunately can't be proven....I guess.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  11. randy

    Before you post your comments, know what you're talking about. Patsy Ramsey is dead. She died in 2006. Maybe, just maybe, justice has already been served.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  12. Tammy

    thanks for remembering JonBenet Ramsey

    January 8, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  13. Bonnie

    I believe Patsy and John were covering for their son and I also believe Patsy
    wrote the ransom note to steer the light elsewhere, away from the home.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  14. Lenore

    I have followed all the stories about this case. I was Patsy!!! She's the one who wrote the ransom letter!!! Nothing she said or did made sense. John had something to do with it to. If he didn't then why would he throw himself over his daughters body and ttouch everything that was around her? He did everything intentionally o destroy evidence. Its just to bad Patsy died before she paid for what she did to her daughter. Well, I guess now she's rotting in Hell for what she did to JonBenet!!!

    January 8, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  15. Mark

    There was a window in the basement that was probably used for entry/exit. Someone who knew the house did this murder though it wasn't the Ramseys. It is sad the Boulder police and prosecutors were so inept and bungled this thing from the gitgo. And make no mistake that THEY are the reason this crime was never solved.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  16. Leonard

    I've always thought Pasty did it...but by mistake. She couldn't face the truth of turning herself in ..so she had to convince her husband to help her make up a story. When I read the ransom letter, I can't help but think a real criminal would never write such a long letter on Christmas Eve. Even killers take time off for the holidays..and if there is any killing going on...it's family related.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  17. karen

    @lynn, I have always thought the same thing. The parents covered for the son.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  18. tim

    Patsy did it,end of story.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  19. Lan

    I wish people would read books on this and look at the actual evidence before they place judgment on people. Really, you believe a 9 year old boy has deviant sexual desires and can produce sperm? You believe a woman can produce sperm? There was never any physical abuse previously and the child was taken to the doctor on a regular basis. Never a scratch, bruise, or any sign of emotional trauma and you think the mother just all of a sudden snapped to the point of stun gunning, sexually assaulting, and strangling her own child because she wet the bed??? The parents were cooperative. The media created great suspicion and there fore they retained lawyers who told them not to talk to the media or anyone else and that turns into "they are not cooperating." What a gullible society!

    January 7, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  20. MatthewZD

    I agree with Lynn - it was the brother, maybe accidental, and the parents covered for him. So much was weird with the case, from the long multipage ransom note on paper from inside the house to John Ramsey finding and bringing the body upstairs. He disturbed the murder scene and effectively tampered with evidence.

    We may never know the truth, unless one day years or decades from now someone spills the beans.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  21. John S

    Write a ransom note demanding money then not only kill the girl but leave her in the house? This made sense to the investigators? Don't need to take kidnapping 101 to know that something was fishy about that note written by mom......

    January 7, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  22. anverali valli

    May the al-mighty bless her little soul, and may He punish the culprit in his own way. The truth always wins in the end.

    salaams

    anveraali valli

    January 7, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  23. Joel

    That final summarizing statement really makes this tragedy hit home.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  24. mark

    Will all of you that believe a family member did it, please come back to reality!!
    DNA analysis has exonerated the family!! What part of that do you not understand? The investigation team has now said for a while that it is someone outside of the family at the home at the time of her murder. So..it was not the parents or the brother. Seems some of you are having fun playing Perry Mason.

    It could have been a stranger or someone that knew a family member-for example, someone angry at the Dad. Very probably a pedophile that stalked JonBenet at a distance, from seeing her at the pagents, a feeding ground for child pedophiles.

    Whoever it was..someone got away with it so far, and not only abducted and murdered a child, but ruined a kind and decent family and tormented them to this day.

    We can only have faith and hope that there ultimately is justice in this universe...that we will be responsbile for our behaviors...and that consequences avoided in this life catch up to us afterwards, somehow. Without such, what a cruel and could universe we have come to live in.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  25. Colette Duranleau

    Jon-Benet's parents refused to be bullied by the police by having an attorney present when being questioned; an absolute right that "hung" them in the court of public opinion. Boulder's finest (and I use the term very loosely) made thier minds up about who was responsible before letting the evidence tell and show them who was ACTUALLY responsible. The one place full of actual evidence that might have led them to the person responsible lost to contamination because bush league Boulder cops didn't have enough sense/experiece to keep it undisturbed. All of which combined to create a haunting mystery.

    Jon Benet's awfull death happened, its unsolvability didn't have to.

    Colette,Denver, CO

    January 7, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  26. Joan

    To posters who keep saying the parents or brother did it: please read the facts...DNA cleared ALL of them!! I have read several books on the crime by the credible experts and visit a couple sites that maintain fact-based info on the case. Bottom-line, the family is fully cleared by DNA testing. (No, i'm not a relative and I do not know any of the players involved...just read fact-based sources).

    January 7, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  27. shelly s.

    In criminal investigation classes you have to investigate this case at least once. The brother did it was always an easy 'A'.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  28. B

    What seemed so peculiar over the years is that the Ramsey's never seemed to be grieving parents for such a horrendous crime inflicted upon their child.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  29. bj reed

    This is one of those enigmas which may never be absolutely solved. I do not believe the parents participated in the crime, but I still think the brother is suspect. Why? Well, look at how the parents had pampered and babied this precious little girl. If you were a brother, would you not feel a bit left out of the circle?

    January 7, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  30. Lynne

    I've always felt that if Patsy did it, she would have left a letter of confession to be opened after her death. This would have cleared her husband and son.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  31. Sophie

    I have always wondered why John was not considered a more viable suspect as well as the son. John found her body and thus "inserted" his dna, hair, fibers, etc into the crime scene without suspicion. It now had a logical reason to be there since he discovered her and "cradled" her body. Why didn't they find anyone else's there? Also, John already lost one child, I don't remember the circumstances, but now a second was dead and if the son was involved and they knew it, they also knew they would lose a third child to prison. It all just looks to neat and clean to be a random act. I have always thought the brother probably did it, John and Patsy panicked and John "planted" his trace evidence and Patsy wrote the note. They never fully cooperated with police and have always shielded the son from questioning and the public arena. It all just stinks of coverup more than suspect.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  32. Ruth

    lynn is correct, it absolutely had to be somebody familiar with the house and familiar with the bonus amount.

    That means family.

    Logic points a finger at the brother, with the parents covering up.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  33. Marisa

    1996?? I've never forgotten this case – ever so often up to now I've been wondering . . who murdered the poor child? I myself thought it was a jealous mother, but of course that was just a thought. But the case haunts me.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  34. lynn

    It was the brother and they were covering for him. Only thing that makes sense. If one parent did it the other would be furious and tell or leve the marriage, but they didn't-why? They were protecting the son, couldn't turn him in and "ruin" his life. They probably felt guilty that the son was jealous because they dotted on her. They already lost one child, couldn't risk loosing the other. Sure he got counseling and that is confidential.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  35. Elizabeth Beard

    Many, many people have followed the Jon Benet Ramsey case through the years. It is true that investigatory mistakes were made from the very start when the house was not handled as a crime scene. Throughout all the bickering and arguing among the various investigators and legal entities, one thing remains certain: neither Patsy nor John Ramsey have been completely cleared. They were always evasive and, for the most part, uncooperative. They were able to pay for the best lawyers and PR representatives available. None of the current DNA results can fully contradict these suspicions, particularly so-called touch DNA.
    Sorry, but the initial instincts of the law enforcement officials is probably accurate.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  36. banasy

    Sad, so sad. I, too, wonder if there will ever be closure to this case. Thos is one of the most truly bizarre murder cases ever...

    The monster who did this likely has forgotten about the little girl he murdered. But Jon and Patsy Ramsey will have to keep on grievessing and wondering...it is they who have been scrutinized and punished!

    My continued sympathy to JonBenet's family, and my fervent hope that they will find answers one day...and ultimately, peace.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  37. Eddie Bailey

    Law enforement does not work like it does in hollywood!money and politics can play a pivotal role in how an investigation is handled.I submitted an important item that absolutely SHOULd have been investigated,this was a double serial murder.law enforcement in UTAH hasn't given it any consideration AT ALL.if these two women were prominent locals,nothing would have been overlooked.reform in many areas of our society are in desparate need.Jonbenet RIP.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  38. MICHAEL WHITE

    Solve this crime already!!

    January 7, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  39. Brazil

    I'll always consider Patsy as the killer. In 15 plus years, this case hasn't been solved ? A perfect murder....what are the odds ?

    January 7, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  40. Aaron

    Sad case and lingering mystery of an unsolved murder that defies gravity. As unbelievable as the case is, the Boulder police acted like the Keystone Cops. I sure hope law enforcement around the world learned some important lessons that will help solve future murder mysteries.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  41. Brian

    This case started when the police destroyed the evidence. They were so enamored of the wealthy parents that they didn't see them as possible suspects.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  42. pat

    I lived in Colorado at the time and for ten years total...and here's what I know to be fact...the Keystone Cops in Colorado, are all horrible! while I was there I saw a great influx of gang activity that came from L.A. And all the cops ran off to bar parking lots to pick off regular folk, for having a couple after work! Columbine was ridiculous....over 300 of the Denver area's finest parked outside the school and knew that they were letting people die! You could have robbed the biggest bank in town, at the time, and gotten away with it! Cops in Denver killed an un-armed man, in a house they thought was a drug den...that house was next door! I could go on...but won't. I'll never go back there for anything! My dreams of beautiful Colorado were dashed by an idiot hippie legistlature, that wanted to control all our lives...and a brutal, inept and backward legal system and law inforcement...Absolutly pethetic!!!

    January 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  43. Saint

    In the end the killer will die and get to explain it to God!

    January 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  44. Dolores

    God will find who did this he will pay

    January 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  45. Shirley Gerstel

    I have watched and listened from the beginning, and despite the fact that the family members have been "cleared"--I have always had a sick feeling in my gut that it was Patsy who did it. Why?-the notepad, the handwriting, and the fact that the exact $$$ amount of the Christmas bonus was known. How many people knew exactly how much money he received? Obviously several people at his company knew, but how and why would any of them hate John so much and also be so close to him to have access to everything in his home including where JonBenet was found, the connection with the crime items, the notepad and access to the home.........the amount of the "bonus" seems to me to be "the key." Why hasn't this piece of information been considered "crucial?" To me it has to involve Patsy. Perhaps Patsy was having a secret relationship with someone who worked with, for, or at the company who knew the dollar amount. Obviously, that dollar amount I believe is "key" to this mystery. John and Patsy may not have had such a close and loving relationship. Patsy, in my mind, was involved, and perhaps she didn't expect it to end the way it did.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  46. glo

    Everytime i read about this story something does not seem right. It seems that someone knows smething but just aren't talking. What i mean is someone in the Ramsey's house. The brother is always in the background. Basically nothing adds up.Since they were rich they. got away with mu murder. Real sad

    January 7, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  47. tim5150dale

    Very sad-

    January 7, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  48. Annie Kate

    I'm glad the DNA evidence cleared the Ramsey family at least. What a thing to have shadowing you in your life – to lose a child and be suspected of being the killer of that child. Did Patsy die before this exoneration? If she did, it is too bad because she seemed to be everyone's favorite target. I wish the real killer would be found but I think at this point whoever did it got away with murder.

    January 7, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  49. jon dimpleberry

    We, the public, will never know the truth until it reveals itself, which could take a half a year of deliberation. It's the brother but hey, what do I know, I'm only a person of the public.

    January 7, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  50. JC-Los Angeles

    So let me get this straight:

    1)someone decides to break into a wealthy person's home on Christmas Eve?

    2)grab a child from her bed?

    3)negotiate the sprawling home while carrying the child all the way down to the basement?

    4)kill the child?

    5)hang out and write a ransom note?

    6)then disappear into thin air?

    Karma Patsy, karma.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
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