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Child beauty queen murder mystery grows

The investigation into the Christmas murder of JonBenet Ramsey, the six-year-old beauty queen, reaches its sixth month this week, but while the American people are as convinced her wealthy parents did it as they are that O J Simpson killed his wife, the mystery appears unlikely ever to be solved.

Under enormous public pressure to make an arrest, the police in Boulder, Colorado, have been flailing around in confusion and despair. All concerned with the investigation agree that suspicion rests chiefly on the parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, but so far not one shred of evidence has emerged to justify an arrest.

While Mr and Mrs Ramsey go freely about their daily business, even if hounded day and night by the tabloid press, the justice system in this beautiful, affluent Rockies city is in the throes of a nervous breakdown.

Two officers involved in the case have taken stress-related medical leave. One of them is suing the lead investigator, John Eller, for allegedly insinuating he leaked information to the press. A second officer is reported to be planning a suit against Detective Eller, who revealed how he feels by applying for the job of police chief in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Two weeks ago the rank and file gave the chief of the Boulder police, Tom Koby, a vote of no confidence by a ratio of more than 2 to 1, prompting him to head off to Texas on a badly needed holiday.

Relations between the police investigating the JonBenet case and those prosecuting it in the district attorney's office have been marked by suspicion and distrust. Detective Eller recently refused to share with prosecutors the results of DNA tests done on blood and skin samples.

"They may all be in the same canoe," a local lawyer remarked, "but they aren't paddling in the same direction."

Team spirit might be rather different had the investigation yielded results in the critical early days. John Ramsey, owner of a billion-dollar computer firm in Boulder, says he found his daughter's body in the basement of his home on the afternoon of 26 December. Earlier that day he had called the police to report finding a ransom note saying the child had been kidnapped. The authorities said she had been strangled, beaten and possibly sexually assaulted.

The parents immediately became the chief suspects - there were no signs of forced entry into the house, no unknown footprints in the snow and the burglar alarm did not go off. Less rationally, but in the public eye no less compellingly, there is a sense that the parents must have had a perverted disposition if they were prepared to teach their child to preen, dress and paint her face like an adult.

Yet after all this time the prospect of a breakthrough appears remote, an impression which Mr and Mrs Ramsey appear to share ... they are negotiating purchase of a new home in Atlanta.