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JonBenét Ramsey

What happened to JonBenét Ramsey? A timeline of the 26-year investigation into six-year-old’s murder

JonBenét Ramsey was just six years old when she was beaten and strangled in her family’s Colorado home. More than a quarter-century later, her killer remains a mystery. Sheila Flynn explains the case

Thursday 14 December 2023 18:42 GMT
JonBenét Ramsey
JonBenét Ramsey (Sipa/Shutterstock)

When JonBenét Ramsey was reported missing the day after Christmas in 1996, the case immediately bore all the hallmarks of a tabloid sensation — even before the six-year-old’s body was found in the basement, even before the case would remain unsolved for more than a quarter-century.

Her family’s home in Boulder was stately, her parents rich and attractive, and JonBenét was not only a kindergartner but a child beauty queen. Distinctive glamour shots of the tiny victim were ingrained into the public consciousness and remain instantly recognisable to this day.

But 26 years later, no arrests have ever been made and the killer has never been found.

Here, The Independent maps out a timeline of the decades-long case:

DNA 'enhancements' may solve JonBenet Ramsey killing 25 years later

26 December 1996 - JonBenét is found murdered

JonBenét’s mother, Patsy, called 911 at 5.52am to report her daughter missing from the home on 15th Street they lived in along with JonBenét’s father, John, and brother, Burke, who was nine.

Patsy, a former pageant queen herself, told authorities she’d found a handwritten ransom note on the stairs demanding $118,000, the exact amount of her husband’s bonus.

Despite an initial search of the house, JonBenét’s body was not found until after 1pm by her father, after police asked him to sweep the home again. She had been beaten and strangled.

As the crime scene was initially treated as a kidnapping and not a murder, multiple people were traipsing in and out of the house and the preservation — or destruction — of evidence has been called into question for 26 years.

In the days after the murders, JonBenét’s family willingly submitted DNA samples to investigators. A CBI report completed on 15 January 2007 — an unredacted copy of which is found in a new book by former Colorado sheriff John Wesley Anderson — appears to show genetic markers from an unknown male which may have served to “exclude” the Ramseys and members of their inner circle.

On 29 December 1996, the family flew to their former hometown of Atlanta.

JonBenét was laid to rest in Marietta, Georgia, on New Year’s Eve. Her grave is right beside that of her older half-sister Elizabeth, who died in a car accident in 1992.

(John Ramsey)

January 1997 - Parents give first TV interview

JonBenét’s parents gave their first public interview with CNN on New Year’s Day in 1997 from Atlanta.

At the time, Boulder police were ensuring the community that there was no killer at large.

But Patsy disagreed, saying: “There is a killer on the loose… 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 mother added: “America is suffering because have lost faith in the American family. We are a Christian, God-fearing family. We love our children. We would do anything for our children.”

The interview was not well received by Boulder police, who sent five detectives to Atlanta. Police were reportedly shocked that the family claimed to they were too emotional to be interviewed by investigators - but were able to do the CNN sit-down

April 1997 - Parents identified as prime suspects

On 19 April 1997, the Boulder district attorney’s office labeled Patsy and John Ramsey as the main targets of the investigation.

“Obviously, the focus on these people,” DA Alex Hunter said at the time.

The previous month, a handwriting analysis had ruled John out as the person who wrote the ransom note - but did not rule Patsy out.

The parents did not sit down formally with investigators until 30 April 1997, and held a press conference to announce their innocence soon after.

JonBenet was murdered on 25 December 1996 (Getty)

July 1997 - Autopsy released

JonBenét’s autopsy was unsealed on 14 July 1997.

The coroner found “a deep ligature around the victim’s neck and another around the right wrist — evidence she was bound and strangled”.

“Blood and abrasions were found in the girl’s vaginal area — and that she was struck on the head violently enough to cause bleeding and an 8.5-inch fracture to her skull,” the autopsy states.

March 1998 - Grand jury convened

A grand jury was convened in 1998, the same year a Colorado Springs detective brought out of retirement resigned in protest over the handling of the case.

Jurors spent months poring over evidence - including DNA, the 911 call and a teddy bear.

Also in 1998, investigators interviewed JonBenét’s brother Burke. He was nine at the time of his sister’s murder.

October 1999 - Grand jury dismissed

The grand jury was dismissed in 1999, with the district attorney’s office determining there was not “sufficient evidence” to bring any charges.

The same year, JonBenét’s 12-year-old brother Burke was ruled out as a suspect.

2000 - Family publish book proclaiming innocence

John and Patsy Ramsey published a New York Times bestseller in 2000 titled The Death of Innocence and gave a sitdown interview to Barbara Walters, steadfastly maintaining that no one from their family had killed JonBenét.

2006 - Patsy dies as teacher confesses

Patsy died of cancer in 2006, the same year a teacher, John Mark Karr, confessed to murdering her daughter but was cleared because his DNA did not match samples found at the scene.

2008 - Ramsey family cleared through touch DNA

In 2008, new advancements in touch DNA cleared the Ramsey family, and Boulder authorities sent a letter of apology. But suspicion and public perception remained.

In the ensuing years, the family have continued to push for justice. In 2015, John Ramsey again sat down with Barbara Walters to revisit the case.

The following year, his son, Burke, gave a televised interview to Dr Phil also proclaiming his innocence.

JonBenét’s father has repeatedly petitioned Colorado authorities to order new and more detailed DNA tests in an effort to find his daughter’s killer. He spoke last year at CrimeCon, an annual weekend event for true crime enthusiasts, authors and investigators.

November 2022 - Investigation reinvigorated

In November 2022, Boulder police and district attorney issued a release about the “ongoing homicide investigation,” announcing it would be consulting with the Colorado Cold Case Review Team in 2023.

“Since JonBenét’s murder, detectives have investigated leads stemming from more than 21,000 tips, letters, and emails,” authorities said in a release. “We have traveled to 19 states to interview or speak with more than 1,000 individuals.”

The release added that Boulder agencies were also working with the FBI, CBI, Colorado’s Department of Public Safety and “several private laboratories across the country.”

“The amount of DNA evidence available for analysis is extremely small and complex. The sample could, in whole or in part, be consumed by DNA testing,” the release continued. “In collaboration with the CBI and the FBI, there have been several discussions with private DNA labs about the viability of continued testing of DNA recovered from the crime scene and genetic geneaology analysis ... Whenever there is a proven technology that can reliably test forensic samples consistent with the samples available in this case, additional analysis will be conducted.”

Boulder PD told The Independent on Monday that the “active investigation continues to receive assistance from federal, state, and local partners.”

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