In the early-morning hours of December 26th, 1996, Patricia “Patsy” Ramsey dialed 911 to report that she’d found a ransom note and her daughter, six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey, had been kidnapped. Soon after, JonBenét’s body was discovered in the basement of her family’s Boulder, Colorado, home, wrapped in a white blanket. A nylon cord was around her neck, her wrists had been tied above her head and her mouth was covered with duct tape. What followed could easily be described as a media maelstrom, with everyone from local journalists to CNN clamoring to know who murdered the angelic, blonde-haired, blue-eyed pageant winner.
Boulder law enforcement initially suspected JonBenét’s family – Patsy, who died of ovarian cancer in 2006, her husband John Bennett Ramsey and their oldest child, nine-year-old Burke. But none were ever formally charged and the family members were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2008; to this day the case remains unsolved.
Now, nearly 20 years later, the case is being reexamined by everyone from A&E to Dr. Phil. But unlike the specials that have already aired, which have been very sympathetic to JonBenét’s family, CBS’s two-part docuseries, The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey, recruited highly specialized investigators and experts to zero in on the evidence in the hopes of finally learning who killed JonBenét – and her family isn’t off the hook just yet.
Led by former New York City prosecutor and retired FBI supervisory special agent and profiler Jim Clemente and former New Scotland Yard criminal behavioral analyst Laura Richards, the group analyzes the now-infamous ransom note and Patsy’s initial 911 call to the police, they build and scrutinize a full-scale replica of vital rooms in the Ramsey home and conduct a series of interviews with the 911 dispatcher and former Ramsey family associates. Here’s everything we learned from The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, Part One.
There might have been audible voices in the background of Patsy Ramsey’s 911 call
When Patsy called 911 on the morning of December 26th, 1996, she abruptly ended the conversation after asking that the police “hurry, hurry, hurry” to her family’s house. But Patsy didn’t immediately hang up the phone. Toward the very end of the call, before the line is cut, you can hear background feedback, possibly indicating the presence of others.
In the 1990s, Patsy’s call was enhanced in an attempt to uncover what those background voices were saying, and while parts of the findings were leaked to tabloids, the full analyses were never officially released to the public. Now, in their reexamination of Patsy’s call, Clemente and Richards use more modern audio technology to try and hear what was said and by whom. The investigators allege that the unclear audio may be John Ramsey’s voice saying, “We’re not speaking to you,” followed by Patsy asking, “What did you do? Help me, Jesus,” then Burke asking, “What did you find?” If it was Burke speaking at the end, that contradicts the Ramseys’ 1997 statement that their oldest son was sleeping at the time – though this evidence is still inconclusive.
The original 911 dispatcher, Kim Archuletta, felt Patsy’s 911 call sounded rehearsed
“This is the first time that anyone has asked for my opinion,” Kim Archuletta tells Clemente and Richards. The 911 dispatcher had previously been under a gag order regarding the JonBenét case (until the case went to court, which it never did), and wasn’t asked to testify on the grand jury in 1999. But when Clemente and Richards ask her about Patsy’s 911 call, Archuletta claims that at the time she felt it sounded rehearsed. “I just remember having that sunken feeling like something wasn’t right,” she says. “If you hear the frantic in her voice as she’s speaking to me, where she couldn’t even answer my questions, it immediately stopped. What bothered me immensely, [was] it sounded like she said, ‘OK, we called the police, now what?'”
Some of the lines from the ransom note sound like they’re lifted from famous crime films
The note in question has always been suspicious: its length and detail (the team points out that most ransom notes are short and to the point), that the pen and paper was found to have come from the Ramseys’ own house and the fact that Patsy in particular has always been a prime suspect regarding the note’s handwriting. But upon taking a closer look at the note’s language, James Fitzgerald, a retired FBI supervisory special agent and forensic linguistic profiler, posits that a number of the letter’s lines are awfully close to some ransom-note lines in famous films. For instance, the line “If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies” sounds like “If you talk to anyone, even if it’s a Pekingese on a lamp post… the girl dies” from Dirty Harry. The line “Don’t try to grow a brain, John” reads like the line “Do not attempt to grow a brain” from Speed. What’s more, the original crime-scene video shows the Ramseys’ house covered in movie posters.
John Ramsey discovering his daughter’s body in the basement may have also been staged
In their interview with former FBI agent and first responder Ron Walker – the only agent to set foot in the Ramseys’ house that day – Clemente and Richards learn that John Ramsey behaved strangely when told that his house would be searched. According to Walker, John reportedly grabbed his friend Fleet White by the arm and “made a beeline” for the basement door. It is there that the two men discover JonBenét’s body.
But Walker felt unconvinced at the authenticity of the discovery. “Virtually every staged murder scene that I have seen, the perpetrator manipulates the arrival of friends or other family members, who are then put in a situation where they actually discover the body, or they are with the perpetrator as the body is discovered,” he says.
A large flashlight was very likely the murder weapon
According to forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz, the Ramseys refused to let him inspect their house after their daughter’s death. But Spitz still reviewed the autopsy report and concluded that JonBenét was already brain dead after being struck across the head, possibly with a large flashlight found in the Ramsey home. (The Ramseys have never claimed ownership over the flashlight.) The rest – the strangulation, her tied hands, the duct tape over her mouth, Spitz concludes, was probably staged.
From there, Spitz, Clemente, and Richards proceed to demonstrate whether or not a flashlight could create the sort of fatal head trauma JonBenét experienced. To do that, they ask a 10-year-old boy to hit a skull model as hard as possible with a replica flashlight. The impression it makes almost exactly matches the sort of injury JonBenét suffered. What’s more, the team concludes that it would not have taken much strength to cause such an injury, suggesting the possibility of Burke’s involvement.
The Ramseys’ televised interviews are still a little suspect
Within days of their daughter’s murder, the Ramseys give an interview to CNN before speaking to the Boulder police department. According to Fitzgerald and Stan Burke, a retired FBI supervisory special agent and statement analyst, the video of the Ramseys speaking to the press is suspicious. When John Ramsey says, “For our grief to resolve itself, we now have to find out why this happened,” the pair point out how he uses the word “why,” as if he has already skipped past the “who” in the equation, giving them reason to think John already knows who killed his daughter.
Later, in a follow-up press conference conducted in May 1997, John and Patsy Ramsey assure the public that they did not kill their daughter – statements that the investigative team finds convincing. But while their assurances that they did not kill their daughter sound genuine, Fitzgerald, Burke, Clemente, and Richards note how the couple’s responses to the follow-up questions sound stuttered and unconfident. “Compare this statement that [John is] making right now… to what he said about four minutes ago,” notes Fitzgerald. “Now all of the sudden he’s not even answering the question… What I find in situations such as this, it’s not just important what is said, but it can be just as important – if not more so – what is not said.”
If Part One has shown us anything, it’s that Clemente and Richards have done their best to investigate every piece of written, recorded and filmed evidence – with the assistance of highly trained experts and a lot of theme music, of course. What remains now, and what we’ll likely see in tonight’s conclusion, is to determine whether modern DNA technology can reveal any new information about who murdered JonBenét Ramsey. The conclusion of The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey will air tonight at 9 p.m. on CBS.