Biographies of key figures in the case.
The 6-year-old child beauty pageant queen was found brutally murdered in the basement of her family’s Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996. The girl’s death became a media sensation and her beaming face was plastered on newspapers, magazines and tabloids while national TV shows featured videos of the girl performing in pageants. JonBenét’s death remains unsolved 20 years later.
The father of JonBenét discovered his daughter’s body in a spare room in the basement in the afternoon hours after his wife called police to report the girl had been kidnapped. At the time of his daughter’s death, Ramsey was president of Access Graphics in Boulder. In 2008, armed with new DNA evidence that points to an unknown male as JonBenét’s killer, Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy took the extraordinary step of publicly exonerating her parents and immediate family in her death. John Ramsey and his then-wife Patsy both had repeatedly denied that they had anything to do with their daughter’s death. Ramsey, now 73, remarried in 2011. Although he rarely grants media interviews, he appeared on the “Dr. Phil” talk show in September with his son, Burke, and talked about his hope that his daughter’s murder will be solved.
The mother of JonBenét called police shortly before 6 a.m. on Dec. 26, 1996, to report she had found a ransom note and that her daughter was missing. The 2 1/2-page ransom note from “a small foreign faction” demanded the odd sum of $118,000 to spare JonBenét from beheading. Detectives quickly determined the note had been written on a pad of paper found in the Ramseys’ house with a Sharpie pen also found in the house. Investigators took writing samples from dozens of people including John, Patsy and their son Burke. Handwriting experts from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation eliminated John Ramsey as the author of the note, but couldn’t do the same for Patsy Ramsey. Although they collected at least at least five handwriting samples from Patsy, along with “historic” samples she had previously written before her daughter’s death, investigators could neither eliminate her as the writer nor definitely say she was. Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer on June 4, 2006.
The brother of JonBenét was 9 at the time of his sister’s death. Although his parents originally told police he was asleep when his mother reported her daughter had been kidnapped, his voice can be heard in the background of an enhanced recording of the 911 call. In September, Burke Ramsey was interviewed by TV host Phillip C. McGraw during a three-part segment of the “Dr. Phil” show in which both he and his father expressed hope that the case would ultimately be solved. In October, Burke Ramsey filed a $150 million defamation lawsuit against a Michigan forensic pathologist who told a Detroit-area media outlet that Burke Ramsey killed his sister.
The Boulder County district attorney when JonBenét was killed, Alex Hunter first publicly identified John and Patsy Ramsey as the focus of the murder investigation in April 1997. In October 1999, Hunter announced the grand jury had completed its work and that his team did not think it had “sufficient evidence to warrant filing of charges.” In 2013, Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sued for the release of documents that showed the 1999 grand jury had voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey of two counts each of child abuse resulting in death in connection with their daughter’s death. The charges didn’t directly accuse the Ramseys of killing the girl. Instead they alleged that the parents permitted JonBenét to be placed in a dangerous situation that led to her death and accused them of helping her killer. Because Hunter refused to sign the documents, the Ramseys were never officially indicted or prosecuted. Hunter retired in 2000 after serving in that role for 28 years. He has stayed out of the spotlight since then and did not appear in any of the TV programs that focused on the 20th anniversary of JonBenét’s death.
After heading up the sex-assault unit for the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office for 10 years, Mary Lacy was elected district attorney in 2000, replacing Alex Hunter. In 2008, armed with new DNA evidence that she said pointed to an unknown male as JonBenét’s killer, Lacy took the extraordinary step of publicly exonerating the child’s parents and immediate family. In October, forensic experts who examined the results of DNA tests obtained exclusively by the Daily Camera and 9News disputed Lacy’s conclusion that a DNA profile found in one place on JonBenét’s underpants and two locations on her long johns was necessarily the killer’s.
Boulder Police chief Tom Koby faced intense criticism of how his department handled the investigation into JonBenét Ramsey’s death — specifically the failure by officers to secure the crime scene or find JonBenét’s body in the first hours after her mother called 911. Koby, who became Boulder’s police chief in 1991, was in turn highly critical of media coverage of the case. When Koby announced his retirement plans on Nov. 19, 1997, he said he would delay his departure for 13 months because he wanted to give himself enough time to decide whether the murder could be solved. In May 1998, he moved to the city manager’s office where he continued working on selected projects until he officially retired at the end of the year.
A veteran homicide detective from El Paso County, Lou Smit joined the Ramsey murder investigation in March 1997. Before joining the Ramsey case, Smit was best known for cracking the murder case of Heather Dawn Church, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and killed by a serial killer who lived a mile away from her home in Colorado Springs. Like the Ramseys, the Churches were considered prime suspects in their daughter’s death. Smit resigned in September 1998 saying John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent and that authorities failed to acknowledge a “very dangerous killer is still out there.” He also released crime scene photos that he said bolstered his theory that an intruder killed the girl. On his deathbed in August 2010, Smit remained focused on the Ramsey case rather than the about 200 murder cases he’d solved during his storied, 30-year career. Although he was unable to find the killer, Smit said he believed one of his greatest achievements was helping keep the girl’s innocent parents out of prison. He also remained convinced that DNA found on her clothes and body would eventually solve the case.
Named lead investigator in the Ramsey case in June 1998, Mark Beckner succeeded Tom Koby as Boulder police chief. At that time, he warned the murder investigation had no “magic answers.” When Beckner retired in March 2014, he said his department did the best it could by getting the grand jury to issue indictments against John and Patsy Ramsey in 1999. Former Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to prosecute the parents. In February 2015, Beckner participated in an “Ask Me Almost Anything” session online for Reddit. He didn’t realize his comments would be public and discussed details about the Ramsey case including the source of the DNA found on JonBenét’s clothing, whether an intruder could have committed the murder and whether a stun gun was used.
After spending 20 months investigating JonBenét’s murder, Steve Thomas resigned in August 1998. In April 2000, he published “JonBenét: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation,” in which he blamed Patsy Ramsey for her daughter’s death. He theorized that after the girl wet the bed and her mother accidentally killed her during “some sort of explosive encounter in the child’s bathroom.” He believed that Patsy Ramsey cooked up the kidnapping, wrote the ransom note, tied the cord – loosely, according to Thomas – around JonBenét’s wrists, wrapped a cord around the child’s neck and put duct tape over her mouth, then carefully wrapped her in a blanket to cover up what Thomas believes initially was an accident. He also dismissed as absurd the Ramseys’ argument that Boulder police failed to look at other suspects.“If they’re innocent, they did the greatest disservice by not cooperating,” he said in an interview about the book.
As the first detective to arrive at the Ramsey house on Dec. 26, 1996, Linda Arndt endured stinging criticism and ridicule because of what she did and didn’t do once she arrived on the scene. Amid escalating national criticism of how police handled the investigation, then-police chief Tom Koby took her off the case in May 1997. Almost a year after she was removed from the case, Arndt sued Koby accusing him of violating her privacy by portraying her in a false light and of violating her right to free speech by not allowing her to speak on her own behalf. In September 1999, Arndt appeared on “Good Morning America” and claimed she knew
what happened the night JonBenét was killed. In the interview, which ran in five installments, Arndt said she knows who killed JonBenét but wouldn’t reveal the name.