By: Stephanie Butzer
BOULDER, Colo. (KMGH) — It’s been 26 years since the body of JonBenét Patricia Ramsey, just 6 years old, was found in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder. The young beauty pageant contestant had been bludgeoned and strangled. To date, nobody has been convicted of the crime, but theories have circulated for decades.
The discovery on the morning of Dec. 26, 1996, chilled the community to the bone and the case quickly captured the attention of the nation. Today, it remains one of the country’s most high-profile unsolved crimes and the details surrounding her death spurred many books, documentaries, and TV specials. Some highlighted facts, others highlighted opinions.
Here’s a summary of the past 26 years of investigations, heartbreak, suspicions, media frenzies, and unanswered questions.
DEC. 26, 1996 | JonBenét Ramsey, 6, was found dead in the basement of her parent’s home, which was along the 700 block of 15th Street in Boulder. The child beauty queen had died the previous night but wasn’t found until the following morning, according to ABC News.
Her father, John Ramsey, found her body about eight hours after her mother, Patsy Ramsey, said she discovered a ransom note demanding $118,000. They initially believed she had been kidnapped and called 911, even though the note said if they called police, their daughter would die.
Police arrived and began investigating, however they did not properly secure the scene.
Hours went by and police filed out, leaving just one detective, who recommended John Ramsey search the house for clues. He found his daughter in the basement.
“I knew instantly what I found. I found my daughter,” John Ramsey told ABC News’ Barbara Walters in a 2000 interview. “She was lying on a white blanket. The blanket was wrapped around her. Her hands were tied above her head. She had tape over her mouth. … I immediately knelt down over her, felt her cheek, took the tape off immediately off her mouth. I tried to untie the cord that was around her arms and I couldn’t get the knot untied.”
At 10:45 p.m. the Boulder County coroner’s staff removed JonBenét’s body from the house, according to The Denver Post.
DEC. 31, 1996 | JonBenét was buried in Marietta, Georgia, which is the Ramseys’ hometown. She was buried next to her half-sister, who was killed in a car crash in 1992.
JAN. 1, 1997 | The Ramsey parents pleaded on CNN for help finding their murdered daughter, and Patsy Ramsey said “there is a killer on the loose.” It was their first public comment on the case, according to The Denver Post.
MARCH 13, 1997 | It was announced that retired Colorado Springs police Det. Lou Smit will join the Boulder team working on the case.
He worked the case from March 1997 through September 1998, according to the AP. The AP reported on evidence that he said indicated an intruder likely broke in and killed the young girl:
- Faint markings on a suitcase under a broken basement window and on the wall under the window might be footprints. Smit theorized an intruder might have put his foot against the wall to steady himself while crawling through the window
- Peanut-shaped foam packing material and leaves found in the basement might have been tracked inside by someone entering through a broken basement window
- Fibers on a metal baseball bat found outside the Ramseys’ home matched a carpet found in the basement near the storage room where JonBenét’s body was found
- DNA evidence from JonBenét’s fingernails and underpants indicated her attacker was a male
- Marks on her face and back could have been made by a stun gun. Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Doberson said that after examining Smit’s photos of the wounds he agreed that a stun gun might have been used to subdue the girl (Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner noted there is evidence contradicting the use of a stun gun.)
Smit died from cancer in August 2010, according to ABC News.
APRIL 18, 1997 | Then-Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter publicly identified John and Patsy Ramsey as the focus of the investigation, according to The Denver Post. The couple maintained their innocence.
JUNE 1997 | The Ramsey family moved out of Boulder and into a house in the suburbs of Atlanta, according to CNN.
JULY 14, 1997 | According to portions of JonBenét’s autopsy report released in July 1997, her skull was fractured by a vicious blow to the head and she may have been sexually assaulted before being strangled, according to the Associated Press. She had one ligature around her neck and one around her right wrist, and there were small amounts of dried blood, bruising and abrasions in the vaginal area, according to the autopsy. An 8.5-inch fracture ran the length of the right side of her head.
She also had bruises and abrasions on her shoulders, legs and feet, according to the AP.
More of the autopsy was published on Aug. 13, 1997, where authorities said the young girl was found on the basement’s living room floor with her arms extended out and her head turned to the side. Her body was covered with a blanket and a Colorado Avalanche sweatshirt. A white synthetic cord was wrapped around her neck and another length of cord was loosely tied around the right wrist over the sleeve of her knit shirt, the autopsy report said according to the AP.
AUG. 7, 1998 | Claiming the district attorney’s office is “thoroughly compromised,” one of the original detectives assigned to investigate the slaying of JonBenét resigned “in protest of this continuing travesty,” according to the AP.
Det. Steve Thomas, who had been on leave since late June 1998, tendered his resignation from the Boulder Police Department and accused the district attorney’s office of sacrificing procedure for politics.
In the letter, Thomas accused the district attorney’s office of ignoring evidence collected by investigators, blocking police efforts to subpoena the parents’ telephone and credit card records, and improperly sharing details of the case with Ramsey lawyers.
SEPT. 16, 1998 | Boulder County grand jurors began their investigation into the girl’s slaying. They learned about forensic evidence, including analysis of handwriting, DNA and hair and fibers found at the scene about a month into the investigation. The grand jurors toured the Ramsey home at the end of October. The investigation was granted a six-month extension in April 1998, according to The Denver Post.
AUG. 19, 1999 | Thomas C. Miller, a Boulder lawyer who allegedly offered a handwriting expert $30,000 for a copy of the Ramsey ransom note, was indicted on bribery charges, according to The Denver Post. Authorities said he was buying the note on behalf of a “large corporation,” possibly a tabloid newspaper.
OCT. 13, 1999 | Then-DA Alex Hunter announced that the grand jury had completed its work and that his team didn’t think it had “sufficient evidence to warrant filing of charges,” according to the Denver Post.
MARCH 1, 2000 | The Ramseys provided their account of the death of their daughter in a book titled, “The Death of Innocence: The Untold Story of JonBenet’s Murder and How Its Exploitation Compromised the Pursuit of Truth.”
MARCH 14, 2000 | JonBenét’s parents said they believe an intruder may have waited for hours in their home before strangling their daughter, according to transcripts of a “20/20” interview broadcasted on March 17, 2000, the Associated Press reported.
The Ramseys asked investigators to look to their “inner circle” to find her killer, such as someone who was familiar with the family and may be a pedophile, according to transcripts released a few days before the broadcast.
JUNE 24, 2006 | Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer at 49. She was buried next to JonBenét in Marietta, Georgia.
AUG. 2006 | Teacher John Mark Karr said he killed JonBenét and was arrested in Thailand, but was ruled out as a suspect when his DNA failed to match that found at the scene, according to the Associated Press.
His brother, Nate Karr, told ABC News’ “Good Morning America″ he was certain his brother spent Christmas 1996, when JonBenét was slain, with his family.
John Mark Karr professed love for JonBenét in e-mails with a Colorado professor, and told a California woman he believed the girl was tortured before she was strangled, according to the AP. But he never confessed to the murder or anything else to suggest he may have been involved in her death.
JULY 2008 | District Attorney Mary Lacy released a statement that said DNA discovered in the case had a genetic profile belonging to a male and did not belong to anyone in the Ramsey family.
“The Boulder District Attorney’s Office does not consider any member of the Ramsey family, including John, Patsy, or Burke Ramsey, as suspects in this case,” Lacy said.
Burke Ramsey was JonBenét’s older brother, who was 9 at the time of her death.
JULY 2011 | John Ramsey remarried. He wrote a book, “The Other Side of Suffering,” that recounts how his faith helped him navigate from suffering to forgiveness.
OCT. 23, 2013 | A Colorado judge ordered the release of the 1999 grand jury indictment in the killing of JonBenét, possibly shedding light on why prosecutors decided against charging her parents in her death, according to the Associated Press. The papers were sealed in 1999.
In the ruling, Senior District Judge J. Robert Lowenbach said that DA Alex Hunter prepared possible charges against John and Patsy Ramsey three years after their daughter’s murder. The indictment has remained sealed because Hunter decided not to pursue charges, but officials have never explained the decision.
The judge said transcripts of grand jury proceedings and evidence presented to it are not considered “official action” under the law governing criminal court records. He also said releasing such information could hurt other grand juries, whose work is secret, according to the Associated Press.
OCT. 25, 2013 | The 1999 grand jury indictment papers were released, according to CNN. The court documents show how the grand jury sought to charge JonBenét’s parents with two identical counts.
The grand jury alleged that John and Patsy Ramsey “did … permit a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child’s life or health which resulted in the death of JonBenet Ramsey,” according to the documents published by CNN. The grand jury also had alleged that each parent “did … render assistance to a person, with intent to hinder, delay and prevent the discovery, detention, apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of such person for the commission of a crime, knowing the person being assisted has committed and was suspected of the crime of murder in the first degree and child abuse resulting in death.”
The documents did not provide details on who that “person” was.
JUNE 22, 2016 | Gary Oliva, then-52 years old, was arrested and accused of downloading child pornography after the Boulder Police Department received a cyber tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. A spokesperson with the city of Boulder said they hadn’t yet connected him to the Ramsey case.
Police said he may have been close to the Ramsey house on the night of the murder.
When he was arrested on other charges back in 2000, police found a photo of Ramsey in his possession. Oliva admitted to having an obsession with the young beauty queen, police said.
An investigation began into a possible connection.
AUG. 10, 2016 | “Who Killed JonBenet?” is announced to air on Lifetime in the fall of 2016. The original movie was one of many that were released that year for the case’s 20th anniversary.
SEPT. 1, 2016 | The police chief in Boulder, Greg Testa, released a statement on the JonBenét murder investigation, saying investigators will not give up. This statement came in response to several movies, documentaries and a new book that were scheduled to be released over the following weeks regarding the case.
Testa said as of then, Boulder police had processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence, analyzed more than 200 DNA samples, investigated more than 20,000 tips, and interviewed more than 1,000 people.
SEPT. 5, 2016 | A&E aired a special on this case, titled “The Killing of JonBenét: The Truth Uncovered.” John Ramsey was interviewed in the special, and described the heartbreaking details of dealing with accusations from strangers that he and his wife were responsible for their daughter’s death.
“Death would have been a welcome relief from the pain and agony I felt,” he said.
It took authorities 12 years to exonerate the Ramsey family.
The documentary revealed just how focused Boulder police were on the Ramseys. It points to a never-before-seen DNA report ordered a few days after the 1996 murder on a spot of blood found in JonBenét’s underwear.
“The report to the Boulder police, seen here for the first time, made clear it did not come from John Ramsey or anyone else in the family,” the A&E documentary said.
It said Boulder police ignored the report and did not pass it off to the district attorney’s office for months. Evidence DNA analysts in the film said this proves an intruder was responsible.
SEPT. 6, 2016 | JonBenét’s brother, Burke Ramsey, spoke with Dr. Phil for a show titled “JonBenet Ramsey’s Brother Finally Breaks His Silence: What Do Secret Interrogation Tapes Reveal?” In the interview, he told Dr. Phil that he knew his family were suspects in the crime. He was 9 years old when his sister was killed.
“I know people think I did it, that my parents did it,” he told Dr. Phil in his first television interview. “I know that we were suspects.”
He said he told police — in interviews captured in 1998 police interrogation tapes — that he never left his bedroom while people came into and out of the house because he was scared.
He said he always believed a pedophile who had seen the young beauty queen perform sneaked into the house and murdered her.
He said he was speaking out then because he wanted “to honor her memory. I don’t want anyone to forget.”
Burke Ramsey ended the interview by saying the media would not hear from him again and he planned to live a quiet life.
CBS’s team of hired investigators looked into the case and reviewed a 911 tape that kept rolling after Patsy Ramsey believed she hung up her phone. On the phone call, the team believed they heard John Ramsey say, “We’re not speaking to you,” and Patsy say, “What did you do?”
CBS investigators said they believe they were speaking to JonBenét’s brother, Burke Ramsey.
CBS’s team recreated a life-sized version of JonBenét’s house and performed their own investigation using reports from the night of the murder. They ruled out the possibility of an intruder breaking into the home based on the evidence they collected, including police reports from around the time of murder.
The miniseries ended by revealing the CBS investigators believed Burke Ramsey killed his sister. Dr. Werner Spitz, a renowned forensic pathologist who was featured on the miniseries, said he agreed with that conclusion.
“If you really, really use your free time to think about this case, you cannot come to a different conclusion,” Spitz said. “It’s the boy who did it.”
SEPT. 22, 2016 | Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, published a post on Facebook where he said he has strong views on who killed JonBenét.
“For a number of reasons having to do with my then-responsibilities as Governor of Colorado I closely followed and was even to some extent involved in the aftermath of the tragic JonBenét Ramsey murder case,” he wrote. “I have over the years talked to many of those who were part of the investigation and, based on those discussions, have my own strong views concerning who killed JonBenét.”
He didn’t say who he believed killed the child, but commended CBS “for its excellent research, investigation and reporting in ‘The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey.'”
The complaint alleged that Spitz said 9-year-old Burke Ramsey bludgeoned JonBenét to death in 1996. Burke sought at least $150 million in damages.
NOV. 5, 2016 | Lifetime aired the previously announced “Who Killed JonBenet” documentary followed by a special called “JonBenet’s Mother: Victim or Killer?”
In the latter documentary, two detectives questioned if Patsy Ramsey wrote the ransom note. One detective said there were similarities in the mother’s handwriting and the writing on the ransom note.
DEC. 13, 2016 | Investigative journalist Paula Woodward, who had covered this case since it started, shared new findings in her book, “We Have Your Daughter: The Unsolved Murder of JonBenet Ramsey Twenty Years Later.” The book’s title is a nod to the ransom note found in the Ramsey home.
Woodward said she did not have the definitive answer nor an opinion of who killed JonBenét.
“Who wrote the ransom note? Why did they write it so long? What is that all about? Why is it signed S.B.T.C.?” she said in 2016. “There are all the bits of misinformation we had that were fed by law enforcement that aren’t true. Like, there was no forced entry into the house, yet there were seven different ways into the house. There were the beauty pageants. There was this wealthy family, from Boulder, Colorado, seemingly very happy and then this terrible murder happens. Any piece of evidence you look at, you can take it either way. Was it the Ramseys, or an intruder?”
In the book, Woodward shared exclusive interviews with Ramsey family members. Patsy Ramsey shared intimate details with Woodward before she died of cancer. Woodward was told to keep the conversations private until after Patsy’s death.
The book also detailed mistakes authorities made at the scene of the murder from the first hour through the following days. Woodward described herself as “very pro law enforcement,” but she said she could not ignore what she learned in her research.
“The police at the DA’s office deliberately leaked false stories to the media and then the media was at fault for not double-checking and double-checking today, and then, is just second nature — you just do it. Here’s one side, here’s the other,” she said.
For example, she said, police told journalists that Patsy Ramsey had never given DNA, but she had.
The information leaked to media by law enforcement “set this case off as anti-Ramsey, and that’s what I wanted to correct — the inaccuracies. I don’t have a position, but I do want it to be accurate,” Woodward said.
Woodward sat down with Denver7 Investigates to discuss some of those unanswered questions that still remain in January 2021.
DEC. 14, 2016 | The Colorado Bureau of Investigation announced it would test certain pieces of evidence for DNA in the case. The last time any of the evidence was tested for DNA was the fall of 2008, when the results were inconclusive.
DEC. 16, 2016 | ABC News’ “20/20” aired an episode on the investigation as the 20th anniversary of the girl’s death neared.
DEC. 26, 2016 | Twenty years had passed since JonBenét was found dead in her parent’s home. While no one has been arrested, Boulder police said the investigation was continuing.
DEC. 28, 2016 | Burke Ramsey sued CBS Corporation and multiple people involved in the network’s special “The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey,” which aired in September 2016.
The lawsuit alleged the entire piece had been designed from the start to pin the murder on Burke Ramsey.
The lawsuit claimed more than 18.6 million viewers watched the combined days of the special report, leading to $750 million in damages against Burke Ramsey. His case sought $250 million in damages to his reputation and $500 million in punitive damages.
He settled outside of court with four other media outlets that pointed their fingers at him in their specials and documentaries.
Burke Ramsey’s legal team has been able to prove their points with a 12-page list of what they call “Key Facts About The Murder of JonBenet and the Law Enforcement Investigation,” which you can read here.
In January 2018, a judge declined to dismiss the defamation lawsuit.
APRIL 28, 2017 | A new film that aimed to examine the JonBenét murder from a new perspective premiered on Netflix. It was called “Casting JonBenet.” It told the story of the 6-year-old’s death from the perspective of people who were auditioning for the roles of those involved in the case for the documentary.
It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January 2017.
OCT. 11, 2017 | The father of JonBenét filed a lawsuit against CBS and the people involved with a two-part special about her unsolved murder that aired in September 2016. This came less than a year after his son, Burke Ramsey, did the same.
CBS’ “The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey” advanced the theory that JonBenét was killed in 1996 by her brother.
JAN. 4, 2019 | A $750 million defamation lawsuit filed against CBS by the brother of JonBenét was settled.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
A spokesperson for producers of the TV program said in a statement that “an amicable resolution of their differences” had been reached.
JAN. 12, 2020 | Police in Boulder dismissed a convicted pedophile’s confession to the murder of JonBenét and said the claim has already been investigated.
Gary Oliva was arrested on June 22, 2016 for unrelated charges (see above in timeline), but later admitted to killing JonBenét by accident in letters to a high school classmate, according to the Associated Press. He wrote, “I never loved anyone like I did JonBenét and yet I let her slip and her head bashed in half and I watched her die. It was an accident. Please believe me. She was not like the other kids,” according to the AP.
However, the Boulder Police Department released a statement that appeared to refute the claims made by Oliva, who has made similar confessions in the past.
DEC. 20, 2021 | About a week ahead of the 25th anniversary of JonBenét’s death, the Boulder Police Department said it has processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence tied to the case, including analysis of almost 1,000 DNA samples.
Since the young girl was reported missing, the BPD’s Major Crimes Unit has received and reviewed more than 21,000 tips, letters and emails, BPD said. Detectives have visited 19 states to interview more than 1,000 people connected to the crime. The BPD is working closely with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation on future DNA advancements. New DNA samples are checked in the system regularly for any new matches.
“As the Department continues to use new technology to enhance the investigation, it is actively reviewing genetic DNA testing processes to see if those can be applied to this case moving forward,” BPD said.
A police spokesperson, Dionne Waugh, said she could not comment further because the investigation is still “active and ongoing.”
MAY 2, 2022 | An online petition with thousands of signatures asked for Gov. Jared Polis to step in and move the JonBenét Ramsey case from the Boulder Police Department to a new agency.
The change.org petition, filed by a group called Justice for JonBenét Ramsey, called on Polis to have the case moved from the Boulder Police Department — the agency responsible for investigating the case since it happened 25 years ago — to another investigating agency to look into new DNA technology. The petition cited examples like the arrest of the Golden State Killer and other recently solved cold cases using genetic genealogy.
The Boulder Police department said it’s “never wavered in its pursuit to bring justice to everyone affected by the murder of this little girl.”
NOV. 10, 2022 | The Boulder Police Department announced it will consult with the Colorado Cold Case Review Team as it continues to work on the JonBenét Ramsey homicide case.
The Colorado Cold Case Review Team was created in 2009. CBI created it as an additional tool for agencies investigating cold cases. The team is made of professional investigative, analytical, and forensic experts from across the state, according to CBI, and they typically meet two to four times a year.
Authorities said the amount of DNA evidence that was collected at the crime scene — and is still available for analysis — is small and could be completely consumed by testing.
Discussions are ongoing with CBI, the FBI, and private DNA labs about the viability of continued testing of that DNA.
JAN. 4, 2023 | It was reported that John Ramsey sent a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis requesting an in-person meeting and help in solving his daughter’s murder.
“I am 78 now and realize that time for answers is running out,” John’s letter reads. “The murder of my daughter can never be undone. There will never be peace or closure, but there can and should be justice.”
Ramsey says Polis responded to his letter, calling it the first communication he’s ever had from the state.
“Gave us certainly some indication that he would like to help move the case along,” John said. “There were no commitments, but I was encouraged.”
JAN. 18, 2023 | John Ramsey speaks to Court TV anchor Vinnie Politan about his daughter’s case and why he thinks it still remains unsolved. He believes the case is unsolved because of the refusal of help by the Boulder Police Department in the beginning of the investigation.
This story was originally published by KMGH in Denver, an E.W. Scripps Company. Court TV Digital contributed to this report.