‘The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey’ Recap: Murder Experts Point Finger at Her Brother, Burke Ramsey

Will this case ever be closed? The final chapter of the CBS docuseries The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey aired Monday, September 19, and provided some seriously shocking revelations. 

A team of forensic experts, led by Laura Richards and Jim Clemente, came to conclusions that will rattle anyone’s preconceived notions about who is responsible for the nearly 20-year-old murder of 6-year-old pageant star JonBenét Ramsey in her Boulder, Colorado, home. (JonBenét's parents, John and the late Patsy Ramsey, were officially removed from the suspect list in 2008. JonBenét's brother, Burke Ramsey, was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1999.)

JonBenét May Not Have Been Killed by an Intruder

The prevailing theory, pioneered by late investigator Lou Smit, was that JonBenét was killed by an intruder who entered the house through the basement window. However, Richards and Clemente — using a reconstruction of the house, along with crime scene photos — concluded this may have been impossible. 

Based on a photo of an intact spiderweb in the corner of the window, Clemente noted, "It's very clear that this is not a brand new web." He continued, "That would not have survived someone going in a window."

The DNA Evidence That Exonerated the Family May Have Been Insignificant

The team of experts concluded that the trace DNA found on JonBenét’s underwear, originally said to belong to the murderer, may simply have been unintentionally left by someone involved in the manufacturing of the clothing. Dr. Henry Lee, a forensic scientist who testified in both the O.J. Simpson and Laci Peterson cases, said, “It’s not a true piece of physical evidence to link somebody or exonerate somebody.” When conducting their own investigation on store-bought underwear, Lee, Clemente and Richards found transfer DNA on a pair that came straight from its package. 

Of this reexamined evidence, Clemente said, “So a female worker either sewed them together or packaged them, and left transfer DNA.” Of the 2008 exoneration of John and Patsy, Clemente stated, “It seems like District Attorney Mary Lacy should not have exonerated anyone based on transfer DNA.”

The District Attorney’s Office Blocked the Boulder Police Investigation

When Richards and Clemente met with former Boulder Police Officer Gretchen Smith, she revealed insight about the clash that occurred between the police and the DA’s office. “When you’re a police officer, you want to work with the district attorney’s office. You want to be partners," she said. "We weren’t at all."

The former police officer continued, “The parents of the child, they had money. … The district attorney’s office … didn’t want to hear that an affluent member of the community was guilty of a crime like this.” Steve Thomas, colead investigator on the case, flat out accused Patsy of writing the ransom note, saying, “I think she was the author of that ransom note.” Speaking of the handwriting similarities and other evidence, Thomas commented, “That’s pretty damning evidence. … I find it preposterous." Thomas continued, “We never got search warrants for phone records or for credit card reports." When speaking about the special treatment the Ramseys received from the DA’s office, Thomas said, “I was … furious when we learned that they had been provided copies of police reports [prior to interviews].”

Burke’s Interview Behavior Is Troubling

After examining video interviews with JonBenét’s older brother, Burke, the team seemed troubled by his behavior. Speaking of his demeanor displayed in an interview Burke gave shortly after the murder, Clemente noted, “I haven’t seen any indication yet that this child has been through recent trauma.” After showing a clip of Burke acting out how the murder could have happened — hitting her on the head with a hammer — Richards noted, “It’s odd that he’s acting it out.” Clemente added, “On top of it, there is no emotion. No appropriate emotion at all about this happening to his sister." 

John and Patsy Ramsey
John and Patsy Ramsey on May 1, 1997. Helen H. Richardson/ The Denver Post

Family friend Judith Miller noted, "Burke had a bad temper. … He had hit JonBenét. … He hit her with a golf club.” In an interview with Burke that took place 18 months after the death, the then-11-and-a-half-year-old talks about how he slept through the crime, emphasizing how he sleeps "really deeply" and "never hears anything." Clemente commented, “When he says ‘really deeply’ and ‘never hear anything,’ that’s overselling. … That’s deceiving.”

Evidence Points to Both Parents Involved in a Cover-Up

The dominant theory that came out of this group investigation hinged on a piece of pineapple that was found in JonBenét's stomach. James Kolar, former investigator on the case, said, “I think the Ramseys came home around 10:30, 11 o’clock. … Patsy remained downstairs with Burke and served him the tea and pineapple. … She got JonBenét up … and then I think she was up and awake enough that maybe she would still be hungry, and she went downstairs. … I think if Burke was upset about circumstances … he would have been upset about her taking a piece of pineapple. He would have hit her with a flashlight."

The investigator then spoke about a potential cover-up by the parents, saying, “She said that they loved their children. They would do anything for their children. … She said she would have nothing else to live for if she lost Burke. … That seemed to me motive to cover up for Burke.” Clemente agreed, saying, “This is consistent with what the grand jury had wanted to indict them for. … It’s my opinion that the Ramsey family did not want law enforcement to resolve this case and that’s why it remains unsolved.”

Tell Us: Do you think this team landed on the right conclusion?

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