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In terms of unsolved murders, the death of JonBenét Ramsey is definitely one of the most puzzling and tragic in recent memory. Here's why.

The unsolved death of American beauty princess JonBenét Ramsey

In terms of unsolved murders, the death of JonBenét Ramsey is definitely one of the most puzzling and tragic in recent memory. If you grew up in the US, then you’ve definitely heard of the case of the six-year-old child beauty pageant winner who was found dead in her Boulder, Colorado home on Dec. 26, 1996. The circumstances surrounding her death are . . . puzzling, to say the least. 

People have tried to solve the case over the years. Detectives, prosecutors, internet sleuths, television specials, even a Netflix move examining the cultural impact of the case on the wider landscape, something about the death of JonBenét just cannot let us go. If you haven’t heard of the case, then here are the basics of one of the most famous unsolved murder cases in the US. 

The brief life of JonBenét Ramsey

JonBenét Ramsey was born on August 6, 1990, to parents Patricia “Patsy” and John Ramsey in Georgia with one older brother, Burke. Her mother, a former beauty queen herself, entered her daughter into child beauty pageants, which JonBenét did well in. 

For the most part, the Ramseys looked like a happy family. 

That all changed on Dec. 26, 1996.


Patsy made a frantic call to police on Dec. 26, 1996. Her daughter was missing from her room and a ransom note was left for the family to find. The three-page note asked for $118,000 USD for JonBenét’s safe return. The number was identical to what John Ramsey had received as a Christmas bonus that year, suggesting someone who knew the family committed the crime. 

Law enforcement arrived shortly after the call was made and performed a cursory search of the Ramsey home, not finding JonBenét. Due to the belief that JonBenét had been kidnapped, tighter forensic measures were not taken through the rest of the home. Also friends and family of the Ramseys arrived along with victim advocates, meaning a lot of people were in the Ramsey home.

While waiting for a call from the kidnappers about the ransom, a detective as John Ramsey and Fleet White, a family friend, to do a walk-through of the home to see if anything was amiss to their eyes. It was during this walk-through that John discovered his daughter’s body behind a locked door in the basement, overlooked by officers in the earlier search. 

John Ramsey picked up and carried his daughter away from where her body was discovered, further contaminating the crime scene. 

Death of JonBenét Ramsey

Patsy and John were interviewed immediately following the discovery of JonBenét’s body with nine-year-old Burke being interviewed in the weeks after his sister’s death. The family also gave hair, blood, and handwriting samples to the police. 

JonBenét’s death was ruled as a homicide with the six-year-old dying from “asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma.” Or, in more plain terms, strangulation and a skull fracture. The autopsy also revealed that, in the hours before her death, JonBenét had eaten pineapple. While rape was ruled out, sexual assault could not be.

While Patsy and John don’t remember feeding JonBenét the fruit, police reported that they found a bowl of pineapple in the kitchen with Burke’s fingerprints on it. The Ramsey parents maintained that Burke slept through the night and did not wake up until after police arrived. 


There are two main theories as to who killed JonBenét Ramsey. One is the family member theory. The other is the intruder theory. Both are exactly what they sound like. 

In the family member theory, it’s believed that one of JonBenét’s family members killed her. The police saw no forced entry to the Ramsey home and found some elements of the crime scene to be staged, such as the three-page ransom note. They also found the Ramseys uncooperative in solving the crime. Though the Ramseys would say that they felt like they were being unfairly singled out by police.

For the family member theory, there are two sub-theories. One is on the belief that Patsy Ramsey accidentally killed JonBenét following a bedwetting incident with her fashioning the garotte out of one of her paintbrushes in order to cover-up the crime. The other theory is that JonBenét’s nine-year-old brother, Burke, killed his sister and the Ramsey parents are protecting their son. 

Now the police have come out and said that they never considered Burke Ramsey a suspect. In 1999, a Colorado grand jury did vote to indict the Ramsey parents on two counts of child abuse in regard to the death of JonBenét Ramsey. The charges, however, were never followed through by the DA’s office. No one learned of this indictment until 2013. 

Burke Ramsey would later defend his mother, who died in 2006 from ovarian cancer, saying, “We didn’t get spanked, nothing of the sort, nothing close, nothing near laying a finger on us, let alone killing your child.” A child psychologist also said that the Ramsey family appeared to have good family relationships with each other. 

In 2008, the Ramsey family was officially ruled out by using touch DNA.

As for the intruder theory, well, there are more suspects. In the basement room where JonBenét’s body was found, there was an unidentified boot print. There were ways for a person to get into the Ramsey home without resorting to forced entry: windows left slightly ajar, a broken window, an unlocked door. JonBenét was also a well-decorated child beauty queen. . . those kinds of events can attract pedophiles. 

There have been several suspects under the intruder theory as well: Bill McReynolds, who played Santa Claus; Gary Oliva, a sex offender and drifter in the area at the time of the murder; and Linda Hoffman-Pugh, the housekeeper for the Ramsey family.

At this time, however, the murder of JonBenét Ramsey remains unsolved.

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