It's been 25 years since 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her family's home on Dec. 26, 1996, and her murderer still hasn't been found.
Her death became national news, as photos of the young beauty queen appeared on newspaper and magazine covers around the world, and her parents, John and Patsy, were interviewed on national TV.
The investigation has involved a ransom note, DNA testing, a grand jury investigation, lawsuits and an expert prosecution task force with members who were part of the O.J. Simpson defense team.
> Video above: 2016 9Wants to Know investigation DNA in Doubt.
The case boiled down to two theories: JonBenet was either killed by an intruder or by a member of the Ramsey family.
Multiple people over the years have said they killed JonBenet, but their confessions were ultimately discounted.
John and Patsy Ramsey were questioned multiple times. A grand jury that was convened in 1997 voted to indict them for child abuse resulting in death, but the Boulder County district attorney at the time wouldn't sign the indictment, saying there wasn't enough evidence to convict. Another district attorney cleared the family of suspicion in 2008.
The case is still open today.
Dec. 25-31, 1996: JonBenet's death
Christmas Day 1996 was the last time JonBenet Ramsey was seen alive.
The Ramsey family went to a Christmas party with friends, and then after arriving home that night, John Ramsey said he put his daughter to bed.
The next morning, the family got up early to fly to Michigan to visit family. At 5:52 a.m., Patsy Ramsey called 911 to report that her daughter had been kidnapped and that she had found a ransom note.
Police arrived eight minutes later. They did a search of the house and didn't find the girl. They also didn't find much to suggest a break-in.
About 1 p.m. the next day, Dec. 26, on another search of the home, John Ramsey found his daughter's body in a rarely used room in the basement.
On Dec. 27, the Boulder County coroner determined that JonBenet died from asphyxiation due to strangulation and ruled her death as a homicide.
JonBenet was buried in Marietta, Georgia, on Dec. 31, 1996.
Below: The first full 9NEWS story on JonBenet's death and the story a few days later on her funeral:
1997: The early investigation
On Jan. 1, 1997, about a week after JonBenet's death, John and Patsy Ramsey made their first public comments on the case in an interview with CNN.
Patsy Ramsey said, "The only reason I will go back [to Boulder] is to help them find who did this. That's the only reason. And I will do that."
In February of that year, Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter announced a "dream team" investigative task force and vowed to bring the murderer to justice. The task force included forensic expert Henry Lee and DNA specialist Berry Scheck, who were both previously involved with the O.J. Simpson defense team.
In April, Hunter said John and Patsy Ramseys were under an umbrella of suspicion but no conclusion had been reached. Authorities had already cleared JonBenet's adult half-brother and half-sister. Her 9-year-old brother Burke was at home on the night of her death.
The Ramseys were interviewed separately by police on April 30 and again by district attorney investigators on June 24. Around the same time, the Ramseys ran a newspaper ad offering a $100,000 reward for information on their daughter's killer.
As for the ransom note, police determined early on that it was written on paper obtained from a tablet in the Ramseys' home. In June 1997, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation analysis determined that John Ramsey didn't write the note but that the results were inconclusive on Patsy.
Below: John and Patsy Ramsey grant an interview to a group of local media on May 2, 1997, including 9NEWS investigative reporter Paula Woodward.
1998-1999: Grand jury investigation
On Sept. 15, 1998, a grand jury was convened to investigate JonBenet's murder.
Thirteen months later, on Oct. 13, 1999, District Attorney Hunter announced that the grand jury was being disbanded without an indictment. No one would face charges in the death of JonBenet.
Hunter said at a news conference that day that he believed he didn't have enough evidence to warrant a filing of charges.
About 13 years later, the Daily Camera reported that the grand jury had voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in death but that Hunter had refused to sign the indictment, believing he couldn't prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
9NEWS legal expert Scott Robinson said in 2013 that "Hunter did the right thing."
Robinson said at that time that signing the indictment would have compromised any future prosecution of a possible intruder.
In a previous interview, Robinson had said he wasn't sure there was much anyone could do in advancing the case with the absence of new DNA evidence or a verifiable confession from the killer.
"The case is as cold as cold can be," he said.
2008: The Ramseys are cleared
Patsy Ramsey died on June 30, 2006, after a long battle with ovarian cancer.
So she didn't live to see the day, two years later, when the Ramsey family was cleared of suspicion in the case.
On July 9, 2008, Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote a letter to John Ramsey that said "significant new evidence ... convinces us that it is appropriate, given the circumstances of this case, to state that we do not consider your immediate family, including you, your wife, Patsy, and your son, Burke, to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime."
Lacy had taken the case from Boulder Police Department (BPD) in 2002 because she thought the police department wasn't investigating active leads outside of the Ramsey family.
Her conclusion was based on DNA that was left behind on JonBenet's panties and long johns – DNA that she believed would crack the case if it could be identified.
"The most significant thing to me was we now have pretty irrefutable DNA evidence, according to the DA's Office," John Ramsey told 9NEWS in an interview. "And that's the most significant thing to me. And certainly we are grateful that they acknowledged, based on that, we certainly could not have been involved."
Below: The original 9NEWS report when the Ramseys were cleared.
BPD reopened the case on Feb. 2, 2009.
The department said they would treat the case as a cold case, inviting in veteran investigators from various state and federal agencies to participate in an advisory task force.
Then-Police Chief Mark Beckner said that at that time, police had investigated more than 140 people as possible suspects in the case.
"After more than 12 years, the bottom line is that we still have an unsolved homicide," Beckner said in a news release. "This effort will be focused on reviewing the case and evidence from beginning to end in the hope that we will come up with new ideas on efforts that could lead to additional evidence. We are doing this for JonBenet."
2016: DNA in Doubt
Over the next few years, the Ramseys' home in Boulder was listed for sale for $2.3 million (in February 2011), John Ramsey remarried (in July 2011), and then the house was listed for sale again (in 2014).
JonBenet's now-adult brother, Burke, appeared on Dr. Phil's show in 2016 to talk about JonBenet's murder, and he filed a $750 million lawsuit against CBS and others over a docuseries on the case. He reached a settlement with CBS in 2019.
Below: A clip from Burke Ramsey's interview with Dr. Phil, and a 9NEWS report with a tour of the Ramsey house.
Also in 2016, 9Wants to Know and the Daily Camera had the lab results from JonBenet's clothing – the same DNA evidence that Boulder DA Lacy believed exonerated the Ramseys and would crack the case – examined by three outside forensic experts.
It was the first time that data had ever been independently evaluated, and the experts agreed that the DNA results didn't prove that an intruder killed JonBenet.
Male DNA was originally identified in JonBenet's underwear in testing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lacy, who left office in 2009, ordered new DNA tests in 2007 and 2008 on JonBenet's long johns and nightgown, and it was those tests that led her to exonerate the Ramseys.
The forensic experts who examined the data determined that the DNA profile that Lacy said belonged to the killer might belong to multiple people.
9WTK and the Daily Camera obtained a report sent to Lacy's office three months before she cleared the family that said it was likely more than two people contributed to the mixtures on spots on the long johns.
After eliminating JonBenet's DNA, "the remaining DNA contribution should not be considered a single source profile," the report says.
Based on the 9WTK and Daily Camera investigation, BPD and prosecutors decided that it was time for a new round of DNA testing.
2021: The case today
What 9NEWS legal expert Scott Robinson said eight years ago is still true on the 25th anniversary of the case: It's very cold.
Over the past five years, there have been no public developments in the investigation.
As of December 2021, BPD said they have:
- Processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence
- Traveled to 19 states to interview more than 1,000 people
- Followed up on 21,016 tips
A handful of suspects have claimed responsibility over the years for JonBenet's death, but their confessions have been discounted by investigators.
In 2007, a man named John Mark Karr admitted to killing her, only to be ruled out later as a suspect.
In 2019, when DailyMailTV in Britain published a story that a Colorado sex offender, Gary Olivia, said he had killed JonBenet. BPD said detectives had investigated his possible involvement and his previous confessions.
“There are no new updates in this investigation and the department will not comment further,” said a BPD statement at that time.
Authorities haven't said much more than that publicly in the past five years.
On Monday, Dec. 20, BPD said in a news release that the department "continues to use new technology to enhance the investigation" and "is actively reviewing genetic DNA testing processes to see if those can be applied to this case moving forward."
BPD said that with advances in DNA technology, police have "run through" multiple suspects to check for matches, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has updated more than 750 reference samples.
"I'm not going to say what we're going to do," Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett told 9NEWS in 2016. "What I will tell you and will assure the public is any reasonable effort that can be done to evaluate the evidence and evaluate whether charges can be filed is being done by my office, with the Boulder Police, and will be in the future."
Anyone with information on the case can contact Boulder Police at 303-441-1974 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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