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CBS’s JonBenet Ramsey Documentary Was Complete Garbage

CBS’s ‘The Case Of: JonBenét’ was Jerry Springer-esque pseudojournalism. The only thing the series proves is that JonBenét will never have justice.


It would take a book-length piece to debunk the many risible insinuations of CBS’s “The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey,” but, alas, we all have to let go of our obsessions at some point. I will, soon. Now, I realize producers of true-crime docuseries need to float theories and feign new explosive evidence to gin up interest and ratings. It’s a shame they chose to indulge in Jerry Springer-esque pseudojournalism when a fact-driven version — not only of the murder, but the people, place, time, and aftermath — would have been far more fascinating.

In this case, producers went on national television and pinned the murder of JonBenét on then-nine-year-old Burke. Without a shred of new or compelling evidence, a panel of experts came to the conclusion that he killed his sister, six-year-old JonBenét, by accident “in a fit of rage, perhaps over a toy or her eating his food.”


If it’s only conjecture, sure, it’s not completely implausible that Burke was involved. This theory has been around since 1996. There was always consensus that someone in the house did it. But why Burke, and not Patsy or John? It’s as if there’s a psychological block that won’t allow people to accept that wealthy, outwardly respectable parents could be responsible for this kind of evil.

Why is it that people theorizing about this case find it more plausible that a child — who was “violent” in the way any nine-year boy is violent — was capable of murder, but not parents who covered up the crime: posing their young daughter’s body by tying her up, taping her mouth shut, using a ligature on her, and then sexually abusing her with a paintbrush. A nine-year-old doesn’t have the gruesome sophistication to pull that kind of staging off. (The only tool used in the murder that connected to Burke in any way was a red pocket knife that was used to cut the cords. The knife had been taken away from the boy by a nanny weeks earlier and hidden, its whereabouts only known to adults in the house.)

For years, by the way, the Ramseys not only denied their own involvement but insinuated that their one-time friends had murdered JonBenét.

If Burke had done it, why also did Patsy lie about incidents that would have implicated her — what she had fed the kids the night before (her fingerprints were on the pineapple bowl, as well), how she found the ransom note, etc. — rather than lie to protect Burke?

The police ruled Burke out a number of times during the investigation. They interviewed him three times — once for three straight days — without the parents being present. The interview was videotaped, and yet neither the FBI, nor the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, nor any of the detectives at the time suspected Burke of being involved in the murder.

Then there is the 1999 grand jury that voted to indict the Ramsey parents for first-degree murder resulting from child abuse. The jurors had access to all this evidence. They could not agree which of the parents had done it, so they decided to pursue a case against both. But the jury never implicated the child, even though Burke had testified before that grand jury for an entire day. At the time, Alex Hunter, then districtattorney, went out of his way to publicly announce that the boy had no involvement in the murder. (The Ramseys were never “cleared,” as some people suggest.)

Burke also went back to school pretty quickly after the murder, which telegraphed to the FBI and the Boulder police that it was highly unlikely he knew anything about the murder, much less was involved in it. In almost every other way, the Ramseys acted as if they were hiding something. So if John and Patsy thought their nine-year-old child was harboring secrets about the killing of their daughter — or that he had done it, which they would have known — they would never have let him walk into a situation where he could talk freely to others.

This, from the definitive, “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder” by Lawrence Schiller:

If he had secrets, Burke could easily share them with classmates he trusted. Burke’s return to school seemed to close the door on the possibility that he knew something he hadn’t told investigators.

Setting all that aside, though, it’s worth pointing out that almost all of the two-part series’ supposedly explosive new evidence was already reported by journalists in Colorado and elsewhere, and known to anyone who cared to read about the case. It would take forever to go through all of it, but just take some of the big “bombshells,” according to Entertainment Tonight.

The 911 call, for instance. Those watching the series might have been under the impression, as Entertainment Weekly was, that the “first and probably biggest reveal” was the six seconds at the end of the 911 call Patsy made after supposedly finding a ransom note, where Burke is heard saying, “What did you find?”

Well, way back in 1996, a Boulder detective noticed the pause after Patsy’s 911 call, and sent the tape to the Secret Service and then a California firm specializing in enhancing audio. She noted that Patsy said, “Help me Jesus, help me Jesus.” She noted there was another voice, probably Burke’s, saying “Please, what do I do?” She noted that John had probably said, “We’re not speaking to you.” Yes, she also noted Burke saying, “What did you find?” (If he was the murderer, why would he ask that?)

None of this was new. The modern enhancement probably made it clearer, but it’s hardly a bombshell. The police believed, very early on, that Burke had probably come down and interrupted the Ramseys when they were calling police.

Then there is the ransom note. As I’ve covered earlier, it was almost unanimous among experts and investigators that Patsy probably wrote and helped compose the infamous ransom note. Police knew that the author of the note was comfortable enough in the house to spend nearly a half hour writing it. They knew it had no other purpose than to mislead police.

Still, the experts in “The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey” offered viewers the “jaw-dropping” discovery “that multiple lines from the note were taken from movies like Dirty Harry and Speed.”

Well, back 1996, police detectives had already covered this. They noted that quotes from the ransom notes were similar to Clint Eastwood quotes from “Dirty Harry,” which had aired on TBS in Colorado the month before JonBenét’s murder. They noted that the night she was killed, “Nick of Time,” a Johnny Depp movie about a political “faction” kidnapping a six-year-old girl, was on TV. The ransom note talks about a small “faction,” etc. Detectives noted that “Speed” had been on, and in it Dennis Hopper says, “Do not attempt to grow a brain.” The Ramsey ransom note says, “Don’t try to grow a brain John.”

It went on and on like this. Really, “The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey” allowed experts to rehash old evidence and offer a theory that was no more informed than one made by anyone who could use Google. The only thing the series proves is that JonBenét will never have her justice.