Dominick Dunne on JonBenét Ramsey and John Mark Karr

Author Dominick Dunne, who died yesterday at 83, is best known for covering the nation's most sensational crimes and trials. But he never showed much interest in the murder of JonBenét Ramsey, to the frustration of some folks obsessed with the mystery over the Boulder girl's 1996 death. However, he did take on the topic at least once -- in "Who Didn't Kill JonBenét?," a 2006 piece for Vanity Fair prompted by the temporary hoopla stirred by false confessor John Mark Karr. Along the way, Dunne gave strong indications where his sympathies lay. Here's an excerpt:

From the moment I saw John Mark Karr on television, looking like a dainty Lee Harvey Oswald in a pale-blue Nautica shirt and high-waisted trousers, I felt strongly that he hadn't done it, but I wanted to believe that he had. That would mean that John and Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet's parents, who had long been suspected of having an involvement in the violent crime, were cleared of suspicion. Like the Ramseys, I am the parent of a murdered daughter, and for many years I served on the board of directors of the National Victim Center, which is now called the National Center for Victims of Crime and is located in Washington, D.C. During that time, I met many parents of murdered children in the immediate aftermath of their tragedies. It wasn't easy, but it helped me. They usually fell into two categories: those so bereft that they were helpless in their grief, and those so enraged that they wanted to kill their child's killer. The Ramseys acted quite differently. They hired attorneys and a publicist, refused for four months to be questioned by the Boulder police, and thereby aroused a lot of suspicion. As the years went by, however, and I would see them interviewed on Larry King Live and other shows, my suspicions lessened. After Karr's arrest, it was reported that Patsy Ramsey had known before she died this past June that a fresh suspect, living in Thailand, had been able to reveal undisclosed details of the crime scene. Even though Patsy was dying of cancer, she and her husband traveled from Atlanta to Boulder to meet with Mary Lacy, the local district attorney. When Patsy died, Lacy attended her funeral, in Atlanta.

Dunne doesn't totally exempt John and Patsy Ramsey from criticism in the article, writing with a tone of disapproval about reports that John had gone on vacation the day Karr was busted. Still, he clearly had a hard time believing that the Ramseys could have been involved in their daughter's death, no matter how strange their actions in its immediate aftermath may have seemed to outsiders. He knew a parent's grief from experience.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts