John Ramsey's hunt for suspicious characters

It wouldn't be the holiday season without the annual appeal from John Ramsey for help solving the 1996 murder of his six-year-old daughter, JonBenét. Check out the latest announcement on his Fair Justice Foundation website and this video.

Ramsey is asking "everyone to examine their consciences" and to "share any doubts or information they have about someone they know who may have behaved strangely or acted out of character around the time of my daughter's murder." A simple request, really, but it covers a lot of ground.

I mean, think about all the strange behavior that occurred on and around December 26, 1996, in just one Boulder home. The Ramsey home.

To begin, there was one of the strangest ransom notes in the annals of crime, written on a pad from the Ramsey household, in handwriting that some experts believe most closely resembles that of John's wife, Patsy. And John's search of the basement hours after police arrived, leading to the discovery of JonBenét's body--and the demolition of the crime scene, as John scooped up his daughter and hauled her upstairs. And the same John Ramsey, less than an hour later, on the phone with his private pilot and telling cops he had something "important" to do in Atlanta and planned to leave town that evening--a plan the police had to nix, for obvious reasons.

And Patsy throwing herself on her daughter's corpse, further contaminating evidence, and covering her face with her hands and playing peek-a-boo with the cops. And John and Patsy hiring attorneys and a publicist and going on CNN to warn the world of a killer on the loose, while fencing with the cops over formal interviews and insisting on written questions and written responses.

To be fair, the strange behavior in Boulder that holiday season extended well beyond the Ramseys. The police failed miserably to control the crime scene and preserve evidence, and the department's bickering with the DA's office may have doomed the investigation from the start. (For more on the aftershocks of the many bad decisions made in the first few hours of the case, see my 2006 retrospective, "Ten Years After," and other entries in our JonBenét Ramsey Archive.) And yes, former Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy officially lifted the umbrella of suspicion from the Ramseys last year because of "touch DNA" results, but plenty of questions remain about how exculpatory the new lab tests really are and what kind of phantom DNA we're dealing with.

Along with his latest appeal, John Ramsey has released a list of possible traits of his daughter's killer. They include "being secretive," "being isolated," "intense interest in the Ramsey murder," "relocating suddenly after the murder" and "possessing items that came from the Ramsey home." As Alex Hunter once said, the list of suspects narrows--but 13 years after the endless dance among cops, prosecutors, lawyers and the victim's family that let so many leads and clues slip away, it may be entirely too little too late.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast