Crime

Paula Woodward on John Ramsey's Call for Change in JonBenét Murder Probe

Paula Woodward interviewing John Ramsey at CrimeCon 2022 on April 30.
Paula Woodward interviewing John Ramsey at CrimeCon 2022 on April 30. Crimecon via YouTube
On April 30, John Ramsey, whose six-year-old daughter, JonBenét, was murdered in Boulder on December 26, 1996, publicly called for an independent agency to take control of decisions about DNA testing from the Boulder Police Department.

Ramsey's comments, offered at CrimeCon 2022 in Las Vegas, generated another round of national headlines for Colorado's most infamous unsolved homicide and prompted a statement in which the Boulder PD defended an investigation that has been roundly criticized for decades.

These developments wouldn't have happened without the efforts of Paula Woodward, a former 9News journalist whose on-stage interview with Ramsey at CrimeCon 2022 prompted his remarks. But this conversation only hints at her role. Woodward's recent book, Unsolved: The JonBenét Ramsey Murder 25 Years Later, highlighted concerns related to DNA that prompted CrimeCon to launch a change.org petition asking Governor Jared Polis to designate another entity to look anew at testing options — and Polis's office isn't brushing off this possibility. "The state will review the petition and look into how the state can assist in using new technology to further investigate this cold case and to identify JonBenét Ramsey's killer and bring him or her to justice," says Polis spokesperson Melissa Dworkin.

Shortly after her book was published last November, "the people at CrimeCon asked to interview me," Woodward says. "I didn't know what CrimeCon was, but when I looked into it, I found out how awesome it was. I did the interview in December, and they made Unsolved their book of the month for January and February."

Along the way, Woodward was asked to speak at CrimeCon 2022, where other participants included such well-known figures as forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, true-crime figurehead Nancy Grace, and multiple broadcasters associated with Dateline NBC: Chris Hansen, Josh Mankiewicz and Keith Morrison. She subsequently came up with a presentation focusing on what she calls "myths of the case."

She has a vast collection of them. Some examples: John and his late wife, Patsy, supposedly "didn't act right" after discovering the crime, but early reports documented extremely emotional, heartbroken reactions; investigators suggested that the possibility of an intruder was disproven by a lack of footprints in snow, but there wasn't any snow on the south side of the house; the autopsy failed to find any signs of previous abuse, but Boulder detectives made a show of interviewing former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur, who'd been molested by her father; and suggestions that Patsy had written a ransom note were allowed to linger despite handwriting analysis that seriously undermined the theory.

The planning for Woodward's presentation was well underway when the CrimeCon organizers made a suggestion of their own. Recalls Woodward: "They called and asked, 'Would you consider having John Ramsey be a part of it?'"

Woodward has maintained contact with Ramsey since her earliest days of reporting on the murder, and while she was writing the book, she says they communicated once or twice a month. They both agreed to a joint appearance at CrimeCon, a brief snippet of which can be seen in the following Instagram post, which captures Woodward asking Ramsey if he killed JonBenét.
Once this question was out of the way, Woodward and Ramsey moved on to other matters, including DNA. "It's imperative that the minute amount of DNA that is left in the case be used in genealogical testing," she says, noting that it provides insight on linkages between family members, among other things.

The Boulder Police Department tested DNA in the case in 2016, a year after Police Chief Mark Beckner belittled the possibility that such analysis could prove the key to identifying a suspect; Woodward's analysis of Beckner's comments, made during a Reddit forum, can be found on her website, paulawoodward.net. Since then, Woodward notes, "the technology has gotten better and better. It's been seven years, so why won't they test it?"

Her hypothesis: The case is being handled by two Boulder Police investigators, Ron Gosage and Tom Trujillo, who have been involved since the first week after JonBenét's death, "when the strategy was being formed that the Ramseys did it," and they're locked into that narrative.

The press release issued by the BPD after Ramsey endorsed the CrimeCon petition works hard to refute this notion, but Woodward considers it "total public relations," in part because it doesn't directly address the issue of genealogical DNA testing.

Plenty of folks fascinated with the JonBenét case have long been convinced that her parents were guilty of the crime. But Woodward didn't sense that the CrimeCon audience members had closed their minds. "It was very heartening to me that people listened," she acknowledges. "I don't know if it affected their views of whether the family did it or not, but my interest has always been in accuracy, and trying to reverse the trend of manipulating information about the evidence by Boulder investigators when they talked to the media. There's been a pattern of manipulating evidence that's as wrong as you can get. And here we are 25 years later."

If there's still a chance for the case to be solved, Woodward believes "you need to look at DNA and genealogy, and at this point, Governor Polis is the only one who can make sure that happens."

Click to read the petition "Justice for JonBenét Ramsey."
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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