December 26 will mark a quarter-century since the murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in Boulder. No one has been convicted of the crime, but in the just-released book Unsolved: The JonBenét Ramsey Murder 25 Years Later, Paula Woodward, a former investigative reporter for 9News who's been covering the tragedy since 1996, argues that new DNA technology has the potential to break the case — if only Boulder detectives would use it.
"This child was tortured and murdered, and her death has never been accounted for because it was investigated by people who were not competent to do so," Woodward says. "And now, the decision on whether or not the remaining DNA is tested with new technology that can trace family history is being made by the two investigators who were on the case 25 years ago."
Woodward is a controversial figure among those who've followed the investigation since the beginning. Critics have accused her of lofting softball questions at JonBenét's parents, John Ramsey and his late wife, Patsy, during exclusive interviews and otherwise serving as a de facto representative of what became known as the intruder theory — the supposition that the girl was killed by an unknown individual rather than one of her parents or her older brother, Burke, who settled a lawsuit against CBS in 2019 over a docu-series that concluded he was guilty.
For her part, Woodward argues that representatives of the Boulder Police Department engaged in a rush to judgment that continues to hobble the search for justice. The lead detectives "were there when the mentality was formulated that the Ramseys did it, or at the very least, Patsy did it. So how can we trust their decision on not testing the DNA now?"
Interest in JonBenét's fate remains high, as witnessed by Woodward's appearance last week on an episode of The Dr. Oz Show that spotlighted Unsolved and the DNA accusations. Here's a preview of the program:
Unsolved is Woodward's second book about the Ramsey murder, following We Have Your Daughter: The Unsolved Murder of JonBenét Ramsey Twenty Years Later, published in 2016. She admits that she initially balked at tackling the subject a second time "because I was concerned about how much new would be in it. But I got perspective from a very well-known homicide detective who won't allow his name to be released because of the repercussions on this case. He gave me insight into the lack of preparation by Boulder police and why they needed help so badly. I was also able to put in actual pages from my 3,000-page Boulder Police summary book that someone leaked to me."
She's been cultivating such sources for decades.
"I was called in off Christmas vacation the day that her body was found," Woodward recalls, "and covered the case diligently those first few years, and then followed it as events dictated. I wanted to figure out what backroom deals were going on, because we, as reporters, couldn't seem to get to the essence of the facts on the case. That's why I wrote my first book — because after six years of intensive research, I found out that the Boulder Police turned down offers of help from Denver and Aurora and instead decided to go it alone even though they had no homicide department and none of their investigators had any homicide experience."
In her view, the police "lied to the media to formulate their theories of what happened, they publicly manipulated evidence to the media, and were dishonest and dishonorable and unethical. The case could never have gone to a successful trial regardless of who was charged because of their incredibly wrong behavior and the way they were making up stories about evidence that didn't exist."
DNA from the crime has been tested at least three times over the years: twice in 1997, by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Maryland-based Cellmark Diagnostics, respectively, and once in 2008, when "touch DNA" technology was utilized. The latter turned up evidence of an unidentified male that prompted then-Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy to write the Ramseys a letter exonerating them.
In the twelve years-plus since, an approach known as genetic genealogy has been developed and deployed with great success. In 2018, for instance, it was used to ID the so-called Golden State Killer — and Woodward thinks it could be the key to finally collaring the person who killed JonBenét.
The Boulder Police Department won't comment on Woodward's DNA-related accusations. "Because this is an ongoing and open investigation, we are unable to answer any specific questions so as not to compromise the integrity of this investigation," says BPD spokesperson Dionne Waugh. But Woodward's sources tell her the reason given for not using genetic genealogy is that doing so would use up the rest of the DNA, thereby closing off any future testing.
"What they're saying sounds legitimate," she notes. "But because you have the same investigators in charge of the case 25 years later, which defies any sense of neutrality or fairness, can we trust their decision on not testing the DNA now?"
The Boulder District Attorney's Office has been involved in the case from the beginning, and sent it to a grand jury that did not result in any indictments. "According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado has over 1,500 unsolved homicides," says DA spokesperson Shannon Carbone. "Every cold-case homicide and missing-person case represents a tragic and unexplained loss. The victims deserve justice. Their families deserve answers and some form of closure. That’s why our office serves on the Colorado Cold Case Review Team and recently assisted in the successful prosecution of the murderer of Dylan Redwine, which culminated in a trial this past July."
Carbone adds: "The 1996 murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey is one of the cases on the list maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Her death sparked prolonged interest that persists to this day. Significant time and resources have been expended trying to determine who killed her, but the case remains unsolved. The Boulder Police Department continues to actively work the investigation. If the perpetrator is identified and arrested, our office would be responsible for the prosecution of the case."
This explanation isn't good enough for Woodward. "I believe deeply that someone new needs to investigate this case," she says, "and that can only happen if the Boulder DA, the Colorado attorney general or the Colorado governor get involved and make that happen. And they need to. ... JonBenét is someone who would have made a difference in our world, and we can't be satisfied with just going along on a case that's going nowhere. We're better than that."