How JonBenet Ramsey Non-Story Turned Into Demonic Blockbuster

The cover of JonBenét Ramsey's latest Globe cover and a photo illustration from our 2014 feature subtitled "How the Investigation Got Derailed — and Why It Still Matters."
The cover of JonBenét Ramsey's latest Globe cover and a photo illustration from our 2014 feature subtitled "How the Investigation Got Derailed — and Why It Still Matters." Photo by Michael Roberts/Illustration by Brian Stauffer
JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in Boulder on Christmas 1996, yet the tragic six-year-old has achieved a sad kind of immortality. Even after the burst of attention paid to the case in 2016, twenty years after the crime was committed, the public's fascination with the beautiful child remains so strong that she continues to command cover stories in supermarket tabloids — including the current edition of Globe.

The issue's headline screams "Devil Cult Burns JonBenet's Grave!" — and the story it accompanies uses several more exclamation points in a loony but somehow impressive attempt to turn a nothing incident that took place months ago into a shocking revelation.

The subhead inside the tab cites "fears devil worshippers set fires on slain tyke's final resting place," but the folks suffering from this bout of anxiety are never named — and that's hardly the only gap in what we're going to charitably dub Globe's "reporting."

The article begins like so: "Little beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey's family is facing new horror after the murdered child's grave was defiled in a shocking incident investigators fear is linked to Satanic rituals, sources tell GLOBE!"

However, the next passages offer both a concession — "Although a cemetery crew at St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta, Ga., made the ghastly discovery on April 27" — and a dubious assertion: "The slain tyke's father, John Ramsey, says he didn't learn of the desecration until last month!"

Why is this last claim questionable? John Ramsey isn't quoted in the piece, making it unclear who, if anyone, heard him make this statement.

Next up is St. James Episcopal Church attorney William Brumby — a real person, surprisingly enough, who tells the publication that "dry leaves and pine needles were used to build a fire on top of the marble slab covering JonBenet's grave, which is located behind her mother Patsy's final resting place." In his words, "It was something unusual because usually people come to the grave and leave trinkets, but nothing like this.... The thing shocked us. It was something that felt occult-ish — like, who would put a fire on someone's grave? It was just strange."

Not that Brumby is convinced buddies of Beelzebub were responsible. Later in the piece, he surmises that bored kids with nothing better to do are the likeliest suspects. Perhaps that's why the incident was never reported to local police, alleged concerns of investigators notwithstanding.

While another actual human, cult expert Steven Hassan of the Massachusetts-based Freedom of Mind Resource Center, is cited in a reference to "graveyard rituals practiced by small Satanic cults," he points out that they generally involve small animals, not random greenery. But never mind that: An unnamed source contends that "the tragic case of JonBenet Ramsey has attracted a significant number of freaks and pedophiles, some of whom have been linked to devil worship and voodoo." Also mentioned are Internet posts that have made connections between the name JonBenét and Jonbet, "which they claim is the Illuminati name for the devil."

What did Brumby think of the Globe salvo? Via email, he confirms that "I did speak to a reporter a while back, but I thought he said he was from the National Enquirer. I have not seen the article, but I tried to reassure him it was a minor incident and that nothing else has happened since that time. We are inclined to believe it was just some kids doing stupid things. It just seemed odd at the time, as we have never had anything like that happen before. I really do not have much to say on he subject, since it was minor and no damage was done."

The devil's in the details.
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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