The True Death of Innocence: Staging JonBenet Ramsey's Murder?

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by Misty

December 2001

INTRODUCTION

The fifth anniversary of JonBenet Ramsey's death will soon be here again. While most of us are trimming our Christmas trees, overextending our budgets, singing carols and sipping eggnog, there is one child who will never again be able to enjoy the warmth and excitement of the holiday season. Her short life was brutally snuffed out on Christmas night of 1996. As we laugh, joke, hug and be merry, she lies alone in her grave, her murder yet unsolved.

Many books have been written about her demise and a number of message boards continue to dispute fact versus rumor. From investigative leaks that have trickled out through the years, many theories have evolved regarding what actually happened to this 6-year-old child on Christmas night. But, even the experts can't come up with a consensus on what really happened to JonBenet.

Perhaps part of the mystery surrounding JonBenet Ramsey's murder revolves around the Boulder Police Department. They were not prepared to adequately investigate the scene when they first responded to the Ramseys' frantic 911 call on December 26, 1996. The first officers arrived on the scene at 5:52 a.m. Boulder Officers Robert Veitch and Rick French only gave the house and grounds a cursory search and it was not until Officer Linda Arndt arrived at the scene at few hours later was even a part of the house (JonBenet's bedroom) cordoned off and considered a crime scene. The Ramseys and their friends were allowed to mill about the house during the morning hours of December 26 and John Ramsey, Fleet White and John Fernie were asked by Detective Arndt to inspect the interior of the house at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon, which resulted in John Ramsey not only finding the body of JonBenet, but further contaminating the crime scene. However, although the police department certainly showed its total ineptness in conducting this investigation, and lost those first "golden" hours, which are so critical to an investigation such as this, the blame for this unsolved murder cannot totally be thrust upon them.

What does staging a crime scene mean? According to Vernon Geberth, "staging is a conscious criminal action on the part of an offender to thwart an investigation." [1] It is a purposeful effort by the murderer to alter the crime scene to misdirect the investigation and conceal the true motives of a crime.

In the JonBenet Ramsey murder, staging items include: ransom note, number of friends invited over, point of entry, risk to offender, injuries including vaginal injury, inappropriate number of items left out of the crime scene and "supposedly" taken from the crime scene, including actual garrote device, duct tape, flashlight, cord and final positioning of body. This article attempts to explain how each of these items are in fact staging elements used in the commission of this crime and how each when subtracted from the "crime scene" help to explain what really happened to JonBenet Ramsey on December 25, 1996.

THE MOTIVE(s)

As defined above, staging is a purposeful effort to conceal the true motives of a crime. In this case, the initial crime scene suggests a kidnapping; however, JonBenet's body is found in the basement, restrained, strangled, hands extended over her head and bound, mouth covered with duct tape and covered with a blanket. This crime scene suggests at least two motives: (1) a kidnapping, the most apparent; and (2) a sexually motivated attack.

Motive 1: The Kidnapping

The first apparent motive was kidnapping. A ransom note was left spread out on an obscure set of steps that Patsy frequents each morning. Placement of the note in that location suggests that JonBenet's murderer knew about normal routines carried out in the Ramsey home. In the 1/1/97 CNN interview, Patsy Ramsey states: "...we have a back staircase from the bedroom areas, and I always come down that staircase, and I am usually the first one down." [2]

The location where the note was found is in itself suspect. Why didn't the kidnapper leave the note on JonBenet's bed or some place in her room where is was sure to be found? Why place a 3-page note spread out on a staircase that is used mainly by JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey? Again, the obvious conclusion is that the murderer must be privy to the daily routines of the Ramseys.

In addition, there were no creases in the paper, which suggests that the murderer did not transport the note. It was found that paper and pen used to pen the ransom note were, in fact, Ramsey household items.

The ransom note, itself, is 3-1/2 pages filled with information and emotion. The note begins:

"Listen carefully!
We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction.
We respect your business but not the country that it serves." [3]

The author of the note begins the note cordially and immediately identifies Mr. Ramsey as the focus. The writer identifies him/herself as a "small" "foreign" "group" that "represents a small foreign faction." It would seem that if the author was indeed associated with a faction, there would be no need to include the words "small" or "foreign." However, taking the note at face value, we now have a group of dissidents writing a note.

A sentence later we have the purpose of the note: "At this time we have your daughter in our posession (sic)." And then, in excessive detail, the author explains how John will get his daughter back.

Throughout the note, John is the focus. Not only is John the focus, but the writer is placing the blame for JonBenet's death squarely on John. Examples include:

"Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial." [3]
"Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc. will result in your daughter being beheaded." [3]
"If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies." [3]
"If you alert bank authorities, she dies." [3]
"If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies." [3]
"You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies." [3]

What is apparent from the sentence structure in the above phrases is that John was forefront in the author's mind, not JonBenet. John is blamed in the note for JonBenet's death. The author of the note also seems to be concerned about JonBenet's burial. There is no reason for the foreign faction to show interest in how or even if she would be given "a proper burial."

There is also the change from the pronoun "we" to "I" in the ransom note. According to Robert Ressler, this switch from "we" to "I" very well "could be something along the same lines [as the William Hance case] -- just trying to more or less conceal and distance themselves -- the actual writers of the note, the actual people that were involved in the killing of the child. It's an attempt to distance oneself by creating an impression that they're a much larger organization than in fact they are." [4]

One of the most telling phrases in the note follows: "The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them." [3] The operative word in this particular sentence is "over." Why would the author suggest that JonBenet is being watched over? The kidnappers should be watching JonBenet, but "watching over" implies that a grander scheme is occurring -- perhaps that JonBenet is already dead.

So, thus far we have a group of dissidents who have kidnapped JonBenet for money. This group has targeted John. This note is clearly a staging element used to muddy the waters -- to throw off an investigation and hide the true details that actually occurred that night.

The note contains a variety of emotions -- cordiality, affection in worrying about John being rested and JonBenet's burial, and a taunting, commanding, and aggressive phrasing directed toward John. Are these emotions that of a kidnapper? Hardly. The note is false -- a unequivocal staging element to divert the investigation.

Did the kidnappers follow through with their plan?

There was no phone call and JonBenet was found dead in the basement. Kidnappers who are seeking some kind of gain -- monetary, political, whatever -- would have taken the body out of the house dead or alive. Without the ransom (JonBenet), there is no kidnapping. As Bill Wise, assistant Boulder County district attorney states to Michael O'Keeffe from the Rocky Mountain News on December 27, 1996, "It was an apparent kidnapping scenario." But, as Wise further states "...it was unusual for a kidnap victim's body to be found at home." [5]

Motive 2: A Sexually Motivated Attack

Another possible motive to this crime, although not as apparent at the initial crime scene, is sexual molestation. John Ramsey found the body in a remote room in the Ramsey's basement. She was laying on her back, her arms extended over her head and her head turned to the right. Her wrists were loosely bound together with a piece of cord; a blanket covered her body. Duct tape covered her mouth and a ligature was wrapped around her neck. Certainly this scenario points toward sadism.

On external examination at the autopsy, blood was found in her underpants. Physical injuries included: "1 cm red-purple area of abrasion is located on the right posterolateral area of the 1x1 cm hymenal orifice. The hymen itself is represented by a rim of mucosal tissue extending clockwise between the 2 and 10:00 positions. The area of abrasion is present at approximately the 7:00 position and appears to involve the hymen and distal right lateral vaginal wall and possibly the area anterior to the hymen. On the right labia majora is a very faint area of violet discoloration measuring approximately one inch by three-eighths of an inch. Incision into the underlying subcutaneous tissue discloses no hemorrhage. A minimal amount of semiliquid thin watery red fluid is present in the vaginal vault. No recent or remote anal or other perineal trauma is identified."[6]

In addition, under microscopic examination, the vaginal mucosa was found "to contain vascular congestion and focal interstitial chronic inflammation. The smallest piece of tissue, from the 7:00 position of the vaginal wall/humen, contains epithelial erosion with underlying capillary congestion. A smaller number of red blood cells are present on the eroded surface, as is birefringent foreign material. Acute inflammatory infiltrate is not seen." [6]

But, what does this actually explain? Simply, JonBenet was injured vaginally. We cannot answer the questions -- why or who? We have one clue -- vaginal injury. Why does JonBenet have this injury? Was she sexually molested by some deranged pedophile intruder? Or, was this staging to make it appear as though a sexual assault took place? Since we already have a motive -- motive 1: kidnapping, it is not a difficult stretch to come to the conclusion that this motive was also false.

In a Primetime Live interview on September 10, 1997, Dr. Francesco Beuf, JonBenet's pediatrician, is interviewed:

"DIANE SAWYER: If there had been an abrasion involving the hymen, you would have seen it?
Dr. FRANCESCO BEUF: Probably. I can't say absolutely for sure because you don't do a speculum exam on a child that young at least unless it's under anesthesia.
DIANE SAWYER: Did you see in any of these examinations any sign of possible sexual abuse?
Dr. FRANCESCO BEUF: No, and I certainly would have reported it to the social service people if I had. That's something that all of us in pediatrics are very acutely aware of." [7]

Although Dr. Beuf did not note any personality changes during the office visits between JonBenet and himself, he cannot state conclusively there was no internal damage because he never gave JonBenet an internal exam. JonBenet was seen five or six times in a three year period where an external vaginal exam was necessary; on three occasions JonBenet presented with pain on urination. Dr. Beuf explains the cause of these symptoms:

Dr. FRANCESCO BEUF: "For a child that age, certainly not. They don't wipe themselves very well after they urinate. And it's something which usually is curable by having them take plain water baths or learning to wipe better. But if you have four-year-old kids, you know how hard that is. The amount of vaginitis which I saw on the child was totally consistent with little girls her age." [7]

Despite the conclusions drawn by Dr. Beuf, Dr. Ann S. Botash, Director of Child Abuse Referral and Evaluation Program and Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, State University of New York Upstate Medical University suggests, "In the US: Vaginitis is common in adult women and uncommon in prepubertal girls." [8]

According to one study by the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information who prioritize injuries to diagnose sexual abuse: "Lower probability genital findings are as follows:

"vaginal erythema,
increased vascularity,
synechiae,
labial adhesions,
vulvovaginitis, and
chronic urinary tract infections.

Erythema or redness and swelling might be caused by genital manipulation or intrusion perpetrated by a significantly older person. However, it might also be the result of poor hygiene, diaper rash, or perhaps the child's masturbation. Increased vascularity, synechiae, and labial adhesions may be a consequence of sexual abuse, but they are common findings in children with other genital complaints.

Vulvovaginitis and chronic urinary tract infections can be sequelae of sexual abuse but also can be caused by other circumstances, such as poor hygiene, a bubble bath, or, in the case of urinary tract infections, taking antibiotics." [9]

However, when you add the number of times in a three-year-period (5 or 6 times for vaginal redness and 3 times for painful urination), what are the chances these injuries are a result of bubble bath and/or poor hygiene? In other words, it is statistically significant that out of 30 visits, nine of them (that's almost one third of the number of visits to a pediatrician) were due to illnesses that might have resulted from sexual abuse.

The blanket is definitely a "red flag" when one thinks in terms of sadism. However, John Douglas indicates that when the victim is redressed or covered "it could be that a close relationship existed between the killer and the victim. Let's say a parent kills a child and then buries the body. You may find that the child was carefully wrapped or the face covered to keep dirt from getting in the mouth. In essence, someone is caring for the child after death."[10] It points toward remorse.

ELEMENTS OF THE CRIME

It was a cold winter night. The Ramseys had enjoyed their Christmas night with friends. According to the Colorado search warrant, JonBenet was last seen in her bed by John Ramsey, her father, around 10:00 p.m. on December 25. The only people known to have been in the residence that night were: John Ramsey, father; Patsy Ramsey, mother; Burke Ramsey, brother; and JonBenet.

Point of Entry

There has been alot of speculation on how an intruder/kidnapper/pedophile gained entry to the residence. The Colorado search warrants state that "there was no sign of forced entry to this residence." [10] However, this was proven to be an inaccurate statement. There were several windows left unlocked and at least one door. The home security alarm system was also turned off.

Lou Smit, a retired homicide detective, believes a disturbance at a basement window points toward a valid point of entry. This is the same window that John supposed broke and entered some months ago when he forgot his keys. There was also a suitcase positioned under the window, which John Ramsey claims was not in its proper place. The window is out of the way, certainly a good private way to gain entry to the house.

However, considering there were other windows and at least one door left unlocked, an intruder using this small window to gain entry seems inappropriate. And according to Steve Thomas, a former BPD detective who investigated JonBenet's murder, there was no disturbance at the window.

Risk of Intruder

If an intruder carried through with this murder, he/she did so at a high risk. From the lividity and rigor patterns noted in the autopsy, time of death occurred somewhere around midnight.

From Ramsey interviews, all four were asleep in the house during this period, so an intruder who, in the quiet in the night, would creep into a child's bedroom, gather the child up and take her to a different location in the house while others slept was either very comfortable in the house or a risk taker.

And, the ransom note, according to those who theorize that the Ramseys are innocent of this crime, was supposedly written in the house on paper and pen that belonged to the Ramseys. Therefore, the intruder would have spent hours in the Ramsey home that night.

One also has to look at behavior. Child abductors are considered to be "social marginals." They are not active participants in society, but rather deviants who live on the fringe. Their victims are usually "victims of opportunity;" they choose randomly rather than target a specific child, usually have prior sexual assaults and their modus operandi is typically very similar to past assaults.

Child abductors are predisposed to commit a crime and if an opportunity arises, and the child is not being monitored, the probability will increase that the child abductor will attempt to abduct the child. However, child abductors are not risk takers. If there is any apprehension that they will be discovered, the probability that these types will act significantly lessens.

Therefore, if you profile a "typical" child abductor and then transpose what this intruder did to commit this crime, they do not parallel each other.

"If We Catch You Talking to a Stray Dog, She Dies"

Another clue to the theatrical staging that occurred the night JonBenet was killed revolves around the number of people John and Patsy invited over the morning she went missing.

From the Colorado search warrant: "When Det. Arnt arrived at the Ramsey residence, people present included: John Ramsey, Patsy Ramsey, Priscilla and Fleet White (friends of the family), Barbara and John Fernie (friends of the family), the pastor from St. John's Episcopalian Chuch (1400 block in Boulder), BPD officers Rick French and Barry Weiss." [11] This was around 8:00 a.m. in the morning.

The ransom note gave specific instructions to NOT alert anyone. Instead, the Ramseys invited over a number of friends, totally ignoring what the note warned them of. Why would the Ramseys risk inviting over the large pool of friends? Did they not take the ransom note and the threats within seriously or was there a greater need to further contaminate the area, perhaps even having one of their friends find the body for them? Unfortunately for John and Patsy, even though the BPD officers and Fleet White searched the premises, they did not find JonBenet's body.

The Flashlight

Police confiscated a number of objects from the Ramsey home that could have been used to inflict the head injury. These included golf clubs, hammer, baseball bats, a rubber-coat flashlight that was found in the Ramseys' kitchen.

The flashlight is of particular interest. Neither John or Patsy Ramsey were sure it belonged to them and most puzzling is the fact that the batteries located within the Mag flashlight were wiped clean of finger prints.

Dr. Werner Spitz, Macomb County, MI Medical Examiner, who worked on the JonBenet Ramsey case has demonstrated that "you can place the end of the flashlight perfectly into her wound." [12]

It seems amazing that the intruder would carry away excess duct tape and cord, and yet leave intentionally or unintentionally a significant piece of evidence behind -- the weapon that caused JonBenet's severe head injury. Killers are usually organized or disorganized; not a combination of both.

The Garrote

One of the major staging events in JonBenet's murder, and one that is overlooked by many, is the garrote. Below is a picture of the garrote.

How does a garrote work? The cord is tied around the victim and then the murderer pulls on the stick end. By pulling on the stick, it will force a great deal of pressure on the anterior (front) part of the neck but it will pull the knot away from the posterior (back) part of the neck, breaking the furrow line.

Two statements from JonBenet's autopsy that describe the ligature and resulting furrow:

"Wrapped around the neck with a double knot in the midline of the posterior neck is a length of white cord similiar to that described as being tied around the right wrist." [6]
"A deep ligature furrow encircles the entire neck." [6]

Note in the picture below the anterior midline of the neck which clearly shows where the knot was tied. This is an example of a hanging, a form of ligature strangulation, and it is clear that when a cord is used in strangulation, it's shape remains. Please also note the areas of redness above and below the ligature furrows. This is the congestion of the blood vessels [13]

"Ligature marks represent the nature of the ligature, ie. soft, fabric based ligatures may leave a diffuse mark, whilst wires or cords leave a deeper more defined mark." [13]

Now look at where the knot was positioned on JonBenet.

Where is the impression from the knot? There isn't any. Nor, is there a break in the ligature furrow. If the garrote had been used to strangle JonBenet, there would either be the impression from theknot (the murderer twisting the garrote) or a break in the ligature furrow (the murderer pulling forcefully, which draws the ligature away from the neck).

Clearly, this is one of the most significant staging elements in this murder.

In addition, there has been wide speculation that JonBenet fought her attacker. However, this is just that -- pure speculation. Below is a picture of the anterior (front) of her neck. As unfortunate as it is, JonBenet was unconscious when she was strangled. The marks above and below the ligature are petechial hemorrhages. Petechial hemorrhages are "Small, pin-like hemorrhages that occur beneath the skin. Usually observed on the lining of the inner surface of the eyelids. This is a common result of death by asphyxiation or strangulation." [14]

The area to the right and below the ligature is where the cord was first placed. At time of death, JonBenet was laying on her stomach. This is evidenced by the urine stains on the anterior of her underpants and long johns. (At time of death, bladder muscles relax causing urine to seep out) The murderer, first placed the cord lower on her neck. It is not uncommon for there to be several marks from a ligature.

"It is not unusual in homicidal ligature strangulation to find that there is more than one ligature mark, each of varying intensity and crossing each other, in parallel or at an angle to each other. Together with such an appearance, one quite commonly sees abrasions caused by movement of a ligature across the neck, or associated fingernail marks, either from the victim attempting to remove the ligature or (together with finger- tip bruising) from the assailant attempting to secure the ligature and/or restrain the neck from moving or even attempting manual strangulation." [15]

So, how was JonBenet strangled? Initially, JonBenet was laying on her back, unconscious from the head blow and quite possibly having seizures. The ligature was placed around her neck and tied using a slip knot. For a slip knot to be effective one must (after tightening) pull to the opposite side. Since the murderer was not experienced in death, perhaps, not strong enough to pull on the 17" of cord or twine, or perhaps not able to view the physical effects of seeing JonBenet being strangled, the murderer took a paintbrush and began to wind the cord up on the paintbrush, back and forth to tighten the slip knot. When the 17" of cord was sufficiently tied to the paintbrush, the murderer begin to twist, causing the triangular bruise on the left side of her neck. During the period when the murderer was winding up the cord, the two marks on her face were made from the paintbrush. These are marks, which many theorists suggest are stun gun marks.

JonBenet did not die. Why? First, the murderer did not understand how to inflict pressure using a slip knot. Second, the psychological effects of seeing JonBenet being strangled may have affected the murderer. This is strongly suggested by the body being wiped down and the blanket.

JonBenet was then turned over onto her stomach. It is evidenced in the autopsy that urine stains were found on the anterior of her underpants and long johns. The murderer placed the cord around her neck, having one end of the cord in one hand and the other end in the other hand. The murderer first positioned the cord lower on her neck; thereby, causing the abrasions seen below the ligature marks. The cord was then moved up higher, catching her necklack and hair in the cord. The rope was drawn and crossed in the back and tightened. After she had expired, the cord was tied and the garrote fashioned with the stick. Why? To use up the cord and to make it appear as though this were a sexually motivated attack -- hiding what really happened, perhaps a prior molestation. The murderer then bound her wrists over her head and ducttaped her mouth -- again, giving the crime scene the appearance of a sexual deviant attack.

CONCLUSION

A six-year-old child is killed in her own home on Christmas night. Did an intruder creep into the house and brutally rape and murder this child or did someone already present in the household that night accidentally inflict a fatal injury to the child, which resulted in staging a crime scene?

In this author's mind, it is most likely that a truly horrid accident occurred in the Ramsey's household on Christmas night and the subsequent strangling and further sexual assault are part of a diabolical cover up.

Since JonBenet did have physical injuries suggesting sexual assault, the likely scenario is that JonBenet had been abused prior to that night and the resulting injuries were a means to cover up that abuse.

Did Patsy walk in on John while he was molesting JonBenet, fly into a rage, attempt to hit John with the flashlight, miss, and hit JonBenet instead? That is certainly likely. After all, the ransom note, also a part of the cover up, was directed toward John and it was apparent that the author of the note felt some hostility toward John.

The idea that an intruder entered with a stun gun holding a grudge against John and brutally murdering a child is just not within the realm of reality. It is a feeble attempt to exonerate murderers.

Will JonBenet's murder ever be solved? Not until someone confesses.

SOURCES

[1] Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation (New York CRC Press, 1996). Pg. 359

[2] PrimeTime Interview, January 1, 1997 with John and Patsy Ramsey, http://www.cnn.com/US/9701/06/slain.girl/9701.01.ep.html

[3] Photocopy of ransom note, http://www.thesmokinggun.com.

[4] Interview with Robert Ressler, http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Estates/5046/ressler.html

[5] Michael O'Keeffe, "Boulder girl, 6, found slain Kidnap report leads to body of former Little Miss Colorado," Rocky Mountain News, December 27, 1996, http://denver.rockymountainnews.com/extra/ramsey/1227death.html.

[6] Autopsy Report, http://www.thesmokinggun.com.

[7] Primetime Live Interview Transcript, September 10, 1997, http://thewebsafe.tripod.com/09101997bynumabcprimetime.htm

[8]Ann S. Botash, eMedicine Journal, July 27 2001, Volume 2, Number 7 http://www.emedicine.com/EMERG/topic631.htm.

[9] National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, http://www.calib.com/nccanch/pubs/usermanuals/sexabuse/indicate.cfm.

[10] John Douglas, "Why Killers Pose Their Victims: Putting Bodies on Display, October 7, 1999, http://wwww.apbonline.com/crimesolvers/douglas/1999/10/07/douglas1007_01.html.

[11] Colorado Search Warrant, http://www.thesmokinggun.com

[12] Norman Sinclair, "Doctor's specialty is death," The Detroit News, March 19, 2000, http://detnews/2000/metro/0003/19/CO1-18975.htm.

[13] http://www.pathguy.com/~dlaporte/hanging.htm.

[14] http://www.courttv.com/onair/shows/forensicfiles/glossary5.html

[15] Brent Turvey, " A Guide to the Physical Analysis of Ligature Patterns in Homicide Investigations," Knowledge Solutions Library, Electronic Publication, URL: http://www.corpus-delicti.com/ligature.html, Winter, 1996



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