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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
JonBenet: The case that grips America
JonBenet Ramsey's grave in Georgia
Police were criticised over their handling of the initial investigation
Few crime stories in the past decade have gripped America as much as the murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, who was found beaten and strangled in her home the day after Christmas in 1996.

That year more than 800 children were murdered in America but without attracting the same kind of intensive scrutiny.

A decade on and the name conjures video images of the little blonde girl dressed in a pink cowgirl outfit and other elaborate beauty pageant costumes that were played and replayed on TV chat shows, feeding theories as to how she died.

The pictures went worldwide and even today, there is no shortage of websites examining the case.

From the very beginning, the JonBenet case was an unusual one.

She was discovered on 26 December 1996 in a little-used basement room at her cavernous home in Boulder, Colorado.


She had been garrotted with a cord and her skull had been fractured.

JonBenet's mother Patsy said that on the morning of her daughter's death, she had found a bizarre, two-and-a-half-page ransom note on the stairs demanding $118,000 for her daughter's return. Eight hours later, her father John, a successful business executive, discovered the body.

File picture of Patsy and John Ramsey
Patsy and John Ramsey fought long-running feuds with the media
The family said an intruder had broken into the house but the police claimed there was no evidence of forced entry or footsteps in the snow outside.

From the beginning, police focused their investigation on John and Patsy. Boulder Police labelled them as being under an "umbrella of suspicion".

The police investigation was led by Steve Thomas, who believed that Patsy had accidentally killed JonBenet after a bedwetting incident, and that John and Patsy had then staged it to look like a murder.

The District Attorney's office employed legendary investigator, Lou Smit, who had solved more than 200 murder cases.

He believed the Ramseys were innocent and that someone had broken into the house and waited in a nearby bedroom before attacking JonBenet.

Victim to villain

The sensational nature of the crime was amplified by pictures of JonBenet cavorting in full-make up and glamorous costumes at beauty pageants.

Ramsey house
The Ramsey home in Colorado, where JonBenet was found strangled
At a stroke, these unsettling pictures turned Patsy from public victim to villain.

Many thought there was something pretentious about the way her name - pronounced zhawn-ben-AY - had been made up from a combination of her father's first and middle names.

Then there were those who frowned on the way Patsy had pushed her daughter to succeed as a child beauty queen. In her last months, JonBenet was awarded numerous beauty pageant titles, including Little Miss Colorado and National Tiny Miss Beauty.

For Patsy, however, there was nothing wrong with this. She, herself, was a former beauty queen.

For years, the couple carried on a running feud with newspapers, magazines and television shows and filed libel suits against some news outlets.

Not tried

But, while it appeared that they were being tried in the press, they were never charged. In 1999, a grand jury refused to indict either parent.

And in 2003, a federal judge in Atlanta concluded that the evidence that she had reviewed suggested that an intruder had killed JonBenet. A retired detective was hired to lead a refocused investigation.

The initial police investigation had become marred by shoddy detective work, with police being criticised for the way they had handled the case, the Ramsey family and the evidence involved.

For example, blood found on the girl's clothing was not properly submitted for DNA analysis until eight years after the murder.

DNA from a white, Caucasian male was found mixed with JonBenet's blood in bloodspots on her clothing. This DNA did not come from her parents.

Case dropped

The arrest of John Mark Karr in Thailand on 17 August, 2006 in connection with JonBenet's death rekindled huge media interest in the case.

However, prosecutors in Colorado announced the case against him would be dropped after forensic tests found that his DNA did not match that found at the scene of the crime.

At the time of his arrest, a family spokeswoman said that Patsy Ramsey, who died of cancer in June, had been aware that the police were going to arrest someone shortly for the murder of her daughter.

And a note placed on her grave read: "Dearest Patsy, Justice has come for you and Jon. Rest in peace."

But the decision to drop the case against Mr Karr over JonBenet's death means the speculation over the identity of her killer is set to continue.

For John Ramsey, the latest twist in the investigation means the hope of complete closure has receded. He once said in a TV interview that even if someone were charged with the murder of his daughter, there would always be people who would still think he and Patsy were responsible for JonBenet's death.

JonBenet suspect charges dropped
28 Aug 06 |  Americas
JonBenet suspect lands back in US
21 Aug 06 |  Americas
Warning on JonBenet speculation
17 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Suspect speaks on JonBenet death
17 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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