Nearly eight months after the body of JonBenet Ramsey was found by her father in the basement of the family's home in Boulder, Colo., local authorities, under a district court order, last week released the full autopsy report on the murdered little girl. Anyone who had predicted last Dec. 26, when a ransom note found by JonBenet's mother turned later in the day into a homicide investigation, that the big news about the case in August would be the grudging release of the autopsy would have been called crazy. What, no arrests, charges, indictments, trial? But, as last week's development underscored, the snail's pace of the JonBenet Ramsey murder case continues to defy reasonable expectations.
Boulder authorities, in trying to keep the complete autopsy report under wraps, argued in successive courts that releasing it would publicize details known only to the killer or killers of JonBenet, thereby compromising the ongoing criminal investigation. (Some states ban the preliminary release of autopsy reports for this very reason, though Colorado is not among them.) But the findings made public last week seemed more heartbreaking than harmful.
A number of grisly details were familiar from earlier, partial autopsy reports. The child had been garroted--a noose twisted tightly about her neck with a stick--and her skull had been fractured. Other findings were new. When she died, JonBenet had a red-ink drawing of a heart in the palm of her left hand. Her blond hair was done up in two ponytails, leading some observers to speculate that she had never gone to bed that Christmas night. She had a yellow metal bracelet on her right wrist with the inscription "JonBenet" and the date "12/25/96," presumably a Christmas gift that also marked the last day she was seen alive. She wore long underwear over her white panties. Both of these garments revealed traces of urine--a common physiological response to strangulation--and the panties bore what the autopsy called "several red areas of staining," presumed to be blood and perhaps indicative of a sexual assault.
Though the autopsy reinforced earlier impressions that the killer was familiar with the Ramsey house and had plenty of time to commit the murder, it offered no fresh insight into who might have killed the prepubescent beauty queen. Boulder County coroner John Meyer did not even estimate the time of death. But that did not stop the Ramseys' attorney, Hal Haddon, from weighing in with one of the first opinions on the report. "The autopsy details released today confirm what we have known for some time," he said in a statement, "that this vicious murder was well planned."
John and Patsy Ramsey are still a main focus of the investigation, but they are also becoming its highly publicized investigators. According to Haddon, the Ramseys' privately financed team involves upwards of 20 people, with four full-time private investigators and 10 forensics experts, including several handwriting analysts and a linguist. On Sunday, moreover, the Ramseys ran their fourth local newspaper ad appealing for help from the public. The ad noted that the killer "appears to be obsessed with techno-crime movies and phrases from them" and included quotes from Ransom, Dirty Harry and Speed that the family says are similar to ones in the bogus ransom note.