The murder of any child prompts disbelief and heartbreak, but the glamorous trappings behind the death of JonBenet Ramsey, 6, underscored how hideously inappropriate such tragedies are. She was a toddler turned beauty queen--Little Miss Colorado of 1995, among other titles--and a child of wealth and privilege. Her father John, 53, is president of Access Graphics, a high-tech, billion-dollar-a-year branch of Lockheed Martin; her mother Patricia, 39, widely known as Patsy, is a former Miss West Virginia (1977) and is active in social and charitable circles. The little girl's strangled body was discovered the day after Christmas by her father in a basement area of the family's 15-room house in Boulder, a university town of 96,000 nestled against the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Days before, the room where JonBenet was found had stored holiday presents.
The crime--Boulder's only murder in 1996--prompted grief and shock among the Ramseys' friends and general fears of a predator. After the initial stages of the police investigation, Boulder's communications director Leslie Aaholm assured citizens, "There's no need for concern." This comment raised suspicions, standing out as it did against a background of near total silence about the case by the police.
"No need for concern" suggests that the culprit has already been tagged as an insider familiar with the Ramsey house. But that category obviously includes John and Patsy Ramsey. Other troubling questions arose as details surrounding the murder surfaced. The only people at home at the Ramseys' on Christmas night were the parents, JonBenet and her brother Burke, 9. The next morning Patsy Ramsey called 911 to report that her daughter was missing and that she had found a ransom note on a stairway demanding $118,000 for JonBenet's safe return. That sum, when it became public knowledge, struck many as awfully small and oddly precise.
On the afternoon of the same day, when no ransom calls had been received, John and a friend began to search the premises. When they found JonBenet's body, duct tape across her mouth and throat and, according to some reports, a cord around her neck, John carried his dead daughter up from the basement, away from the possible crime scene.
A good deal of this information came from the Ramseys during a New Year's Day interview on CNN in Atlanta, where they had gone for JonBenet's funeral at the Peachtree Presbyterian Church, site of her baptism. By then, both parents had hired attorneys (and subsequently a media adviser). Why? John answered that a friend "suggested it would be foolish not to have knowledgeable counsel." Patsy dramatically contradicted statements that Boulder parents had nothing to worry about. "There is a killer on the loose," she said. The parents also announced the offer of a $50,000 reward for discovery of the murderer and plans to hire their own team of investigators.
If the Ramseys hoped this TV appearance would squelch rumors about their daughter's death, they were disappointed. Investigators asked CNN for a copy of the taped remarks and dispatched a team of five Boulder detectives to Atlanta to interview family friends and relatives there. Again people wondered why.