Unsolved: In Plain Sight

by Kiana McDonough 

On the morning of December 26, 1996 in Boulder, Colorado, Patsy Ramsey walked down the stairs of her home to discover a ransom note. The ransom note stated that a group of individuals had the Ramsey’s daughter, JonBenet, a former 6-year-old beauty pageant queen. The note demanded a sum of $118,000 in cash the next day between 8 and 10 a.m. 

Patsy immediately called the police. The police quickly arrived at the Ramsey household but did not conduct a search of the house, since there was no reason to believe JonBenet was there. JonBenet Ramsey was found 8 hours later in the basement of her own home by her father, John Ramsey. 

Mr. Ramsey had received a bonus earlier that year which was significantly close to the amount of money that the ransom note was for. The ransom note was studied by experts, who discovered that it was written with a pen and paper from inside the Ramsey home. Thispuzzled investigators and led to some heavy allegations against the married couple and their 9-year-old son, Burke Ramsey. 

DNA evidence was found on JonBenet’s long johns and underwear; a test was conducted and the results came back as an unidentified male. The evidence exonerated the entire family from the case. This left police officers to start looking at their first suspect outside of the Ramsey family, a former neighbor named Gary Oliva. 

In the year 2000, Oliva was arrested for unrelated drug charges. When police went through the backpack he was carrying, they found a picture of JonBenet. When interviewed by the Denver Post, Oliva stated, “JonBenet’s murder touched me very deeply. I felt she was an exceptional girl whose death was an exceptional loss. I felt the need to build a monument, a shrine to remember this little girl.” 

Michael Vail, a former high school friend of Oliva, was also interviewed and stated the day after the murder he received a phone call from Oliva saying he hurt a little girl in Boulder, Colorado. Oliva’s DNA was tested and was not a match to the DNA found at the crime scene.

The next suspect aside from Oliva and the Ramsey family was John Mark Karr. In 2006, 10 years after the murder, he confessed via email to a journalism professor, Michael Tracey. Tracey gained Karr’s trust after 4 years of email correspondence. 

Finally, Karr admitted he was in love with JonBenet and gave Tracey gruesome details of the murder, including some details that were not released to the public. Karr used similar wording that was discovered in the ransom note, but unfortunately, as sick as this man was, his DNA did not match the crime scene evidence either.

DNA expert Henry Lee, who is best known for his work in the O.J. Simpson case, discovered that the DNA that was found on JonBenet’s underwear may have held transfer DNA from the manufacture process. He proved this by testing an unopened bag which also had foreign DNA, this lead to the crime scene DNA being fallacious, meaning any of the suspects could be the killer.

The case remains unsolved after 24 years. With the list of suspects, and the transfer DNA, who knows if this infamous case will ever be solved. I feel often times we want justice so badly in these cases, especially ones involving children, that we want to accuse the person who is the “most likely”, but police have to look at all of the evidence and convict based on that. The lack of evidence made the case extremely difficult, which is why the JonBenet Ramsey case remains unsolved.

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