Who was really behind JonBenet Ramsey’s murder? Some of the names on detective Lou Smit's suspect list concern the Henderson family. In episode 8 of the podcast “The Killing of JonBenet,” the team investigates the family’s connection with the case.
It’s been 24 years since the child beauty queen was found dead in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado. She was 6 years old, and her body showed signs of sexual and physical abuse.
Though investigators have been working on the horrific case for years, to this day the DNA that was found in her underwear and under her fingernails has not yet been identified.
“I mean, when you look at the DNA in this, what you cannot say is that there’s an innocent explanation for why you would have foreign DNA on her long-johns, on her underwear, and under her fingernails, of which is all the same source,” investigator John San Agustin says in the podcast. “I would tell you, in my experience of almost two decades of law enforcement experience, that if there was a suspect whose DNA matched the victim’s underwear, long-johns, and under her fingernails, that person would raise to the top as being a suspect.”
“Do I think this case can be solved? Yes. Through genetic DNA, but it has to be actively and vigorously pursued by the Boulder Police Department in terms of trying to track that DNA, and I don’t know if they’re doing it,” Paula Woodward, a reporter and the author of “We Have Your Daughter: The Unsolved Murder of JonBenét Ramsey Twenty Years Later,” says.
Detective Lou died convinced that JonBenet’s killer was one of the many suspects listed on his detailed spreadsheet. According to his daughter Cindy Marra, he dedicated years of his life to solving the murder case. Still, JonBenet’s attacker has not been captured.
Speaking about the Hendersons, JonBenet's dad, John Ramsey, says in the podcast: “Well, one of the important things to look for is a motive in any killing. And this one person had a potential motive in that the mother, who worked for my company, was caught embezzling a fair amount of money and we terminated her. And she eventually, my understanding was, went on to another company, did the same thing, and then was put in prison.”
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John’s comments are in reference to Sandra Henderson and her stepsons Clay and Cameron Henderson. Detective Lou saw them as potential suspects before he died, but the Boulder PD dismissed the Hendersons from their investigation after one inquiry. At the time, Clay and his dad, Bud, submitted DNA samples that were later ruled out.
“So we thought, well there's a motive for a relative, a husband, angry at whomever got her put in prison. And so, there was some interest in siblings. One sibling left town fairly quickly after the murder, went to France and stayed in a monastery for two years now. That's pretty bizarre. Coincidental? Maybe, but circumstantially it ought to raise some red flags, which it did for us,” John continued.
While recording the podcast, investigative reporters Doug Longhini and Dylan Howard, along with JonBenet expert Jameson and Cindy, decided to look into the Hendersons’ possible involvement once more.
Speaking to the team, Doug detailed his plan to confront possible suspects at their doorsteps and ask them for DNA samples.
“All right, I'm going to start this thing… We are about to go visit the son of a person who used to work for John Ramsey's company here in Boulder, Access Graphics back in the '90s. And I'm with John Andrew Ramsey and we're going to see if this person would give us a DNA sample,” he says. “We have the supplies, we have the swabs, and we have the sanitary gloves and this fellow has two addresses that we know of. One here in Boulder and one in a suburb north of here. And we're going to give it a try. And John said he'd come along.”
While knocking on possible suspects’ doors, the investigate team arrives at Clay’s home, and he agrees to talk.
“No one's talked to me about it. My dad... Here's what I know. Here's what I know. Logically I would assume they went to Sandra because she was terminated from Access. She was in a half-way house. She had been divorced from my dad. They had had a not so great divorce. She fingered him. She fingered my dad,” he says. “Dad gave hair and blood samples to the investigators. They ruled him out immediately. Any deeper than that, I don't see where you could go with us as a family. That's all I'm saying.”
Clay refuses to hand over a DNA sample to the investigators, and says he’s baffled to learn he’s named on Lou’s suspect list.
“Well, dad's already been ruled out. He's already given, he's already been ruled out so now you're going down a second generation to try and find out. Oh well, okay here's there could be maybe his sons. So he's already been ruled out but let's go further down the list down to his sons. That's a stretch. That's a real stretch for even, not just in my opinion the D.A. or the police, but for any type of prosecutor to try and find anybody to saddle this on because have they nothing. And still have nothing 20 years later,” he says.
Clay’s brother Cameron also agrees to talk but refuses to provide a DNA sample, saying that he’ll give one to the “state” if he is asked to, but not to a group of people he does not know. When asked about his family’s involvement in the case, he says his former stepmother Sandra was trouble and left his father Bud homeless after their divorce.
At the end of their journey, the investigative team leaves the Hendersons’ residences confident that the brothers should no longer be a focus in the murder case of JonBenet Ramsey.