On the day after Christmas 1996, holiday cheer turned to horrified despair when the JonBenét Ramsey's father, millionaire executive John Ramsey, discovered the little beauty queen's lifeless body in the basement of the family's mansion in Boulder, Colo.
The child had been beaten and strangled. A nylon cord was wrapped around her neck and duct tape covered her mouth. Her wrists were tied together. A chilling ransom note demanding $118,000 was found on the stairs inside the house.
Police investigators work at the crime scene near 755 15th Street in Boulder, Colo., where 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found dead. Photo: MEGA
John and his wife, Patsy, were shattered by the gruesome crime. "There is a killer on the loose," Patsy said in an interview with CNN just days after the murder. "We don't know who it is, or if it is a he or a she. But… there is someone out there."
Police quickly — yet wrongly — began to focus on Patsy and John. They claimed there was no sign of a break-in at their home. They also alleged a broken paintbrush belonging to Patsy was used to make the garrotte that strangled the kindergartner. A rough draft of the ransom note — which demanded the exact amount of John's holiday bonus — was supposedly found in the Ramseys' trash.
Under pressure to solve the case, then District Attorney Alex Hunter hired Lou Smit, a detective with more than 200 solved homicides under his belt. After reviewing the case, Smit concluded that the Ramseys were innocent, citing evidence overlooked by police that the killer had entered the home from the outside.
John and Patsy Ramsey, parents of JonBenét Ramsey, speak to members of the media May 1, 1991 in Boulder, Colo. Photo: MEGA
"What a double travesty it could be," a disgusted Smit wrote in his 1998 resignation letter to Hunter. "An innocent person indicted, and a vicious killer on the loose." One year later, a grand jury secretly voted to indict the Ramseys on a charge of felony child abuse resulting in death. (The indictment wasn't made public until years later.)
While John later admitted that their attorneys "totally prepared" the couple to "go to jail," Hunter ultimately rejected the grand jury's decision because he felt they didn't have enough evidence to convict the couple. The Ramseys were eventually cleared by authorities after it was discovered that their DNA didn't match a sample found in JonBenét's underwear. The case went cold until 2006.
Two months after Patsy lost a long battle with ovarian cancer, a twisted then-41-year-old teacher named John Mark Karr, confessed to killing JonBenét. His confession, however, was later discredited. But there remains hope.
The DNA sample from the tiny, badly degraded bloodstain on JonBenét's underwear is frequently compared to biological samples taken from newly arrested men that have been entered into the FBI's database. Investigators are hoping one day they'll find a match — and finally crack this case.