December 26, 2001

JonBenet mystery's grip remains powerful

By Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY

Five years ago, a 6-year-old girl entered the realm of popculture and true crime: JonBenet.

Strangled Christmas night 1996 in her well-to-do family's home in Boulder, Colo., the child beauty princess quickly became another synonym for scandal and mystery, like O.J. before her and Monica and Chandra since.

But a five-year police investigation, a 13-month grand jury probe, a $100,000 reward, civil lawsuits, lie detectors and handwriting experts, TV movies and documentaries, more than a dozen books, countless tabloid covers and an army of Internet sleuths have yet to catch the killer. Nor has time removed what Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner dubbed the "umbrella of suspicion" over the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey.

The saga had begun to wane even before the terror attacks Sept. 11. Yet the mystery's grip is still strong, from courtroom to Internet to water cooler.

Internet gabfests, though fewer, are still vigorous. "It's hard to walk away," says Susan Bennett, who runs Web site, which offers case news, tips and archives. "I want to see this killer caught and convicted."

JonBenet Ramsey's grave in Marietta, Ga., has become a shrine. Cemetery visitors leave notes, toys and mementos. L. Lin Wood, lawyer for the parents, says the fifth anniversary reopens the family wounds "a bit more."

Wood says the Ramseys' finances are dwindling as they live off savings. Their home in Atlanta, where they moved after the girl's death, is for sale. He says John Ramsey, once president and CEO of a computer company in Boulder, now is "almost unemployable."

The Ramseys' computer site ( still is up. But Wood says the family no longer has the $100,000 reward it had been offering. He adds, however, that John Ramsey vows to "find a way to pay that reward" if someone provides information that helps arrest and convict the killer.

The couple's early use of lawyers and reluctance to talk to authorities raised suspicion about their involvement in the murder. They have made vigorous denials in news media interviews and meetings with investigators.

Boulder grand jurors questioned and cleared JonBenet's brother, Burke, but her parents never were called to testify, suggesting that prosecutors still suspect them. "It's clear to me that there has never been a thorough investigation of other possible suspects and leads," Wood says.

"That is simply not true," former special prosecutor Michael Kane says. He says the Ramseys were the only others in the house that night: "Somebody who was 30 feet away from where a crime was committed is going to be a suspect until somebody else is arrested and convicted."

As the criminal case cools, an array of civil cases heats up. By mid-January, Wood says, the Ramseys will ask for the files and records of the murder probe. "We expect to be rejected," he adds. An open-records lawsuit will then follow.

This month, the couple gave depositions in a libel case by a former reporter they had named as a police suspect in their book, The Death of Innocence. They also face a $50 million libel suit from their former housekeeper.

The Ramseys are suing a former Boulder police detective over his book, which suggested Patsy killed her daughter and wrote a ransom note. Also pending are libel suits against Court TV and the New York Post.