1999-10-14: No Indictment - Evidence voluminous but tricky
Evidence voluminous but tricky
By Karen Augé
Denver Post Staff Writer
Oct. 14, 1999 - They're not even sure how she died. Or when.
And not having the how and when is just one thing that's made it difficult to prove the who in the mystery of JonBenét Ramsey's death.
With no witnesses, no confession and no obvious motive for ending the first-grader's life, the grand jurors probablyly found it difficult to indict a suspect.
But, by all accounts, there are literally roomsful of physical evidence - as of June 1998, Boulder police had logged 1,058 pieces of evidence, tested 500 pieces, interviewed 590 people and logged all their findings in a 30,000-pages case file. That's when police made its pitch to Boulder District Attorney Alex Hunter to take the case to a grand jury.
According to search warrant affidavits, investigators removed a veritable warehouse of items from the Ramsey homes in Boulder and Charlevoix, Mich.
Some of the more noteworthy evidence in the case includes:
- The ransom note. The three-page message from "a small foreign faction'' demanded the odd sum of $118,000 for sparing JonBenét from beheading; it urged John Ramsey not to "try to grow a brain'' but to "use that good southern common sense of yours'' and be rested before making the "exhausting'' delivery.
Detectives quickly determined that the note had been written on a pad of paper found in the Ramseys' house, with a Sharpie pen also found in the home.
Convinced that the ransom note had most likely been written at the house, investigators next took writing samples from dozens of people, including John, Patsy Ramsey and Burke Ramsey, John Ramsey's children from his first marriage, former friend Fleet White, Bill McReynolds, who portrayed Santa Claus at the Ramseys' Christmas party, neighbor Joe Barnhill, and others.
Handwriting experts from CBI eliminated John Ramsey as the note's author, but they couldn't do the same for Patsy. Although they collected at least five handwriting samples from Patsy, along with "historic'' samples of things she wrote before JonBenét's death, they could neither eliminate her as the writer, nor say definitively that she was.
Chet Ubowski of CBI wrote of one of her samples that "This handwriting showed indications that the writer was Patsy Ramsey.'' Ubowski told investigators that the samples she gave "do not suggest the full range of her handwriting.''
- The autopsy findings.
When he examined JonBenét's body, Boulder County Coroner John Meyer noted she was wearing a long-sleeved, white knit shirt with a silver star embroidered on the front, and a gold necklace with a cross on it. Her blond hair was in two ponytails and she wore a yellow metal band on her right middle finger, a yellow ID bracelet that bore the name "JonBenét'' on one side and the date 12/25/96'' on the other side.
On the palm of her left hand, someone had drawn a red ink heart.
According to Det. Linda Arndt, who witnessed the autopsy, green Christmas garland, like the garland decorating the spiral staircase in the house, was tangled in her hair.
JonBenét was wearing long underwear, and Benath the long underwear was a pair of white panties with printed rosebuds and the words "Wednesday'' in the waistband. There were urine stains and several red stains. According to a search warrant affidavit, Dr. Meyer told Arndt the stains looked like blood.
Meyer found evidence of vaginal injury, but no semen was found on the body. The coroner also reported that the pubic area appeared to have been wiped with a cloth.
He also noted that a white cord was tied around her right wrist, a similar cord was tied around her neck. Seventeen inches of cord hung from the knot, and the end was tied "in multiple loops around a length of a round tan-brown wooden stick'' according to the coroner's report.
The stick was stained with paint spots and varnish.
He found "deep ligature furrow encircles the entire neck'' and there were hemorrhages and abrasions around the marks, the autopsy report notes.
She had a skull fracture 8.5 inches long. Dr. Meyer was not able to determine whether JonBenét died of a skull fracture or strangulation. And he could not pinpoint a time of death.
- "Foreign'' DNA taken from JonBenét's underpants and fingernails. The DNA left in a stain found in the child's underwear reportedly doesn't match DNA samples provided by dozens of family and friends.
As of May, detectives were collecting additional samples from people who might have had contact with JonBenét before her death, in what sources said was an effort to eliminate as many potential suspects as possible.
- Motive - or lack thereof. Even those convinced that a member of her own family killed JonBenét can't say for sure why they would have done that.
- An imprint, found near JonBenét's body, that detectives believe was made by a Hi-Tec hiking shoe. Reportedly, no one in her family, no one among the family's friends and acquaintances owns a shoe that matches that print.
- A broken window in the basement. Investigators don't know how long the window had been broken, but John Ramsey told investigators he had broken the window once when he locked himself out of the house. Investigators found a spider web was found outside on the window-well grate.
- A palm print found on the wine cellar door. None of the prints taken from family and friends matches the one left on the door.
- Contradictions. John and Patsy Ramsey repeatedly told reporters and police that they put their sleeping daughter to bed as soon as they arrived home from visiting friends on Christmas night. But Coroner John Meyer found pineapple in her stomach, and a bowl of pineapple was sitting in the family's kitchen. The coroner's findings suggest JonBenét had eaten after the family returned home that night. And, the Ramseys both said their son, Burke, was asleep the morning of Dec. 26 until his father awakened him to take him to the Whites' house after police were called. But an enhanced version of the tape of Patsy's 911 call seems to reveal Burke's voice in the background, asking what's going on.
- Items taken from the Ramseys homes during several searches. These items include:
- A flashlight, found on a counter in the Ramseys' kitchen. Sources say investigators believe it could have cause a wound like JonBenét's skull fracture? It was wiped clean of any prints, according to sources.
- The broken paintbrush used to fashion a crude "garrotte'' was linked to Patsy Ramsey's art supplies.
- Duct tape, taken from JonBenét's mouth by her father when he found the body. The tape was analyzed by FBI and detectives purchased identical tape from McGuckin Hardware in Boulder. An Atlanta-area hardware store clerk told investigators that she had helped Patsy Ramsey find duct tape in the store sometime in December 1996, according to a book on the case, "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.'' But a search of the store's receipts turned up no record of a duct-tape purchase by Patsy Ramsey, the book's author, Lawrence Schiller wrote.
- Computer, computer discs, CD-roms, floppy discs, videotapes and other items were taken in a search for child or even adult pornography. CBI investigator Charles Davis helped Boulder police sift through the computer evidence, but they found nothing. In September 1997, the district attorney's office stated publicly that no pornography had been found on John Ramsey's computer.
- An address book with a sailboat cover from the kitchen.
- 13 recipe cards.
- A 5-inch by 8-inch legal pad and various notepads, one of which police believe is the pad the ransom note was written on; pens and pencils; the white blanket that was over JonBent's body when she was found in the wine cellar; a Santa Claus suit; newspaper and magazine articles; a sleeping mask; golf clubs; U.S. Navy Officer Candidate school book; a toilet seat lid; cigarette butts; a letter to Santa; "My Science Project'' from Burke's room; window grate and pieces of a broken window in the basement; JonBenét's bedding; a broken paint brush; rope from the backyard; pink Barbie nightgown that was reportedly found next to JonBenét's body; carpeting; green garland, like that found in JonBenét's hair; articles of JonBenét's clothing; baseball bats; a flash light; and door locks.
- Witnesses even saw a Boulder detective carrying a door out of the Ramsey's Chautauqua Park home during the investigation.
- More than a year after JonBenét's death, her parents gave police the clothing they were wearing the night they put her to bed around 10 p.m.