Reviewing: The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey

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I don’t know why, but lately I have been increasingly obsessed with true crime stories, whether they are books, movies or TV. I have been reading and watching many things about the larger, more significant cases that have shaken our nation. I think it is because, not only do I have a somewhat morbid fascination with these, but it’s mostly about trying to understand how these things happen. What could drive a person to commit such acts? Why would they do this and why would they kill in this way? So I guess it’s mostly my way of studying human nature in its most unhinged state.

But I also feel there is something important about knowing the details about each of these cases, especially those in which large wholes and questions remain. This is mostly because I want to understand whether or not these mysteries could have been solved were it not for laziness, corruption, or the like.

Therefore, I was extremely interested in the two-part TV special, The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey. I had never known much about this case because it happened when I was still a toddler. I knew it happened in Colorado, where I lived. I knew she had been a child beauty pageant star, and I knew there was a lot of speculation about whether or not she was taken and killed by some obsessed pervert. And, actually, before this show, I didn’t even know that she had been killed. I thought she had simply been kidnapped and never found (granted, I didn’t do much research on this prior to my new obsession.)

With the success and deeply in-depth execution of Making a Murderer, I was expecting something similar in this series. But I had some big problems with the show.

Let’s start with some of the simpler things: The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey features a panel of experts on a variety of criminal investigation tactics including a former detective specializing in child crimes, a behavioral analyst, a speech analyst, a forensic pathologist and more. The group pores through public records, recordings of interviews with the family and a reconstruction of key rooms of the house in a seemingly futile quest to find an answer to a 20-year-old crime. The experts focus on every tiny thing, even if it’s inconsequential.

The things I find most interesting about this investigation was they way they broke down the ransom letter and the 9-1-1 call, and the way they tested theories such as an outsider breaking into the house. I think it was especially interesting that they were able to track down the operator who took the 9-1-1 call, and I can’t believe she was never called to testify for the case. I think these new views and experiments actually did add some new insights to the case and could have been useful in solving it long ago.

With shows about cases like this, the main outcome is not the solving of the case and the bringing of a criminal to justice. It is simply outrage at what the people involved did and didn’t do in the course of the initial investigation. Throughout the entire show, I was so outraged by the actions of the parents that my first theory was John Ramsey, JonBenét’s father, was the killer. His actions made it painfully obvious that he knew something about what had happened. Even a person under enormous stress and grief would not mess with the crime scene or impede the investigation in as many ways as he did.

The second most frustrating part of the initial investigation was the absolute corruption of the sheriff’s office and the district attorney. It seemed that the Ramsey’s had a high standing in the community and many friends and connections. Therefore, those in charge of bringing justice for JonBenét simply turned the other way. I tell you, these shows are designed to make you lose faith in the criminal justice system.

All of this was especially apparent when the investigators attempted to talk to the family, detectives and lawyers involved with the case, and were repeatedly denied.

As for the entertainment aspects of the series, The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey fell flat on several counts. This show was trying to be part documentary and part true-crime-detective show and I honestly don’t think it fit together well. Instead of utilizing documents, interviews and recordings to tell the story of what happened, the two lead investigators on the panel seemed to be having a discussion with each other in which they are attempting to tell us about what happened. I consistently got the feeling that they were telling each other what they already knew, but for the audience’s benefit. I would have rather had them explain it straight to the audience or use more of the recordings to tell the story.

Another issue I had with this show, was that they would pursue several small avenues and then leave them hanging. For instance, they go to talk to a couple who had been friends of the family at the time of the murder. The couple does not want to talk on camera so the two meet the couple away from cameras and talk. When the investigators come back they said their conversation was interesting and it is never revisited in depth at any time. The investigators also look into two marks on JonBenét’s back and are wondering if they could have been created by a taser. They prove it could not have been a taser, and simply move on. These seem very random and only served to confuse me more about what their actual line of inquiry was.

What I like about this show is that they do tell us when they simply don’t know something. But there are so many holes that I wish would have been filled in more, even if they just said, “We don’t know what this means.” Alternately, they seemed to spend an excess amount of time on things that could have been addressed in a shorter amount of time.

All in all, I don’t know how valid this investigation really is at this point in time, and I don’t think its discoveries have much significance as far as putting the case to rest. Their conclusion, while plausible, is flimsy and seems to rely solely on subjective interpretation and statements like, “This is probably what happened,” instead of more concrete testimony or DNA. In the end, the investigators determine Burke Ramsey, JonBenét’s older brother, struck the little girl with a large flashlight, ultimately killing her. The murder is then covered up by the children’s parents in an attempt to protect Burke from criminal punishment. The panel paints the murder as a childish crime of passion (although the true trigger is unclear). I don’t know if I totally buy this, but I do believe it had to have been one of the three other people in the house.

I wish there could be justice and repercussions for the one who killed an innocent 6-year-old girl. But, ultimately, even with a continued investigation and new looks at the evidence, I doubt this will ever happen. Not only because of the actions of whoever helped to cover up the truth, but also because of the corruption of the judicial offices who simply gave up their integrity and refused to do their jobs. And what does that ultimately say about our society?

You can watch the two-part series in full at www.cbs.com.

What do you think about The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey? How can corruption be effectively addressed and eradicated in the judicial departments responsible for upholding law and order? Do you think this case will eventually be solved? Who do you think killed JonBenét? Let’s talk.

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