It’s been more than 25 years since six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was found dead on Christmas Day in Boulder. And the anniversary of her death has drummed up continued interest in the cold case: The Boulder Police Department (BPD) recently published a news release that said investigators have processed more than 1,500 pieces of evidence related to the child’s murder, including analyzing nearly 1,000 DNA samples, investigating more than 21,000 tips, letters, and e-mails, and interviewing hundreds of people in connection to the crime.
Paula Woodward, the Emmy Award–winning investigative journalist who covered the aftermath of the death as a reporter with 9News, has also released her second book about the case, Unsolved: The JonBenét Ramsey Murder 25 Years Later. It includes new interviews with JonBenét’s father, John Ramsey, his wife Jan (whom he married in 2011, five years after Patsy Ramsey, JonBenét’s mother, died of ovarian cancer), and his son John Andrew. Woodward also combed through evidence with a homicide detective who has more than 30 years of experience in a major metropolitan area and is familiar with the case. (The detective goes unnamed because of a desire not to be associated with the negativity surrounding the investigation.)
Following the book’s release last month, we caught up with Woodward and asked her about how she’s gotten the Ramseys to open up to her and whether she thinks the case can be solved.
5280: What is it about this case that causes people to still be so interested in it 25 years later?
Paula Woodward: A six-year-old child was terribly tortured and murdered, and there’s been no accounting for her death. In my opinion, there was gross incompetence with the Boulder Police Department, as well as the Boulder District Attorney at the time—and that incompetence has gone on for 25 years.
Surely, the beauty pageant photos and videos are compelling. There was that entertainment factor. Most of us don’t know much about child beauty pageants. I would hear people saying: “Oh my gosh. Did you see her hair?” and “Did you see her makeup?”
And then you had that ransom note that still makes no sense. If the Ramseys killed their daughter, did they have the composure to sit down and write a ransom note that doesn’t have any curse words in it, doesn’t say JonBenét’s name, and seems to be taunting? If it wasn’t the Ramseys, was it written ahead of time? Was it premeditated? Was it written in the house? Was it written because someone really wanted to kidnap her and if so, why did the murder happen?
For those who have followed the JonBenét Ramsey case for years, what’s something that will surprise them in this new book you’ve written?
I think what’s interesting is taking the views of a homicide detective, going over the evidence, and getting his take on what’s important and what isn’t. If you’re into homicide investigation tactics and techniques, then you’ll find this information compelling.
The other thing is John Ramsey has been polite about the Boulder Police for years. This is the first time he has said, “OK, enough. They’ve been incompetent. They’ve hurt our family so badly. And the case needs to be taken out of their hands.”
(Editor’s note: John Ramsey says he doesn’t know who killed his daughter. He tells Woodward in the book that he subscribes to a former FBI profiler’s assessment that it was someone who was angry with him or jealous of him.)
You’ve been criticized in the past by those who follow the case for being too close to the Ramseys. What’s your response to this?
One of the basic premises of journalism is that, at the very least, both sides of the story should be told. And, if possible, one must get as many sides of the story as possible. The Ramseys initially talked with very few news organizations. The police leaked untruths and inaccurate information, and those who interviewed the Ramseys were accused anonymously by police investigators of being too close to the family. The tactic used against me utilized leaks to entertainment talk shows. I was getting the Ramseys side of the story. I interviewed them fairly, and I’m proud of the information I got that contributed to a balanced and honest story.
Who do you think killed JonBenét?
I don’t know who killed JonBenét Ramsey. I have never known. My focus has always been to concentrate on the available evidence. When anyone figures out the motive, you’ll have the killer. So far, there isn’t an apparent motive.
Do you think this case will ever be solved?
Not if it stays with the Boulder Police Department. They are too entrenched in their bias that the Ramseys did it.
John Ramsey is entitled to yearly reports from Boulder Police investigators about the status of the case. This is Colorado state law. Boulder Police have never provided the required yearly reports, and it has been 11 years since the Ramseys were declared “victims” by elected Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy. John Ramsey’s attorneys have written to BPD to request what he is entitled to under state law and have not heard back from them.
As another example, the Boulder Police and City of Boulder issued a news release about the status of the case. It claimed, “As the Department continues to use new technology to enhance the investigation, it is actively reviewing genetic DNA testing processes to see if those can be applied to this case moving forward.” That new genetic DNA testing process has been in widespread use since 2016, when the technology to accomplish it was distributed to more than 10 countries worldwide. Despite that, Boulder police have not had the remaining DNA in their custody tested under the new genetic DNA testing process. John Ramsey and his attorneys believe it’s because they simply don’t want to investigate any avenues that lead away from the Ramseys and the Boulder PD belief of their guilt.
I believe it can be solved if the governor decides to take it away from Boulder Police.