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So Can We Finally Let JonBenet Ramsey Rest Now?

Photograph by Splash News

I was 13 years old when JonBenet Ramsey was killed. I was old enough to watch the news coverage and understand the speculation exchanged amongst the adults around me, and young enough to be truly terrified by the prospect of a 6-year-old girl being brutally murdered in her own home.

To say that this one case from my childhood stuck with me would be an understatement. In fact, years later in high school I would write a term paper on JonBenet, positing my own theories and exploring the details of the case that made it such an enduring sensation in the media.

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Given the recent uptick in true crime coverage, no one should be surprised that the sensationalism of this case would still be enduring today—nearly 20 years after that fateful Christmas morning. She was a pageant kid, beautiful and white and blonde, so of course her death captured the attention of the nation. But it was also the details that seemed to inspire a near-obsession over what had happened to her.

On Christmas morning, 1996, her mother called 911 to say her daughter had been kidnapped. Hours later, the young girl's body was found in the basement of the family home, and the details of the alleged kidnapping began to unravel. The ransom note, for instance, was especially long and written on paper from inside the house. And the family seemed more interested in talking to the media than the police.

Most believe the family was somehow involved, but charges were never brought.

A&E has presented their take, Dr. Phil landed exclusive interviews with the leading men of interest, and over the last two nights, CBS aimed to solve the case once in for all.

They did this by compiling a team of experts to analyze the evidence anew. And in the end, they presented a fairly compelling theory about what really happened to JonBenet. Utilizing new technology, they revealed never-before-heard voices at the end of Patsy's 911 call, which sounded a lot like this:

John Ramsey: We’re not speaking to you.

Patsy Ramsey: What did you do? Help me, Jesus.

Burke Ramsey: What did you find?

This was a bombshell for several reasons, including the fact that the Ramseys have always maintained Burke was asleep when JonBenet’s disappearance was first discovered—remaining asleep until well after the police had arrived on scene. If he was there when they dialed 911, and if this was the series of words spoken in the seconds before Patsy hung up the phone … that certainly speaks volumes to what really happened in the Ramsey home.

As a mother, how would I feel about the entire world refusing to allow my daughter to rest?

CBS’s experts also refuted the DNA evidence long thought to have exonerated any family involvement. They blew apart any kind of convincing argument regarding an outsider breaking in. And they replicated the injury that killed JonBenet with surprising accuracy—proving that a 9-year-old boy absolutely could have inflicted the fatal blow.

That’s right. The final conclusion of the two-part series was that JonBenet was killed by her brother Burke. The argument was made that this was not a pre-meditated murder, but rather an unfortunate series of events leading to a young boy losing his temper and grabbing the first thing near him—a large metal flashlight—to lash out at his sister. The investigators seemed to believe the entire thing was a bout of sibling rivalry gone too far; an accident the young boy never intended to be deadly.

From there, the investigators concluded that John and Patsy worked to protect their son, even as they were grieving their daughter. And as the series of events played out on screen, it all made sense. It all added up.

But what, exactly, did it accomplish?

Burke has been considered a possible suspect for years. And his creepy demeanor on The Dr. Phil Show did nothing to really dissuade anyone of that possibility. But none of the people in that house that night have ever come forward to admit anything but complete innocence. And one of those people has been dead for over a decade now herself—Patsy succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2006.

So what was the point, really?

James Fitzgerald, one of the experts analyzing the evidence for CBS, claims the ultimate hope is that someone will now come forward to corroborate their findings. “In the 20 years since this horrendous death I have no doubt someone involved in this homicide talked to someone about what happened and I would only hope at some point the persons who might have heard something from John Ramsey, from Burke Ramsey, from perhaps the late Patsy Ramsey, would still come forth.”

But would that really accomplish justice at this point? After all these years, if what the investigators believe happened is true, would charges even be brought against Burke for something he did accidentally as a child? Or John, who it could be argued was only trying to protect his living son, even if he made horrible choices in the process? Would any good really be gained from that all these years later?

I admit to watching with rapt attention, but I also admit that as the special played out, I couldn’t escape the feeling of ick I had as I wondered why this was all being dredged up once more.

Was it really about finding justice for JonBenet? Or was it more about capitalizing on the sensationalism of the case, the impending anniversary, and the recent success of documentary style true-crime shows?

As a mother, how would I feel if something happened to my daughter and the sordid details were still being consumed by the masses 20 years after the fact?

As a mother, how would I feel about the entire world refusing to allow my daughter to rest?

The thought of it makes my stomach turn. And while I don’t necessarily believe in the innocence of the Ramseys in this case, I do believe in the innocence of their daughter—and of her right to rest in peace after all these years.

We’ll probably never really know what happened to that poor little girl. But are any of us really entitled to that information? Whatever happened all those years ago, one has to assume that those closest to the case already have the answers most of us might think the family deserves. As for the rest of us, we’re outsiders. And beyond the scope of justice being served, we’re not entitled to the details.

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So unless justice is actually served by an entire country playing TV detective, I don’t necessarily feel good about my obsession with this case, or my need to watch the continued televised dismantling of this family.

And yet, there I was … tuned in like so many others across the country.

So I’m certainly not innocent. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little gross about the whole thing.

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