On December 26, 1996, six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, a well-known contestant on the child-beauty pageant circuit, was found murdered in the basement of her parents’ upscale home in Boulder, Colorado. She had been molested and suffered a skull fracture prior to her death by strangulation.
The crime became an instant media sensation and many believed that JonBenet’s parents – John and Patsy – were responsible for her death. A widespread theory was that the Ramsey’s staged the crime scene to appear as if an intruder killed JonBenet.
But nearly a decade later, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey and their son Burke were cleared of any involvement in the murder. To this day, the killer has never been found.
The key to solving this case is to find the author of the unusual ransom note left at the scene. According to public sources, Mrs. Ramsey found the note on the stairway, which led to the discovery that JonBenet was missing from her bed. The note demanded money in exchange for the safe return of their daughter. As the morning passed, the expected phone call from the kidnappers never arrived, and a few hours later, the child’s body was located on the floor of the wine cellar.
One of the first steps for the investigators was to obtain handwriting samples from Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey submitted a notebook that contained Patsy’s household notes and a sample of his own handwriting. An examination of Patsy’s notebook led to an interesting find- the killer had used her pad and pen to execute the note. Mrs. Ramsey’s notes were left intact at the front of the notepad, but seven pages in the middle were missing. The first page after the torn out section was the start of a note that read: “Mr. and Mrs.”. The ransom note used three pages, and the remaining four practice pages were never found.
This leaves two possibilities: the killer either removed the notebook and pen from the home on a prior occasion and replaced it in the kitchen that night, or *he wrote the note while in the home prior to, or after the murder.
*For convenience, I’ll refer to the killer as “he”.
Part Two: Content Analysis
Below are my thoughts regarding the language of the note. I’m not a trained criminal profiler, so this is based solely on my experience with narrowing down a suspect pool while solving anonymous writing cases.
The ransom note reads:
Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We respect your bussiness but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our possession. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.
You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a earlier pick-up of your daughter.
Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc.. will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with Law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to out smart us. Follow our instructions and you stand 100% chance of getting her back. You and your family are under constant scutiny as well as the authorities. Don’t try to grow a brain John. You are not the only Fat Cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!
The entire note is a deliberate attempt to scatter the investigation in as many directions as possible. There could be no other reason, because extortion wasn’t the motive. In order to escape identification, the killer assumed the language of several fictional characters when he crafted the note.
The killer IS NOT:
– A member of a small foreign faction. “We are a group of individuals who represent a small Foreign Faction.” “You can try to deceive us but be warned we are familiar with law enforcement counter measures and tactics.” “The two gentlemen watching over your daughter” “we might call you early” “Victory! S.B.T.C.”
– An uneducated person. Misspelled “business” and “scrutiny”
– An angry or jealous business associate of Mr. Ramsey’s: “You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account.” “You’re not the only Fat Cat around.” ($118,000.00 was the exact amount of Mr. Ramsey’s Christmas bonus.)
– A southern bell: “Make sure you bring an adequate size attaché to the bank.” “you will also be denied her remains for proper burial.” “Use that good southern common sense of yours.” “the delivery will be exhausting, so I advise you to be rested.” “and hence”. The improper usage of “and hence” indicates that this is not natural vocabulary for the writer.
This fake ransom note has less emotion than a typical anonymous threat. Usually, when the writer is trying to scare the recipient, he or she will emphasize certain words, such as “SHE DIES!!” There are only three exclamation points in the 376- word note. Perhaps this was because the child was already dead when the note was written, or that there was less animosity towards Mr. Ramsey than the words conveyed.
Part Three: Handwriting Analysis
The length of the note provides two advantages. First, the handwriting became more natural towards the end. Two things happened simultaneously as it progressed: the intentionally altered traits became easier with practice, and the writer’s unconscious habits revealed themselves as the speed increased. Secondly, the range of variability is easier to determine with a large amount of material.
For obvious reasons, people who write anonymous letters usually try to change their handwriting. The first step is to identify the disguised elements, so that we have cleaner evidence to work with. By removing the misleading characteristics from the handwriting, the odds of finding a match will go up. The primary disguise pattern in the Ramsey note has three features: corrugated line quality, and manuscript-style ‘a’s and ‘t’s.
The graphic below shows an example of the wavy line quality. This was an attempt to change the overall look of the script.
The manuscript-style ‘a’s’ are also part of the disguise. The writer started out the note with a traditional letter ‘a’- an oval with a stem. Nearly halfway through the second page, he decided to add the cap over each of the preceding letter ‘a’s to make them look like manuscript- style ‘a’s. After the middle of page 2, the writer adopted a stunted version of the font-style; a short appendage on top, instead of a cap.
Prior to any suspect comparison, this letterform should be disregard as part of the master pattern. Because of the fact that it has a low probability of occurrence in the population, the use of it as an exemplar could result in the inclusion of an innocent party.
The font-style printing is a feminine trait that was more common in the 80’s and 90’s than it is today. Patsy Ramsey used this letterform in her handwriting. The killer used her notebook, so we can now wonder if he decided to simulate this in order to cast suspicion in her direction.
The same applies to the manuscript-style letter ‘t’. It was patched at first and then became exaggerated as the writing progressed. The ‘t’-bar will cross at or near the center of the stem, but it won’t have a foot at the baseline.
That’s all for the determinable disguise. Now I’m going to redraw the entire note with the disguise features removed. Drawing it by hand may be primitive, but I can’t talk my computer into doing it for me.
My drawing of the note:
The traits described below provide us with the recipe of the handwriting for comparison purposes.
My hope is that someone will recognize this handwriting and it will lead to a break in the case. If a true match is found, the remaining evidence will support it. It’s not too late to solve this case!
Read Mark McClish’s Statement Analysis of the note.