Unmasking The JonBenet Ramsey Ransom Note
On December 26, 1996, six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, a child beauty queen, was found murdered in the basement of her parents’ upscale Boulder, Colorado home. According to the Boulder County Coroner, the cause of death was ‘asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma’. The crime became an instant media sensation and many believed that JonBenet’s parents – John and Patsy – were responsible for her death. A pervasive theory was that the Ramsey’s staged the crime scene to appear as if an intruder had killed JonBenet. Suspicion endures, even though the Ramsey’s were cleared as suspects by a grand jury in 1999.
A confusing ransom note discovered by Patsy appeared to be strong evidence of the Ramsey’s guilt. The three pages used for the note were torn from Patsy’s personal notebook, and her pen was used to write it. The notebook was left in plain sight, and Mr. Ramsey actually gave it to the police so that they could compare Patsy’s handwriting with the note. My opinion – the note wasn’t to obtain a ransom, because there was no kidnapping. I believe that the note was written by the true killer in order to help implicate John and Patsy Ramsey for the murder of their daughter.
The Language of the Note
The 376 word 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 purpose of the ransom note was to scatter the investigation in as many directions as possible, and it worked. The writer assumed the language of three characters when he crafted the note, and one of them was Patsy Ramsey.
The Ransom Note Cast of Characters:
- A group of foreign terrorists wanting ransom money, (but there was no kidnapping): “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.” “Victory! S.B.T.C.”
- Furious enemy of Mr. Ramsey: “You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account.” “You’re not the only Fat Cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult” “Don’t try to grow a brain John.”
- “Patsy Ramsey, a dramatic southern belle: Make sure you bring an adequate size attache 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.” “to instruct you on delivery” “and hence”.
Patsy Ramsey’s Handwriting Comparison
The grid below demonstrates why I think the note-writer used Patsy’s handwriting from her notebook as a model for the ransom note. The questioned handwriting is too similar to Mrs. Ramsey’s copybook style. When people write anonymously, they change their natural handwriting to avoid getting caught. An anonymous writer doesn’t patch up the handwriting to look more like their own.
The items designated a ‘Q’ are from the Questioned Ransom Note. The items designated as ‘K’ (as in Known) were written by Mrs. Ramsey for the Boulder Police Department in January and February of 1997. Shown here is a partial list of the requested material. Source: Boulder Police Department.
The most significant clues are the letter ‘a’s in the note. The method of construction is unnatural – the writer added the second story to the middle zone ‘a’s on the first page of the note, and used a stunted version of the cap as the note progressed.
The graphic above is color-enhanced to show how the tops of each letter are separate from the body. In the ransom note, evidence of patching can also be found on the ‘t’s (serifs added) and ‘F’s (tops added).
Patsy Ramsey used this style of ‘a’ occasionally, as seen in the handwriting comparison grid above ( see ‘advize’, ‘a.m’., ‘unharmed’, and ‘dollar’.) The overall result of adding the flourishes to the ‘a’s and ‘t’s is a feminine hint which is inconsistent with the menacing swastika-style ‘F’s, and the threat itself. This contradiction was certainly intentional. If patsy had written the note, she would have made an effort to change her handwriting – not fix it up to look more like her own. Mr. Ramsey should also be considered innocent, because the husband wouldn’t implicate his wife if he was writing the note with the purpose of supporting an intruder theory.
Additional Elements of Disguise
The length of the note provides an advantage for me. The handwriting became more natural towards the end, and 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. It’s imperative to identify the disguised elements in anonymous handwriting cases so in order to have reliable comparison evidence to work with. In addition to the patched ‘a’s, ‘t’s, and ‘F’s mentioned earlier, I found additional disguise elements:
- Diminishing tremulous line quality as the handwriting progressed.
- The horizontal proportions of the letters expand and contract; this produced highly variable spacing between the letters, and also the words.
- Added together with the variable slant, the wavey lines and erratic spacing give the handwriting a unique and startling presentation.
Finding a Match
Anonymous letter cases are solved by finding unconscious habits and studying the line quality of the questioned material, after disregarding the disguise elements as comparable evidence. The handwriting in the ransom note contains intentional disguise, what I believe to be an imitation of Patsy’s script, and also the writer’s own unconscious traits.
What does the handwriting of the ransom note writer look like?
After a process of inclusion, elimination, and blending – I found five letters that I believe to be genuine. The letters are ‘d’, ‘u’, ‘r’, ‘g’, and ‘y’, in the order of certainty.
My drawing shows the shapes to look for. The ‘d’ will be made with one stroke, and is shaped like a closed fish hook. The ‘u’ is a singular cup without the final downstroke on the right. The ‘r’ resembles a closed check mark; short stem, long flattened top. The lower zone of the ‘g’ will slightly pull to the right of center before it heads left. The ‘y’ is a ‘v’ with a connected lateral downstroke.
I know it’s not much, but don’t be discouraged by this small amount of comparison material.
Here’s how a match could be found using volunteer citizens, even with a large group of suspects:
- Obtain new names of potential suspects. For an example, all men who attended the Ramsey family’s church in 1996.
- Find 1990’s handwriting samples of hand printing from public sources, such as the local DMV. Signatures won’t be helpful, it needs to be comparable to the note – hand printing only.
- Now, you have a stack of handwriting samples to use for comparison.
- Round One: Mark all of the samples that have a one-stroke closed fish hook letter ‘d’ with a yellow sticky note. If you find a sample with variable ‘d’s, flag it. Finish the stack, and don’t remove any of the samples from your investigation.
- Round Two: Find the matching ‘u’. Every person that has an missing downstroke on the right side of the ‘u’ in their sample is flagged with a green sticky note. Finish the stack for round Two.
- Round Three: Go through the stack, while doing the same for the ‘r’. Flag close matches, it’s better to include than exclude. All matching ‘r’s are flagged with a blue sticky note.
- Round Four: Find that ‘g’. It’s going to pull to the left as if a tugging string is attached to the end of the tail. Mark all possible matches with an orange sticky note.
- Round Five: Do the same with the ‘y’. Flag all possible matches with a purple sticky note, same as above.
Do you have any suspects with four or five colored notes? Chances are, you’ve narrowed the list down to a small group – that invites further investigation. The DNA will eventually solve this case, but the handwriting can be an extremely valuable tool.
I hope that this article can be helpful to the case in some way, someday.
Office of the Boulder County Coroner, Autopsy Report, dated 12/27/96.
Foreign Faction by A. James Kolar, ISBN 978-0-9847632-1-4; 2012.
Forensic Linguistics, Advances in Forensic Stylistics by James r. McMenamin, ISBN 0-8493-0966; 2002.