The 7 JonBenét Ramsey Theories You Need To Know

Photo: Chris Rank/Getty Images.
In November 1996, Ransom, a Ron Howard movie starring Mel Gibson hit theaters. The thriller centered around a wealthy family in despair as they tried to get their kidnapped son back, paying a two-million-dollar ransom. At the end of the film, Gibson gets his son back and the man behind the kidnapping is killed.

Only a month later, the Ramsey family lived their own version of this story. As in the movie, the Boulder residents were wealthy, prominent figures in their small-town community. But there the similarities ended. Patsy and John Ramsey had two children — Burke, 9, and JonBenét, 6. And on December 25, tragedy struck.

The story of JonBenét's assault, ransom, and murder has become one of the most befuddling cases of modern crime. It reads more like the plot of a thriller with a surprise twist ending, much like Ransom. Except this story's ending is far from happy — or even resolved.

As the 20th anniversary of the little girl's death approaches, many television networks are revisiting the case in an attempt to reevaluate the bizarre events surrounding this unsolved murder.

For those unfamiliar with the overall narrative of the night of December 25, here's a quick summary: It was a normal Christmas Day in Boulder for the Ramsey family. After opening presents, they all went to a nearby friend's house for a holiday party. On the way home, JonBenét fell asleep in her father's arms. They tucked her into bed, did the same with Burke, and then went to sleep.

The next morning (around 6 a.m.), Patsy woke up, put on her clothes from the night before, and walked downstairs. On the staircase, she found a three-page ransom note telling her that her daughter had been kidnapped and would only be returned in exchange for a large sum of money (the exact amount her husband had received as his holiday bonus). Alarmed, Patsy called the police and reported the kidnapping. Hours later, their house now filled with friends, family, and police officers, one detective told John to go look around the house for clues. That's when he says he walked into the basement and found his daughter dead on the ground. She had been strangled, sexually assaulted, and suffered a blunt-force trauma to her head. She appeared to have never even left the house.

Years after that jarring discovery on December 26, the evidence that has come to light points in all sorts of directions, creating no clear narrative for the detectives to follow. Since 1996, the media frenzy around JonBenét's case has died down, giving way to individual theories that we've rounded up here for you to read. Obviously, we don't endorse any of the theories that spurred from the troubling cold case (especially not the one claiming that Katy Perry is JonBenét). This fall, multiple networks will release docu-series, TV movies, and exclusive interviews in an attempt to bring new evidence and theories to light. They're sure to resurrect all the questions that haunted the public and media 20 years ago. Did her parents accidentally kill her? Why did an intruder spend the time writing a three-page note and then leave her body and not try to collect the ransom? How did the police not find her body in their initial search of the house?

Who killed JonBenét Ramsey?
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Photo Credit: MARIO TAMA / Stringer.
Her Parents
For a while, everyone thought the parents did it. Because JonBenét's body was found inside the house, it seemed to make sense that someone in the house is responsible for her death. The only three people in the house were John, Patsy, and Burke.

The strongest theory around is that Patsy lost her temper after discovering that JonBenét had wet her bed, snapped, and struck her daughter in a way that accidentally killed her. She would then supposedly have told her husband what happened and, with his help, staged a break-in, making their daughter's death look like a cold-blooded murder by a random intruder.

After their daughter's body was found, the Ramsey parents acted in a way that some deemed unacceptable. They appeared uncooperative with detectives and controlled their narrative by planning press conferences on news networks instead of directly speaking with law enforcement. In addition to their lack of cooperation, a handwriting analysis found that the note could have been written by Patsy.

The parents, who hired separate lawyers, were acquitted of the crime after a 13-month jury deliberation. The two were once again acquitted in 2008 after a touch DNA test eliminated them from the suspect list entirely.
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Photo Credit: Dr. Phil Show/ YouTube.
Her Brother
JonBenét's older brother, Burke, was only nine years old at the time of the murder. He says he was fast asleep until he heard his mother screaming upon realizing JonBenét was missing. However, he was not formally questioned about that night until more than a year and a half later. The most popular theory surrounding Burke's involvement is that he accidentally hit his sister with an object, killing her. His parents then helped him cover up the accident.

An even darker theory postulates that Burke was neglected by his parents, who spent most of their time doting on their daughter, and his jealousy could have pushed him to murder. Again, he was only nine at the time. The idea of purposeful involvement seems very unlikely.
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Photo: Dave Allocca/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock.
"Santa Claus"
Not the literal Santa Claus, of course, but rather a friend of the family named Bill McReynolds. McReynolds, a retired journalism professor, had been with the Ramsey family earlier that night on December 25 at the holiday party. JonBenét, like most children, loved Santa Claus. One of the most mysterious aspects of the night is why no one in the house woke up as JonBenét was yanked out of her bedroom by a stranger — a man who looked like their jolly Santa friend would have been decidedly less scary.

Did this Santa sneak into the Ramsey home, feed JonBenét pineapple, then lead her into the basement and kill her? But then, what's up with the ransom note?

McReynolds was never charged.
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Photo Credit: Axel Koester / Contributor.
Gary Oliva
A convicted child sex offender, Gary Oliva was arrested and questioned in 2002 for JonBenét's murder. At the time of her death, he lived near the Ramseys' home, and eventually created a shrine for the little girl, saying that her death greatly affected him. He went as far as to put her face on Monopoly money. At the time of his 2002 arrest, he was also in possession of a stun gun, the weapon detectives thought the attacker used on JonBenét.

However, his DNA never matched anything from the crime scene.
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Photo Credit: SAEED KHAN / Staff.
John Mark Karr, a.k.a. Daxis
Meet the most messed-up guy in this entire murder mystery: John Mark Karr.

In 2005, Karr began an email correspondence with Michael Tracey, a University of Colorado professor and expert on the JonBenét case. Using the pseudonym Daxis, Karr admitted to killing JonBenét. He shared details from the crime scene and said he had been in love with the child before her accidental death. Authorities traced his emails to Thailand, where they found Karr, who at the time was teaching at an elementary school.

The police arrested him but found that his DNA did not match any of the samples found on JonBenét and around the crime scene. Karr was eventually acquitted of the murder, but still maintains that he knew and loved the 6-year-old.

Throughout this strange episode, the Ramseys maintained that they did not believe Karr was the killer, or that he even knew their daughter. Their dismissal of his confession once again brought up the idea that they knew what really happened, which is why they didn't believe Karr's reimagined version of the night.
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Photo Credit: Karl Gehring / Getty Contributor.
Michael Helgoth
Helgoth, who was 26 at the time of JonBenét's murder and worked at a nearby automobile salvage yard, had a pretty strong link to JonBenét's murder. He had a history of sexual assault, harming animals, and had apparently always wanted to crack a human skull, according to his coworker at the time, John Kenady.

Kenady also said that right before Christmas in 1996, Helgoth hinted that he and a business partner would be making around $50,000 to $80,000 dollars each, a total that adds up to the amount demanded in the ransom note. Kenady went to the police after hearing about JonBenét on the news to tell them about Helgoth. However, in January of 1997, right when the police announced that the suspect list had narrowed down, Helgoth was found dead in his bedroom from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It later came to light that the circumstances of his death actually pointed to murder, which had then been framed to look like suicide.
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Photo Credit: Douglas Keister / Getty Contributor.
A Random Intruder
The theory that the Ramseys held to be most likely posits that a completely random, violent, and abhorrent human broke into their home with the intent of kidnapping their daughter, but instead fed her pineapple, sexually assaulted her, strangled her, hit her, and killed her. This random intruder could have been anyone, from a pedophile who might have seen her at one of her pageant shows to a passerby who noticed the basement window was broken and easy to climb in and out of.
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