After three-and-a-half hours spread across two nights on CBS, a team of six investigators sat around a large conference table covered in evidence from JonBenet Ramsey’s 1996 murder and concluded that her brother Burke, nine years old at the time, was responsible for the blow that ultimately led to her death. The program alleged that John and Patsy, the children’s parents, were just trying to protect their son by staging a more elaborate crime.
But the allegations themselves weren’t the real shocker—especially to those familiar with the case who have read all the “Burke did it” theories for the past 20 years. Most surprising about this particular JonBenet special is that it actually named a name.
Investigation Discovery’s multi-night special was also pegged to the 20th anniversary of JonBenet’s death, airing in similar time slots as the CBS program. ID spent significantly more time on what’s come to be known as “The Intruder Theory,” and ended with the sort of conclusion typical of these kinds of true-crime cable specials: that’s what we know, here’s what we don’t, and we’ll probably never know the truth.
But then in comes CBS (which originally planned The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey as a four-night special) with big production values, important-seeming researchers, and a freaking warehouse-sized reconstruction of the Ramsey’s Boulder, CO home whose only purposes are making headlines and disproving the intruder theory. (It more or less did both.) “I think in the end,” lead investigator Jim Clemente says in the show’s final line, “this was about two parents who deeply cared for the daughter they lost, and wanted to protect the child they had remaining.”
To save you the trouble of watching four hours of grim recreations and over-stylized investigation sequences, as well as tinges of that dirty, grimy feeling that the brutal death of a young girl—a real child who for six years lived a life far beyond just the handful of beauty pageant photos that have covered magazines for two decades—is being exploited once again, here’s what one investigator concluded on the show.
“My hypothesis was that I think the Ramseys came home around 9:30, 10:00 o’clock. I think JonBenet was asleep. I think John did carry her upstairs. Patsy stayed downstairs with Burke and served him the tea and the pineapple. I think that accounts for the physical evidence as well as the latent print. And the I think she got JonBenet up to make sure she used the toilet and didn’t wet the bed that night. So JonBenet was up, may or may not have brushed her teeth—that stuff was out on the counter—and then I think she was up and awake enough that she was maybe still hungry, and she went downstairs. In the meantime, Patsy continued packing for the Michigan trip. I think Burke was upset about circumstances or Christmas presents, he probably would have been upset about her trying to snag a piece of pineapple. Out of anger, he may have struck her with that flashlight.
I think we all agree on that.”
They all said yes, and added that the blow was likely not intended to kill.
Then it faded to black, for now.