On April 28, Netflix will release their latest true-crime epic Casting JonBenét, a two-hour documentary-film based on the mysterious murder of six-year-old girl JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. At the time, the murder captivated America, not just because of the brutal death of the beauty pageant contestant shocked families – but the troubling circumstances around it. Now it’s being turned into a captivating two-hour film, but not in the way you’d expect.
While Serial and Making A Murderer featured experts and talking heads, a linear timeline and presented facts you hadn’t even begun to consider – Casting JonBenét is a little different. The film is made up of reconstructions of the murder’s aftermath, but the story is told by local actors as they audition for the roles in the reconstructions for the show. It’s all a bit meta, right? But that’s partly why critics from The Guardian, Variety and Hollywood Reporter have been going crazy about it.
As the film offers a more conspiratorial and emotional take than other true crime phenomenons, here are some cold hard facts to know about the case in question.
On December 25 or 26 1996 in Boulder, Colorado, six-year-old JonBenét was killed in her home. Her body was found by her parents in the house’s basement eight hours after she was reported missing. The family learned of her disappearance via a ransom note left in the kitchen. A coroner would rule that her cause of death was caused by ‘asphyxiation’ after she sustained injuries to her skull and was choked by a garret.
Who killed JonBenét?
This is where it’s tricky – a killer has never been identified. At the time police suspected that the perpetrator may have been someone in the family, either her father John Ramsey, her mother Patsy Ramsey or her 9-year-old brother Burke. The family were questioned about the discovery of the body but have never been charged.
Police also entertained the theory that she could have been murdered by an intruder into the house, despite no signs of forced entry. The theory was pursued after an unidentified boot mark was found in the basement of their home, and was assumed to belong to the killer. Boulder District attorneys suggested that due to JonBenét’s beauty pageants from a young age, that it could not be ruled out that she was targeted by child abusers.
What did the police find?
At the time, the police suspected a family member and suggested that the ransom note and the missing body were staged. The specific amount demanded for her release ($118,000) alarmed police, as it matched the exact bonus her father John had received earlier that year. The investigators also were suspicious of the repeated use of exclamation marks and acronyms on the letter, and the lack of DNA evidence like fingerprints from the note. At one point, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation suspected that Patsy had written the note.
Specific evidence linking an intruder to crime was initially difficult. When the body was discovered by John and a friend who had come to help in the search – it was moved several times by John, potentially damaging key evidence that would have identified the perpetrator.
Several years after the murder in 2003, new tests showed that DNA other than JonBenét’s were found on her underwear suggesting that she may have been sexually assaulted prior to her death by an unknown male. No match has ever been found.
Was anyone charged with the murder?
In 1999, a Colorado Grand Jury voted to indict the parents over JonBenét’s death, citing “two counts each of child abuse” and added that the parents “did unlawfully, knowingly, recklessly and feloniously permit a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that posed a threat of injury to the child’s life or health, which resulted in the death of JonBenét Ramsey, a child under the age of sixteen.” However Alex Hunter, the District Attorney of Boulder, refused to sign the indictment due to a lack of sufficient evidence that would successfully convict them beyond reasonable doubt for her death.
The murder remains an active homicide investigation.
Where are the family now?
Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer in 2006. John Ramsey has taken a step back from the limelight since the family were cleared of the murder by DNA evidence.
In 2016, CBS documentary The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, a DNA expert suggested that JonBenét’s older brother Burke may have committed the murder. As a result, Burke filed a lawsuit for defamation at the channel. In an interview with Dr. Phil in 2016, Burke said: “I don’t know what to say to that, because I know that’s not what happened. There’s been people who have said that’s not even physically possible for a nine-year-old to do that. Like you won’t find any evidence, because I didn’t do it.”