All the pomp and circumstance of the pageant scene became tainted with holiday murder in the unlikeliest of homes — and at the heart of it was an innocent six-year-old child.
The discovery of JonBenét Ramsey’s brutally murdered body on the morning after Christmas in 1996 in a spare room in the basement of the family’s 7,000-square-foot home in the Chautauqua neighborhood of Boulder, Colorado, shocked the nation. But it was the events that unfolded after that truly raised eyebrows and scratched heads — to the extent that there is no definitive answer as to what happened on that winter evening more than two decades ago.
While the timeline of events leading up to the discovery of the body are unclear, those that transpired after are all we know of who killed JonBenét.
December 23, 1993: A 911 call is made from the Ramsey home
Three days before the body is found, a 911 call is made from the home. But on January 10, it’s reported that it was likely a mistake made by a drunk party guest, according to CNN.
December 25, 1996: The Ramseys attend a Christmas party at a family friend's house
JonBenét gets a bike for Christmas. After attending a Christmas party hosted by family friend Fleet White, the Ramseys go home — and JonBenét goes to bed.
Some theories say she snuck back downstairs and fought with her brother over a late-night snack of pineapple. Indeed, the undigested tropical fruit was found in her stomach.
December 26, 1996: JonBenét goes missing
5:30 a.m.: When Patsy gets up to make coffee, she discovers a two-and-a-half page handwritten ransom note on the back stairs leading to the kitchen that says her daughter has been kidnapped, according to the Denver Post. “You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills,” the note demanded, according to Psychology Today. Oddly, that was the exact amount of John’s Christmas bonus. The note also said to not call the police. Patsy calls 911.
Before 6 a.m. Police officer Rick French arrives at the home and does a search. He pauses by the door that JonBenét was later found behind, but doesn’t open it, according to Newsweek.
Early Afternoon: The first detective on the scene, Linda Arndt, pulls aside John and White, who had come over to console his friends. Arndt tells them to do a “top to bottom” search of the home. It was during that search that John opened the door to the basement’s spare room (ironically where the Christmas presents had been hidden) and saw JonBenét’s body.
It looked like she had been strangled and her mouth and neck were covered with duct tape. He picked up the body and ran screaming upstairs. Arndt later moved the body closer to the Christmas tree upstairs — by bringing her upstairs and leaving the basement door open, much of the evidence became tainted.
10:45 p.m. The Boulder County coroner’s team removed the young girl’s body from the house.
December 28, 1996: The Ramseys cooperate with authorities
The family goes to the Boulder police station and they willingly give hair, blood and handwriting samples.
The police later state that John's grown children, John Andrew and Melinda, were out of town when the murder occurred, so are not suspected.
December 29, 1996: The family flies to Atlanta
Just days after the murder, the Ramseys go back to their former hometown of Atlanta.
December 31, 1996: JonBenét’s funeral is held
The six-year-old is laid to rest in Marietta, Georgia, next to her older half-sister Elizabeth, who had died in a tragic car accident in 1992. About 200 family and friends attend a ceremony at the family’s old church.
January 1, 1997: John and Patsy give a New Year’s Day interview
JonBenét’s parents give a “very difficult” 45-minute long interview to CNN from Atlanta, where they were now staying with family. While the Boulder police had been reassuring the community there wasn’t a murderer on the run, Patsy said on television, “There is a killer on the loose… if I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep — keep your babies close to you, there's someone out there.”
She added, “America is suffering because have lost faith in the American family,” citing the example of the mystery of what had really happened with O.J. Simpson. “We are a Christian, God-fearing family. We love our children. We would do anything for our children.”
January 2, 1997: Investigators follow the family to Georgia
A team of five detectives from Boulder fly to Atlanta, according to CNN. Investigators were shocked the Ramseys granted the TV interview since they had claimed to be too emotional to talk to the police.
January 3, 1997: Detectives reveal the ransom note was written inside the house
Detectives announce that the note was written on a paper pad from inside the house, meaning it was likely written after the murder.
John and Patsy return to Boulder.
Boulder cops also go to Charlevoix, Michigan, to search through a summer home the Ramsey family owns.
January 6, 1997: School resumes at JonBenét’s school
After the Christmas and New Year holidays, class resumes at JonBenét’s former school. Teachers and counselors help the young children try to understand what happened, even though it continues to be a mystery.
January 8, 1997: News comes out that there may have been a "practice” ransom note
Reportedly there is evidence that the person who wrote the ransom note first practiced it on another piece of paper.
February 27, 1997: JonBenét's half-brother is questioned
The alibi of John Andrew is reexamined, even though he was allegedly out of town when it happened.
March 7, 1997: A handwriting analysis eliminates John, but not Patsy
Based on expert analysis, detectives confirm that John didn’t write the ransom note, but say there is a chance Patsy may have.
March 8, 1997: The police search the Ramsey's Michigan home again
The police head back there, reportedly looking for “unrehearsed” handwriting samples to see if Patsy wrote the ransom note.
April 3, 1997: DNA testing takes place
While there had already been a DNA test done by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, a secondary one was done by Maryland’s Cellmark laboratories, according to the Denver Post.
April 19, 1997: JonBenét’s parents become the prime suspects
John and Patsy become the prime suspects of the investigation, according to CNN. “Obviously, the focus is on these people," Boulder’s D.A. Alex Hunter says.
April 30, 1997: Patsy is questioned for six-and-a-half hours
“Formal interviews” are conducted with John for two hours and Patsy for six-and-a-half hours. These new statements replace the initial ones made right after the murder.
May 2, 1997: John and Patsy speak to local media
The victim’s parents talk to the local press, including 9News. John stumbles over his daughter’s name and addresses the rumors of her possibly being sexually molested, calling those “most hurtful innuendos.” Patsy says, “I’m appalled that anyone would think that John or I would be involved with such a hideous and heinous crime, but let me assure you I didn’t not kill JonBenét.”
May 14, 1997: The DNA results have “no surprises”
Sources report that there are “no surprises” in the results of the DNA test, but don’t specify what that means.
July 12, 1997: JonBenét’s bedroom furniture is moved to Atlanta
The former child beauty queen’s belongings are moved across the country on a moving truck.
July 14, 1997: Autopsy reports are released
The previously sealed autopsy results are released. They confirm “a deep ligature around the victim's neck and another around the right wrist — evidence she was bound and strangled” and also say that “blood and abrasions were found in the girl's vaginal area — and that she was struck on the head violently enough to cause bleeding and an 8.5-inch fracture to her skull,” according to CNN.
January 15, 1998: The Ramseys refuse to interview with authorities
The Ramseys ask to review evidence before giving more interviews to the police. Their request is rejected, according to the Denver Post.
January 29, 1998: John and Patsy submit the clothes they were wearing
Two months after the police requested the parents hand over the clothes they were wearing the night of the crime, the Ramseys turn in two shirts, a pair of pants and a sweater.
March 12, 1998: A grand jury investigation is called
Investigators formerly call for a grand jury investigation since 15 months have already passed since the murder.
June 3, 1998: Evidential investigations continue
The case's lead investigator, Mark Beckner says there are “significant results” from the 1,058 pieces of evidence taken from the home. Details are not shared.
June 10-12, 1998: JonBenét’s brother Burke is questioned
JonBenét’s older brother Burke, who was 9 at the time of the crime and the only other one known to be in the house that night, is also questioned for the first time. He’s now 11.
August 6, 1998: Denver detective Steve Thomas resigns, calling the case “crippled”
Detective Steve Thomas writes an eight-page resignation letter, saying that Hunter’s office has “crippled” the case since elements have been “thoroughly compromised,” according to the Denver Post. Governor Roy Romer inquires as to whether he needs to step in. He eventually does.
August 19, 1998: White asks for Hunter to be dismissed
Family friend White asks to have someone other than Hunter assigned to the JonBenét case.
August 20, 1998: Burke’s voice is reportedly overheard on 911 call
Originally, the Ramseys had said Burke was asleep the morning his sister was discovered missing — and didn’t wake up until the police arrived. However, in the 911 tape that has now been enhanced, Burke’s voice is reportedly heard in the background.
September 15, 1998: The grand jury begins their investigation
Even though they were selected five months prior, the grand jury starts their investigation, according to CNN.
September 24, 1998: Another detective quits
Citing too much focus on the Ramsey parents, homicide detective Lou Smit quits and says in his resignation letter that a “very dangerous killer is still out there.” This gives the Ramseys the fuel they need to convince authorities to shift the focus of the investigation.
October 13, 1998: The grand jury begins hearing forensic evidence
The grand jury starts hearing the case — learning about forensic evidence, like DNA, hair and fibers from the scene. They also tour the family’s home in Boulder nine days later.
October 20, 1998: John faces Stephen Miles in court
Two stories in the National Enquirer had said an anonymous source said John believed photographer Stephen Miles killed JonBenét. John goes back to Colorado to face Miles in the civil case.
December 3, 1998: More family DNA is collected
Almost two years after the killing, DNA evidence is requested of five Ramsey family members. Though they are not suspects though — investigators simply want to try to identify who the DNA in the house belongs to.
January 28, 1999: A teddy bear takes center stage
Investigators appeal to the online community to try to find information about a Santa Claus teddy bear that was reportedly found in JonBenét’s bedroom. They hope by finding the manufacturer and where it was sold, they can link more dots.
March 18, 1999: The first detective on the case resigns
Yet another resignation. Arndt resigns because of all the criticism.
May 19, 1999: Burke is no longer a suspect
Now 12 years old, Burke is secretly questioned by the grand jury — and he is officially declared a witness only, not a suspect.
September 13, 1999: Detective Arndt says he knows who killed JonBenét
In an interview on Good Morning America, Arndt says she knows who the killer is, but won’t say who.
September 30, 1999: JonBenét’s half-siblings testify
John Andrew and Melinda — who had already been cleared in March 1997 — testify in front of the grand jury.
October 13, 1999: The district attorney says there is no “sufficient evidence”
Hunter says that there isn’t “sufficient evidence” to charge anyone in the murder.
March 17, 2000: The Ramseys publish a book
John and Patsy release The Death of Innocence about their daughter’s murderer, along with a publicity campaign to promote it.
May 24, 2000: John and Patsy hold a press conference
JonBenét’s parents hold a news conference to announce that lie detector tests confirm they are innocent in the death of their daughter. However, the test wasn’t run by the FBI and not acceptable to investigators.
June 24, 2006: Patsy dies of cancer
With no answers in sight at the time of her death, JonBenét’s mother Patsy — a former pageant queen herself — passes away at the age of 49 from ovarian cancer. She had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 1993.
June 29, 2006: Patsy is buried next to JonBenét
Patsy is buried in Marietta, Georgia, next to her daughter JonBenét.
September 12, 2016: Burke breaks his silence — but reveals no answers
After 20 years, JonBenét’s brother Burke sits down for an interview with Dr. Phil. “It probably was some pedophile in the pageant audience,” he said — twice.