The murder of JonBenét Ramsey remains one of the most peculiar and heartbreaking unsolved mysteries of modern times—and the flurry of TV projects and documentaries coming out this month speaks to the world's enduring fascination with what happened the night of Dec. 26, 2006. Was it her parents? Was it an intruder?
Almost 20 years after the 6-year-old child beauty queen was found brutally murdered in the basement of her family's home, it seems like almost everyone has a theory as to who did it or what happened. Here are just a few of the stranger ones.
She was kidnapped and killed by a child pornographer.
In his book Presumed Guilty: An Investigation Into the JonBenét Ramsey Case, the Media, and the Culture of Pornography, journalist Stephen Singular argues that the police were so focused on pinning the murder to the Ramseys that they neglected to consider the possibility that JonBenét was abducted for child pornography.
"I didn't make the connection as much as I felt that this area should be investigated by the authorities because of the similarities between what I'd seen online [of child pornography] and the child's murder," he explained in an interview with the Computer Crime Research Center. "And because I'd been told by cyber-crime specialists that JonBenét was precisely the kind of child, because of her beauty pageant experience, who could be sucked into the world of child porn."
While at first, Singular's theory might seem a little far-fetched, it's not completely out of the realm of possibility: One of the former suspects in the case, Gary Howard Oliva, was arrested last June after he uploaded several sexually explicit photographs of children to his email account. Even more harrowing, Inside Edition reports that when Oliva was previously arrested in 2000, he was allegedly carrying a photograph of the child beauty queen with him, along with a copy of a poem he'd written called, "Ode to JonBenét."
She was kidnapped and killed by a child sex ring.
In 2000, a California woman told police that she believed the same child sex ring that she'd been a victim of as a child was responsible for JonBenét's death due to similarities in how they'd been tied up. According to the Daily Camera, the woman provided authorities with a list of "specific names of individuals who [were] witnesses in the killing of JonBenét as well as ongoing sexual and physical [abusers] of other children."
However, police later concluded that there was "simply no evidence" to support her claims.
"She [the California woman] had no direct knowledge of anything that may have occurred the night JonBenét died," Police Chief Mark Beckner told the Denver Post. "This was her speculation based on what she claimed she went through as a child."
The murderer killed himself after JonBenét's death.
Another popular suspect in the case was Michael Helgoth, whose family owned a junkyard on the outskirts of Boulder (the Ramsey family's then-hometown). According to Ollie Gray, a private investigator hired by the Ramseys, "Helgoth and his accomplices committed the crime. There's no doubt about it."
Not only was Helgoth seen wearing shoes similar to those in a footprint found in the Ramseys' basement, but one of Helgoth's former coworkers also claimed that he'd been acting incredibly suspiciously around the time of the murder.
"In late November, Helgoth had told me that he and a partner were going to make a great deal and they each will bring in around $50,000 or $60,000," he told the Daily Mail. "I will never forget we were walking toward his house and he said, 'I wonder what it would be like to crack a human skull.' I was amazed. I thought it was a very odd thing to say."
The same former coworker also claimed that someone close to Helgoth had a tape recording of him confessing to the murder, but police never investigated it.
Helgoth was found dead shortly after JonBenét's murder, and his death was ruled a suicide.
A local Santa Claus did it.
Two days prior to JonBenét's murder, former University of Colorado professor Bill McReynolds dressed up as Santa Claus at the Ramsey household for the third year in a row. While there, CNN reports that he allegedly gave JonBenét a card that read, "You will receive a special gift after Christmas."
"Statements like that led me to have some sort of suspicion: What was going on between Santa Bill and JonBenét? Again, he is an individual who was involved with her, had an interest in her, was seen with her, shortly before the murder," original prosecutor Trip DeMuth told CNN.
Even more suspicious, McReynolds's middle daughter and her friend had been abducted 22 years prior to JonBenét's death to the day. And another creepy coincidence that raised investigators' suspicions was a play written by McReynolds's wife Janet about a girl who was sexually assaulted, then murdered in her basement. McReynolds explained to the Daily Camera that it was "a fictionalized account of the 1965 torture and murder of Sylvia Likens in Indiana" and had nothing to do with JonBenét.
Nonetheless, Bill McReynolds was still one of the favored suspects for the Ramsey family, and they even specifically called him out in their book, Death of Innocence: The Untold Story of JonBenét's Murder and How its Exploitation Compromised the Pursuit of Truth. He died unexpectedly in 2002, after being cleared of all suspicion.
JonBenét's mother did it after catching her husband sexually molesting her.
In A Mother Gone Bad: The Hidden Confession of JonBenét's Killer, psychologist Andrew G. Hodges argues that one possibility in the murder is that Patsy Ramsey caught her husband molesting JonBenet, and hit her in a fit of rage. (It's also speculated that Patsy lashed out after finding that JonBenet had wet the bed.) They then staged the kidnapping and murder scene together to cover the whole thing up.
However, among other things, the book largely relies on the belief that JonBenét's cause of death was head trauma, but in reality, the autopsy revealed that it was asphyxiation. The Ramsey family has also been cleared of all suspicion on multiple occasions due to DNA evidence.
Wait for it, she was murdered by an owl.
This one is definitely one of the more outlandish theories of the bunch, so you should take it with a grain of salt: At least one source reports that it's possible JonBenét was attacked by some sort of wild animal, like an owl or a bear.
Of course, that wouldn't explain how she ended up bound and strangled in her family's basement, and it certainly wouldn't explain the 2 1/2-page ransom note, but it's also not the first time that a murder has been blamed on an owl—so who knows?
Oh, and Katy Perry is secretly JonBenét Ramsey.
Perhaps the oddest conspiracy theory out there is that not only is JonBenét still alive, but she's also secretly pop superstar Katy Perry. To perhaps no one's surprise, this has been debunked multiple times, and prior to Katy Perry, the theory was that JonBenét was actually Lady Gaga.
Wake up, sheeple!
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