JonBenét Ramsey: TV Specials Try to Solve the Mystery 20 Years Later

JonBenet Ramsey
© Mark Fix/
JONBENET PATRICIA RAMSEY (Aug. 6, 1990 - Dec. 26, 1996) winning a beauty pageant at 1996 America's Royale Little Miss National Beauty contests. (© Mark Fix/

On Christmas Day 1996, 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in the basement of her family’s Boulder mansion. For months after, the country was riveted to the nightly news as officials searched for her killer.

Twenty years after her death—in which 140 suspects have been cleared of the crime, including her parents, John and Patsy—the high-profile puzzler remains unsolved. A “dream team” of investigators chronicled in the upcoming six-hour docuseries The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey (premieres September 18, 8:30/7:30c, CBS) claims to have cracked the case.

The investigation was led by Jim Clemente, a retired FBI profiler specializing in child abduction. He and his group—composed of former law enforcers, forensic scientists, criminal behaviorists and linguistic experts—sifted through mountains of evidence, analyzed the cryptic ransom note and interviewed new witnesses, including the 911 operator who received Patsy Ramsey’s frantic phone call. His team’s “only goal,” says Clemente, who believes the killer would have quickly been identified if the FBI had been brought in sooner, “is to close this case and give JonBenét justice.”

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Ransom note in Ramsey case.

Ransom note in Ramsey case.

CBS also re-created the crime scene, rebuilding full-scale models of the key rooms in the Ramsey home as they looked in 1996. “It’s a rich family in a beautiful town with a beautiful daughter. I’m not surprised we still talk about this today,” says executive producer Tom Forman. “The case has all the ingredients for a murder mystery that is so twisty-turny that it might as well have been scripted.”

This docuseries is just one of a number of projects planned for the tragic anniversary. Investigation Discovery, a channel whose oeuvre is sensational crime stories, has joined with the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, and the Weinstein Company for their own three-part documentary series JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery (September 12, 10/9c). Additionally, A&E will air a two-hour doc, The Killing of JonBenét: The Truth Uncovered (September 5, 9/8c), and Lifetime is currently shooting a movie about the case to air later this fall. Also airing on September 12: Dr. Phil presents the first edition of an exclusive three-part interview with JonBenét’s brother, Burke, now 29, who was questioned but never charged and has never spoken publicly about the ordeal.

“This [case] is so tailor-made for the ID audience,” Murder Mystery exec producer Pamela Deutsch says. “What’s going to distinguish our take is the access we had to people who had boots on the ground, friends of the Ramseys and family photos and video. We’re presenting the A to Z of JonBenét.” Unlike The Case Of, ID makes no claim of having solved the case. Deutsch adds: “We present a comprehensive look at every credible suspect that emerged, and we’re putting it out there for viewers to make their own conclusions. If you’re a true-crime aficionado, this is great stuff.”

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Re-creating real-life crime is the logical follow-up to audience disappointment in most reality shows, says Forman. “Now that everyone knows how much they are manufactured, viewers are demanding authenticity in what they see. And nothing is more authentic than true crime.”

The Killing of JonBenét: The Truth Uncovered, Monday, September 5, 9/8c, A&E.

JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery, Series Premiere, Monday, September 12, 10/9c, Investigation Discovery.

The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey, Series Premiere, Sunday, September 18, 8:30/7:30c, CBS.