How CBS’s ‘The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey’ Got It Wrong

On Dec. 26, 1996, JonBenet Ramsey, a six year old from Boulder, Colo., was found dead in her parents’ home. This case shook the nation and the investigation for the person who murdered the child beauty pageant queen turned into a nationwide manhunt. However, despite the efforts of investigators, the case has remained unsolved for almost 20 years. Meanwhile, society has continued to obsess over JonBenet’s murder and hundreds of accusations have been made in the years since its occurrence.

With the 20th anniversary of the murder coming up, CBS recently released a two-hour long documentary entitled The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey. This two episode series is hosted by Jim Clemente, a former criminal profiler for the FBI, and Laura Richards, a former criminal behavioralist for Scotland Yard. These two, along with a variety of forensic investigators, break down the case in its entirety in order to try and answer the question that has plagued the Ramsey family as well as the Boulder Police Department and the nation: Who really killed JonBenet? Throughout the two part series, the team of investigators pulls apart the evidence they believe was not thoroughly investigated, including material that created inconsistencies. This includes everything from trying to recreate scenes based on grainy videos and blurry photographs, to breaking down the 911 call in order to try and find hidden sound bites before the phone was hung up.

While this show may claim to be trying to solve the murder and finally lay JonBenet to rest, in reality the show and its cast are exploiting the death of this little girl. Unlike “Making a Murderer,” another famous documentary series that premiered in Dec. of 2015, it was clear that the CBS episodes were less about solving the crime and more about making stars out of the investigators. Over and over the show reminded the audience how much experience and how well qualified each investigator was. The plot point of the show was not about helping a still-grieving family that was torn apart almost 20 years ago. Instead, it was about how impressed the audience should be with how this set of sleuths managed to “crack” a case that has stumped hundreds of other investigators for years.  Not to mention, there are moments during the investigation where it felt less like an examination of evidence of a cold case and more like a group desperately trying to provide far-reaching evidence for their conspiracy theories. The investigators start finding “key evidence” through garbled phone static and an undisturbed cobweb in a window from a fuzzy crime scene photograph. Again and again the series opted out of relying on fact and unbiased investigation and chose to instead to depend upon fanaticism and melodramatic hunches.

This show made JonBenet Ramsey a question to be answered rather than the victim of a terrible crime, and that is where the show fails. After the premiere of the series on Sept. 18, the Ramsey family (JonBenet’s older brother Burke in particular, 9 at the time of her death and implicated in the series as a likely suspect) are suing CBS for what Burke cites as “lies, misrepresentations, distortions, and omissions.” CBS made a statement in response to the Ramsey family’s threats, saying they will stand “by the broadcast and will do so in court.”  If the producers and cast of this series ever decide to try and solve a cold case like this again, one can only hope their integrity outweighs the desire for better ratings.

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